Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

time to insure my tongue?

I can now add 'bagel taste-tester' to my resume.

A friend met a local fellow recently returned from a decade in Prague. He has decided what Belgrade 'needs' is bagels. So he gathered together a focus group of North Americans to test his wares.

Taste-testing is something I could get into. The bagels were alright - best I have had in Serbia, but that's not saying too much. I have made my own bagels, so I could talk about things like the amount of steam in the oven with a modicum of authority. I don't spend much time here being an authority on anything.

But does Belgrade need bagels? Not at all. They are not something that I miss in the slightest (although others at the gathering said that they are the North American food that they miss the most). There is djevrek here - a round bread sold everywhere. It doesn't seem like bagels would have much of niche.

But good luck to him, I would be happy to reprise my role as a taste tester.


Two friends/co-workers were attacked by a group of skinheads (or skinhedsi in Serbian) on election night. One was pushed down a flight of stairs in a pedestrian passage I walk through almost everyday.

And what makes this so scary to me is that the attack was targetted. My friend M was recognized as a Women in Black activist & one of the attackers yelled, 'because of you, I have a criminal record.'

I am used to dealing with random violence -- I had a moment on a dark street in Portland a few weeks ago that was scarier than anything I have experienced in Belgrade -- but how does one protect oneself from people who are out to get you?

People are suggesting that we vary our routines (not that those attacked were doing something routine). But how far can or should one go to keep oneself safe? I've been working on a security manual for my volunteer program & the recent victims didn't do anything against our safety rules. I don't know whether to go crazy vigilant or give up.

I'm sure I'll land somewhere in the middle.

in praise of the parliamentary system

I've been with super-limited internet access since my return to Serbia.

Weeks ago, my mother and I had a conversation about the weird, winner-take-all two-party 'democracy' in the US. Her brilliant point was 'if our system is so great, why don't other places emulate it?' I hadn't put that thought together before.

And now, after watching a parliamentary system in action, my sentiments have been reinforced. It's just more exciting to vote one's hopes than one's fears. And the prospect of having opposition in parliament on both the left and the right (which is what will happen if my sources are correct) is exciting to this nerdy politics lover.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

and maybe my study of Serbian will prove useful in my next life after all...

Some surprising moments:

In an arboretum in LA, I overheard a woman speaking Serbian to what I presumed was her grandchild. Don't go over there, etc. I thought about striking up a conversation, but I didn't have anything to say.

Portland now has a burek food cart downtown. I didn't know it was there until too late. I would have enjoyed it. I also discovered a Serbian restaurant. I looked at the menu & realized that, although it is good to see the proja and Ĩevap are available, I would rather go out for Thai.

I saw Children of Men last night. It's amazing & horrifying. The best movie I have seen this year. And it has some Serbian dialog. A refugee begs 'izvinite... izvinite... molim vas.' Later, when our hero makes a speech, one of the revolutionaries responds with a stream of curses, 'p---- m-----,' etc. I started laughing at it - the only one in the theater to do so, of course - and whispered my translation to my family.

a return to the scene

Yesterday morning, I took a snowing train ride back up the coast, returning from a week in Portland, my city of ghosts...

Good friends and I had a family reunion of sorts, coming in from our various new places of residence to traipse about the city, eating, reminiscing and enjoying each other's company. This is what is feels like to be surrounded good friends, I reminded myself. It has been a while.

Portland is a city where I fit. I am not too enormous to buy cheap, fabulous clothes. The food is good. The movies are cheap and star my imaginary Mexican boyfriend. It's where Powell's is. I am able to share interesting conversation with strangers - the man in the beer line beside us told us of how he would like to live inside the Seattle Public Library, a woman told me she had tried on my new-to-me coat just hours before I purchased it - and pick up where I left off with old friends. And since it has been a year and a half since I have lived there, it is very easy to over-romanticize the place.

I forget how much I hated my job and how hard and unsuccessfully I worked to find another.

One night, I took a cold 30 block walk to meet A. I left from the flat of a fellow I used to date who's probably coming to Belgrade in a few months. I passed the place where I ate dinner on the worst date of my life. I passed a street light under which I kissed yet another fellow. I remembered the painful ends of my attempts at relationships in that town.

There were very good reasons to leave.