Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks

Since yesterday was my very first Thanksgiving in the States, I feel it would be proper for me to give some thanks. First of all, the biggest ever thank you to Ivan, for surviving me during the last months of mood-swings, attacks of defeatism and nostalgia. Thanks to all friends old and new for their support during the same difficult period. Thank you to my school for keeping me too busy to be crazy all the time. Thanks to all the pilgrims and slaughtered Native Americans, and decimated turkey populations for making this holiday what it is, and enabling me to have two days off from work and school. Finally thanks to those of you who still keep reading this.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Keeping in Touch

On Sunday, I’ve had kind of a crappy day. In line with my bourn-again-student life, I work in a restaurant. This is certainly not as stressful and demanding as my “serious” job back in Belgrade, but nevertheless it can be exhausting, especially in combination with all the work I need to do for school. Basically, I haven’t had more than 3 hours of absolute free time in the last couple of months. But Sunday was a particularly bad day at work. A gray rainy day, when everyone wishes they had stayed in bed and a restaurant terribly overcrowded with demanding customers amount to cranky colleagues, a charged atmosphere and a lot of shouting all around. If I ever have to make another skim-milk decaf cappuccino in my entire life it will be an eternity too soon. On the way home I also managed to get hit by a bycicle while talking with Ivan on the phone, which left a big scratch on my right knee.

When I got home I checked my e-mail. Nobody wrote. In fact, nobody has written in several days. In my grumpy mood, I started to get irritated. Most friends, when they do write, begin with : “Where have you guys been” or “Why don’t you write” and my letters similarly contain a version of “Sorry I haven’t written in so long but… (good excuse)”. Well I don’t want to apologize any more. I don’t want to sound like some sort of victim, as I am not, but it’s my life that has been turned upside down. It is I who has to adjust and cope every day with unknown situations in a new environment. All my friends and family and everything I know have been carried away by the planet, rotating away under my airplane. For those still in Belgrade, only one person is gone, their lives go on as normal, and still they manage to criticize this one distant friend, who’s probably too busy to write as he’s spending his millions in fancy NY nightclubs (I wish).

Anyway, this is all in the past. Like good Diaspora Serbs we picked ourselves up that Sunday evening and went to a new friend’s belated allegedly slava-related dinner party. Had some good food, drank wine. On top of that I am now beginning to discover the charms of Facebook, so no more criticism. Now I only have to explain how come, contrary to everyone’s expectations our life is just so ordinary and normal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Adjusting...

We took the taxi home after a night at the opera. Driving up the ramps of Queensborough Bridge on a rainy night you can look down Manhattan’s glimmering avenues. Fog rising from the East River makes the thousands of headlights soft and blurry. Between the elegant iron arches of the bridge and the fluttering canvas of the construction work you can see the dark water and the huge city shining around it. It’s easy to forget that you live by the sea if you always move underground.

Our life in New York is finally moving beyond resolving problems, beyond just bills and school and work. We’re making friends, we’re finding time. Yesterday was a friend’s opening night. Her costumes were wonderful. The whole production was witty and intelligent and fun. Afterwards, it felt a bit like Belgrade - we mingled and sipped punch. I loved being introduced as the photographer friend for the first time. On the way home I smelled the sea air and was happy that we’re beginning to enjoy our new home.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Across the Universe … from a Good Film

What a disappointment. I have to stop getting all excited about movie trailers. This film is a quasi-artistic, pretentious Moulin-Rouge wannabe, with a story that doesn’t really work, songs that were forcefully squeezed in, bad acting and characters you don’t really like. It did not move me a bit, and I tend to get emotional…


The good side is that it brought the Beatles back, quite a few great songs that I had completely forgotten about. And visually, there are some great scenes. New York looks wonderful, and living here now gives you a whole new perspective, but I have the feeling that the film was made only to link together a couple of pretty cool music videos. I don’t think that was enough.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Live for the Holidays

It’s the 3rd of November. Lights in the shape of snowflakes have popped up today in this corner of Queens. Shops are already starting to replace their spiders and skeletons with reindeers and snowmen. Just a few days ago the whole city was pumpkin-mad. I rode the subway with cavemen and commandos, I went to school with vampires and geishas. Today we’re already preparing for Christmas. I’m starting to understand. It seems people like to go a bit crazy during those two minutes of free time they have each week. If it means being allowed to go to work as the Wicked Witch of the East, all the better. It’s busy in America. I’ve been studying and working, plotting an unlikely big comeback to this blog and dreaming of having a weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different, Or Is It?

Let’s now move as far away from homophobia as possible. Eurovision. It seems everything in Serbia has to be a reality show. Maybe that’s how we could choose the next president. Anyway, in true Diaspora spirit, we’ve been watching some RTS over the internet. Every Monday we join our compatriots in suspense over who will host the Eurovision song contest next May in Belgrade.

So far the candidates are just embarrassing themselves, next May they will be embarrassing the country. The actors and actresses are the worst. Is it possible to be natural and spontaneous if you’re a Serbian actor? Among the women at least we have the fabulous Bebi Dol and the surprisingly likable Miss Canada. The men should better not be mentioned, at this point. I just hope that in one of the episodes they will take the lot to a stylist to cut those hairs and pluck those eyebrows.

Speaking of embarrassments at next year’s contest, there’s already a petition online to change the design of that awful set. The logo, at least in some of its many variations, can be digestible. All this said, I hope I’ll be able to attend and watch all of this embarrassment live in Belgrade Arena.

Getting back to homophobia now, I hope the rumors are true of a pride parade during Eurovision. It would be a pity to waste the opportunity. Hopefully, all the media attention could actually help avoid bloodshed. If, under pressure, the government is willing to pay good money for the arrest of someone they like, maybe they’re finally ready to protect someone they very much dislike. A shabby stage and a pair of morons doing bad impersonations will not be as damaging to the country’s reputation as someone beating up some rainbow-flag-waving Swedes or Germans on Republic Square.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Belgrade Nightlife

Even from six time zones away, Serbia never ceases to piss me off.

After reading for weeks about crazy stuff like neo-nazis, the latest news was more personal.

On Friday, two of our closest friends got beaten up, one pretty badly from what I understand, in the very center of Belgrade. They were at a gay club where they met a couple of “nice guys” who offered that they go somewhere else or for a walk. Once outside, some more “nice guys” showed up from behind and together they beat up our unsuspecting friends.

Just, HOW and WHY anyone gets so enraged by someone else’s choice of sexual partners, to pay admission to a club, pretend to be gay, just to pick someone up and cowardly beat him with a group of his like-frustrated buddies, is something I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend. I guess nothing proves you’re a tough Serbian male better than attacking an outnumbered opponent from the back.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Manhattan Meadows


What to do if you are a pair of Serbs in New York on potentially the greatest day in your country's tennis history? Tickets for the US open are either too expensive, unavailable, or both, especially on the day of the finals, but you can go to Madison Square Park and watch the match in a relaxed picnic atmosphere.
Hey, it's a meadow, not one of those in Flushing, but Manhattan is not that bad either.
So we packed up a big towel, some sandwiches and fruit, and got there an hour early to find a nice spot on the grass, with some shade from the hot September sun. After quite a bit annoying brainwashing from corporate sponsors, the match started and the crowd cheered as if we were in the stadium on the other side of the screen and the players could actually hear us. It was a lot of fun. Although Federer did eventually, and deservedly, win, Novak recovered well from all the blunders and was obviously the favourite of the crowd in the park. It seems quite likely we may be seeing a rematch next year, but with a different outcome.
We should try and get tickets on time.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Incredible See-Saw

No more stealing the neighbors' cable when they are away. Finally in our own apartment and with our own connection to the internet for my official 100th post.
As the furniture, and plates and flowers are slowly coming in and our new home is beginning to take shape, we are at the absolute peak of a constantly fluctuating curve that has been our stay here so far.
Only two weeks earlier, homeless and jobless and with our budget melting away more rapidly than anticipated we just cracked. It's terrible to feel like an outsider it's humiliating that all your life savings from years of working hard somewere now very far away amount to so little.It's hard to be cut of from everyone you know.
Fortunately not everyone - we have each other.
I am scared even to think of how I could cope with this alone. When I fell down Ivan was there to help me up and comfort me. And then the next day it would be his turn to get depressed and I'd be there with the voice of reason urging for patience and not loosing focus and hard work. And this incredible see-saw of emotions seems to have worked. Falling and getting up, we pulled and pushed each other through what I hope was the worst of the crisis. In a month we have accomplished a lot. May not sound so much but it was hard getting here. A new country, a new home, a new job, a new school. By no means is it going to get easy any time soon, but I know we're going to be alright.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New Beginning

I picked up our clothes at the laundromat, a concept that baffles and amuses my Serbian mind, bought some touch too greasy chineese food and came home. I sat down to eat at our new laptop, cheked my e-mail for news from back home or potential employers and looked out the wet window onto the misty Manhattan skyline in the distance. I realized that despite of our temporarry accomodation and current lack of income I now feel sufficiently at home to have a quiet moment and start writing again. In the next few days I'll post a couple of short texts about the last two weeks in New York, our impressions of the city from a new perspective, about the food, about the people, a short trip to Boston and the seemingly impossible quest to find a decent cheap apartment.
After that we will resume regular blogging.
If anyone is still reading, thanks for your patience.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Absence

The day I went to pick up my visa was the hottest in recorded meteorological history of Serbia. As I stepped off the sidewalk onto one of the busiest streets in Belgrade a gust of thick hot wind hit my body and I realized looking up the empty street that the city was deserted.
Absence seems to be my key word of this summer. The empty streets, a summer full of events which I missed because I was busy, the absent friends that I didn’t get to properly say goodbye to. I’ve been absent from this blog for a while, because I couldn’t find the time to write and I’ve been generally absent-minded for months, finding it difficult to do any work because I knew I was leaving, and as difficult to prepare for leaving, because I wasn’t sure it was really going to happen until the last minute.
Well, I am leaving. We’re leaving. Tomorrow morning Ivan and I will be on our way to New York. We have done so much and there are still so many unknowns. I don’t know how I feel. Everybody around me keeps crying. We’ll be back next summer for a few weeks. I know this is what we wanted and I am happy, but I’ve never been away from everything I know. So far away. For so long.
I ‘m going to stop now before I start to cry.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bureaudyssey Continues

Do not rejoice prematurely when dealing with paperwork and office clerks. It’s never over. No singing fat ladies in sight.
It turns out I still have far more to do then I thought and far less time to do it. My nerves at a breaking point, I spend hours every week on the phone with oblivious student advisors and admissions officers in New York trying to track down documents which should have been mailed to me weeks ago. I’m trying to be understanding about the fact that, living in the normal world, some people do not understand the concept of visas or even the fact that there are places on the planet for which you have to dial the international access code, but I am becoming extremely frustrated with the fact that my potential failure to go to the US can only be a result of postal delays and confused administrative staff.
But I won’t let this break me. When the going gets tough, the tough make an extremely detailed list of questions and designate a whole afternoon for international phone calls to set things straight. Today is that day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bureaudyssey 2007

Deadlines have came and gone, but my bureaucratic adventures continue. Slowly, results of my arduous work are becoming visible and the road to New York, though paved with paperwork, is starting to open up.

The big break that brought me back from the brink of a nervous break down came recently when instead of the usual “Your application is being processed, please allow up to 6/ 10/ 743 weeks for more information” the kind voice of the automated answering machine told me “You have been accepted… Please allow even more weeks for bla bla...” OK, OK, but I got in! Basically, I will be going back to school. Something I wanted to do for a while, but now have the opportunity and good reasons to do.

Previously, I collected the necessary paperwork; I prepared official translations and certified copies. I had to plead for additional stamps on my documents to the woman from my former high-school who passionately explained how what is being asked of me is another proof of American imperialism imposing its rules and regulations on the rest of the world. I waited for hours in front of an office at my old university, while the lady at the desk looked absently through me while chatting about her grandchildren on the phone. Eventually, when she decided to start working, she finished what I needed in a matter of minutes. I desperately went form bank to bank in an attempt to find a way to send a check from Serbia, which in order to prevent money leaving the country is generally not allowed. I managed to avoid filling out internet forms which do not allow my international phone number to be entered due to a surplus of digits. I am still waiting to provide financial guaranties and fill out visa forms and provide documents testifying that I am neither terrorist nor criminal, sick or poor. Hopefully then I will be able to delve into the really amusing aspects of bureaucracy or how to open a bank account or get a cell phone in the US. Weeee.

I’ve also learned something. I’m no longer setting deadlines.
All I know is that autumn in New York seems increasingly real.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Be Nice

There’s an old woman I see from time to time as I walk home along King Alexander Boulevard. I don’t know whether she’s homeless but she does beg for money.
Probably about three months ago, I was walking into a supermarket. She stood outside the store and asked if I could get her a packet of Smoki (peanut snacks). I have to admit that I don’t fall for sad stories and rarely give people money but I couldn’t refuse such a genuine request? I bought one and handed it to the woman who shook my hand, thanked her heart out and in a couple of sentences told me her family history. She called me a knight. I went on with my business, and never gave it another thought.
Yesterday, as I was again walking home from work, I ran into the same woman. I was about to pass her by, but she was delighted to see me – she didn’t ask for anything, just shook my hand again, said I was still her knight. Three months later. For a small bag of salty snacks.
I was deeply moved. Something I did without thinking or acknowledging it, meant so much to someone I do not even know. I was amazed at how even our smallest actions can make a difference for someone.
The smallest act of kindness can really make someone’s day, so be nice to people.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Will & Grace


Will and Grace are over. A year late, the last episode was finally aired in Serbia this week.
I loved this show. I remember watching the first episode years ago on Studio B, thinking: wait, did I get this right? I remember so many subsequent episodes that I watched while on the phone with my own red-haired best friend. It somehow marked a very important time for me and become a significant part of my life. It was fun to identify and reluctantly laugh at our sitcom characteristics - from her talent to find crazy men to my obsession with gift-wrapping.
Towards the end I do feel the show lost some of its appeal. There was a period when it wasn’t all that funny any more, and the small quirks that made the characters real and likeably neurotic turned into rather annoying caricatures.
I got quite upset after the last episode. I found it depressing. It’s as if they decided to kill off the characters by robbing them of some 20 years of their lives. Bit too harsh and concrete for my taste. It would have been far better to give some hints and leave endings open so everyone could have their own ideas, and hope.
I don’t think it’s good to know how things end in the long run.
My own Will and Grace friendship has been suffering from lack of time and incompatible schedules, but I’m hoping it won’t take a few decades and a couple of kids to get back on track.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Good Riddance

After nine months, the “army” is finally over and I’m no longer indebted to my country for all the joy and happiness it has provided over the years. I admit I was lucky and the whole experience was not too disruptive of my life, but I still believe it is a disgraceful and hypocritical favor to ask of the men in Serbia.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flags

This is what I call good PR. The government of Kosovo has announced a competition for new state symbols. The underlying context is: breaking away from the past, a new country - new symbols. I’m sorry Serbia missed such an opportunity recently and opted for its dated crowned emblems.
Whatever the future of Kosovo may be, and I’m not too optimistic about its democratic and multiethnic capacity, I found this task quite inspirational.
Where to start?
The territory’s past and present are dominated by two nations – the Albanians and the Serbs, so their existing symbols are a logical starting point for new ones.
What do they have in common?
In terms of color, the mutual element is red, but I’ve deliberately left it out as it is too aggressive. The Albanian flag though very iconic and powerful is a bit too scary for my taste. And then we have the two-headed eagle. Both nations have one, although they are complete opposites – one is white, the other is black. Now the two-headed eagle itself is a strange animal. It looks quite hostile but also a bit schizophrenic and seems in conflict with itself.



I started with an image of a dignified and peaceful eagle and decided to use the traditional two heads – one black and one white, but this time they are both facing in the same direction – symbolically looking into the future. Then I added another color – blue, which represents peace. It is also the color of international cooperation, of Europe, and in that sense the future of the region.
Combining these elements in form of a slightly twisted tricolor flag creates a simple yet recognizable design – based on traditional and historic elements, but yet distinct enough to be acceptable for all.
And I stress, these are just symbols. Whether what they stand for can really become reality is a completely different matter. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Serbian Open

It’s a funny sight. Wherever you go people watch or talk about tennis. Unable to watch the games at work, some of my colleagues watch the constantly updating scoreboard at the Roland Garros website and get as excited as if they were looking at the real thing.
With 3 players now in the semifinals of the French Open and another in both the men’s and mixed doubles semis, Serbia seems to have suddenly risen to incredible heights in a sport where previously it was almost invisible. Personally, I would love Novak to win and Jelena to beat Ana in the final but regardless of whether any of them go through to the next round or the title, it’s an amazing success.
So how did this happen? Does it have something to do with enriched uranium or kryptonite that gave rise to some strange new generations? And how did we switch from our traditional team sports, like basketball or water-polo to tennis? I have no idea.
The important thing is that we have some new young, likeable and very positive role models; that people have something good to celebrate. If tennis is the number one topic in Serbia then it is certainly a wonderful step forward.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ten Years Later


I can’t believe it’s been a whole decade since the ridiculous night at the Intercontinental, the bad suits, worse dresses, and terrible hair-styles. When I get home I have to dig out that photo album (back than photos were still made of paper) and look at my high-school graduation pictures. Maybe brush up on some names…
I haven’t really stayed in touch. Much. Belgrade must really be big, since there are many people I haven’t seen once since 1997. Some I see from time to time, and usually it’s work related. But we did have a fun four years together.
A class friend called me to say that a get-together is planned in a few days. Symbolically we agreed to meet in front of KST and go there together. I’m guessing it will be the same small groups of people – the same seating arrangements. The window crew, the wall crew… Only we’re all a little older. There’ll be a lot of gossip, I’m sure. It’s a chance to see who’s gotten fat, who’s balding, who’s pregnant and with which child. Fortunately, I’m not in any of these categories so I can breathe a little easier. If only I can think of what to wear.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

Enough of writing on other people’s blogs! I have my own, thank you very much. I barely manage to post here from time to time but sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut. There was a well-intentioned post on homophobia over at Belgrade 2.0 which turned into a rather nasty debate…
Why is it even called phobia? Is it fear? It’s downright hatred and rage. Shouldn’t it be "misohomy" or something?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

GUILTY

Without getting into an analysis of the Serbian judicial system and whether it is enough or not, I’m glad they got the maximum possible sentence.
I just hope that by the time these senior assassins leave jail in 40 years, Serbia will have made up for what was lost on March 12th 2003.
I also hope that, in coming years, there will be more evidence and more trials in this case. Those in anyway involved in his murder must never again be allowed anywhere near Djindjic’s hard-earned position.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Comic Books and Film

Spiderman 3 is a terrible film. It is long, boring and idiotic. I love comic books and I get quite excited about any film based on comics, so this was quite a disappointment. I haven’t really read much of Marvel, though. Personally, I always preferred the Franco-Belgian school. In fact the only reason for my first visit to Brussels, on a day trip from Holland, apart from trying the waffles and buying some Godiva, was to visit the comic book museum. Two years ago when Ivan and I went there again, it was actually the only museum we visited.
And yesterday the world marked
one hundred years since the birth of HergĂ© with events, stamps and coins celebrating his famous creation - Tintin, one of my favourite childhood heros. In our house comic books were treated with respect and my sister and I were actually encouraged to read them as my father has an enormous collection spanning all the way into the sixties. When I was little, I was secretly hoping someone would discover me and call me to play Tintin, or perhaps, Spirou in a film. I think that hair style would look really good on me. So, I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Spielberg.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My Own Private Idaho

With all the Eurovision euphoria these days I almost forgot about our parliamentary circus. After much ado about nothing and pressure from everyone from the EU to the Eurosong winner, the MPs finally voted in our new government, a “democratic one”, none the less.
But let’s not get over-excited. This coalition, though it was inevitable, is based on deep mistrust and completely irreconcilable program differences. The idea of mutual control is not bad, but I’m afraid all we’ve got is a government which is ineffective and cannot agree on any important issue.
Then there are issues which are “not important”…
Today is the International Day Against HOmophobia. Human rights, in any form, are not a priority of this government. Today also happens to be my birthday. You could say, it was meant to be. Happy Birthday to Me! Happy IDAHO, all.

Monday, May 14, 2007

King of Chandeliers


Belgrade Design Week 2007 ended on Saturday. Similar to last year it was a series of lectures on all things design – from architecture to digital effects. It was interesting, educational and inspirational.
As a big fan of architecture, it was a real treat to listen to Rem Koolhaas, Ora Ito was a lot of fun, Mirko Ilic gave a very good lecture, although he is, in my view, very unlikable. I was particularly happy to listen to one of my favorite design collectives – Droog Design, as I’ve been a fan for quite a while.


But probably more than anything, I’m glad BDW made it possible to visit one of my favorite buildings in Belgrade, otherwise closed to the public – the Federation Palace.
With its enormous size, over the top simplicity and amazing artwork it is an actual palace build in the social-realism style of the fifties and sixties.

The most impressive is the great hall with its colossal sun-shaped chandelier which looks like an early influence for the dome of the Sony Center at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.
Wouldn’t mind having one in my room.
Wouldn’t mind having a big enough room, for that matter.
Would mind having their electricity bill, though.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Belgrade 2008 Eurovision Song Contest!!!


We jumped and screamed last night as votes were coming in. A tense standoff reminiscent of 2004 between rising Eurovision superpowers Ukraine and Serbia, this time ended favorably for us. Marija won! I am sorry for Verka, but ultimately I decided to play it safe and vote for my other favorite – Slovenia just in case.

I spend the whole day at Belgrade Design Week (more of that tomorrow) listening to interesting lectures and hoping that rumors of surprise guest Brad Pitt, would be false. Fortunately, it was all a publicity stunt. Otherwise I would have been seriously tempted to miss the contest and go the BDW after-party.

I’m very happy Belgrade will get to host Eurovision which is, in my view, the ultimate and most amusing pop spectacle. Yes it’s trashy and camp, but that’s what makes it so good to watch. Plus it’s not bad for the local economy or the gay community.

So, as we are devising plans how to manage to come back from New York next May to see the spectacle live in Belgrade Arena, I have to mention three things which kind of spoil the fun for me:

“Political voting”
Immediately after the show we switched to BBC where there was again talk of political voting in the contest. Although voting certainly is predictable I think it’s just a bad case of sour grapes. If anything, much of the voting is a triumph over politics. We have to remember that many of these “block” countries are not on perfect terms with each other and some have even gone through conflicts.
Voting is just a result of similar languages and sensibilities and it’s a positive sign. Yes, in this sense, some eastern countries do have an advantage, but it is not enough, unless you can also draw votes from the west.
The whole story kind of reminds of something Rem Koolhaas said at his lecture yesterday, speaking of the West’s attitude towards architecture in Russia, China and Arab countries. He spoke of latent racism or at least latent feeling of superiority, in not being able to accept that the world is changing and shifting focus. So, if the UK wants to fair better next time maybe they should just send something less teletubbiesque and maybe they’ll get some votes. Who knows, if Scotland secedes in a few years maybe England will finally get some “political” votes.

Nationalism
We took a walk to Republic Square to see the spontaneous outpouring of public joy. There was quite a crowd, and it was mostly benign, but naturally there were also significant numbers of football-fan-like types chanting the usual nationalistic slogans along with Marija’s name. These are the same people who would probably beat her up in the street if they suspected she was a Gypsy or if it turned out she actually was gay.

Snobbism
We ran into some friends who were actually angry that we won and that people were rejoicing because Eurovision “lacks quality”. I tried in vain to explain that whether you like it or not it is at least good PR, free advertising and a great opportunity for tourism in Serbia and Belgrade. Some people should just relax and not take everything too seriously.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eurovision 2007, Semifinals

Today, I’ll steer away from dark topics. It seems the rise of fascism in Parliament did not have such a profound effect on the Serbian economy as I was kept late at work by a foreign client. I did miss all but one lecture on the first day of the Belgrade Design Week conference, but I did somehow manage to get home for the Eurosong semifinals.
Marija was great. Not just because she’s… one of us, but the understated dramatics made this, in my view, one of the best performances in recent years. She and her sophisticated lesbian sisterhood were far better that any of the other semifinalists.
Some surprises in the pick for the finals, though. I’m glad the entranced Slovenian opera singer went through. I’m sorry my vote went to waste, as not too dramatic Drama Queen failed to reach the finals. The song was much better live. I also liked the Dutch and the Albanians, but none of them made it through.
Can’t wait for the finals! I really hoped Ukraine would win, but now that I saw Marija’s performance and I think we actually have a chance to win… It would be great to have the contest in Belgrade in 2008, even if I won’t be here to see it live. At least I hope I’ll be able to see the whole of the final night, and still get to the BDW closing party in time to get my picture taken with the “mystery” guest.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cabaret

Monday evening was very interesting. Two very important and very different events took place in the center of Belgrade not far from each other.
In the glitzy art-deco interior of Belgrade’s only specialized musical and comedy theater on Terazije, the deputy mayor, opening the second edition of Belgrade Design Week, didn’t fail to mention the city’s title as the south-east European city of the future. Then we saw a film about last year’s design week, and visionary and inspirational people from all over the world who gathered in Serbia and spoke of creating a better world.
Right around the corner, in the Parliament, the picture was a bit more bleak. The future did not seam as bright. In fact, it looked very much like our unattractive past. Despite that, the MPs acted as if they were entertainers –stand up comedians trying to think of the funniest reply so that the whole chamber would burst into laughter, while the country slowly sinks into fascism.
If anything good came out of yesterday’s election of our new radical parliament speaker, it is that things are finally clear. Dss can no longer pretend to be a reformist pro-european party and DS has no more excuses to be lazy. Sadly, this clarity only makes us see that we have many more lost years ahead of us.One of the senior radicals said: the future belongs to us. And there’s a lovely musical called Cabaret, with a catchy song called “Tomorrow belongs to me”. Unfortunately not enough people remember what happened “tomorrow”.

Monday, May 07, 2007

It’s My Slava and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Despite of spending a nice St. George’s day at my parents’ house with family, friends and all the delicious food, I am feeling slightly depressed these days. Serbia is just too much to handle sometimes. I did, at least, manage to avoid too much political confrontation with some of the guests but only by skillfully diverting the conversation to celebrity big brother at the very last moment.
The only people that seem to be able to find a common language in this country today are the various fascist brotherhoods and orthodox talibans when they agree on whom to beat up next. Legally organized peaceful protests of citizens get canceled or simply don’t get scheduled and no one seems to be worried by the increasing silence caused by the threat of violence.
Even the police stay silent. No big surprise in a country that is not legally governed by anyone. The political parties are nowhere near to that level of cooperation in regards to forming a new government. Probably because, apart from a few, they are basically skinheads in suits. Well, at least they are balding.
And naturally there’s Kosovo. Oh, the sacred 15% of our land - 18% of Serbia without Kosovo :) is the ever present excuse for every form of repression and always a good reason to beat people up. Legalize pot? No, we have to think of Kosovo. Gay rights? No, Kosovo. The economy? Maybe later, you know, Kosovo. I’m sorry I have to pee! Wait! Kosovo!
In the meantime, schoolchildren form this holiest of lands are staying with their less holly Belgrade friends, which is I guess a nice gesture. These poor little pawns deserve some time off. Anyway, some people I know work in schools and are in charge of showing these kids around town, so a colleague - a catechesis teacher asked my friend: “If you want, I can fill in for you. You know, as a believer, Kosovo is esential to me so, so I’ll gladly help”.
Not because of the children. No. Kosovo. Had the children been, say, orphans from Kragujevac, she wouldn’t have cared less, the big believer. What if they were, god forbid, Muslims?
Today it’s back to my parents house for another round of guests.
Damn it! Should I eat another slice of this chocolate cake when the status of Kosovo is still not resolved favorably?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Celebrity, Who?

It was a starry night at the Big Brother red carpet. The small crowd went: I know him, I think. You know, you remember him. Isn’t she… No. Wait, I’m sure I know this one… Uhm, maybe not. At least I have heard of most of these people, but I somehow thought being a celebrity meant more than having your picture published in Gloria once. Than again if you’re well known and have an actual successful career, why would you put it on hold so the rest of the world could watch you cut your toenails in prime time. The only really famous person is the huge scary folk singer, but for her it’s a sensible business decision. Why pay the tabloids to publish your “candid” nude pictures, when you can parade naked in the aforementioned prime time. Definitely not worth watching. Unless the model guy decides to work out with his top off.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tough Crowd


Now, I’m not an art historian, but I’m not particularly thrilled by the exhibits coming to Belgrade lately. I mean I’m glad someone is finally sending us something, but I have a feeling they’re keeping the best for themselves. As with the recent exhibition of British artists in the Contemporary Art Museum, the pieces from St. Etienne in 25th of May Museum left me thinking more about the poor state of the museum building than the art. Maybe it’s just me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sorry, Superman

Although many of us have been hoping for a miracle which would pull this country from the brink of the abyss and lay it safely back on the right track, it seems we now have scientific proof that we are one more option short. The discovery of Kryptonite in a Serbian mine (as reported by BBC) means that we cannot even hope for Superman anymore.

Speaking of whom, I never really understood Superman’s agenda. With all he can do, he spends his days saving people from burning buildings and cats stuck in trees when he could actually do something good for all of mankind like stop wars and protect the environment. If he wanted to I bet he could prevent illegitimate governments from abusing parliament, ruling unlawfully through decrees or promoting ethnic and religious tensions to cover up their inability to govern… Well, he probably wouldn’t do that, but it would be nice to at least have the option.

So is this why we have become a refuge for the villains of the world? Perhaps we have unearthed the root of our problems. And maybe it’s this mineral that prevents us form being the super beings we’ve always imagined ourselves to be.

When I was little I really believed I could fly. I actually have “memories” of flying that are really hard to distinguish from my real childhood memories. Hopefully when I’m no longer under this evil rock’s influence I’ll be able to breathe more easily.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Protecting the Chocolate Banana

Worthy causes are rare in Serbia while stupid marketing strategies abound. The most recent combination of the two is a bid to come up with a new name for arguably the most famous dessert in the country - the Cream banana, known to everyone as chocolate banana (cokoladna banana) or simply bananica (small banana). The actual banana content of this beloved product or its strange unbananalike shape may be disputed, but no one can deny the strength of the bananica brand. So the whole idea is in my view simpy, well… bananas!
It could be a ploy to officially recognize the product’s unofficial name, or just a stunt to get people to react. In any case it’s working, as everyone is talking about it, thinking up names and from what I hear there is even a petition to save the poor little chocolate banana, which I wholeheartedly support.
However, I too have been tempted to combine all the cho-s, nana-s and ba-s in my head in search for the ultimate combination. And, though I hear I’m not the only one to come up with this solution, I feel that in view of Serbia’s passionate love affair with tradition and obsession with all things ethno, the winner has to be: Chobanica – or little shepherd girl.
And here’s my suggestion for a possible campaign – so take a look at what the future might bring - all rights, naturally, reserved :)


Monday, April 16, 2007

The Best Things in Life Are Free (and wooden kitchen utensils are incredibly cheap)

Perhaps I’m too easily excited but I need to share my unfounded excitement.
This Sunday I was on Kalenic market looking to replace a wooden spatula which I accidentally dropped behind the stove while cooking and was both too lazy to reach for and too squeamish to reuse.

I came across a shop which sells wooden ladles along with other products made of wood, and as I was thinking whether or not to buy one, because it’s not really what I was looking for, I remembered to ask for the price. Ten dinars, the saleswoman said, to my absolute surprise.

In fact, it appears all items in the small shop were equally cheap because when I handed the lady a fifty dinar note, she looked at me with dismay as if saying: what am I to do with all that money?

It was quite pleasing to realize you can actually buy something so cheap, I thought as I walked away with my new wooden ladle in hand.
I wonder, what else can one get for 10 dinars?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Post-holiday stress disorder

The four days of Easter holidays felt so good – the warm sunshine and a weekend at my parents house stuffing myself with delicious food without even having to get out of bed.
I’ve only been back at work for two days and the first thing that crosses my mind when I wake up is to quit. I need a real holiday. Strange how just a few lazy days erase any memory of what it takes to work hard.
Come on Labor Day!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Reluctant Dragon is One

Shame on me. I almost forgot. Happy Birthday dear Dragon!
I didn’t get you anything, but I promise I’ll try to write more often.
In your first year there have been ups and downs, but many people came and we made some friends, so I’ll do my best to help you go on and improve.


Do you have any wishes, comments or advice for Reluctant Dragon as he enters his second year?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lasha Tumbai

And we have a winner! The Ukrainian contestant for Eurosong is the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages. I love it. Some might say that this is as embarrassing for the Ukraine as the song I was so afraid would win the Serbian contest would have been for us, but I think this is a completely different category. Maybe it’s because I have a thing for drag queens (not what it sound like) but I think this is genuinely funny and fun. She reminds me of my late great aunt, and even dances like some drunken relative at a wedding. And it even political! The meaningless (fact-checked) title unmistakably sounds like Russia Goodbye. Brilliant. Ridiculously brilliant.
Ok. Happy End.


Check her out: Verka Serdyochka

Monday, April 02, 2007

April Idiots

Yesterday was the first truly gorgeous Sunday this year, and as I was sitting lizard-like with friends on some steps next to the National Library soaking in the sunlight and enjoying myself immensely I received a phone call from a distressed friend who told me that Britney Spears had committed suicide. It was in the news on MTV Adria. When I got home I turned on the news channels to see what happened, and after some time realized that it was an April fools joke. It took me a while to figure it out as it’s beyond my comprehension how anyone can joke about such things especially in regards to a person with psychological problems. It’s morbid and in terribly bad taste. Maybe they thought nobody is watching this channel anyway so why not attract some attention. Well, I hope somebody presses charges.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Better late than never

I know it’s, kind of, cheating, but it’s a pity to waist perfectly decent already written posts. Due to some technical difficulties and no time to fix them sooner, here are the last few weeks’ posts, as they were written:

Monday, March 12, 2007

12.03.

And here’s another date that I will never forget. I think I’ve witnessed too much history.
I was working as a part time translator for a government agency and it was a relatively slow day. I don’t really remember what happened when from all the excitement but we finished some meeting in the morning and I headed home. I visited my mom at work. I realized something strange was happening as I walked through the empty corridors. Everyone was glued to the radios in their offices. News was beginning to break but nothing was certain. In complete disbelief we kept saying: He’ll be ok.
I ran back to work, hoping to learn more. I looked at oblivious people in the street trying to recognize my own stunned expression on other faces. At work, the picture was grim. As I passed the crying secretaries and the men in suits shaking their heads, I started to realize that what we were fearing could actually be true. Not long after it was confirmed. Djindjic was dead.
I cannot remember at which point came a memo from the Ministry, which I was to translate for the foreign consultants. It was full of words like persevere and continuity. I cried as I was typing. But for a time I started to believe it could be done. That summer I was interviewed by a foreign journalist and I said that I believed that this horrible murder opened the eyes of even more people and that as tragic as it was it could not sidetrack the country on its way to becoming a normal place to live.
I was very wrong.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mumbo Jumbo Serbiano

Phew! I was really horrified by the prospects that this title would be Serbia’s first representative in the Eurovision song contest (and the cause of another well-deserved round of bombing). Eurovision is no stranger to idiotic acts, but this one takes the gold.
In the end, I’m quite pleased. My favorite won. If half the gossip about this girl is true, I’m even happier. I think peoples’ objections to her looks are out of place. We can always count on the World Idol factor.
The event itself was yet another low point for Serbian national TV, with disgraceful performances by the two ridiculous hosts, and not much better contestants. The highlight for me were the strange commercial breaks with low production spots straight out of local television in eastern Serbia.
Still I love the whole thing, Lots of friends came, we drank lots of wine and laughed and booed and cheered like crazy. Can’t wait for Helsinki…

Monday, March 05, 2007

Film History

March looks set to be a month of cinema. So many films are coming that I’d really like to see. So much I’ve missed on FEST. Year after year my choice of films to see at the festival becomes increasingly limited and mainstream. In part because it’s hard to find time and in part because I really cannot be bothered any more to do research so I simply go and see films I’ve already heard of. This year was no exception – a parade of academy award nominees and winners. Some were late arrivals to the Serbian silver screen, but well worth the wait.

Babel was beautiful and moving and I loved Little Miss Sunshine, but it’s films about history that for me really made a mark this year.
I love how in the Last King of Scotland a fictional character was woven through real historical events and brought a personal perspective on details of history I knew very little about. On the other hand, Apocalypto was a huge disappointment. It did get me to spend hours on the Internet reading about the Maya civilization, but I am baffled why anyone would spend a huge budget on something completely historically inaccurate. Admittedly I failed to see the Christian undertone, because my mind simply doesn’t work that way. I actually saw the coming of the Spanish in the end as the last straw, the final disaster to plague these people, not, as most critics see it, as a symbol of godly people coming to save some barbarian souls. If this indeed is true, it makes the film even worse.
Another film from FEST which I absolutely loved was Marie Antoinette. Although I haven’t actually seen it on the festival, it really made my day, one rainy afternoon in Brooklyn last November. It’s atmospheric and pretty and makes you think on how history really depends on your perspective. Until it hits you in the face.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Polluted Stream of Consciousness

What is the purpose of trolleybuses? They're slow. In the rush hour it takes me less time to walk home. And they don't work in the snow. Or rain. Or slightly increased humidity, probably.

I'm all for environmentally friendly electrically powered public transport. I love trams. But then, they work, regardless of the weather. Fortunately, the whether has mostly been kind this year, but yesterday I had to walk home in the rain, as the streets were once again blocked by dead trolleybuses.

On the other hand, perhaps it's unprecedented example of forward planning. Maybe they are the vehicles of the future. Of the globally warmer future when in the deserts of central Serbia precipitation will be a centennial event.


Then again, I'm starting to think, global warming might not even exist. Maybe news are really only used to scare everyone into submission. I mean, how important can the crisis in Iran really be if CNN can afford to talk about the death of a Playboy playmate for three days. Poor woman, but still…

Not actually posted on Wednesday due to technical difficulties.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It’s All Japanese to Me

Let's pretend there is a buzz around the blogging community: Where is Reluctant Dragon? Working his tail off, that's where.
A month ago, I was naively rejoicing in the fact that things are looking up at work, and now I just hope to get home before midnight. It's not as if I don't have enough of extracurricular activities in preparation for our big leap across the Atlantic.
I took a TOEFL exam (pronounced T-Awfull). It's an exhausting four hours of not too difficult exercises in the English language under inhuman conditions. I told a friend that I took the exam. She misunderstood me. She thought I took a Tofu exam. Some people are even more lost than I am. I hope I did well on my Tofu.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Admit Defeat...

…since nobody else will. It seams everybody has won this election. Everybody is celebrating something. Most seats in parliament, best result ever, not the worst result ever, entering parliament, strong negotiation position, most successful campaign, prettiest smile. Some partied all night at the news of victory for the radicals while others rejoice at the triumph of the democratic block.

Well I’m not celebrating. I’m not happy with the results. They are no far from what I expected, but I was, sort of, hoping for a miracle.

I’m shocked that the socialists still manage to get voted into parliament. Haven’t their supporters learned anything, or gone over to the radicals, or, at least died of old age, cold and starvation? I’m sad that people are dumb enough to buy into radical rhetoric. I know many are poor but you don’t buy an IQ! “The democratic block” is a myth. I’m disappointed that the democrats and liberals didn’t get more votes and I absolutely still don’t understand why on Earth anyone would vote for dss and their coalition partners. Just vote for ds or admit you’re a radical and shut up!

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Rest is Silence

Finally, after months of unscrupulous promises of instant prosperity, the commercial breaks today are once again dominated by laundry detergents and banks. A pre-electoral calm before the storm is upon Serbia.

Today is the day of epiphany. The story goes that at midnight the sky opens up and you make a wish. Now, I’m not religious or even a believer, but I find this particular superstition rather cute, like blowing out candles on your birthday cake. And since it’s a day for making wishes, I thought I might wish something to my compatriots:

I wish us a dss free government. I wish that the radicals, dss, sps and the like do not get a total of 50% of the votes. I then wish the remaining parties - the democrats and liberals and the minorities form a government which would have a civilized and contemporary set of values and in which ds could abandon its passive policies of cohabitation and do some real and badly needed work on changing the essence of this country. I wish…

So have a great Sunday and beyond. It depends on us.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

2007

By the middle of the first work week of 2007, the new year has been quite obviously setting the tone of things to come. The gorgeous spring-like weather echoes the promises of the hottest year in recorded history

At work it’s hectic and busy which is a welcome change from last year which was slow, uneventful and relatively unsuccessful (although it gave me time to start my blog). One of my colleagues, that I was quite close with, has left the company which is sad. After three years of seeing someone every day, it’s a bit unsettling when things change. On the other hand, in the year when I hope to leave everyone I know behind and move to another continent, I shouldn’t get too worked up about these things.

With this in mind, I’m up to my neck in bureaucracy and to do lists. Hopefully by the middle of March I will know where I stand. If by the middle of March I stand in the right place, hopefully by late August, Ivan and I will be in New York again.

And I can hardly wait. In Serbia, another “milestone” election is around the corner. So much to be lost. Not as much to be gained. Once again “this” year could be decisive. Once again I’m afraid it won’t be.

For me at least, this will be a big year. Huge.
All the best, everyone.