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…

Cash Me Ousside The Health Food Store

I think I may be banned from my local health food store. The other day, the girls and I went into the shop for our usual supply of peanut butter, nuts, oils, cookies, crackers and cereals and I asked for hemp hearts. Hemp hearts, NOT hemp. The owner happened to be there and he asks me, “you want a joint?” and proceeded to mimic smoking one. Seeing this, the cashier quickly says, “that’s illegal in Serbia.”  I tell them that, no, I am not in their store with my 2 children looking for marijuana. I am looking for hemp hearts for baking, to put in muffins and cakes. Again, the owner says, “so you want a joint?” Again, the cashier says, “that’s illegal in Serbia”.  I explain that they sell them by the bag in Canada at most grocery stores and that they taste a bit nutty and are an excellent source of protein and don’t affect your mind the way they think it does, because it has no THC.  Of course, there is a language barrier so I’m half explaining/half demonstrating this, to no avail. I quickly paid for our things while they reminded me, again, that my request was illegal in Serbia. (Who knew a baking good could be so controversial?)

I also showed my classy/trashy side at a party last week. Chris and I went to an Australia Day party where they had some Aussie trivia.  On one of the flash cards we had to guess a common Aussie phrase and, for some reason, the phrase reminded me of the super bad teen on Dr. Phil. Cash me ousside how bow dah. THAT girl. I do not watch Dr. Phil but I couldn’t escape the meme because she was so outrageous that she made a mockery of herself to all of North America.  Naturally, with embassy and other classy folks at the table, I wanted to show my razor sharp intellect and unequivocal sense of humour and so I tell them it sounds like “cash me ousside how bout dah”, pull double Ws with my hands, and laugh my ass off. Chris, the classier guy he is, throws me a subtle head shake and whispers, “totally not the place for it, honey”.   Yes, crickets were chirping, absolutely no one at the table got my joke except for me, and I’m still laughing at it. Maybe that’s all that matters.  (Note: you CAN dress me up and take me out, but I might occasionally make a fool of myself. I am also very good entertainment, if you can handle me.)

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Me…with embassy folks. 

 

Dream: Achieved

There is a significant chance I implode with glee today. Very significant. If you can recall, I am a bonafide bookworm. I love books. I love their weight in my hands. I love the smell of new books and old books and even text books, those dreadful things. I’m also a bit of a freak for words, grammar, interesting phrases and, sometimes, when you talk to me you might find me zoning out. This is me mentally (sometimes physically) filing something you’ve said that might inspire a future story or character.  I admit I’m a bit geeky. Lately I’ve gone to sleep listening to Building A  Better Vocabulary, where they’ve taught me that learning the etymology of a word will help you to recollect it and understand its meaning.   For people like me, it’s fascinating stuff.

Usually, I have several books on the go at any time. I’m currently reading the physical copies of Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.  I’m also listening to A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne with 5 others in the cue. This brings me to the importance of the narrative performance.  Tristram Shandy is well written but one of the most difficult books to listen to. The narrator is a distraction to the work but I’m trudging through it because of its satirical genius, of which I’m leaning toward with my own work.

If you can recall, I’m in the middle of my MA at Middlesex University in London, where I am taking an MA in Novel Writing.  Recently, students were invited to participate in a project called “The Writer’s Journey”.  The idea is for students to interpret the journey of a writer in 500 words or less. The piece can be realistic or fictional and must be read within about 3 minutes because it will become part of a YouTube channel launched in conjunction with a literary festival in London in March. So…I had my story (which is considered flash fiction), but I needed a narrator. The university was willing to provide this to post-graduate writing students but this didn’t appeal to me. Sure, there are probably many talented people that would have done this for me but my heart was on something, someone, much bigger.

For the better part of a decade, I’ve been listening to Grover Gardner perform some of my favorite works. He doesn’t just narrate them. He performs them. He is a master vocalist and his ability to make readers feel every ounce of emotion in a text is a wonder in itself.  He has narrated, I believe, over 800 works including for some of my favorite authors: Stephen King, David Rosenfelt, Edgar Allan Poe,  William Faulkner and more.  He has been named one of the “Best Voices of the Century” and has won numerous awards for his work. He is that good. He is the BEST.

Because the narrator is just as important as the writer, I  had a mission. I needed this man, this genius to perform my work.  I did some research and found his contact information and, truthfully, I didn’t believe it was actually real.  Even as I was writing to him and explaining my itty-bitty project, I didn’t believe I was really writing to him. I hoped it was him, but wasn’t convinced it was actually him.  So, I sent the email and didn’t expect a response.

Then I got one.

He agreed to look at my story and see if he could make it work. Still, I thought it was probably some jokester at the other end, playing with small folk like me, lying in wait to crush laypersons’ dreams.

He wrote back. “Nice writing, and I read a lot,” he replied, and agreed to perform my story. There was no way this was real. Sure, I jumped up and screamed in the middle of my kitchen and scared the shit out of the girls but they knew what I was waiting for and, collectively, we jumped up and down and celebrated…with a bucket of KFC. (We’re cool like that.)

Of course, this couldn’t be real.  To be honest, I still was not convinced it was actually THE Grover Gardner. He couldn’t have liked my writing, could he? The dude who lives and (literally) breathes books? No way. So, I went to bed, and my last thought before I went to sleep was, “if only it were real”.

When I woke up there was an email waiting for me. An audio file. I opened it up, expecting some teenage boy to screetch, “GOTCHYA!!!!” But there was no teenage boy. There was Grover Gardner performing my story.  THE Grover Gardner.

For those of you who do not listen to audio books or haven’t watched him in a play or taken one of his classes, you may have no idea who he is. Please look him up. He’s ridiculously amazing. Yes, one of my ultimate goals is to have a novel published. And I will. I know I will. The book I’ll be submitting for my dissertation will be my best. I’m sure I’ll jump and scream when I get that first “yes” from an agent or publisher but it will be on par with the feeling I got when Grover Gardner said “yes” to my short story.

No, this story won’t be world famous. It won’t get a million hits on YouTube. It won’t get me an agent or a publisher. It will be confined to YouTube and a short weekend in London. But it’s more than enough for me.

Lastly, my dear friend April is a wizard. She is a creative genius and an all around good person. I knew that I could swing this story by her and she’d come up with some phenomenal image I could use . She always does. She eats and sleeps art and oozes imagination.  She came up with the image so quick I think she might have just pulled it from her back pocket. She’s a beauty. Thanks a million April!

And thank you, thank you Mr. Gardner.

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Kitchen Swimming – It’s A Thing

Remember my Superman in Senjak? The dentist-by-trade who believes he is an expert plumber/electrician/fill-in-the-blank?  Well, I woke up to another flood in my kitchen this morning. It wasn’t the worst we’ve had in the last 2 weeks, but it took 8 bath towels to soak up the mess. I’m actually thinking of starting a new thing: kitchen swimming.  Maybe, just maybe, if turn on all the lights, blast the heat, throw on a bikini and sunglasses, and use one of my landlord’s chairs as a lounger, I’ll feel like I’m at the beach. I could even mix a pina colada or rum punch and pretend I’m sunning it in Jamaica. I can dip my toes in the water and relax to the sound of the waterfall under my sink… (#kitchenswimmingisathing)

But then I’ll open my eyes and remember I’m in Belgrade, in my kitchen.  In an hour, we’ll have the circus here again to fix the problem…again.

What else can I tell you today…we took Bekah to see a doctor yesterday because she’s been sick for over 2 months and just isn’t getting better. She’s not horrible but still has a cough and she’s super pale and lethargic. She had her blood drawn yesterday and nearly fainted at the reception desk. I was paying our bill when the receptionist rushed behind me to catch her, and I hadn’t realized she was going down.  She was a trooper, though. Even when they missed her vein on the first arm and had to poke her a second time.  There were a few tears and my heart broke for her but we came home and cuddled for the rest of the day. Homemade soup and warm blankets made the world good again.

Back at school today, a delivery of pastries to both classes from one of the best bakeries (pekaras) in Senjak was in order. I can’t be there during the school day, but I figure a baked treat is (almost) as good as a hug from Mom. Me, I’m determined to eat a bit more fruit and veggies after the debauchery during the holidays. The holiday puff is not quite gone yet but I figure I’m cleaning my floors often enough to work it off soon enough.

 

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Behold the white ceramic sands of Lupaschuk Island…

Superman in Senjak

I’m alive. Let’s start with that. As some of you know, I finally started driving in Belgrade on Monday.  I went to Europcar, picked up my ridiculously overpriced rental and left the gates with a mixture of excitement and terror. 5 minutes later, I realized that I had worked myself into an irrational fear and should have started driving months ago. No one hit me and there were really no close calls but I think this is because I adopted this mantra:

  • Everyone on the road wants to kill me
  • Every person or animal living in the country will likely jump out in front of the car when I least expect it
  • Blaring horns are people’s way of letting me know how incredibly awesome I am
  • There are no rules. Anything goes. Including the total abandonment of your car in the middle of a major thoroughfare. And parking behind another car so they cannot possibly leave unless they a) run over people or animals b) drive into the nearest building or c) cuddle all the vehicles around it, including yours, to sneak out (most likely)

To be fair, I haven’t left our cozy little alcove of Senjak yet. This, for my foreign friends, is our little international neighborhood close to embassies and international schools.  I almost embarked a little further yesterday, itching to go to the mall, but I wasn’t quite brave enough yet.

Beside driving, it’s been nice to get back into the routine of things after a very busy Christmas season. I can’t lie, I much prefer Serbia’s weather to Canada’s.  What I don’t enjoy, however, is waking up to a flooded kitchen. This morning marks the third time this week. Yes, I’m sitting here at my computer writing while a pile of towels soak up the worst flood of the week. Yes, we’ve had a plumber come. No, the fix didn’t work. Our landlord is a dentist by trade but believes he is also a) an electrician b) a plumber c) superman.  He prefers to do all the fixing himself and last night he “fixed” the plumbing. Enter super flood this morning.  As you can tell by now, Belgrade definitely has its perks and its….er… less than favorable moments.

 

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Health Food Store Blessing

I think I was blessed by an old lady in a health food store the other day. No joke. I walked in and when she saw me, she said something in Serbian and pressed my forehead with 2 fingers. I’m assuming whatever she was doing was intended to be good because she was smiling and I haven’t burned up or anything since then, so I don’t think it was witchcraft. Maybe she saw my jet lag and thought, I’m going to bless this girl with the gift of sleep. If that was the case, it worked. It took a while, but we’re pretty much back to normal after our trip to Canada. Jet lag is not the worst thing there is, but it’s definitely not fun waking up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m ready to start the day. We had an 8 hour time difference to recoup and it has taken us a week to feel normal. Going to Canada was much easier then returning to Serbia.

On that note, I can say that although I always respected Serbia as a country, I definitely have a new level of respect after our trip to Canada. Sure, it was lovely to see all our friends and family but -37c is not fun no matter who you are surrounded by. It was ugly. I actually think I’m one of those people who are allergic to cold. Besides the fact that I have super low blood pressure, I’m usually only comfortable if it’s about 15c or above. I’m painfully cold if it’s below freezing and I swear my limbs almost froze off in the Great White North. Sarnia was  much warmer than Edmonton and it’s the one place we’ve lived where we actually feel like it’s home. An underrated city plumped beside the massive Lake Huron and the US border, it’s warm, affordable, and counts some of the nicest, kindest people in the world as its inhabitants.  None of our family lives there but it has become home to us and we are looking forward to eventually moving back.  While Edmonton has been our stomping grounds for decades, it’s just not home any more. If we could relocate all our favorite people from Edmonton to Sarnia, life would be perfect.

The three weeks we spent in North America was such a whirlwind it actually felt quite nice to return home to Serbia. (Can’t believe I just said that…”home”.)  We were in Ontario for a week, during which we had a quick trip to Michigan, flew to Alberta for 2 weeks, and jetted off to Vegas to catch a UFC fight the day before New Year’s Eve. (We had a ton of fun but it would have been cheaper if I just left my purse outside somewhere.)

I don’t relax well and because our time in Canada was limited, we were doubly busy trying to get everything in before we had to fly overseas again. We returned with onion soup mix, brown sugar, Gold Fish crackers, gravy, taco seasoning, dried cilantro, Doritos, and KD. Like gold, really. I actually found that we ate much more processed foods in NA than we do here, but we still had to get the crap..er..stuff while we could. I’m hoping to get more of this crap…er…stuff sometime this summer. I FINALLY had a root canal and need a cap on my tooth. Yes, after all my dental experiences, I’m willing to fly back to Sarnia to get it.

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I’m almost 40, but this is what it felt like when the old lady touched my head!