Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for November, 2011

A Dog’s Day in Belgrade

If a dog could talk, what would it say? Most dogs would probably have some variation of “Hi! I love you! Give me food. Is that a ball? Give me the ball, give me the ball, ball ball ball…” Not exactly something I’d like to hear on a daily basis. 

Milos, of course, is different. He’s possessed with a superior intellect–okay, he only knows how to sit–but an even more superior life story. In one year, he’s seen nine countries, learned commands in two languages, and made friends everywhere he goes. What would he say if he could talk? I think he’d explain why he misses Belgrade.  

Everyone asks my owners about life in Belgrade, but no one asks me. It’s probably for the best. My owners put a good spin on our new life, but I know better. They talk about spicy foods and how nice it is to see old friends. I’m eating the same dry kibble and sniffing new dogs. I was even bitten my first month here–how’s that for a welcome?

Thanks for nothing, lab


In Belgrade, I had a daily ritual. I would go to Pionirski or Tasmajdan dog park and play with my pals while RHOB practiced Serbian with the other dog owners. Sometimes I’d see my friend Pablo, an 11-year old Frenchie. He looks pretty good for an old guy.

He also had pretty good moves for an old guy. Pablo liked to remind me that he was in charge. A lot.  

 The park is the epicenter of Serbian dog life: students, pensioners, and housewives would gather for conversation and gossip. Strays would wander in, looking for handouts. Coffee was served, cigarettes were offered, and people were constantly telling RHOB where to go for her next trip. Most of the great restaurants she “discovered” were from dog park tipsters. Not that I went to any restaurants, mind you…
After the park, I would walk by the local bank and get a massage from the gun-toting guard. This was one of RHOB’s favorite times of the day–to an see intimidating man talk to me in a baby voice and rub my belly.

Sometimes, the pretty bank teller would help him out. Now THAT’s living, folks. Have you seen Serbian women? If these ladies had beagle ears I would have never left.

Speaking of leaving, everyone in town asked if I was going to stay in Belgrade. About ten people I barely knew offered to take me if RHOB had trouble bringing me to the States. I’d like to attribute that to my charm and good looks, but it’s also because Serbians are serious dog lovers. I could barely walk down the street without someone giving me a scratch or two. I guess that’s to be expected in a city where dogs “work” in shops and are in murals all over town.

Americans are more reserved. Their dogs aren’t as social, and only a few strangers play with me. I miss the days of finding burek on the ground, being invited into coffee shops, and people telling RHOB that I should be unleashed. Of course, the one time she finally unhooked me, I ran into my bank to find the guard. The leash went back on.

Afternoons in Belgrade, I’d curl up in my chair and help RHOB write her blog posts. Now that she’s busy looking for work and housing, my blogging expertise is rarely needed. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a new hobby here: playing in the nearby tennis courts. Maybe this place isn’t so bad after all.

Nole might be the most famous Serbian tennis player, but I’m aiming to be the best Serbian tennis fan. Watch out, America. There’s a new dog in town. Now, give me that ball! Ball ball ball ball ball ball ball…..



The beauty, tragedy, and lessons of Venice

Readers, sorry for the delay in posts. I went from being a Housewife of Belgrade to a Jobseeker in Washington, which is twice as busy and isn’t half as fun.  Still, I thought I would share one of my last trips while I was a Beogradjanka: Venice, Italy.

Early on, I asked Muz to take me to Venice. We’d heard it was only a six-hour drive from Belgrade (seven hours if you don’t drive Serbian/Muz/Italian-style) and I wanted to see it with the man I love. Cheesy, but true.

I first went to Venice with a girlfriend from college. It was a lovely trip, but we kept looking around the impossibly romantic city and asking, “What am I doing here with YOU?” Also, she had no interest in food and kept demanding that we eat cold pizza margherita off the street. It killed me.

So when our last group of guests (FK Milos) was visiting, we drove to Venice for one night so they could make their return flight out of Italy, and Muz could avoid hearing me say “I can’t believe you never took me to Venice,” for the rest of his life. Clever.

We took the vaporetto (ferry) into Venice just as the sun was setting. It was just as lovely as I remembered it, if not more so.

It’s often said that Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I have to agree. The buildings are beautiful, the waterways are calming, and there is a distinct sense of stepping back in time. Though Venice is almost entirely tourists, it doesn’t detract from the atmosphere. Venice is a living museum, and tourists are part of the tableau.

Venetian glassmaker tools

I love the buildings, churches and museums, but the true beauty of Venice is its sense of tragedy. The entire city is sinking an average 7 centimeters (2.75 inches) a year.  Every November, floods erode buildings. There is a doomed urgency to see it, feel it, drink it in before it becomes the next Atlantis.  Walking around its famed canals, I wondered if the next generation–or even next year’s visitors–will get to see it the same way I did.

I try to remember this feeling wherever I travel. Most places aren’t sinking, but they change in other small ways, millimeter by millimeter. Customs fade away, global food chains dominate the marketplace, and villages empty. Travel allows me to be a mini-historian; I can witness and enjoy how places differ from each other and in time. The differences can be good, bad, or simply different. It doesn’t always matter. What matters is what I can learn from a new, or revisited, adventure.

In Venice, I remembered that history is important, the future is uncertain, and the present is meant to be enjoyed with pastries. As I start this new chapter in the States, it’s a lesson I’ll try to keep close to my heart.

A mildly successful, slightly silent, re-entry

Expats warned us that it is harder to go back home than it is to move abroad. I suppose that’s because moving somewhere new is usually exciting, even more so when it’s a foreign country. Adjusting to new languages, sights and sounds is time-consuming and (hopefully) interesting. Moving back to a known city, however, can seem like a bit of a letdown. Oh, there’s my old apartment building. Yep, that’s the coffee shop I went to for five years. Here’s the shoe repair store that ripped me off one time. And so on.

Yet so far, I don’t feel let down. Everything is familiar, but a find myself being confused or tongue tied at the simplest things. It’s almost like my first weeks in Belgrade all over again.

Here’s an example. I went to Starbucks yesterday and when it was my turn to order, I was unable to speak for twenty seconds. I wanted to order a grande green tea. Simple, right? But there were two or three kinds of green tea, and I couldn’t figure out the difference. Then I tried to remember how to say “medium” in Serbian but (1) I was not in Serbia and (2) if we had a Starbucks in Serbia it would still be called a grande. (Also, they don’t really have “medium” portions of things in Serbia. Go big or go home.) I stood there, mute, for about 20 seconds while I tried to figure this all out. Finally, I just sputtered “Tea. Green. Medium,” like a robot that barely spoke English (or Serbian, for that matter.)

Green tea in hand, I walked to my dentist’s office. I went into the restroom before my appointment and hit the light switch just outside the door. The hallway went dark. I thought the power went out for about five seconds before I remembered that U.S. light switches are inside the restroom, not outside. Someone poked their head out into the hallway but I managed to flip the light and dash into the restroom before anyone could see me. Probably.

My dentist, a man of Iranian heritage, asked what I was doing these days. I said I had just returned from a year in Serbia. I wondered if he’d respond: “Where’s Serbia?” I figured at best he’d say “sounds interesting” and at worst he’d say, “How bad was it?” What he said made me, once again, completely dumbfounded: “Govorite li Srpski?”

That’s right, readers. My Iranian-born dentist lived in Belgrade and Nis for two years. He went to University there before coming to America. I had no idea. We chatted and laughed, until he told me I had a cavity. (Thanks, krempite.) Then I was silent again, but for entirely different and more painful reasons.