Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Practically since my arrival in this part of the world, people have been telling me that I should go to Budapest. Last weekend, I finally made that journey up the Danube.

For me, heaven would look something like the baths at Hotel Gellert in Budapest. (At least part of heaven, another part would look like a library.) They are lovely—two large soaking pools in a room with beautifully tiled walls and a skylight. My guidebook likens it to taking a bath in a cathedral. And there is a steam room, saunas, a swimming pool, showers and other things tucked away in nooks & crannies. And the people watching is good, a mix of tourists and locals of all ages. The locker-room floor is even heated. Glorious.

In short, I had a good weekend in Budapest. It’s a pretty city, a good place to visit. The prevalence of English and the crowds of tourists were a bit overwhelming. I can’t imagine what the place is like in the summer. (I won’t have to imagine, as I will probably be heading back in a few months.) There is falafel there, too, which is most welcome.

As is my custom, I tried some of the local junk food. My favorite was rolls of lemon-flavored cheese dipped in chocolate. Delicious. Another contender was fried bread dough topped with garlic, cheese, and sour cream. Also delicious.

A weekend in Christendom

The friend I was staying with in Budapest, a fellow volunteer in my program, is working for the World Student Christian Federation. Not surprisingly, she’s a rather devout Christian. Most of her friends in Budapest are people that she met in her Friday night English language Bible study. I attended said Bible study and met a lot of her friends. It was an interesting subculture to join for a few days… but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Everyone was very kind and extremely welcoming, though. A few of the Hungarians in the crowd took the time to answer my rather dumb questions [“Are the what-I-think-of-as-Russian nesting dolls that people are trying to sell to tourists actually from here?” (no.) “Why don’t the supermarkets here give out plastic bags?” (There’s a tax on plastic.) I also learned that when Hungarians don’t understand something, they say, ‘that’s Chinese.’]

I was reminded that heteronormity exists [Yes, I live in a bubble.] and also of a certain variety of self-righteousness. After Bible study and coffee at a café run by Campus Crusade for Christ, we walked home along the Danube. Two obviously chemically-addled men asked, ‘where are you going? Do you want to go to a reggae party?’ as they walked by us. One of my walking companions replied with, ‘no, we’re going to heaven.’ I never knew that reggae parties and heaven were mutually exclusive.

During night number two with the Budapest English-speaking Christians (a night of borscht-eating and praise song-singing, with guitar and recorder accompaniment). The topic of discussion turned to cursing. Everyone is opposed, unsurprisingly, but I challenged them on it. Especially when a curse isn’t directed at someone in anger, when it is used to express frustration or as an adjective, I have no opposition. I rarely curse, but that isn’t based on any moral principles; I believe over-reliance on curse words is a lazy way to talk & it robs the words of their power for when you really need them.

I recognize that not taking the Lord’s name in vain is one of the big rules of Christianity, but it seems rather unchristian to be complaining about someone’s gutter mouth (someone who apparently restricted their curses to the secular sphere) when there are naked to clothe, hungry to feed, and brothers to keep.

The list

While I was home, nearly a month ago—hard to believe—my mother was working on a list of 100 things to do before she dies. It was part of a mentoring program that she is involved in at her church—both her and her young mentee wrote these lists & compared & borrowed items from one another. I thought it would be a good project & so I started my own list. I don’t know if it is good or bad sign that it took me over a month to complete it. Much of the list-making occurred while I was making dinner, hence the large number of food-related items. Without further ado, here are 100 things that I hope to do before I die:

1. learn to pronounce French
2. have a baby (or 2)
3. learn to make good saag paneer
4. write a book
5. learn to sing
6. get a graduate degree
7. learn to read Cyrillic cursive
8. Forgive BC
9. read the whole Bible
10. meet Johnny Depp
11. make one new good friend every year
12. go to India
13. go to Angkor Wat
14. learn to salsa dance
15. speak Serbian well
16. go to a high school or college reunion
17. go curling
18. learn to play the guitar
19. have a job I love
20. age gracefully
21. learn to make good baba ghanoush
22. have an occasion for wearing a ball gown
23. vote for the winner in a presidential election
24. visit all 50 states (only 7 left)
25. switch between Serbian, Spanish and English without mixing them up
26. learn to use a sewing machine
27. learn basic car maintenance
28. never own a car
29. learn to write legible cursive
30. be an aunt
31. be on This American Life
32. see a music diva’s ridiculous stage show (with many costume changes, backup dancers, and preferably live animals) live
33. read a book by an author from every country in the world
34. learn to whistle
35. learn to wink
36. travel the whole of the Mediterranean Coast
37. learn how marshmallows are made
38. go to Toronto
39. own my own home
40. do an extreme sport
41. find my one true love
42. go to Budapest
43. go to a strip club
44. watch every episode of Gilmore Girls
45. own a Vespa
46. be someone’s muse
47. win a costume contest
48. figure out what the European Parliament does
49. retire comfortably
50. handpiece and handquilt five quilts
51. attend a taping of The Daily Show
52. Read the Koran
53. figure out what italics have to do with Italians
54. make a quilt with other people
55. attend the proposed FIM reunion
56. watch a movie every day for a month
57. take a belly dancing class
58. understand cricket
59. visit the family farm in Norway
60. live in one place for ten years
61. read the complete works of Jane Austen
62. plan an excellent BVS retreat
63. learn physics
64. live in Portland again
65. go to Ireland
66. go to Kosov@
67. make an Omnivore’s Dilemma-style gathered and grown meal
68. learn about investing
69. make my own yogurt
70. fly first class
71. go wine tasting
72. be a raw foodist for a week
73. be acupunctured
74. get a manicure
75. get a pedicure
76. write a credo
77. win a shopping spree
78. learn to make ajvar
79. learn to make cheesecake
80. learn basic plumbing
81. read On Food and Cooking
82. be a grandma
83. go back to Dahab
84. understand how the internet works
85. go on a trip just with my mother
86. go on a trip just with my father
87. go on a trip just with my brother
88. go to Albania
89. learn the butterfly stroke
90. travel across the US by train
91. be in a long-term relationship
92. learn about linguistics
93. climb three more mountains
94. have a meet-cute
95. attend Eurovision
96. SCUBA again
97. go to sub-Saharan Africa
98. be the object of an ‘I Saw You’ ad
99. build something
100. As the Hungarians say, ‘live happily ever after until I die.’

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Maybe I should read Robinson Crusoe

Yesterday, Swiss Family Robinson was showing at The Yugoslav Film Museum. It’s a movie that I have seen more times than I can count, but not at all in at least the past ten years. I think my parents taped it off TV when I was young. I remember rewinding and watching the action sequence when the pirates attack over and over again. I was a bit nervous that my memory of the movie would be much better than the movie itself.

My speculation will have to continue for another day. I tried to go see it, but wasn’t allowed to. I think it was a special screening of some sort and they had no empty seats, but I didn’t understand all of what the ticket-seller said. I didn’t have my ears primed for a complicated explanation—I was listening to make sure I got the ticket price right.

So I came home and watched a few episodes of Lost and was stunned by the similarities. I guess stranded on a desert island narratives only have so many variations. Both have weird animals and strangers appear. There are love triangles. Both groups are attacked by baddies. (Although Lost is much much scarier about it. I have learned that I can’t watch episodes before bed or I have nightmares.) The Swiss Family are way better in the housing department, though—I would love to live in their treehouse. Living under a tarp or in a weird underground lair is not so appealing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

induction ceremony

In honor of almost-Valentine's Day, I think it is time for my list of imaginary boyfriends to increase by one. It does not yet include a man who writes books without pictures.

Joining previous inductees Johnny Depp, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ira Glass, Barack Obama, and Craig Thompson (The only one I met in real life. We spoke about bikes and how Portland is better than Iowa and Wisconsin.) is Chris Hedges. He is the author of one of my favorite books and his newest looks equally amazing (only 9 months until I’ll be in an extensive English language bookstore again). If you want to read his smart words, go here. I read it a couple of times last night. It was kind of like a date. We share a lot of interests. We could so totally fall in love while talking about conflicts in the Balkans and scary Christians in the states. I think I want to be him when I grow up.

Or, to quote E when she e-mails me Colbert’s latest bon mot, ‘I want to marry this man’s brain.’

signs of spring

Belgrade’s winter-that-wasn’t heated up again yesterday, which means that there were even more leafleters in the street.

They congregate at the tops of stairways and other pedestrian-friendly zones, passing out slips of paper to nearly everyone who passes by. I usually can’t walk to work without being offered a stack of papers with ads for parties or boutiques on them. I used to be offended when I received ones for Tai-Bo classes, but I realized that they are vastly outnumbered by the number advertising English classes. If they only knew… I chuckle to myself.

It surprises me how many leafleters there are. I’m hardly a business strategist, but I wouldn’t think that leafleting is a particularly effective marketing technique. No one seems to look at the flyers. Most people either don’t take them or throw them away immediately.

I nearly always take the leaflets. After all, it’s what George Orwell says to do. I make a special effort to take the slips if the leafleters are over 40, which is rare. Most of the leafleters are younger than I am. I can't articulate it, but there is something really sad about middle-aged people handing out slips of paper all day long.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to experience the weird junk food of the places that I am in. I think this fascination can be traced to my discovery of pickle flavored potato chips on a trip to Canada when I was 15.

How people choose to consume there empty calories interests me. In the US, there are Cheetos, while Serbia has Smoki – also made from puffed grain of some sort, but flavored with peanuts instead of cheese. And the Bulgarian entrant into this weird subcategory of food is butter flavored with an even more Styrofoamy texture. There is totally a dissertation here...

A friend recently went to Israel and brought me back what might be the world’s weirdest junk food, ‘Milk Chocolate with Popping Candy.’ It is the love child of a Milka bar and Pop Rocks. I am a big fan of chocolate and of Pop Rocks. But still, this thing is so so weird. I can’t even figure out how to eat it. If I bite into it, the imbedded pop rocks explode and hurt my gums, but it feels weird to just let the whole thing dissolve in my mouth. It’s a pretty amazing eating experience, but I won’t be rushing out to stock up on more. The whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts.