The Rich Waters of Montenegro

Well, let's start with the present, actually.  On the Bay of Kotor, masts shoot into the sky, another layer in the breathtaking sundown silhouette.   It's a little like looking out at a forest in the winter, bare of leaves, offering views out at the sky and mountains beyond.   Montenegro may be named for its most famous mountain, but its name has been newly defined as 'a stretch of Adriatic coast.'  How could we not visit the Maritime Museum in a place like this?
I'm a fan of maritime museums, filled with anchors and model ships, old maps and navigation instruments.  There is something always so familiar about them, elements that carry over whether they are in Cape Cod, the South of France or former Yugoslavia.  It only makes sense that life at sea would have a a universal sameness, a blurring of borders.  One big difference between maritime museums place to place is the location in which they've been set up.  It's always very telling.  In Paimpol, the Musée de la Mer was housed in a former cod-drying factory - apropos to their particular seafaring history.  The Maritime Museum in Kotor is appropriately housed in an old mansion.
The naval history of this country, with its prized Bay and Adriatic coast is undeniably intriguing.  Its history, separate from inland Montenegro due to the fact that it changed hands oh so many times, has given the coast (especially the Bay of Kotor) a unique cultural identity.  But there's another angle that's hard to ignore.  There's the naval, cultural, geographic and political importance.  But there's also the economic.  The past, present and future of Montenegrin maritime as inextricably tied to wealth.
The Maritime Museum here is noticeably devoid of any photos of plucky fishermen.  Is it bad that I hear "maritime" and think of striped-shirted sailors singing songs and drinking out of mugs?  (Yes, essentially Popeye.  For Merlin, 'maritime' means 'naval,' which is a more intellectual definition, but equally incomplete).  The interior and exhibitions in this gorgeous 18th century mansion feel very noble, refined.  High society.  The walls are decorated with paintings of battles and famous sailings, done by the most acclaimed sea-painters of the day.  There are guns inlaid with mother of pearl, used to fend off pirates, and complete drawing room sets from other wealthy families from the coastal towns of Prcanj and Resin.
The large-scale model ships, some coming up as high as my shoulders, were the most amazing pieces in the museum. The grand, well-crafted boats easily outshone the dozens of military models in glass cases.  Outside the museum, beautiful boats pulled up, as pristine and lovely. Each one, set side by side, modeled a different look. People posed for pictures beside this yacht, which had hung a sort of battle flag for the Wimbledon Men's Final that was going on. St. George's flag, flown during English sporting events, supported Andy Murray (a Brit) in his war against Roger Federer (the eventual victor). I couldn't tell you which boat felt more real to me, the 4ft tall model from centuries ago or the yacht with classic Titanic-like smokestacks. They both were sort of surreal.
The economy of Montenegro is not strong.  It's a poorer country than one would think gazing at the yachts and looking at hotel prices in Budva.  Almost all development in the country since its independence in 2006 has been focused on the capital and the coast.  Poverty can be mapped out pretty much according to elevation on a map of the country. Higher you get, higher the economic strife.  At sea level, people are the most well off, and the prosperity declines as you move north, away from the coast and up into the mountains.  The United Nations estimates that somewhere between 45 - 60% of the nation's poverty exists in the Northern mountain region, as far from the coast as you can get, in the places we could see from our doorstep in Valbonë, Albania and Rekë e Allagës, Kosovo.
In 2008, Montenegro received more foreign investment than any other country in Europe.  Most of the billions came from Russia and were centered on Budva.  The global financial crisis has obviously affected international spending and Montenegro's economy has taken a big hit.  Still, there are certain projects that are continuing - including the ongoing development of Porto Montenegro in Tivat, on the Bay.  It's a superyacht super playground that has the mission of transforming Montenegro into "the next Monaco."  Being as the personal income tax rate was just lowered to 9% and any investment of (only) half a million euros or more buys you Montenegrin citizenship, Monaco-like status may be more within reach than one would think.
Port Montenegro took an old naval shipyard named Arsenal, cleaned and snazzied it up and turned it into the best fight Montenegro may have for forging its way into the economic future.  In Kotor, the superyachts dock for a little less and have to make due without golf courses, shopping malls and luxury hotels right on shore.  This is more like a parking lot with a stellar view. From 1955 through 2000, the Bay was filled with a different sort of large boat. Jugooceanija, a wildly successful shipping company essentially owned this water until corruption charges brought it down, taking hundreds of local jobs with it. Tourism has helped to employ some of those people again.  Above, local children play on what may or may not be a relic of those days. 
Portraits of the richest shipowners of the 18th and 19th centuries line the hallway of the Maritime Museum.  These men were from Russia, Austria, Italy, all places that had control of the Bay at one point or another.  Nowadays, men and women from Russia, England, America and wherever else sit for dinner at Galleon Restaurant.  It is a wonderful restaurant and its yacht-owner draw is easy to see.  It is upmarket, fancy by Kotor standards and offers incredible views of the diners' babies sitting pretty out on the glistening bay.  A view out over modern Montenegrin maritime - in line with tradition, in a lot of ways.
You have read this article Montenegro / Museums / Seaside with the title The Rich Waters of Montenegro. You can bookmark this page URL http://africathoughts.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-rich-waters-of-montenegro.html. Thanks!

1 comment for "The Rich Waters of Montenegro"