All of the following are emails I've sent to friends back in the States, or elsewhere in the world, since arriving in Serbia. Starting from the beginning.
Okay. This goes down on the record as the craziest thing I have ever done.
Probably not the bravest, hopefully not the dumbest, but certainly the craziest. Living with a 92 year old person in a cramped apartment when you don't speak the same language is just not a sane choice, even if that person is related to you. I can't leave because I can't tell my grandmother what I'm doing or where I'm going, so for now I stay inside in silence or repeat over and over to my Nana that I don't want more food until there is a visitor.
The visitors are interesting. My new best friend is Mira, the spitting image of Gaby Hoffmann, except she's 63 years old. She lives across her hall with her husband, the spitting image of Poseidon, except Serbian, and their black cat who I've only seen photos of so far. Mira actually speaks English, except that she says "too many" instead of "many" and at first this was confusing. Like when she told me "there are too many Chinese people in Belgrade" with a big grin and then talked about the Chinese New Year.
Other people come and visit, and they all talk about me, point at me, and stare at me or touch parts of my face as they speak, even though they know that I have no fucking clue what they're saying. What is that? Surely there is no better motivator for learning a language than the combination of silence in which there is so much to be said, and a room full of people talking about you and not understanding what they're saying (there must be a Seinfeld episode about this... does the nail salon one count?). It's like I'm trapped in a Robert Altman film, but the overlapping dialogue is all directed at me and it's in Serbian.
I will try to tell you the details that are normal to me but may be entertaining for you (like our shower has no curtain, and there are photos of my Deda around from when he was young where he looks like Robert De Niro which is really confusing for me as it would be for any woman who has seen Part II of The Godfather, etc.) but my life here so far is made up of only these details so it's hard to write them down, though I know I should.
Wishing you all simplicity. Go call your grandmas.
So much has happened since the last time I wrote that I don't even know where to begin... I'm kidding of course, it's the opposite (our Turkish tour guide always used to make this joke -- it wasn't funny then either).
My life here moves rather slowly, I feel every second of the day quite literally because there is a grandfather clock outside of my door. It ticks constantly and clangs out every hour, which is especially trying during the nights that I can't sleep. However, the slow time passing has been so productive for me. I'm finishing things that I never expected to begin.
On Friday we went to Valjevo, where such sites as the place where my grandmother was born can be seen. My great aunt Milka cooked us food with the help of some unidentified person who I think was a maid but could also be my cousin. Mira came with us and translated for Milka "You are too fat! Too fat! Wait that's not right.... we must feed you!" (????) Anyways, life goes on, so I pet their albino cat for a while and, again, said very little as none of it was understood.
My uncle Sasha came to Belgrade yesterday and, as Mira says, "Sasha is Sasha," you know what I mean? Anyways, he arrived approx. 6 hours late and took me to the mall again (tale as old as time). He bought me a Serbian cell phone which was actually very sweet, but then he chain smoked through dinner, which was way less endearing. The malls here are more scary than the ones in America, but are used for the same purpose: a place for babies to make out. Seriously though, may our children never see the florescent light of a mall during their middle school years.
Today I went across the hall to the apartment of Mira and Slobodan and it was amazing. Slobodan built his own boat years ago and their home is covered in artifacts that they've collected from sailing around the Mediterranean. Slobodan also brought me a book earlier this week written in English, his copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray from 1958. Basically, I'm running away with Slobodan. Shotgun wedding!
Here is something I can say after only one week of being here, and it's serious ya'll: value your g'damn youth. I know it's Sunday, and it's probably freezing and you want to cozy up on the couch... but after you do that, do something that makes you feel electric. Really electric.
Because you know what? I've seen the other side, and it's filled with bad coffee and grandfather clocks.
Ps. My Nana said something the other day like "your mother call, you with Nana now not mother" and I just got ahold of the University I'm going to take language classes after trying to get in touch with them for days and they said "we called and spoke to your grandmother, she didn't tell you?" GUYS! SHE'S TRYING TO SMART HOUSE ME! Theory tbc...
I just woke up from a nap via asphyxiation by cigarette smoke and I knew... Sasha's been here. I took a shower but the problem is that I'm going out tonight and will inevitably have to shower again tomorrow (showering daily, amiright?) to get all the cigarette smell out of my hair. But hey, I'm going out! I met some young people! Be proud!
On Monday I was reminded that I'm terrible at languages. Like, crazy bad. Thank god the other students seem to be equally as confused as I am. There are four of us total! Two guys from England and a girl from Spain who dances flamenco and has a hilarious Serbian boyfriend. Between us we try to speak spanish and serbian, but inevitably end up talking in english (yep I'm third wheeling it).
I have class for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. It's pretty intense (RC kids: how the? why the? whatever), but certainly the best language class I've ever been in. I love my professors, except we got into a little big conversation about the yugoslav wars that was really problematic. And as a future note to myself, things not to mention: Kosovo.
I spent Monday night with my mother's best friend Milesa, who lived in America with us when I was only one year old. She calls me Pukie which I don't understand. She took me to her father's choir practice and afterwards we got drinks with a monk. The monk was hilarious and I'm going to visit his monastery sometime soon. This is an example of a normal thing that I realize I should tell you because actually it's not normal.
Tuesday I went over to Milesa's for lunch with her daughter Sara who is home for a break from her first year of University in Padova, Italy. She's the best. She doesn't pay for public transportation and when I ask her about her boyfriend she just says "he is my love!!!" and falls over onto herself.
Yesterday I sat outside at a cafe on the Sava River and had blackberry beer in the sun. It was truly the best. I was thinking of my friends and wished any of you had been there with me, but I have to be honest I miss Ramona more than all of you.
I realize that this email in particular is a log of events/observations and not about feelings at all. And that's all I have to say about that.
Infinite love on this Valentines holiday! "What you seek is seeking you" - Rumi
OH god. This week has been a doozy. And it's only Wednesday! (read in Leslie Knope voice)
First of all, I'm fitting quite nicely into the life of a 92 year old. Early to bed, early to rise, all that jazz. The best thing about living with an elderly person who is also related to you is that they think everything you do is great. When I nap or sneeze my Nana says "Bravo!" it's such a refreshing way to look at life (and a confidence boost for this slug over here). To older folk, simply living is a victory, so every moment is worth celebrating.
Nana does have some strange habits though. Like watching the microwave when it's on, or pressing her whole hand against the stove to see if it's hot. The strangest of all... I made us lunch the other day, pasta with broccoli, and she POURED sugar all over it. Three parts sugar to one part pasta, I kid you fucking not. Essentially I'm living with Buddy the Elf.
I had to prove to myself that I could still "hang" with my age group, so I went out dancing last Friday until 6am with some classmates and we got street falafel and hummus for breakfast. When I returned home my Nana was awake. No words were exchanged, only knowing glances.
I've been hanging a lot with my Spanish friend Sara and her boyfriend Bane. Bane is very different from the other Serbian people I've encountered, I think because he has spent a few years living out of Serbia. Many of the people here have such an (understandable) complex about being Serbian. They have this intense longing to belong, but their inability to let go of their pride has them moving constantly in a circle.
Before I go, one quick Sasha update! He told me "I thought you were 22, you only have 6 years to be married!!!" so his English is improving. Also I tried to speak to him in Serbian, and I'm pretty sure he just got his girlfriend pregnant. But, like, I couldn't understand anything so I have to wait for my Dad to call him, then call me, to get the 411. It seems that the language barrier may get worse as I start to understand only parts of conversations.
Love you all so much. Now tell me about what you did today.
What a strange world we live in, guys. After only a few weeks in Belgrade, I've run into more people I know here than I did during all of my time in New York. I don't think it's because I've become less clueless (cut to Gooel and I unknowingly sitting next to each other for 3 stops on the subway), but this city just feels infinitely smaller than New York. Most cities probably fall into that category, I realize, but I haven't felt that in a while.
For instance, yesterday I saw a girl I met recently at this really cool record shop/coffee shop situation. I was there alone (whatever) to study numbers (yeah, like 1, 2, 3, 4) while she, also an American, was having a full on conversation in Serbian for an hour with a man. Overall it went well.
I have to say my run ins have really been good thus far. Except for one. There is this terrible guy who keeps popping up when my friends and I go out at night. He has become a prominent figure in all of our lives in the last few weeks. He is a DJ, likens himself to "Johnny Depp" too frequently (once) and says that while he has "an artist's soul" he is most proud of his "humanitarian work" (!!!!!!!!!!!!!).
I know all of this because he insists on telling every female in a 3 mile radius this exact same thing, in multiple languages. I honestly didn't know people like this still existed because of, like, Darwinism.
Last night I went to a party where I met a guy I was really into. The photos of his wife and son were really sweet. So that's how that ended.
The party was actually really wonderful. It was at a palace and, even though there isn't really a royal family anymore, I met a small man called Prince Alexander and had my photo taken with him. My date was an 85 year old professor (family friend, we'll leave it at that) who sat down as soon as we got there and beckoned for a glass of wine and anyone who spoke english to come entertain me. Suddenly I was surrounded by grad students and, let's be real, there was an open bar, so towards the end of the night I told Dimitri (my date) to head back to the city without me. I stayed, answered a lot of questions about New York, and was taken to a kafana where I ended up dancing to traditional Serbian music with 30 men and one girl. She was the only one who got my number.
I have a feeling that this email will leave you pretty confused about my life here, but honestly, so am I. Miss you all like Swedish Fish.
I hope there are signs of spring in America, or wherever you may be. It has been beautiful here and I have spent many an afternoon drinking large pints of beer in the sun. It's no st. paddy's day, but it's been pretty damn enjoyable.
I've accomplished a lot of things recently. I finished True Detective (LAWD and also my feelings for matthew mcconaughey have become so complex/confusing in the last year!!!! my feelings for woody harrelson have remained steadfast throughout), I bought a pair of hot pants (question for new yorkers: how do you sit on the subway in these?), and I've started to soberly speak in Serbian with people. Progress.
I've also made a Serbian friend, so as long as she's not trying to sell me into sex slavery or to some torture club, I'm pretty happy about it. I also wish I had never seen Hostel.
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind because my family has been here the whole time. I'll give you guys the highlights:
- Simi and Tim arrive late because of a snow storm in Chicago and only have one night in Belgrade before heading to Greece. My nana immediately falls in love with Tim. She holds his hand the whole night and stares at him smiling while the rest of us chat. She makes him incredibly uncomfortable.
- Uncle Sasha makes it through 30 minutes of a car ride before lighting a cigarette.
- I eat all the twizzlers my mom brings me within the first two days of her visit and she says "I shouldn't have brought you these! I knew you couldn't ration them out!"
- My mom makes me lasagna and it's the best thing in the world. I've already finished all of the leftovers.
- My dad reconnects with his best friend from high school who he hasn't seen in years and I discover that the stories my dad told me as a kid about he and his best friend are real, which no one ever thought possible. Mainly the one where they were shot at while stealing watermelons from a farmer on the Danube. In a crazy turn of events we find out that his son went to Michigan the year above me and we have a ton of mutual friends.
- I get the chance to have coffee with Vuk Draskovic. This means nothing to most Americans, but it means a lot to Serbs. He is an author/politician who was the leader of opposition to Milosevic in the 80s and 90s. He has amazing insights and crazy stories, including four assassination attempts on his life during Milosevic's rule. He also happens to be incredibly well dressed. Anyways, look the man up, will ya?
- I apply for Serbian citizenship. My flag comes in the mail soon.
- My new camera somehow implodes and deletes a ton of photos I took. I take it to a repair shop and they can't find anything wrong with it, so I just have to hope it doesn't happen again. Problem is it happened in New York and they told me it was the memory card, but it clearly wasn't, so chances are I'm screwed. Pray for my camera (baby) please.
My brain is a bit fried from the non-stop family outings and Serbian classes, but I have one thing that I'd like to share before I go. I've been talking to a lot of people here about the late 90s in Serbia, and what it was like to be here during the NATO bombing. The amazing thing is, everyone I talked to said that they made parties in the streets every day. They would barbecue, listen to music, and let their kids run around the neighborhood. They said that it is a crazy feeling to know that a bomb could be dropped on you at any moment. The only thing you can do is enjoy that moment as much as possible, because the alternative is hiding in a basement alone in fear of something that you have no control over.
Maybe that's why the people I've met here really know how to enjoy small things in life (or big things depending on your perspective). That image of eating and playing and dancing in the streets with your neighbors, in spite of the darkness and uncertainty surrounding you -- it's something that will stay with me for a long time.
I miss you all dearly. Have a wonderful weekend, and go dance in the streets a little if it's warm enough.
Wish I could say today was a good day (#icecube #fridayafternext #anaconda?) but in fact it was raining and I was forced to sing America's national anthem in front of a Serbian church choir.
Afterwards the director, a family friend, said "is it possible you forgot the words?"
I'm hoping this is because the lyrics don't contain common enough words to be understood when English is your second language, and not because I slurred that the twilight and ramparts were both "gallantly gleaming". I have since looked up the correct words and feel pretty solid about my rendition, despite my rocky singing voice which hasn't been heard by an audience since I actually sang the national anthem in the fifth grade play. I was Betsy Ross, and I'm fairly certain there was a bonnet, rocking chair, and sewing needles involved. My mom still talks about how good I was, so as you can imagine I've accomplished many things since elementary school.
Today I also heard that "Dr. House is having a blues concert in Belgrade!!!" from Mira. Unfortunately it is in July, but I'm still impressed by all of the elements involved in this bit of knowledge.
Thankfully the internet I've been using stopped working today because I've really been sucked into a black hole of Breaking Bad and I needed to come back to reality (thoughts on the first half of the series: why didn't Walt or Jessie ever watch The Wire? They could have avoided so many problems. Also, Why the long face Mrs. White? LIterally.)
Anyways, the internet blackout, which obviously ended when I started this email, allowed me to reflect on some of the strange customs I've learned since coming here. For example, this weekend was beautiful, 75 degrees and sunny! Hoorah! I went to the market wearing a dress and flats, and everyone was appalled that I didn't have socks/tights on. Because, here in Serbia, you will get sick if you don't wear socks. And people do not consider this a superstition, but, rather, scientific fact.
Let me explain. You will also get sick if you go outside with wet hair, walk barefoot in your home, or don't cover your stomach and back when you take a nap. And don't even get Serbs started on the wind in Belgrade. They call this wind Koshava and it's considered to be, historically, the second worst enemy of the Serbs after Turks. If you get caught in a crosswind, called Promaja, you will, of course, get pneumonia and die. So Serbian people never open a window and a door at the same time.
I've noticed myself becoming really accustomed to these... habits. Now, without thinking, I'll knock on wood if I talk about an elderly person who is in good health, or I'll move from the spot I'm sitting in if I mention the possibility of something bad happening. I guess it makes sense that many superstitions would still be alive in a region where myths like vampires originated. Though that may just be something Serbian people claim to have created, like electricity (#tesla #proud #benjaminwho?).
Lately my Nana has been coming in to check on me when I'm quite clearly watching something on my computer and she asks (in Serbian) "Are you sleeping?" and I say "yes" and she says "Oooh" and walks out and closes the door. How is it possible that she believes me? I've been trying to work out the logic for a few weeks now. Am I just that convincing? Do I still have time to go into acting? Anyways, this is not a custom, just something I thought I should add before I really do go to sleep, right now.
Sweet dreams all.
I'm sitting at my desk at the building where my shared workspace is. It's my first day here and it has been insanely productive. Not only am I working upright at a desk instead of hunched over in my bed (which quickly leads to laying down, which quickly leads to a nap, and by nap I mean 4 hours -- what kind of naps do you take?), but there are no distractions around (food). Suddenly I remember why libraries were so simultaneously unappealing and necessary in college.
The only slight problem is that the cat who lives here, whose name I have yet to learn, has spent a majority of the day in my lap and I'm covered in hair. Like, fully covered. And now all of the other people are flooding in and it's not conducive for a nice first impression.
Also I've already had a glass of wine and two cappuccinos but barely anything to eat and it's 6:30pm so HEY EVERYBODY! If this email gets sent and it's incomplete you'll know that I've passed out on my keyboard. Don't call for help, you don't know the number.
I've been drinking so much coffee/alcohol because I don't understand the point of water and because my friend Bane started working at a cafe near my school. Last night he got me a gig there as a DJ and they're going to pay me in free drinks. I'm not kidding, this is actually a thing I'm going to do. I AM GOING TO BE A DJ. Life has taken a turn for the... better? Worse? You be the judge.
At the same cafe they've started hosting this thing on thursday nights for foreigners to practice speaking in Serbian, and it's really so great. At first it was super weird because you just sit down next to strangers and start speaking in a language you're terrible at, but then it's so helpful and fun to talk in that sort of an environment: not class but not 100% real life. Ya know? Anyways Sara went to the bathroom and said she could here me screaming in Serbian over everyone else so maybe I enjoyed it a little too much. Sometimes I need to remind myself to reel it in when making jokes, repeating other people's jokes right after they say them in a horrible Jimmy Fallon-esque fashion, or, apparently, speaking Serbian.
I've also had to be careful recently of laughing at inappropriate times, which I guess I've always done but have never been super aware of. For example, the other day Mira was reading me the paper and she said,
"Look, someone was murdered in the city center yesterday"
To which I replied, "Oh no, was it the mafia?"
"Yes, yes, is something with drugs."
"So it wasn't just a crazy person?"
"No, no, you will see. Our crazy people just jump off bridges."
It's a beautiful day in belgrade and I'm spending it inside, trying to get my life in order. I've had zero coffee, the construction happening in the apartment above us gave me a headache circa 8am that has not gone away, Nana ate all my yogurt, and I just bought a ticket to Israel, so I'm feeling a bit crazed at the moment, bear with me.
As I type this I'm also hyper-aware of something someone once told me: 'you type like you're on a pc' (was that you alex?). So let me try to talk to you guys with dainty hands as to not disrupt my co-workers.
My production schedule has been pushed back for a few reasons, which is truly fine and I'm trying to be young and wild and free, but I also am becoming more and more aware of my limited time here. The word 'July' actually scares me now because it means something big that it shouldn't and, actually, doesn't. It now represents my transition back into 'the real world', or whatever. Anyways, the point is that today I'm making myself a real schedule, which is something that I have not had to do in the last few months since I've arrived in Serbia.
I also finished my Serbian language courses on Friday, which is really very sad (and definitely adds to my need for a schedule), and there has been an even bigger hole in my heart because Mira and Slobodan have been in Montenegro for the last week preparing their boat for the summer. (See! Everything has been out of whack!) However, yesterday was Easter (which is Uskrs in Serbian which sounds like Oscars which gets me overly excited) and it stopped raining for the first time in 10 days, which was so wonderful. Plus, I got to join our family friends for a lovely lunch that left me feeling incredibly ill. All good things, my friends.
The best part of this lunch was seeing Milesa's father, Dimitri. I can honestly say that I have never seen a person command a room like Dimitri in my life... and I've met Obama. The man is 85 years old and has trouble walking, but his presence is electric. When he asks you for something, you don't hesitate (this is how I ended up singing the national anthem in front of a room full of people) and if he starts speaking, you immediately stop.
I'm not sure what it is about him that makes us all respond to him in the way that we do, but I sure as hell hope that it rubs off on me. Starting actual production on a project is always the scariest part for me, and I need all the inspiration from these courageous geriatric folks as I can get.
I'm also hoping that as the weeks pass and I come closer and closer to the end of my time here, I am able to see that July doesn't have to mean 'back to reality'. That the choices I make are all a part of one reality, and that if something is really good it's not because it's a break from what I'm supposed to be doing, but just the opposite.
I'm feeling super zen. See you on the ashram, Gav.
I just got back from eight days in Israel and am currently sitting and smiling on my couch-bed, so happy to be back. Not because Israel wasn't great (it was, it was the greatest), but because it was nice to fly here and feel like I was flying home.
I wanted to craft this email while I was on the plane: high on life, drinking red wine and listening to trashy country music from summers past (as I sometimes not-so-ashamedly do when I'm feeling particularly joyous)... but my phone died, so now you get the version of me in a matching pajama set, minutes away from falling asleep.
Still, my heart is just as full of love and gratitude as it was then.
I can't describe how sweet it was to be with long lost friends for a few days in a new country. Roaming around Jerusalem with Matt, laughing from deep in our souls (his words, not mine, though I may have said "Yiddish is in my soul" at one point during a long discussion about Zionism on a bus), and following Gavi around on the desert ashram like a lovestruck shadow, doing crazy meditations and 'helping' her garden, which really just meant talking about everything and nothing with our feet in the dirt. I felt so grounded and blissful and like my heart was going to burst out of my chest the whole week, and it still felt good to come back here, which must mean more good things about life in general. Right?
When Gruica picked me up from the airport tonight (maybe home is just a place where someone can pick you up from the airport... theory tbc...) and I asked him how he was, he simply said "Big money, no problems. No money, big problems." and I was like, yeah, I feel that. Because when did Israel become more expensive than everywhere else in the Middle East? And why did I spend over 100 shekels on Reese's and licorice in Duty Free? This is all to say that this will probably be the last trip I take while I'm here, so prepare yourselves for an abundance of stories about my Nana and filo pastries from this point on.
Speaking of, tomorrow is my first real day of filming for my documentary, which is the scariest because all of the ideas I've been working to perfect are going to become totally secondary to the reality of filmmaking, which is typically frustration after frustration with a few redeeming bits of salvageable footage and, if you're lucky, a happy accident or two. This isn't to bash the filmmaking process, I just really do see it as a necessary evil: it ruins the perfect image in my head, but if I never actually produced anything it wouldn't matter if I was the most brilliant fucking visionary of all time. So, I'm choosing to ruin my ideas rather than letting them disappear, which is a difficult thing for a thinker (doers will not understand anything I've just written, don't worry, you're just leading a healthier life than me).
And with this confusing sentiment, I bid you goodnight. Wishing you all love and basketball.
Because a few people have emailed me, I wanted to let you guys know that all of my family here and I were/are completely safe from the flooding in Serbia, though it is really terrible throughout much of the country. It's been really amazing to see all of the young people in Belgrade who are organizing trips to help those in need (in case you missed it, last week record rains flooded a lot of Serbia and Bosnia and a bit of Croatia, I believe around 40 people have died thus far and hundreds of thousands are without running water, electricity, food or shelter if there homes and cars are under water).
It might be worst in Bosnia because there are a lot of landmines that have shifted due to landslides caused by flooding that could be set off. Everyone is doing their best, but they've never experienced anything like this here and so the people and the government were really unprepared. Now we in Belgrade are waiting to see what happens to the largest power plant in Serbia as the water levels rise in the Sava River. So far the city center of Belgrade hasn't been as affected by the flooding, but if water reaches this plant about half of the city will lose power.
Also, another update, I wasn't able to shoot last week because I needed new sound equipment and it was really difficult to locate here, especially with the storm. Strangely enough the weather is really beautiful this week, but because of my recent road bumps I hope to spend the bulk of of my time working on the film.
Had this email come at a different time, it would have certainly been about everything that went wrong for me and my project in the last week. Just a ton of unnecessary bitching and moaning, as is customary for me. It's safe to say I got a pretty big reality check instead.
I've come to a few realizations over the last week, or certain things have been revealed to me, or whatever it is that happens in life that moves us to make choices.
It started in Israel, which was a great place to contemplate great things with great friends, and to somehow feel like those ideas are endorsed by history or God or something bigger than yourself.
Since then, a few things have taken shape.
The first was finally knowing that I'm not going back to live in New York. To those of you who I haven't told already, I apologize. But if I wrote an email to each and every one of you I think my heart would explode or something. That is to say, I will miss you all very deeply.
When I thought of New York, I couldn't imagine a life I wanted there outside of eating bagels with my friends, which I realized was something I could and should do in a visit. I just really didn't want more there than you guys and, as stated above, bagels. Which are all good things, but do not a rent check make.
So then, the bigger question came of "what's next?"
This became a pressing issue after an email exchange with Paolo, an Italian gem of a man I WWOOFed for back in 2011. He invited me back to the farm this July to help with the garlic braiding (which may be the only farm related task I am capable of). So, after a little (read: a helluvalot) back and forth, both internally and with my mom, I finally purchased a ticket from Columbus to Italy for July 18th. Well, I should say my mom booked it before I had a chance to change my mind for the umpteenth time.
Anyways, I bought a one way ticket because I'm trying hard to live with intention, but without expectations.
This intention without expectation thing is proving difficult, especially in my filming. It's very strange to live with the subject of my doc, because I'm constantly seeing things that I wish I had filmed. I've had to really accept the fact that I'm not going to be able to capture every moment, and to let go of the frustration I feel when she does something hilarious while I'm eating my lunch and the camera isn't rolling.
This is strange because I've also simultaneously felt really protective of her while we're filming -- as if recording her life could elevate or destroy it. It suddenly feels so so precious in a way that I didn't expect. I suppose there is a fragility to capturing someone you love on camera, even if that person is quite strong.
It's all complicated but, again, I'm trying to let go of how I thought it would be and trust that the process is as it should be.
A few other key realizations I've had: If you search hard enough, Serbia is full of people who can help with audio equipment. Movies are prettier on 35mm, but there's no reason to be a dick about it. Grandmas don't know the difference between oranges and grapefruits until they eat your grapefruit. And despite my best efforts and immense desire to be otherwise, I am still a night owl.
I miss you all and my homesickness is at a record level high. I'm happy here, but will also be happy to eat Jeni's ice cream and drink Bell's on my parent's porch in a few weeks, ya know?
With love, from my couch-bed on a rainy Saturday (seriously, Serbia is so not down with this rain. Are you there God? It's still Margaret).
So, my nana's hairdresser just said to me, after I gave her an apple, "can you get me a knife? i don't have teeth." A prime example of something I wish I had gotten on film.
Nana's got a brand new hairdo, and I've been asked 12 times today why I don't have a boyfriend. So we're both doing well! As we're filming I can (now) understand my nana bragging to her friends that I stay up late every night studying Serbian. Unfortunately for me, this is so not true. The thing is, how do I explain to my nana that I'm actually watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer? And how do you say vampire slayer in Serbian?
My language learning has definitely reached a plateau because of the above. I haven't been taking classes since the beginning of April and it's hard to study alone (studying without an exam/grade/anyone to be accountable to except yourself? let me know if anyone has mastered this.) I talk about the same things with my nana most days, and speak in English with most of my friends. I'm trying but, like, it's tough guys.
It's dawned on me that I'm not so productive when left to my own devices. I sleep too much (although, is there such a thing?), lay in bed at all hours of the day, and yes I read and write and walk about and do other productive things, but on the days I'm not filming most of those things are done in between naps. This must be hows babies feel. Or dogs or something.
So what I'm saying is I'm like a baby-dog lying in a sunny spot in the apartment on my stomach. Can I get an Amen? Okay cool.
This being said I've been filming for the last 8 hours and it's only 2pm here, so I need a break. Thus this email, which really has no point except to say that I miss you all and can't wait to be back in America in a few short weeks. Maybe it's because I know I'll be back here soon, but it doesn't feel like the end of this experience quite yet. Like my time in Belgrade is part of something bigger. And that's nice because I really hope it is.
My tired delirious state is starting to set in, and the heat here isn't helping, so I'll end this now. I'm wishing you all the laziest of summer days. In the words of the great Dolly Parton, we're all just islands in the stream. (I don't have any wisdom for you so I gotta fall back on Dolly).
Have a good week my loves.
I haven't had to hustle in a while.
In fact, when I left New York a few months ago, I had a strict no-hustle policy. I didn't want to feel rushed in anything, motivated solely by a deadline, or like a slave to technology (my camera didn't get the memo). And so I did just that. I relaxed, refocused and, mostly, ate a lot of red meat.
The cool thing about fasting from the stuff that drove me crazy (hint: not red meat) is that I eventually made my way back to the things that mattered, and they weren't nearly as awful. The bad blood between me and my email inbox is gone. I can set deadlines that are actually inspiring, just a celebration of something I've been working toward anyways. And if I need to rush, it's because I'm just so damn close to finishing x project, or because I want to have my head clear when I'm back in the states so that I can focus on other good stuff, like cooking with my mom and getting my baby Zoe ready for her big fat Persian wedding.
In this last week, I've had to hustle. Majorly. Somehow it always comes down to the last few moments, doesn't it? And it has nothing to do with procrastination. Nothing at all.
I'm working hard to get a lot of things done before I head back to the states tomorrow (can you believe it?). So, in the spirit of finishing things and putting them out into the world, there is something I gotta share with you guys...
It's my very own website! Okay Okay I'm still working out the kinks and figuring out a lot, but with the help of my friend ash harrison, here it is in it's first stages: christianabotic.com
As a disclaimer, it looks WACK on phones. So please, for my sake, take a look on your actual computers for now. Also, you will probably notice that my emails made their way onto the site. This has nothing to do with me being to lazy to blog separately. Nothing at all.
I've decided to come back to Belgrade for August to work on a few different projects, so I'm not so sad to be leaving. There are more things to come from my time here, and I will keep updating the site as my adventure continues. For now, I just want to say thank you to all of you.
These emails have been so fun for me, and your responses have been so great that I wanted to publish them as well (calm down I didn't that's inappropriate). Talking to you guys has kept me sane in all of the insanity that is Serbia and my life here. Thank you Thank you Thank you.
Now excuse me while I go put together an emotional playlist for the plane ride home (I'm gonna see the folks I dig, I'll even kiss a sunset pig OHIIOOOOOOOOOOO.....)
Okay, so the last two months have been crazy and surreal. crazy surreal. Going back to America, to new york, then again to Europe, to a farm in Italy, and back to life in Belgrade. You should have seen me in the car with my mom in front of the Columbus airport departures drop-off. She basically had to peel me off of her. And that's why she's the best, because she did. And I went. And it was beautiful.
The farm was amazing, even (somehow) better than I remember it being. I braided garlic and harvested shallots and pulled weeds that were the size of trees and got tired and dirty and happy and full of the best food and wine every day. I laughed even more than usual, which is a lot. I could have stayed forever, but also had to keep moving. Or, as Mr. Eggers says, "what I really wanted was every option simultaneously, not in some parallel and irrelevant universe, but here".
So, Italy was hard to leave, like america, but I did. (I don't understand how it can be so difficult for me to leave a place and then so exciting to arrive at another a few hours later. I guess it's related to what I just wrote.)
I got in to belgrade this sunday, just in time for another round of language classes to start on Monday. My nana was excited to see me, I think, and she's just the same. As expected. Her days filled with the same old routines and offering me food.
My routine is going to change a bit this month though. i have a lot of work to finish (I know, I know, my life is tough), a lot of class again, and I have visitors coming here for the first time. I've been so comfortable in the simplicity of my life here and have never once thought about how I would entertain someone. And now I have to think. Woof. But, having friends come to see this strange place I now call home (maybe not literally, because when people ask me where I live I usually say "uhhhhh....") is a wonderful wonderful thing.
I'm going to keep this one short, mostly because I don't have any updates yet from Belgrade, and also because I couldn't even begin to actually discuss the last few months. let's just say i felt all the feelings.
I apologize for the few week long radio silence. I have been overwhelmed with the most wonderful and the most difficult things recently. Plenty of those things are shared, but hard to put into words. Thus, the email delay.
Also realizing that I use the word "overwhelmed" a lot. Some might say too much? But if it's the truth then what's a girl to do...
You want the good or bad news first? The bad you already know, so let's start with the good.
The good news is that I've devised a grand plan for the month of September. An impossibly beautiful plan. Honestly I would be jealous of myself if I could be.
I am going to live on a vineyard in tuscany for two weeks to help with the grape harvest in early September. by chance the same one that Alex W. worked on this summer and said he loved. Then back to the same farm as before (I know I know pfff whatever it's the greatest) to finish out the month as their last wwoofer of the year. I have never smiled so wide or crazily upon email confirmation of an event as I did for this.
I'm not sure if you all know this, but I am currently in Belgrade taking intensive language classes again. The years of guilt for not teaching me Serbian must have racked up in my father's heart and then manifested themselves in his wallet because he paid for another month. He also happens to arrive to Belgrade tonight for a week long visit. So, cheers to Zoran!
Everything here is moving too fast for my liking (has anyone noticed it takes me a long time to absorb and process things?). Sometimes I get stuck on the simplest things. A glass of water, an old couple in the park, a crack in the sidewalk. Everything else falls out of focus and it's all i can see. It's beautiful, but dear god does it take me a long time to get the full picture. And i don't want to leave this place without seeing the full picture, ya know? Am I making sense? No? Okay then onto the next.
Gooel and Emma and baby Kantor visited me in Serbia for a week, and it was beautiful. Apparently I have turned into a Serbian grandmother because I stuffed them full of what they described as "thanksgiving feasts" at every meal, though I thought they were relatively normal portions.
So, all is good on the Serbian front. But then there is this whole other thing happening in America, which makes all the goodness in my life and all of my most important concerns at the moment quite bitter and/or silly. I feel very strange about everything that's happening in Missouri (and about writing "everything that's happening" because I don't know how I'm supposed to bundle anything up in words). It's bizarre and confusing to be in a foreign country when things like this (again "like this") are happening in my home country. I've been reading and watching and talking and trying to do what I can, but my natural distrust of the media and my physical distance from it all makes this difficult.
I don't expect any answers from you all, but just wanted to include this in my update because honestly it's overwhelming (there's that word again) and affecting my day to day life here in a big way.
I can't promise that my next update will be much more upbeat, but I sure as hell hope it is. In the meantime, here's to finding the good and feeding the good and letting our right hand guide us -- here's to love, my loves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UULT4iNWfrg