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At the Gadime Marble Cave

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At the Gadime Marble Cave
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Blackbird's Kosovo flag entry
All the scant reading materials mention the fact that the cave was discovered in 1969 “by accident,” as if caves were commonly discovered on purpose. (No one expects a hole where there should be dirt and rock: the discovery of a cave must nearly always be an accident.) I feel foolishly proud to be one of the relatively few people I imagine has been admitted since it was opened to the public less than forty years ago. It’s not hard to go in; it’s easy. But, I suppose, relatively few people have, in the scheme of things.

Gadime Cave is named for the village of Gadime, and the walls are not the crumbling limestone I always expect. They are smooth rounded marble, sucked and lumped and emptied from an entire hill of marble. Striped and mottled red and pink and brown, with a ceiling like the bottoms of waves, the underskins of whirlpools and eddies. There are rare crystals, sexually suggestive stalactites and other unusual creations, but few things in the cave are much more wondrous than the tour guide.

He is in his fifties and he wears a grubby yellow ball cap over greasy wire grey hair. He has a paunch, and a big smile for all of us, and an apology for his “bad English,” although his English is just fine for the tour. There are two “floors” in Gadime Cave, and he leads us quickly past the second floor entrance. “It’s closed,” says the guide. The locked door bears a prohibition against photography, but the entry to the bottom floor has no such warning. Our group acts accordingly: a thousand photos are taken in Gadime Cave today.

The finest quality of our guide is not his well-rehearsed and delivered commentary or his genuinely warm demeanor. It’s his succinctness. He arrives at each one of the cave’s many wonders, stops and offers a brief explanation, exhorts the photographers in our group to memorialize the moment, and then quickly turns heel to tramp on further down. He does not waste our time or demand that we be any more awed than we are. He knows that we are in a beautiful and strange place, and it’s only his job to provide the facts.

Here are the facts:

   * Gadime Cave is almost entirely paved. Stalagmites rise out of the asphalt like lonely melted lampposts. The formerly concave ground in every chamber and passageway is now unnaturally flat. We might be in someone’s underground garden, a sensation that enhances the alien environment: another world in aspects both natural and unnatural, devised both by hand and ocean.

   * Gadime Cave is lit by small electrical fixtures positioned regularly for maximum effect. This becomes important later.

   * Gadime Cave is not a museum. The stones are caressed and fondled and tapped, carved and broken. Normally this would offend me, but somehow here it does not. There are not too many reminders of Arber’s love for Dita scratched into the marble walls, and the cave has embraced even this scant graffiti: why shouldn’t I? The water seeps down the walls and draws minerals into the names and declarations, planting cobweb seeds and crocheting the words in furry mineral outlines, making them eternal and part of itself, less tattoos than inevitable scars and bruises. Crystals are broken here and there, but for the most part they are intact. The guide stops to tap the hollow stalactites—a brief and unresolving melody—so matter-of-factly that there is no room for objections.

There are stalactites bonded together into rippled curtains. A small patch of green thin thread moss. Aragonite crystals growing down then sideways and back up, patterns that are rare and nonsensical: these are the smallest growths, but somehow most beautiful of all.

The EUR 2.50 tour buys an imagination. Not my imagination, but the imagination of someone else; it was bequeathed to our guide who then instructs us in its parameters. There are the Lovers—Romeo and Juliet—mineral deposits suspended one above the other and yet never after many thousands of years touching. The Family—a father, mother and child standing next to one another (but our guide clarifies that it is an American family: the Albanian version would require many more children.) Here is the Beard of Skanderbeg and there is the Broken Heart. The Elephant’s Foot, the Hall of Tears, the Penis and many more. And there is of course the map of Kosovo, a ledge of stone extending into one passageway and lit from below so that it casts a shadow on its surface just so. The imagination has some help from an electric fixture sunk into the pavement. The shape of Kosovo would not exist without a light aimed just so, just as the Penis would not exist without our need for some contrast to the holy romance of the unconsummated Lovers. In Gadime we call these shapes curtains and organ pipes, arms, legs, faces and animals; even walls and ceilings, as if they had been carpented and welded; all the things we know from above in the daylight taken down into the hole with us.

There is a tour every two hours, and so ours was of just the right length to allow our guide a coffee break of length equal to the journey afterwards. We were leaving the cave in less than an hour, making our way past the original entrance, now bricked up but showing slits of light where Ahmet Diti first stuck his spade, when the power went out. Lighters and cell phones then illuminated little else than our paved exit; the cave was dark, the way it was when first a river cut it away, and then a lake filled all of Kosovo, storing its silt in marble tanks here, before draining away and allowing the river to cut away again, revealing to Ahmet the channel we stood in at that moment. Workers carted away truckloads of mud before the cave could be traversed, and even now sections are still crammed with the remains of the original flood, so maybe there will be channels never traversed here. At least, with the lights out, our imaginations become our own again. Maybe there are college students around that corner…

The explanations diminished with the shadows and the map of Kosovo, like the rest of prehistoric Kosovo, receded into the dark completely once again and disappeared. Whether or not the flood drew a map of Kosovo for the future depends on your perspective, and on the careful placement of certain burning filaments, and on Power Company’s ability to keep the motors running. As strange as Gadime was, it shared similar constraints with the world above. The borders were flexible, the titles imposed, and all of it might change with just one good rain.

For information on other caves in Kosovo please visit the Speleo-Association of Kosovo Aragonit. (http://www.aragonit-speleo.org/en). "Blackbird" is an American artist living in Kosovo.

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