Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

...and some things that I like about Serbian

In recent weeks, I’ve discovered a few [more-there are others] things I like about my nemesis, the Serbian language.

I like how some diseases are named. Diabetes is šećerna bolest, literally ‘sugar disease,’ but dijabetes is also used. Hepatitis is žutica, based on žut, yellow, although hepatitis is also an option. There’s a simple elegance to this. I like how the names of the diseases are transparent, not derived from Latin.

Yesterday, I learned that boots that reach towards one’s knees are called ‘deep’ while ankle boots are ‘shallow.’ Do you call them 'tall' and 'short' in English? I have spent more time than I would like to admit unsuccessfully trying to come up with how one says such things in my native language.

My immediate mental image upon learning this usage was of someone wading into boots as if they were water. Satisfying.

more on the book fair

I went back to the book fair on Sunday & bought a few books, Blink and The Kite Runner, both of which I am super excited about & have wanted to read for a while.

I also stopped by the US booth again to read more Jon Stewart. They were also handing out prizes. A friend of a friend was working there, so I got a hat, T-shirt and balloon without having to fill out their silly quiz. Each of these items has an American flag on it. Why are they handing out such identifyingly American items when I receive e-mails every month or so from the consular section of the US embassy here telling me to not be 'identifiably American?

Maybe they're planting decoys.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Keep in the vote

There will be a referendum on a new constitution this weekend. (See how rational it is here, holding an election over two days, on a weekend, as opposed to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.) Many people that I know are not at all satisfied with it.

Progressive NGOs and political parties are organizing a boycott of the referendum. It’s hard for me, coming from a place where minimum voter turnout requirements are very rare (only for the occasional school bond levy), to view boycotting as a good thing. The not voting=apathy equation has been burned into my brain. (Although, if my absentee ballot doesn’t get here in time, maybe I’ll just say I was boycotting.) I understand the tactic intellectually, but it still doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Speaking of political things that don’t sit quite right with me, I’ve been thinking a lot about European laws that restrict speech. Denying the holocaust is a crime in a lot of Western Europe and there is a [rarely enforced] law against spreading racial, religious, etc. hatred here. France just passed a law that criminalized the denial of the Armenian genocide. Criminalizing speech, even ugly and hateful speech, just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Not allowing people to say things publicly doesn’t stop them from thinking them. Acting violently on such ugly beliefs should be punished, but saying them should not be. The freedom of speech is another of those things that has been burned into my brain. And where to draw the line? The Economist made an interesting point this week; if denying the holocaust is a crime, why can’t insulting Islam be a crime?

Things to ponder, things to ponder.

My literary life

I spent much of the past week reading, discussing, looking at, and thinking about books.

I am in two book clubs—one is business and one is pleasure—both of which met recently, both of which focused on recent books that largely take place inside the mind of middle-aged upper class men from the British Isles. Unsurprisingly, the discussions had some similarities. In the discussion last night, after realizing that none of us liked the book very much, we discussed whether or not it is moral to be a kept [wo]man. I had never thought about the issue in moral terms before. I am still turning it over in my head.

Yesterday, I went to The Belgrade Book Festival. Huge and amazing. There’s a quote over the entrance to the Portland Central Library that is along the lines of “for me, heaven would be something like a library.” When I walked into the fair, I was reminded of that quote (although for me, heaven would have less of a basketball stadium aesthetic and would have an ocean). I spent a lot of time wandering around the foreign books section, looking at photos of Indonesia and trying to figure out if I can fit Spanish classes into my schedule. The US booth was huge. It had large portraits of prominent Americans, the usual suspects (Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks) plus Nikola Tesla. I can’t imagine Nikola is trotted out by the US government outside of the Western Balkans. (And it seems kind of selfish for the US to try to claim him. I mean, we have enough notables already. Leave Nikola for Croatia and Serbia to fight over.) There was also a copy of America (The Book) on display. I stood reading it and chuckling to myself until I started to feel conspicuous. That’s something that I am happy to have my tax dollars spent on.

My progression through the Harry Potter universe continues. Last night, I finished book #5.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The third R

As a long-time resident of the Left Coast, recycling is something that matters to me. Washing out tin cans and sorting plastics was second nature. Setting overflowing recycling bins and a half-empty garbage can out for weekly trash pick-up made me feel a little proud.

Here, in the land of nearly-no recycling, I always feel a twinge of guilt when I toss a plastic bottle or a scrap of paper in the garbage. I have seen a few places to drop of recyclables in Greater Belgrade, but always in out of the way places.

I care about the earth, but not enough to take a 20 minute bus ride each way with my recyclables.

But now the guilty twinges are over. This morning, I spied a recycling collection area while I was walking to my language school. I’ll be able to drop off my plastics and metals and paper easily, taking about 5 steps out of my way.

And as if it is some kind of karmic reward for my new resolve to recycle, the warm sun is shining today - and I might have just conquered the cold that has been plaguing me for weeks. Life is good.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Recipe

Here is the recipe for my mother’s amazing chocolate chip cookies. Depending on who you talk to, these cookies are called ‘Mrs. Fields’ Cookies,’ ‘my mom’s cookies,’ simply ‘the chocolate chip cookies’ or ‘kolačići “Rejčel.”’

The trick to making them turn out right (I have had many not-quite-right batches.) is letting the butter soften for a really long time – overnight is good. This recipe makes many many cookies. I usually halve it.

Without further ado:

2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups real butter
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups oatmeal
5 cups flour
2 – 12 oz. bags chocolate chips (or a few broken up chocolate bars)
2 cups nuts

Combine the ingredients and mix well. Bake at 400 degrees (F) for 6 to 8 minutes.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Before a month ago, I had never read any Harry Potter books. It wasn’t active avoidance; there are just so many books worth reading. And I couldn’t believe they were worth the hype. I was always a little annoyed with Harry Potter people, those folks who are apt to turn any conversation into discussions of muggles and quidditch and what will happen in the next book, boring the rest of us.

I started reading the books about a month ago and am now on the third book. They are good media to consume when I don’t want to think too much and are quite entertaining. Last night, while playing Apples to Apples with friends, I frequently turned the topic of conversation to all things Harry Potter…

I am one of those people now.

Friday, October 13, 2006

on the Nobels

I'm taking a brief break from my little life (not much of interest is happening right now, excepting the slow decline of my computer & a cold, but enjoyable celebration of Sukkot last night).

I would rather write about the Nobel Prizes. The two that matter to me (literature & peace) were just awarded. I'm rather pleased with the selections. I've read Pamuk; while he isn't my favorite author he is really skills. He writes novels that one knows are full of symbols and deeper meanings, but that are also enjoyable on the surface without delving into all that. I really enjoyed Snow, the story of a Turkish political exile who returns to Turkey to report about the 'headscarf girls' killing themselves in a small town...

My mom told me that when she visited our Norwegian relatives summers ago, discussing who might win the Nobel Peace Prize that year was talked about the way Americans discuss sports. I think it would be amazing to have peace-making takeover sports' role in the culture (peacemakers trading cards, etc.), although I would miss listening to baseball games on summer evenings.

I'm quite pleased with this year's Peace Prize winner. The Grameen Bank does such good work & think it's important that poverty hinders peace just as much as war does. It's nice to have someone who isn't a UN official or head of state win it periodically. I heard that the odds favored Martti Ahtisaari, who still has to sort out Kosovo before he's Peace Prize-eligible in my book.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

with a whimper

My little two-month old relationship (which I didn’t write about here because the fellow in question and my extended family read this blog) is over. It would have been convenient and considerate had D bothered to tell me such things, but I have been able to deduce my own conclusions from a week of no responses to my attempts to contact him. Either he’s dead (in which case the relationship is over) or he doesn’t want me in his life anymore. Or maybe the theory a friend and I dreamed up about temporarily paralysis of the fingers and voicebox caused by an unfortunate run-in with a poisonous frog is true.

Maybe it’s overwork and being busy with the other things going on in my life, but I’m finding it hard to work up much anger or sadness about it. (I spent about a half hour listening to angry girl music a few nights back). Mostly, I’m just annoyed with the way he handled it.

The symmetry of it is kind of perversely satisfying, though. A relationship that began ridiculously and immaturely, making out in a park at the end of our first meetup, ends ridiculously immaturely.

[insert cliché of the “there’s more fish in the sea” or “you have to kiss a lot of frogs…” variety here.]

Monday, October 09, 2006

so maybe I am a missionary now

I have always known that my mom is a feminist, but I never knew that her signature chocolate chip cookies are feminist as well.

This weekend, Women in Black—Belgrade celebrated its 15th anniversary with a panel discussion, workshops, the premiere of the documentary in which I can be seen taking off clothes, a photograph exhibit, dance party, meeting, vigil, and contemporary audio-visual art performance. I made a batch of my mom’s cookies for the party (with the best results that I have had in months. Letting the butter soften for a day beforehand is the secret, I believe.) They were a huge hit—lots of compliments and people asking me for the recipe. I now have an offer to sell them at a pekara in Leskovac.

The following day, I shared the recipe before a meeting. When people read off the final instruction – bake for 6-8 minutes, a woman turned to me to say, ‘these are feminist sweets; you don’t have to spend much time in the kitchen.’

They would be even more feminist if chocolate chips could be found on this continent…

I had never thought about the general complicated-ness of desserts here. The only cookies I have eaten since my arrival have been store-bought or made by ex-pats. The homemade desserts that I have eaten are fancy cakes with lots of delicious layers or baklava, neither of which are quick or easy.

My friend N, calls herself a sweet potato evangelist. She is currently spreading her gospel in Northern Ireland. Maybe I will take a page from her book and call myself a chocolate chip cookie evangelist. Feminist and delicious: that is definitely good news.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

nightmare team

A coworker just pointed this out to me.

It's like when there's a special edition comic book when the two warring villians team up to take out our hero... or a silly action movie where the Russians and the IRA and the Arabs all get together to get our hero, but it's real.

There isn't a hero full of goodness and light in this story, but I would argue that there is now definately a villain.

(And yes, I am working on a Sunday.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

more music

A while ago, my brother and I had a chat while sitting on a bench in Kalemegdan about ruined music, those songs that you just can't listen to because they are associated with memories that make you wince. Between the two of us, we could list a few.

This conversation was inspired by this site. Instead of keeping our private conversation private, we have both had stories published there. His is here. Mine is here. (Ok, so I thought of this song after that conversation.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

A year in Belgrade: The Mix Tape

Right now, very close to this moment exactly, it is exactly a year since I stepped off the train from Zurich, relocating to Belgrade. I was thinking about writing some sort of ‘what I have learned this year’ post, but that I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Too trite. Instead, I offer you my past year converted into musical form. This is still trite, but significantly less so.

Apologies for the preponderance of sad white boy music. It’s most of what I listen to right now.

1. ‘Let’s Get Out of this Country’ – Camera Obscura

An obvious thematic beginning to the mix. And I like that it uses the phrase ‘bee’s knees.’

2. ‘Komedija, Tragedija, Drama’ – Rambo Amadeus

So, this is way more interesting than putting a track from my Teach Yourself Serbian CD on the mix, but it captures the tremendous amount of time that I have spent trying to figure out the slowly-becoming-more-decipherable code that people speak here. Also, Rambo Amadeus is one of my favorite local musicians. I’ve seen him perform a number of times now.

3. ‘School Night’ – Ani DiFranco

Last, December, F, my best friend/platonic soulmate came to visit. Good times. Ani DiFranco is F’s musical obsession. This is one of the songs that I remember her singing while she was here. In recent weeks, I’ve been pondering the ‘price that we pay for the privilege of living in a world with so many things worth believing in’ as I wander about the city.

4. ‘Bridges, Squares’ – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

A few weeks later, R, F’s non-platonic soulmate and my good friend, joined us for some traveling in Bosnia-Herzegovina & Bulgaria. Unfortunately for the maker of a thematic mixtape, R does not have an obvious musical equivalent, so I picked this song, as it is the only song I know that mentions both urban planning (what R studies) and cooking. At least a third of R and my correspondence is cooking-related, mostly sharing which Bittman recipes we have recently tried, complete with page numbers.

5. ‘You Remind Me of Home’ – Ben Gibbard

Last January and February were my homesick times. This song captures my homesickness better than any other that I have heard. It’s a bittersweet homesickness; I recognize that things wouldn’t be perfect if I was there and that leaving really was the best decision for me.

6. ‘Tables and Chairs’ – Andrew Bird

This is one of the songs that I play for myself when I am sad to cure myself of that mood. If Andrew Bird can be so cheery about post-capitalism, I can certainly be cheerful about whatever it is that has put me out of sorts.

7. ‘Congratulations’ – Silvia Night

For most of this year, my brother was living in Thessaloniki, Greek Macedonia. It was great to have him also trying to make sense of the peninsula we both inhabited. One of his-and-subsequently-my discoveries was The Eurovision Song Contest. I’m a big fan & was quite disappointed when this, my favorite song by an Icelandic fake reality TV star, (please watch the video. It’s here.) didn’t make the finals.

8. ? – Atheist Rap

I don’t know the title of this song – or any of the titles of the songs on this album (which I don’t know the name of either) that K in Banja Luka gave me last winter. I think Atheist Rap is the local band that I am destined to never see in concert. I have been invited to their concerts twice and both times work has gotten in the way. The chorus of this song is why I know the declensions of adjectives in the locative case.

9. ‘Ballad of the Sin Eater’ – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

This is the only western pop song that I know that references Serbia in any way. It’s also the only song that I know that is about being an American abroad. Dear Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: thank you for writing songs about unconventional topics. It is good for those of us making thematic mixes.

10. ‘Love Love Love’ – The Mountain Goats

I started listening to The Mountain Goats in earnest this year, mostly due to mp3s that my brother gave to me. This song references some of my reading this year—The Bible (I’m nearly through the slog that is 2 Chronicles) and retrying Dostoyevsky (which really didn’t go so well).

11. ‘Blackbird’ – Elliott Smith

In April, my parents, brother, and grandmother came here for visiting and traveling. To commemorate that event, my brother’s favorite artist covering my mother’s favorite gets added to the mix. My father is not much of a music listener. I only associate my grandmother with Christmas music, as that is usually the time of year that I see her. I’m sure she listens to other music during the rest of the year.

12. ‘Hallelujah’ – Jeff Buckley

This is another of those songs that will put me into a good mood. So very pretty. I also used it in a meditation service that I led at the BVS retreat in Berlin in July. The theme of the service was ‘finding the sacred in the everyday’ & I think this song really captures that.

13. ‘Me Gustas Tu’ – Manu Chao
And then, six weeks ago, I started dating someone, which is lovely and fun. And I don’t think I have made a mix in the past six years or so that has not included this song. It’s one of my favorites. Also, Manu Chao came into my life at the recommendation of a man I met in Cuba. Also, we listen to Manu Chao a lot at work events. He's really hard to dance to; I've watched many people try and fail.

14. ‘Jesus Shaves’ – David Sedaris
We end with a story from This American Life, my audio obsession, by David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers, about learning another language and culture. I love this story. Although the thought that I sound like the language learners in this story is a bit horrifying.

Enjoy - and these links are live for 7 days or 100 downloads, whichever comes first, so get it while you can.