expat blogger

living in Serbia

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Train, the Ballet and the Brick Layer (Novi Sad Part 3)

My favorite cafe in Novi Sad is a re-purposed train car. In spite of all the smoke inside of the car, I really enjoyed the experience. I had walked by this unique kafana several times and finally made my way in.
The ceiling of the car still has the original leather straps used to steady yourself during a train ride.
I would love to see this place in the summer, it must be even better with cafe tables scattered outside to expand the seating.

I think the disco ball on the porch roof is a nice touch.
The view from the front looks right down to the most famous view in town.
View of the back of the cafe looking on to the most famous buildings in town.

Besides exploring cafes, Novi Sad was full of all sorts of  more than pleasant adventures. Another blissful part of the trip was meeting my new English friend. He works in the city's ballet. As I have always fancied meeting someone in the Ballet, this was a treat for me. I will call him J. for brevity and privacy.
I took this pic outside a studio at the Miami Ballet. Notice the palm tree reflections.

I twisted my ankle just before meeting him and was in a lot of pain. Our plan had been to walk to the fortress and have coffee at a cafe there, but that hardly possible. I was fearful he may be put out or annoyed at the predicament, but thankfully he was merciful about the leg and we went for coffee close by.

The fort at Novi Sad that we did not visit.

We spent the day talking, walked/limped around a little bit. He introduced me to the mall and a great place for real Hot chocolate, and a rooftop restaurant that served a Indian Style Chicken salad with curry in it! Both were heaven for my taste buds and tummy.

I found his story fascinating.  Over the coffee, hot cocoa, and while limping across town he told me his story.

He had started ballet late in his high school years on a dare from his footballer friends in high school.  I think that backfired. He was good at it, and instead of being embarrassed (for very long), he went PRO!  He started modern dance at 15, then played around with ballet at 16, then at 17 he got serious.  He went to private ballet school, the KS Dance Ltd. and is now dancing internationally. He was blessed with perfect genetics for ballet a.k.a. his super flexibility and high arches that made all this possible.

At the ballet School the instructors were very strict. Not only did they instill the great discipline of ballet, but they also correct accents of the students until they speak the Queen's English properly. I found it interesting that if you are training to dance professionally in England you would simultaneously be taught to speak properly as well. Quite honestly, I think other training schools should do the same for their employees. It could certainly help many people get jobs.

Like anyone he had wondered where his life's journey would take him, he and his brother had studied martial arts as a child and his flexibility was an asset.  I am sure it was the same on the soccer pitch. But his genetic makeup seems to have been best suited for the ballet. The muscles that he built were just re sculpted to create the well tuned dancer that he is and continually improves on. Because he started late and is just budding, I believe he will have many years ahead of him to see his potential and a great career.

I am sure you can imagine that with any professional sport there are those who are hard to dance with because their egos may have surpassed comfortable living conditions.  This is also true within the ballet. It has taken some time for a few of the dancers who may have seemed a bit prickly in the beginning, but sometimes even the biggest porcupines shed some quills.

The Builder
For a while after J. discovered his place in the world of ballet, he wondered where he got his natural form from. His feet are so beautifully arched, and his hips turned out. He looked to his mother and father and saw no real similarities in this area. Until one day he saw his grandfather remove his shoes. J. noticed how arched his grandad's feet were. He said to his grandpa, "You could have been a dancer."
His grandfather replied, "I'm a builder."

When J. told me this I could only imagine a ballet about a builder with scaffolding lining a building, beams and bricks. I told J. what I was thinking, and he said it would have to be German. We both laughed. This was just one of the many laughs we had. What a great day and wonderful new friend.

J. dances at the Novi Sad Ballet, I hope one day to get to see him dance.

After finally returning home and making to the hospital, I got my own special dance boot. By the time I got is taken off I didn't think it was so special anymore.

Decorated by Friends, Mama, and ME. :) (I did most of the decorating while listening to a serious family conversation.... kept me from getting too bored!)

One of the many Antique lanterns in Novi Sad.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waking up in Novi Sad

A few weeks ago I spent a week in Novi Sad with a wonderful friend and her family. It was such a pleasure to wake up with English and go to sleep to it. The entire week was in English. My host family speaks both Serbian and English, but spoke English mostly for me. I cannot tell you how relaxing this was, not to have to try to understand. No stress!

I enjoyed waking up with the kids, watching cartoons, and playing cars and games with them. I also spent time teaching them new games and making beautiful snowflakes with them. Without a language barrier, much more was possible. Imagine trying to teach someone a new game with rules when there is a great wall between you. That is how how it is when you cannot communicate. 

You may think it is incredibly lazy that I don't speak Serbian yet, but I do put effort into it. I am learning, slowly. I must also tell you, I have met a few other expats like me who do not even care to try. 

At home my husband and I speak English. Once in a while a few Serbian words are sprinkled in. I am understanding more than last time when I was here, and get along O.K. on my own, but miss out on most of the conversation. And it is extremely exhausting. After an hour or so of listening my brain kinda shuts off.  Sometimes even sooner. Especially if the conversation in boring. I just quit trying, switch the brain to another channel, and usually feel kind of alone. That is why this week was so magical.

I was only alone, when I was alone! Glorious! and I didn't mind because I was exploring a gorgeous city. In fact, I haven't this kind of wonderful alone time in a while, and I realized I had missed it, a lot. I think some of that kind of alone may be called FREEDOM. such a lovely word. Wow, and I am realizing as I am writing this that I feel caged in my little Serbian town. I feel limited, muzzled, and alone.

The fact is, when I got back to my town, I couldn't wait to leave again. And when people ask me how I like our town, I am honest with them. I do like it. But I cannot be completely honest. It would be rude. But most of the time I am just sad and alone in this town.

Novi Sad gave me Wings, a Tongue, and Free time! I could be me. My heart was light and singing like Maria in the Sound of Music! Cheesy, but true.

I had wonderful discussions with my friend every morning over coffee and great times playing with the kids. I cannot express the joy of having some one who understands the way I think, and not to have to worry weather I may somehow offend him or her with my thoughts. Refreshing.

To help some of you understand, things that are completely natural here are not tolerated or accepted in where I am from, and the opposite is also true. I cannot speak freely, because the way I think and what I believe, is not O.K.  To speak freely here would be like saying, "The sun is the center of our universe," to the old Catholic Church. It doesn't go over well. Sometimes I feel like there is an iron curtain over me. It is very heavy.

I believe I am adjusting to living here, but like all adjustment there are hard parts. This is one of them. Anyone who has lived in another country for more than a short vacation can surely empathize. One must give up something for another. It will take time for me to be truly comfortable here, if that is even possible. I am really not sure. Time will tell.

The family and friends that I have here make all the difference in the world. They make my time here so much better and I don't believe I could be here without their love and support. I am really happy to have them.

I am hoping that if we buy a house here, and I have a little space of my own, things will feel a bit different. I will have the freedom to be myself in my own home. I can decorate it and grow a nice garden. Hard work and a nice living space can make all the difference in the world for your psyche.

I would love to hear what you think on this subject of trying to make a home here in my second home. I am open to advice as long as you are kind. I would love your thoughts on the situation, especially if you have first hand experience with this. Thank your for reading and for your kind, helpful comments.
One more blog to come next week on my Novi Sad Trip. Until then, have a great week.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Old House & The International holidays of February the 14th

Right now, as I type, Somewhere not far off an traditional Serbian Ompah band is belting out as if there is a wedding. But it is Monday, so I am sure they are practicing. This is slightly enchanting, even though I really hate the music.

The Mux and I have been toying with the idea of buying a house here.  We went to look at one in his village a few days ago. Though the house is only about 60 years old, the feel of the place is much more antique.

This is a worn out little building beside the house we looked at. I like the hearts on the door. The door is so worn, it isn't even on the hinges anymore. The inside is a mess with an old bed and a few forgotten stored items.
The nice little kitchen includes a wood fueled oven and an electric one. Here in Serbia there are often couches in the kitchen, that convert into beds. I think it is a novel idea, even if I am not fond of the way it looks. It saves on heating the whole house with more than one wood burning stove.  The sink and wood stove are just out of view.

 It was a lovely old village house. The house is from the 1940's or 50's era. It needs some repairs, but Milan says he could do them. We are undecided, but it is fun to dream about exotic old homes. How we could fix up the yard and make a nice garden behind.  This feels like a super bowl commercial in my other wise boring life.

Feminine Sensitive info here. If you are a guy you may want to skip down a bit... You have been warned.  Maybe you can tell by the tone of my words, I have been jaded by having to wear a cast for a couple of weeks, hope I can get it off Friday. It is doing numbers on my mind!

I believe my "Friend of the months" is also a culprit of my no so chipper attitude. The word friend is used lightly, sarcastically, and maybe even as an antonym. I may have made two friends into enemies with my monthly Jekyll and Hyde transformation. I was a bit evil at dinner last night, even though I was trying to remain my usual friendly self. All the trying in the world couldn't reign in Mrs. Hyde.

I find the Jekyll and Hyde is an appropriate name for my two selves as I am such a changed person sometimes. And because the historical character, Deacon Brodie, whose life was made into the story was born on the same day as me! just 200 years earlier.

 This brings me to a topic that some Expat woman may find helpful. The Diva Cup! I am in love with this product. In many countries all over the world, female sanitary products are not as wide in variety as in the western world. If you are traveling to non-western countries you may want to take your favorite products or even have them shipped to you. I stocked up and brought mine until I found this little silicon cup. There are different names for it... Moon cup is another name. I do recommend it and if you are interested, do some research and find out if it may be a good option for you. There is no need to buy monthly products, and it is so small it fits in a pocket.  Two Big thumbs up!

Males may resume reading here...

Happy Valentine's Day! Here is it is Sveti (Saint) Trifun's day. He is the saint of wine. I think these two holidays go well together. The Ompah band is playing to celebrate this Holiday.
The Ompah band is playing just the other side of our building. Milan saw them when we was going out to get our breakfast pastries from the bakery. The band is starting to be annoying to listen to as I try to put words together. They are unwelcome guests pounding away at my thought process. I will take a break and come back to this rambling later.

Some time after dinner the same day
Great little traditional Serbian Restaurant, the rocks along the bottom of the wall foster several bubbling fountains. The falling waters quiet laughter provides a relaxing atmosphere.

We celebrated this holiday with a nice dinner out. Kod Sasha's was the name of the little place. Literally translated, it means "at Sasha's". The owner waited on us, and the food was exquisite. We had salad, two main courses, wine, beer and coffee. All this cost the same as two Combo meals at McDonald's back home. There was home-made bread and cheeses and even home-made horseradish. Oh my, I am still as stuffed as a turkey on Thanksgiving.

If you are ever in Knjazevac this is the place to go! Sasha's has won several awards for its food. The decor of the place is antique Serbian. The service was great and the food was nothing less than amazing. Before we left, the owner said he had a dish made of cows tail. Sounds really interesting and I am anxious to give it a try next time. 
I had to share a picture of the wine I had with my meal. Medveda Krv or blood of the bear is the name of the wine. It was very nice. I mixed it with Coke, half and half. This is called Bambus. Don't knock it til you try it.
The downstairs Entrance.

While I listened to the house talk in Serbian, I looked through the window to the little house that now haunts my daydreams.
I can't stop thinking of the little house, it is such a romantic idea, and would be fun to work on for the next month and a half that I have left here in Serbia. It would also be nice for our extended family to have this little plot for gardening while we are gone and the house to stay in for some time away from town in the summer.

Only time well till what is to come. I am happy right now just to dream.

Ciao for now,
Please feel free to comment!

Monday, February 7, 2011

NS: the sprain ~ featuring bus window fotographs

I know this is a little backwards, but I am posting the end of my trip to NS. This is a reproduction of  a letter I sent home upon my return.
The graffiti in red at the bottom of the photograph says,  "delije". This is the name of the most passionate Red Star football club fans.  I took this through the bus window. Didn't notice the graffiti till later when looking at the photos.

I went to NS to visit a fellow expat, S. and had a wonderful week with her and met another new expat friend J. who works as a Ballet Dancer in the Serbian Ballet.
After my great trip, I had a very exciting adventure on the way home.
I had twisted my ankle on my way to meet J, and was intending to care for it on the way back home on the bus, by stretching my leg across the seats... it didn't work the way I planned.

After my wonderful week in Novi Sad, I hobbled my luggage into the bus station. This was easier than I feared it would be. Thanks to S's map, and a nice, honest cab driver I found my way into the station with no problem.

I asked in Serbian for my ticket and and made my way to the peron or platform where my bus waited. The ride to Beograd was packed no room to put my foot up, and the ride from BG to Knjazevac would have been less so, but we picked up passengers from a bus that broke down on the hwy.
View of Belgrade from the bus window. This is the Sava River.
Then one of the guys on the bus was sick. I am still not sure what was wrong with him. I thought I smelled alcohol on him. But the guy beside me said it might be his heart, who knows? He was sitting right in front of me. I could see everything. Sometimes he was reacting as if he was having a seizure.... we had to stop the bus three times for him to puke. The fourth time we had to stop the bus at a gas station to have an ambulance meet us to care for him. Everyone waited and we were in the parking lot for over 30 Min! it seems crazy to me. Nice that one person is so important in this culture, but, odd to me.
a view of the ambulance through the dirty bus window

The sick fella was an older Roma or a gypsy, and was treating his wife poorly even though she was doing her best for him. I am sure that is the same across the board, Gypsy or not. I mostly disappointed in how women are treated here.
another pic through the bus window. No idea what river this is.

After my long ordeal in the bus coming home, I found Milan waiting for me at the bus station. He had been waiting with Mama for an hour at the hospital with our cousin, The ER doctor. What a nice surprise. Mama's friend is the x-ray tech so he was waiting too.
This hospital visit was amazingly smooth and fast and no even a little expensive! I was shocked! not your typical Serbian experience. (I know firsthand having gone with family members to the hospital here.)

X-rays show no break, just a bit of a sprain.  I am not allowed to put weight on my foot. and have a strange kind of cast. It only covers the back and sides of my foot and leg up to my knee. to keep it stable. It has a gauze type of wrap that goes all the way around my leg, and it is all covered up, accept my toes. I have to have the cast for a week, and then we will go from there.

The nurses and doctor were all having a good time with me, and my broken Serbian, but they were pleased I knew as much as I do. Everyone was so funny. I am sure me being a novelty American/ family member made work a bit more interesting.

I know this is not the usual experience. But Milan was like, "see it wasn't bad".... I was thinking, because we are family and Mama knows people! I am not stupid. This is not normal, even for America!

Side note: I think it is good I am so friendly. The cousin doctor was so helpful. I am sure it doesn't hurt that I visit her Mom in the village when I take walks.

On my way out of the hospital I thanked the doctor for not having to dishes for a week. Of course I am joking. I have been washing some. I can not stand the mess.

As  I was typing just now the phone rang, and I am so happy I don't have to answer it!!  I still hate phone charades in Serbian. There are some advantages to this sprain! :)

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment! I love to hear what you think. And have a great day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pictures from Novi Sad

I spent a week in Novi Sad with a friend and made a new one. I am working on a lengthy blog about the trip, but want to share a few pics and a bit of mirth before bombarding you with the extensive black and white script.
This is, without a doubt, my favorite place in Serbia. If it is not for the glorious architecture, then for the company of such warm expat friends.
The trees around the statue were placed earlier that day. Theses manicured trees are like a stunning necklace on a beauty queen. The warm colors may lead you to believe the evening's weather was comfortable. But that is a lie, it was freezing even with a warm coat, scarf, gloves, and hat.
There are so many delectable nooks and crannies for one to lay eyes on. Without a doubt, I was filled with joy at the sights of this well preserved antique of a town.
I will relay the most humorous part of my trip, though, the comedy may be diminished by translation... or not.
The Serbian language is learned in Cyrillic first and second in the Latin letters which you are reading now.  The Cyrillic of Serbia is similar to that of Russia if that helps your imagination. The letter F is  the letter in concern in this story. The Cyrillic equivalent is a circle with a vertical line through the center. The two letters are not mixed in words. As a rule, it is one or the other. The exception is the cause of my embarrassing mistake.

I had gone shopping to find souvenirs of my trip and had a great time talking with with the proprietors of the shop. I made a purchase and went on to a cafe just beside. Soon after the couple I had just spoke with came in and we had a jolly continuation of the conversation.

The trouble arose when the kind man of the couple explained to me how the cafe got it's name. and I said the name... as I read if it were written in all Latin letters. Pickic,  most unwittingly I was saying out loud in a cafe with other people all around... the bad word for a ladies private parts. He tried to politely fix my mistake and I said it again. Until he replied, "Stop saying that", still kindly, I had no idea what I had said. Then in a flash, my memory flicked the light bulb "on" above my head.  I was enlightenment and embarrassment.  I laughed at the ghastly mistake.
I had been saying a very naughty word.
Everyone present was congenial, and I am sure they were holding back laughs at the silly foreigner. I went back a few days later to the shop and the mistress of the place was still tickled by the innocent transgression.  Thank God, this culture is forgiving!