Kolo – Balkan Equivalent of the Chicken Dance

Hello again. I’ve been slacking with the blog lately but you sure know how to light a fire under me to get me going again. Yes, I read all your emails and messages and I appreciate every single one.

It’s Saturday, so let’s do something fun. Close your eyes . (Ok, open them again, but you get the point.) Pretend you’re at a wedding. Envision the beautiful couple, plates of food, sweaty children who’ve already stained their best clothes playing on the grass and binging at the dessert table, young people ripping it up on the dance floor, multitudes of grandparents quietly watching all the action from the perimeter. (If this was Canada, you’d also be listening to the Chicken Dance in your head.) Think of the quiet ceremonial cake cutting, the pictures, and the curious variety of lonely family and friends at the reject table. (Read: table in the furthest reach of the wedding but still considered part of it.)

If you’ve come this far, you are NOT at a Serbian wedding.

EVERYONE needs to go to a Serbian wedding at some point. Seriously, just crash one. They’ll probably invite you in anyway, and make you drink copious amounts of Rakija (fruit brandy) and dance the kolo all night. 3 weeks ago, we went to our first Serbian wedding in a town called Knjazevac (Kin-ya-je-vats). The bride, of course, was beautiful and possibly one of the sweetest women on the planet. The ceremony itself was very short, maybe 15 minutes or so, and then all of the guests cued up to get their pictures taken with the bride and groom, after which we all hustled inside for the first dance, back outside for the bouquet toss, and back inside for what was to be 12 hours of continuous food, drink, and kolo.

The food…massive, tasty, and endless. The drinks…well, I think I have found a supplier. (Sounds like a drug deal, doesn’t it?) I usually like a glass, at most two glasses of wine. More than that and I get the nasty wine feel.  The week prior, Chris, the awesome husband he is, visited a winery for the groom’s bachelor party where he bought me 2 dozen bottles of wine. Yes. 24 bottles. No. I did not drink them in one night. Yes, we like to entertain. Anyway, this wine is the cleanest wine I have ever drank and I’ve found it’s the only wine I’ve had that hasn’t given me the ugly wine hangover. So, at the wedding, 2 bottles of wine were placed in front of me and I drank a bottle and a half and still felt incredible. I am admitting this because the next day, I woke early and was able to bike with Chris and the girls to the next town with total ease. The wine might have even made me quicker, more powerful. Kind of like what spinach does for Popeye. Anyone who comes to my house will get some because, contrary to what you may think by now, I do not drink it every day.

Back to the wedding. Rakija, the fruit brandy (usually plum), poured as freely as water and helped to amp up the crowd as they danced the kolo for hours and hours. Kolo is a dance that has quite simple footsteps and can vary from town to town. One of the main ones we did went …shuffle right-right-right, tap left, tap right, shuffle-right-right-right, all while holding hands in a conga-like procession. Doing this dance now, sober, in my living room, I’m not sure I have it right, which would explain why I stepped on more than a few toes.  Young and old danced the kolo all night, with the old people literally owning the dance floor for the majority of the time. It’s also important to note that the leader of the conga/kolo line is responsible for swinging a white napkin or handkerchief in the air as he/she dances.

And the cake. THE CAKE! Midway through the evening, torches of fire were lit and the music thrummed and people started chanting and cheering. Something major was happening. For 15 minutes fires were burning and people were vibrating around some important center. I expected a galaxial orb or religious shrine to erupt. I squeezed my way through the crowd of people and saw the mystical being: the cake. The cake wasn’t being cut, nor were the couple taking those staged photos in front of it. People were celebrating the cake like fans at a rock concert. It was fascinating!

We’re on our way to an Israeli harvest celebration so I will leave you with best wishes for an amazing weekend. Cheers!

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Bits and Bones

Me again. School has been busy and my dissertation started on Monday so I’ve been slightly occupied. Like usual, I’m going to give you the goods in bits and pieces because that’s how I roll.  Here goes:

  • Serbians write the #1 like a #7. I figured I’d point this out in case any of you are in the area and are wondering why something seems like it’s 7x more expensive than it should be.
  • Most stores ask for exact change when paying for an item and cashiers may not-so-subtly roll their eyes at you if you don’t have it.
  • I need to show the post office my passport every time I pay a utility bill.
  • It’s stray animal season in Serbia. Tiny stray pups and kittens are everywhere.
  • My cell phone does not work in my house. Seems to be some sort of massive dead zone. Internet, too, can be sporadic at times. This has presented some challenges for school, but I’m managing well enough.
  • Since the end of February, I’ve travelled to the Stara Planina ski resort in south western Serbia, Rome, Sarajevo, London, Montenegro, Croatia, Ireland and, this weekend, more of western Serbia and then Bulgaria.  In June, it will be either a week in either Dubai or Greece, followed with nearly a month back in Canada. We’re also aiming for Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Ukraine, Poland and Portugal when we’re able.
  • The history here is deep. During a drive near Bor, Chris spotted some white sticks stuck in the mud along the side of the highway.  (It had been a bit of a rainy season and the rain had washed out part of the hillside along the road.) He passed the area three times before he stopped to investigate and was surprised to find what appeared to be clusters of bones. He called the local police because he suspected they might be human. His suspicion was confirmed by the police, telling Chris that there were multiple bodies in the dirt and they were going to investigate further. Of course, they could have been from any time period, and from any of the many conflicts Serbia (and the former Yugoslavia) had been involved in. The International Commission for Missing Persons has expressed interest in the case because they have thousands of missing people they are hoping to find and identify. Not sure if we’ll hear any more on this, but it’s an incredible curiosity.
  • For those of you who love to learn, you should check out Masterclass.com. I have an annual membership and it’s super cool.  You can learn from the pros with lessons in cooking, writing, film making, music and much, much more. The nerd I am, I signed up for 10 courses, having already done 2. Really, if you don’t want to do homework, you don’t have to. There is no test or anything, just a bunch of really interesting lessons by the greats including Helen Mirren, Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, David Mamet, Judy Blume, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Steve Martin, Aaron Sorkin and more. This is the kind of thing I like to watch. I highly recommend this site! (There’s even a handy little MasterClass app.)
  • We also walked in a 5KM event for charity. The energy of the crowd was amazing and we had a ton of fun. We also cried a bit for the environment when thousands of balloons were released into the air to signal the start of the race.
  • Lastly, we’re going to a Serbian wedding this weekend and we don’t know what to expect but we’re really excited for it.

Until next time, thanks for reading my ramblings and remember that you are all welcome here!

 

Move over Jon Snow, the Cats of Kotor are the real warriors

My hubby rocks. Like seriously.  My wish for my 40th birthday was to visit Ireland so we are flying there with the kiddies for a week in 2 weeks. Cool, right? Well, Chris surprised me with a weekend getaway to Tivat, Montenegro and Dubrovnik, Croatia. We didn’t have much scheduled on Friday so we toured Tivat a little and drove up to a nearby town called Kotor because my good friend Google said there was a cat museum there, where we figured we could get a souvenir for our cat-loving kids.  Kotor itself, like Tivat, is stunning but Kotor is more reminiscent of the streets of Rome. Here the cobbled streets wind with a series of narrow pedestrian walkways, flanked all along by cafes and shops and quaint little residences. Cats, of course, were everywhere, and there were cat sovenir shops and cat restaurants and even a cat-themed casino. Cats are the symbolic animal of town. And for very good reason.

Cats helped save the town when the plague was ravishing the world.  Locals told us that when the plagues occurred (in the 1400s and late 1500s), rats helped spread the disease but a multitude of cats were brought into the city to kill the rats. The cats killed the rats and ultimately helped stop the plague from spreading and saved the town.  Today, many cats still roam the streets, and they are all very healthy because the locals take very good care of them. For more on Kotor, read here:

https://www.visit-montenegro.com/main-cities/kotor/kotor-history/

Today, Chris surprised me with a drive up the coast into Croatia to the city of Dubrovnik for a Game of Thrones themed tour of the fictional place of King’s Landing, actually Old Town Dubrovnik.  We’ve been quite a few places but I think this is the most beautiful city I have ever been in. I said that about Budapest, then Paris, then Rome, then Kotor, but it’s oficially official. Dubrovnik is the most beautiful place on earth. At least, it’s going to be very, very difficult to find any place better. Our tour lasted 3 hours and we took many pictures but they do not do this place justice.  Afterward, we went for fresh mussels and calamari and then walked the paths at the top of the walls for about an hour. It was heavenly.

Back to the food. The seafood here is the freshest we’ve ever eaten. Not only are the octopus, mussels, calamari and prawns the best we’ve ever had, they were all quite affordable. Most entrees were about $10-20 (Canadian) a person and the wine was only a few dollars a glass. This was at very  beautiful, high-end restaurants. These meals would have likely cost us nearly $200 in Canada. Of course, cats were in Old Town Dubrovnik, too. Our tour guide said that if there are 3 or more cats sitting outside a restaurant, it’s a 5 star restaurant on Trip Advisor – “always trust the cats”.

 

 

Toilet Champagne

I’m being whisked away tomorrow and I have no idea where I’m going. I told Chris I wanted fireworks and a parade for my 40th birthday and we’ve settled on a surprise trip because he is away for work on my actual birthday next week. I did tell him that if he took me out of the country without the kids I would kill him, but after he asked for my frequent flier and passport numbers, I’m convinced we’re getting on a plane. I’ve always been resistant to travel without my kids but more so now that we live in a foreign country. If one of our parents were here, maybe I’d feel different. Sure, we have an excellent nanny and an even better circle of close friends here to help out, but since I had kids I usually feel lost without them. Looks like I have to “adult” this weekend. While I’m adulting with Chris this weekend (sounds dirty, doesn’t it?), the girls are going to be in good hands.  Unlike me, Chris is very good at keeping a secret, so I have no idea where we’re going but I know that as long as I’m with him, it’s going to be amazing. I can say this because my hubby rocks. 14 years together and I’m still happiest when I’m with him. He’s funny, super smart, and still makes me tingly all over.

Next week, my group of expat sista moms have some fun planned for me, though I think it began yesterday when my friend Anna and I went for an impromptu lunch at a restaurant called Frans where they served champagne in the restrooms. CHAMPAGNE IN THE RESTROOMS. Now, this seems pretty ritzy, doesn’t it? I won’t lie, it was, but our whole bill, in which we ate massive grilled salmon, fresh salad, freshly baked bread, some addictive sesame oiled crisp veggies and had sparking water and a tea….was a whopping $40. So, we drank champagne in the bathroom, pocketed some complementary hair elastics and brushed our teeth with complimentary toothbrushes and toothpaste.  Anna, of course, could do this quite straight-faced when a ritzy-looking, fully done up, very serious woman walked in. I, on the other hand, started cry-laughing so hard I spit toothpaste down my chin after the classy lady walked out.  (I can be classy, but sometimes it’s just more fun to be the silly girl I am.) Check these out… (the  blurry ones are when Anna and I were laughing too hard.)

5 Bullet Holes: A Reminder

I’m back! After trips to Rome, London and Sarajevo and a flu that just wouldn’t say goodbye, I’ve been a wee bit busy. Lots to say, but I’ll give this one in snippets because there is just so much.

Rome was the most beautiful city I have ever been in. Paris is beautiful, sure, but Rome has a special charm. Every two steps, just when you think there can’t possibly be anything else to see, you are faced with an architectural or sculptive feat that you can’t help but comparing to those more fragile ones of today. (We won’t talk about the money and slave labour that went into building this city.) The Vatican, well, that was such a spiritual visit that I don’t think I could do justice to what my soul felt that day. The best part is that we experienced it as a family, as a couple, and we’ve made memories that will last a lifetime.

London was next. I flew there just for a few days for a literary festival my university was putting on. I figured, why not? I’m in the (semi) vicinity and it would be great to see London. So there I sat, on the Big Red (open-topped) bus for 5 hours in the rain and cold, determined to see the city during the only free day I had.  I’m still glad I did this, but that evening I began to feel sick. The next day, the day I went to Middlesex, I was really sick. An hour after I met my professor I was heaving into the porcelain throne at my hotel room, where I stayed for almost a full day.

That stomach bug lasted a few more days and was still lingering when we went on a road trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia, for the weekend 2 days later.  To tell the truth, if I was still in Canada and had never been to the Balkans, I would have laughed at the idea of visiting Bosnia. I knew what Bosnia was. It is where a war was. It was where my friends’ husbands were deployed in the 90s. I remember reading about the dangers our soldiers and the people of Bosnia faced. Go THERE? Never.

Flash forward to a few days ago. We drove up and I was pleasantly surprised. If anything, the infrastructure seemed better developed than the infrastructure in Serbia.  It was cleaner, fresher, than Belgrade but I’ve learned this is because humanitarian aid after the siege of Sarajevo has helped to rebuild the area. The money definitely was put to good use. That said, there are many buildings still pocketed with bullet holes. We learned that any building in which 5 or more people were killed will remain as is, unfixed, as a sobering reminder of the atrocity of war.

We took our girls through the Tunnel of Hope, a tunnel made by a group of Sarajevan men to ensure the continuing supply of food and provisions to their fellow countrymen during the 3 year period Sarajevo was surrounded by Serbian forces. Locals believe the tunnel is the only reason Sarajevo was able to withstand the siege as long as it had.  There is a significant possibility the tunnel saved the people of Sarajevo. (If I have anything incorrect, please know that this is information gleaned from the tour and talks with locals. I highly reccomend researching this yourselves.) We also took our girls to the War Childhood Museum, where we all had a good reminder of how lucky we are.  Rebekah even wanted a book from the gift shop that told the stories of children of war. She’s been reading it for days.

Lastly, and unrelated to my trips, I have to say that most days I feel like the most inadequate writer on the planet.  My classmates are much more eloquent than I am and I usually can’t help but feeling like the donkey among them.   When I posted my story the other day I did not expect feedback or accolade or anything. It’s an ok story, but it was my favourite of late only because Grover Gardner read it for me, and that in itself gave me hope that one day I can be  good, if not great writer.  So I was surprised to get several private messages but, specifically, one from an old coworker who said she enjoyed it so much she wished it was longer.  Not going to lie, it almost made me cry because I never feel I am on the right track. But her email made me feel that maybe, just maybe, I am on my way.  Thanks for that, Mary.

Until next time, thanks for reading!😊

(I’ll attach more pictures when I have a better connection.)

 

 

Balkan Men & The Sex Club

Serbian men are tall. Tall to the point where my face is ass-height to many of them. (This definitely has its drawbacks.) So, it surprised me quite a bit on Saturday when some friends and I went to a nightclub and saw a bunch of shorties pumpin’ it up. All around us, stunted Serbian men gave it all they got, as though they were each the main attraction to their own one-(short)-man show.  I wondered if it was theme night.

Walk into any club in North America and you’d usually see your typical mix of women dancing in their own little circles, guys trying to breech said circle, doing whatever they could to get as close as they can to the shaking, gyrating carousels of female flesh.  At Square Nightclub (I think that’s what it was called), all the shorties danced together in their own manly circles, without women. A Serbian man told me today this is because Balkan men are shy. Um? (I can’t write that statement without laughing at it. I just left my computer and came back to it….yep…still funny.) Balkan men have the flexibility of owls in that they are able to rotate their necks almost 360°. This only applies when they are trying to oogle the female form. Their necks are almost completely static when it comes to shoulder-checking in traffic. I wouldn’t say men here are shy. I feel, and maybe this is just me, that they are the sort that want the women to come to them Here, look at me and my manliness, alongside my Balkan brethren, pumping the air like an invisible punching bag, I’m so sexy. Come and get me baby.  And of course, if and when she (whoever she is) comes, he can shout to the world, I knew she would come. Why wouldn’t she want all this? (Insert wave of entire Adidas-clad body here…)

Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s not ok for men to dance together. One of the best nights I’ve ever had was at a gay nightclub.(I was pregnant and dressed as Dog The Bounty Hunter…look that up for a good laugh.) I don’t mean to stereotype but gay men can dance, and they are absolutely some of the best company you can have. And, as a woman, I don’t have to worry about stray paws trying to find a home somewhere on my body.  But this was not that kind of nightclub.  I may have also been old enough to birth…well…all of them,  but it almost felt like we were at a happenin’ junior high dance where there is that invisible line that the boys and girls don’t want to cross because it means you would actually have to talk to someone of the opposite sex.  (Hands on hips, now, one-two-three, one-two-three…)

And the napkins! There were thousands of napkins on the floor. No, we were not dancing in my kitchen during one of my floods. These dudes sprayed out napkins out like rappers do wads of cash. Dudes are thinking, gonna make it rain…napkins. Napkins in the air, napkins everywhere! It was like ball drop at Times Square but with napkins instead of confetti. Napkins!

Oblivious that I am, I didn’t see the sign at the coat check that said “Music, Shisha, Drink, Sex.” Yes. Good ole’ SEX. I didn’t realize it was that kind of club, but I probably should have.Thinking about it now, maybe the girls and boys didn’t want to cross the invisible line because it meant the inevitable ‘sex’ that was written on the wall, and they neither wanted it or weren’t prepared for it. Hmm…

I’ve since learned that there are some cool clubs here and I think it’s going to be a bit of trial and error until we find some that work for us.  Until then, I think I’ll stick to dinner and bowling.

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Two Aussies, A Canadian & an Israeli Walk Into A Bar…

Tonight is girls’ night.  Me and 3 of my international friends have been itching to hit the dance floor so we are going to some place called Radnost. This could be a cool club or a Serbian prison, not really sure which but the group is good company so wherever we end up I’m sure we’ll have a blast. 20 years ago I loved going to clubs.  Of course, social media wasn’t a thing back then so whenever I made a total fool of myself, it didn’t end up all over the internet. While I’m not planning to make a fool of myself, I have to be realistic. I am a bonafide klutz. I have never, ever, met anyone with less grace than myself.  I don’t try to be this way. I think it’s just part of my DNA the way some people are gifted with gorgeous, thick hair or the athletic prowess of a cheetah. My superpower is stumbling awkwardness.  For an evening like tonight, I have to actually think about this before going out. If I wear a dress, it will look amazing until I trip over someone’s cigarette butt and my dress ends up over my face. If I wear pants, I’m likely to be a little too confident because there is nothing to fly up in my face. I will dance like a 70 year old at a Beatle’s reunion concert where they’ve announced that the world has been duped and Lennon and Harrison are still alive and are coming on stage for one last gig. I’ll throw my crazy arms up, get tangled in some Serbian woman’s hair, and end up in a wrestling match on the floor, apologizing for my clumsiness in English that she can’t understand and probably end up with a black eye or something.  Trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils. Dress or pants?

This is going to be interesting…

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If only I looked like this when I fall…