Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Like cannedpeas

My father is the only member of my immediate family who can stomach canned peas. When my brother and I were younger, he told us that the secret to eating them is not to think of them as peas, but as a different vegetable entirely, cannedpeas. If you’re expected peas, you’ll be disappointed, but they taste okay if you have no expectations.

Banja Luka, where I spent my weekend, is like cannedpeas.

I went there to see K, who continues to be lovely and amazing and one of my favorite people within a 7 hour radius.

While, I was there, I also took in the city. A recent newspaper story in Banja Luka called the city a metropolis. It is not a metropolis; it is a nice town. It doesn’t feel like a capital city. Possibly, that is because it is not the capital of a country, but the capital of an entity, the Serbian part of Bosnia. It’s the capital of half of the country. (I didn’t even attempt to understand the Bosnian political scene – I did not have enough time for all of its complications.) Banja Luka has high government buildings and the river and old castle/fortress required of every Serbian city. If you’re not expecting a capital city, it’s a lovely town surrounded by beautiful hills. It’s a good place to wander around – even if it rained the entire weekend.

For my last meal in Banja Luka, K and I went to a ‘Mexican’ restaurant. It was very much a cannedpeas experience. I had been warned in advance to not expect anything approaching authentic, so I was free to enjoy Bosno-Mexican cuisine.

I ordered the vegetable fajitas. The grilled vegetables presented to me included peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, peas, and beans. The tortillas were surprisingly good and authentic. The sauces were a different story. The ‘salsa’ was cocktail sauce and the other sauce was ranch dressing. I learned that tortillas filled with grilled vegetables and ranch dressing make a rather satisfying meal. It’s just not one that could be called Mexican.

Friday, August 25, 2006

border lines

I am slowly working my way through The End of History and the Last Man, an interesting, but not too compelling argument that liberal democracy is 'the end of history,' the ultimate in terms of rights and freedom. There's not a next step in the fuedalism-monarchism-dictatorship-democracy progression.

I don't buy it. There has to be a better system than this. . .

I've never been a fan of borders, but I've been especially frustrated with citizenship and borders and all they entail recently. In my circle here, the number of transnational couples is greater than the number of couples that share the same citizenship. I was out with a few of them last night & they started complaining about the complications that citizenship adds to their relationships.

I know a number of couples who are getting married when they otherwise wouldn't so the partner from Eastern Europe can come to stay with the Western European/Canadian/American one and they can let the relationship play itself out. It's not greencard fraud, as they are in love, but they wouldn't be getting married [yet] if it weren't for the immigration concerns.

I have a Serbian friend who was lucky enough to recieve a multiple entry tourist visa that she can use to visit her Dutch boyfriend, but the visa states that she is not allowed to get married in an EU country. Why can the EU dictate where someone marries?

Even more complicated are the situations of lesbian friends who are waiting for the American, Serbian, or Kosov@ (if it ever gets its own) government to recognize their relationships as valid so they don't have to keep visiting each other as tourists, so they can strategically marry like heterosexuals.

I am out of residency status in the middle of next week, so I am going to see a friend in Bosnia later today. It seems so arbitrary to make foreigners leave the country every few months. It doesn't seem to serve any purpose except making one's passport look more impressive with all those entry and exit stamps . . . Maybe the transportation industry is behind it.

I recognize it's ridiculous for an American- a holder of a passport that means I never have to stand in line for hours outside an embassy and that will get me across nearly any border hassle-free even when I look my sketchiest - to be complaining about citizenship and residency. I just disagree with Fukuyama. This cannot be the best system possible.

Monday, August 21, 2006

beer fest recap

So I spent Friday and Saturday nights at the Belgrade Beer Festival. It was the nice rather small, rather calm beer festivals I used to attend in Portland on steriods (in every way except the number of beers represented).

The major breweries had huge booths with things like 15 foot tall inflated beer cans and mock town squares and huge screens showing ads. And there was a big stage with music, not random street performers or marching bands wandering through the place. And so many people that it was hard to walk around at times.

The most bizarre aspect of it was that there were carnival rides. Drunk people + a tilt-a-whirl is not good. I feel bad for the clean up crew.

At one point on Saturday night, my friend G, an American, and his Bosnian girlfriend and I were sitting at a table half-way between the live music stage and the carnival. The sounds of both were loud enough to prevent conversation. There were flashing lights and screens in most directions and crowds of people all around.

G turned to me and yelled, 'this is what I hate about America.'

Thursday, August 17, 2006

deep thoughts on TV

I've been working at home this week, as my office is being painted. It's good for productivity and happiness in the short-term, but not leaving the house until the late afternoon several days in a row made me a bit stir-crazy.

One lunch break discovery was that the only channel that I can get with any clarity on my cable-less antenna-less TV shows The Awful Truth, Michael Moore's show from 2000 0r so. The bits about NAFTA, compassionate conservativism and getting Alan Keyes to jump into a mosh pit are entertaining and feel like a little time capsule of before 9/11 changed everything.

I don't understand why it is being broadcast here, though. I can't imagine that it translates very well. Compassionate conservatism and Alan Keyes are both specifically American things from a very specific time. I'm a little frightened that people here can get the jokes, that American cultural imperialism has spread so far that Serbians understand jokes about Alan Keyes. I mean, who here cares about American union jobs being shipped to Mexico?

Regardless, it is a good break and a nice chuckle when my head is full of translating. And the subtitles entertain me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How do you say ‘adventure’ in Hindi?

I just saw Water, an amazing Canadian Hindi language film about widows in India in the 1930s. Beautiful, powerful. The actors are amazing, communicating so much with a glance or a gesture, which is most convenient, as I was busy writing down every subtitle.

Women in Black is hoping to show the film during upcoming seminars. Unfortunately, unsurprisingly there is not yet a Serbian-subtitled edition of the film. My transcription was the first step in the creation of a Serbian translation of the dialogue that people will be able to use when they watch it.

The film, along with viewing the online photo album of a friend who was just traveling there has renewed my desire to go to India. I was invited to a wedding in Hyderabad in November, but am not attending for financial, time, and emotional (The groom and I were dating 14 months ago.) reasons.

For now, I will just have to settle for cooking up some curried eggplant with potatoes (Bittman p. 570) and rewatching Bend it Like Beckham.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Night at the Opera

On the way to meet some friends on Saturday night, I received a call from another friend. She told me that there would be an opera concert in the main square. I proposed checking it out to the people I was meeting up with and they accepted. We headed to Trg Republike for a night of opera.

What we found was the opening night of the Mozart Film Festival. Apparently, this festival is sponsored by the city of Vienna and is touring around Central Europe this summer.

Before the film, there was a series of speeches and a few selections from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ performed live, which I really enjoyed. ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is probably my favorite opera. I played the overture in junior high band and saw the Seattle Opera Company’s performance of it when I was a member of my high school’s opera club (Yes, I was—and am—a big nerd.) The singers were quite good and my only complaints are technical: no orchestra, just a keyboard on the harpsichord setting, and the singers had microphones. One of the things that I find most amazing about opera is that the singers don’t use microphones. The ability to fill a whole hall with one’s voice is incredible. But this was outside, so I suppose allowances should be made.

And then the film began. I think a Mozart Film Festival is much better in theory than in practice. The only films they show are concert films, which really aren’t very interesting. “Wow, their fingers move really fast,” and “the conductor looks funny,” can fill up 15 minutes at maximum. I now understand the appeal of Fantasia. It gives you something to look at while listening.

The whole thing started to remind me of the Canadian Brass videos we used to watch as a ‘reward’ the day after junior high band concerts. Bored, and a bit cold, I snuck off at the end of the first symphony.

Monday, August 07, 2006

somebody's watching you

About a month ago, I put a statcounter on this blog. Checking it has become a frequent habit. Not only can I see what countries you are visiting from, but I can see what search terms lead people to my site.

Most of the time, people end up here after searching something Serbia related, but not always.

In google, this site is the 14th to appear if you search for polish beer syrup.
It is 11th if you search for "I am a giantess." (that has to be in quotes.)
It is 7th if you search for why lying is bad.

And, my blog is the first result if you search for navel pants.

The internet is so weird.

Friday, August 04, 2006

. . . and now a word from our sponsors

Do you* want to live my life?**

If the answer is yes, check out this site. My volunteer program is a bit short on people for the next round of European placements. German speakers are especially needed.

*It is possible that you have to be an American citizen. I am not sure.
except in a different [but still worthwile] European country working with a different [but still worthwhile] NGO. That is, unless you're willing to wait until I finish my term in the fall of 2007.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


In Slovakia, I said goodbye to my friend S. We have plans to meet up in November for Thanksgiving and watching British TV.

At 3:30 in the morning at the bus station, it was hard to work up much emotion for the goodbye. I'm going to see her again in 3 1/2 months. That feels like no time at all. Most of the goodbyes that I have said in my recent life have been for much much longer.

K, a friend who lives in Banja Luka (in Bosnia) stayed with me last night. As we at burek and waited for her bus this afternoon, it was even harder to be emotional about the goodbye. I'm seeing her at the end of the month. 'Practically this afternoon,' we told each other.

It troubles me a bit that not seeing someone that I am fond of for 3 months isn't a big deal. I like her. It should matter.

I suppose that being so far away from so many people that I care about has skewed my sense of time regarding such things.

feels like coming home

I've been back in Belgrade for about 3 days now.

When I arrived (late - I am no longer taking trains after the absurd lateness of my train to Zagreb and my train back home.) at the Belgrade train station and walked up the hill to my flat, it was the first time that coming back to Belgrade felt like coming home.

The language makes [more] sense here. The culture makes [more] sense here. Places and people are familiar.

And the rigors of travelling left my 'Oregonic' T-shirt stained and relegated to the 'clothing not to be worn out of the house' category.

After 10 months, nearly to the day, Belgrade is home.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

kako se kaze 'incomprehensible?'

So in my travels in Eastern Europe, I picked up a couple of local idioms. . . my favorites are how people say something is incomprehensible.

In English, the phrase is 'that's Greek to me.'
In Polish, it's 'that's a Czech movie.'
In Serbian and Slovak, it's 'that's a Spanish village.'

I know the derivation of the Polish phrase - MP, my host in Wroclaw, said that it is because southeastern Poland picks up some Czech TV channels and the movies they show never make any sense.

Any insights into the derivation of the Serbian/Slovak phrase would be most appreciated. What's so strange about Spanish villages?

Another language note: in Polish jagoda means blueberry while in Serbian and Slovak it means strawberry. There should be a good story about a confused fruit peddler behind this fact, but I don't know where to find it. . .