Between The Cold and The Heat

In Russia the people suffer all winter…they survive the harsh reality of winter. But the reward comes in the pleasant summers; the kind summers.

In Serbia the people suffer all winter…they survive the harsh reality of winter. And they suffer all summer, surviving the unbearable heat. There is no reward for them to reap.

Therein lies the difference between the Russian and the Serbian soul.

The Russian is a tortured soul, deep in thought, thriving in the struggle, and reaping every seasonal reward: enjoying the warm breeze and the brief intermission of greenery and bright flowers.

The Serbian is a warrior, fighting a battle he is destined to lose, unfortunately. He is strong—but exhaustive—seemingly powerful. And he finds rest only sparingly—in the brief seasonettes between the cold and the heat.

Belgrade, Serbia  - June 2019

Belgrade, Serbia - June 2019

Under The Apple Tree

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.
— Rita Schiano

Under the apple tree we sat-
with the branches flowing,
and the leaves twinkling in the breeze.

Healing. Peace. Joy.
Found near the sour cherry branches,
and the bitter deliciousness of rukola stems.

And the birds chirped a sweet song to my ear.
Just as our kind words,
and flowing conversation
must have been sweet to The Father’s.

How I love to sit in the garden.
I wish I could childishly throw my shoes to the side,
and dig my toes deep in the grass.
How delightful each coarse blade would feel against my heels.
How fresh the dirt would feel against my skin.

But for now this moment is pure in its wonder.
Sipping fresh herbs from the yard,
as the light reflects off the glass gazebo.

The clouds predict rain, but I haven’t seen a drop.
Not too hot. Not too cold.
The spring sun peeks his head out every so often,
while the tiny flies do their seasonal duties.
And my hair blows ever so slightly in the wind.

My Mother-in-law loves nature.
Her garden is her comfort,
and I can proudly see why!

Hvala Ti Bože najlepše, za ovaj dan!

Belgrade, Serbia -  March 2019

Belgrade, Serbia - March 2019

Rainy Day Joys

Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.
— Maxim Gorky

What a beautiful life we live…
Lazy Saturday morning in bed.
The pitter patter of a light rainstorm wakes us,
and rattles the rooftop windows.

The delicate murmurs echo through our studio apartment
Stop. Look. Listen.

Jazz plays faintly in the background.
Gratitude.
I hope this drizzle lasts.
No one else in the city hears it the way we do.

It feels like months, doesn’t it?
The cloudy-spell we’re stuck in.
One of downpours, and thunder,
erupting in the middle of the day.

What strange “summer” weather...
but we don’t seem to mind, do we?

Get up slowwwwwly….
Stomp your way to the neighborhood pijaca.
What seasonal blessings are in store for us today?
Strawberries? Green Radish? Cherries?

Piping hot burek and pita
filled with Meat. Cheese. Potatoes. Sour Cabbage?
Mmmm….
We’ll see what you return home with.

Thank You for every single blessing.
May we embrace the joys of a simple, silly
rainy day.
And may we never take even the smallest of moments for granted.

Belgrade, Serbia  — June 2019

Belgrade, Serbia — June 2019

Two Statues

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.
— Thomas Paine

In Moscow, sometimes on my way home from work, I would stop and sit at a concrete park next to my apartment complex. Two large, stone fountains acted as practical decoration and nothing more. Pink and grey granite blocks paved a walkway for brisk locals, hurrying up and down the underpasses, just trying to get to the nearest Metro station. Colossal, imposing structures of the city loomed over us.

On a crisp spring afternoon, during the early fall, or in the midst of the summer heat I would often grab a seat on one of the clean and orderly benches just behind a towering statue of Lenin. Depending on the time of year, the sun would either hide its face, or proudly pop out from behind the buildings. Or there would be no sun at all, and the shadow of early dusk would hover on my back, the city lights turning on and making this город (city) of mine even more beautiful.

And in Lenin’s shadow I would find peace, stillness, and silence. While taking a single, selfish moment of reflection before carrying on with the rest of my day, the blaring white noise of the Садовое Кольцо (Garden Ring Road) would soothe my thoughts, and bring joy to my mind.

Over two years later, I find myself, here in Belgrade, often doing the very same thing. In the poetic late October, pink skies light up a dreary scene as I take my mark. And on a day like today, the thick mud of a snowstorm long-passed clutters the sidewalks. The faint smell of mist in the air promises early spring, yet reminds us that winter is, in fact, here to stay a while longer. A day like today, is when I grab a seat at my spot in the park at Vukov Spomenik.

But here I don’t look past the proud shoulders of Vladimir Lenin. No… instead I stare dazedly onto the hunched ones of Ćirilo i Metodije (Cyril and Methodius)…in a city of a much smaller scale. I can’t help but ponder about how much and how little these two monuments have in common. What do they represent?

Both figures ushered in a new era for their nation or region of the world. The saints, a new alphabet, and Lenin, a new political and social regime. Both mark a stage of transition.

There are no piercing sounds drifting over from the Садовое…rather the subtle chaos of the meager Kralja Aleksandra whispers in the background. No one shuffles by me to clean the streets as I sit in silence. No one to clear the sidewalks of the piles of wet snow, and no one sweeping up old cigarette butts or the plastic wrapping of someone’s afternoon snack. There is a harsher life here; yes a harsher life, and warmer smiles.

There is no distinct smell of sawdust and exhaust seeping through the Metro doors nearby: the subtle signs of an underground world beneath my shoes. Instead, a rusty old tram with chipping red paint hurriedly rattles past me…hurriedly, yet in slow motion.

But here, I see cheerful neighbors greeting one another. Smiling business-owners laugh and gossip, cigarette in hand, while a grey lens envelopes the crumbling backdrop. Just like on the streets near Lenin, shops line the roads. And their keepers recognize you, greeting you with a Zdravo, komšinice! (Hello, neighbor!) Instead of a что вы хотите? (What do you want?)

I recognize traces of a language I once knew…this language is still evident within me, but is fading into the distance by the letter. Words are replaced with…the same words, just with a funnier pronunciation. Or words I once held dear, I now use with an entirely different meaning.

Is there any significance to my being in, living in, and loving either of these two cities? Am I not a foreigner in both? To which am I a native? Which will unapologetically accept me for who I am? Who I am…Who I am…

The two saint brothers crouch over, the tops of their heads sprinkled with pigeon poop. Claimed by every Balkan nation as their own, they lack a single identity. They look small; weak.

But I miss the rigid sternness of Lenin’s face, of its domineering authority. I miss the dynamic neighborhood skateboarders swiftly gliding at his feet, under the powerful, steel structure.

This spot of transition brings on a painful form of nostalgia—the good kind: wishing I were home. But I am “home.” Inspired. Lonely. Safe. Free. All at the same time…and in the same way I felt sitting here (there) many moons ago. I don’t want to forget. I close my eyes to be transported back and just like magic I take a seat, and the rest of the world doesn’t matter.

Which Me Should I be Today?

Kiss your life. Accept it, just as it is. Today. Now. So that those moments of happiness you’re waiting for don’t pass you by.
— Anonymous

Here are some thoughts I wrote down towards the end of 2018. Right after rediscovering this, I turned a few pages back in the very same notebook, and found some thoughts from the end of 2016.


November 2018:

It’s too much. Too much to handle sometimes.
Standing there, blending in, waiting for the tram in the cold….your fingers slowly going numb, wet slush seeping into your socks.

It’s the feeling you love and adore, but it’s too much sometimes!!!
Pretending that everything is normal—it’s not normal. It’s not.
Smiling politely and quietly when all you want to do is scream and cry and go home.
Home is my wonderful and cozy apartment. I love it so much.

But home is a bigger word—one that can never be fulfilled, can’t be mapped, and can’t be understood.
I’m not okay.
I don’t mean that as a generalization: I don’t mean that I wasn’t or haven’t been okay, I just mean right now, I’m not okay.

It’s too hard.
Being expected and expecting myself to just adjust; adapt to whatever circumstances life tosses my way.
And I do adjust, I do adapt—not without a price or a cost.

Another move. Another home. Another life. Another identity.
Graciously accept it and politely add it to your list of numerous blessings. Smile. Tuck away the strain, the trauma, the hurt, and just be.
Just be yourself. —It can’t be that hard, right?
Which one? — I ask.
Which me should I be today?
Which self will dictate my emotions? My structure? My culture?
Will it be the one who loves so fully; who courageously discovers a newfound zest for life? The me who thrives in the Fall, gleefully stomping on soggy leaves that once were crunchy?

Or is it the one who’s broken? The one who just can’t seem to get it right; who can’t quite figure it out. The one who stares at bleak reflections in puddles of yesterdays snowfall?

At least it’s all still beautiful, even when it’s not so easy.
I’m grateful for the tears. In a way they humanize me.

Distractions, distractions…from what is truly going on.

Why does the clock tick so slowly and yet the hours pass so quickly.
Why do I now choose to hibernate, to shy away without truly becoming one with this city? Why do I feel I must fulfill what is expected of me, and who set-up these expectations?

Was it I—who takes things to heart?
Do better, be better, do more, be more.
But how can I be more ????

When people can’t even care to know your former lives.
They pretend to, but they only know you as you are right now. I can’t blame them, I’m guilty of this too.

Pretend. Rootless. Temporary.
Where to go from here?

November 2016

I have a distant dream; a life that feels so familiar.
I see me living in a tiny urban apartment.
I keep thinking, where do I want to be in an ideal situation?
I guess I have a few options.

I want to be in a small-but cozy- city apartment, just writing…
and I’d be writing in a nice, homey corner desk with a cup of tea, and a computer or type writer, and a bunch of pretty notebooks and stuff next to a window. Oh, and it’s raining outside.

Let’s be artsy together!
Well, I mean let’s live an artistic life, with beauty and cute coziness and lovely things like flowers on the windowsill. Let’s embrace the cold!
You can go off to work and come home and I’ll be in the corner writing a story.

I want to continue finding joy in small jazzy cafes, in loving book stores, in enjoying culture, and in spending quiet time reading together. I want to always keep those kind of characters in our souls, always wanting to learn more and travel and discover together. and just be.


What have I learned from all of this, you ask? I suppose I have discovered the irony of life’s timing; the irritating accuracy in cliches: be careful what you wish for. And I can only be grateful to the Lord for leading my fingertips back to this faithful notebook today: the one who knows my innermost thoughts.

I thank him for the subtle reminder of the me I always want to be.

Snowy+Vuks.jpg

Belgrade, Serbia
December 2018

Belgrade Below Zero

All day I look out: grey, grey, grey.
But when the sun starts to set,
you turn blue.

Not dark blue, nor gloomy blue.
But hazy blue; light blue, 
the kind of blue that looms over the snow piles 
out the window of a Russian train.

You glisten, you gleam.
You show me your generosity, 
as you enter the realm of negative temperatures.

Yes! At minus 1, my heart begins to soar.
I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! 

And I wonder why I’ve kept my poor soul inside all morning, 
imprisoning my body and mind.

Lord, have mercy on my restless thoughts. 
In the cold, I feel your presence.
Amidst the frost I ask for guidance.

Teach my heart to do your will.
And please, oh please, bring more snow.

Belgrade, Serbia —  November 2018

Belgrade, Serbia — November 2018

The Woman in my Window

The kitchen windowsill:

Dried flowers in an old beer bottle.
Sugar, Turkish coffee, chamomile herbs.
A French press, and half a bottle of stale red wine.

Through that window I see her. 

Her balcony leers straight ahead.
Right at my eyes’ view;
the only thing I spot from this angle.

Her light is always on. 

Perhaps she is afraid of the dark? 
There she appears every evening.
Until one day….

Only shadows.

Stillness.
Has she left us? Is she traveling? Will she be back soon?
Never to return.

And suddenly the yellow comes streaming in.

But it’s different now.
Her presence is gone,
yet the light still shines.

Every day.

Belgrade, Serbia —  July 2018

Belgrade, Serbia — July 2018

Driving Through Bosnia

Driving through the mountains of Bosnia was incredible. I’ve been on some pretty adventurous road-trips in my lifetime, but the scenery, nature, and atmosphere of the Bosnian wilderness was something else. The flowing mountain streams were crystal-clear cerulean, and the hilltops alternated between lush and rocky. The beauty of Bosnia’s nature was definitely not conventional. It was authentic, it was crazy, it was impressive, it was exciting, it was wild. In theory, it could compare to a mountain scene in Switzerland, Germany, or Austria…but in reality, the disorder--the chaos--told us otherwise. I suppose I learned that nature reflects its inhabitants; it reflects the mentality of its settlers, its people, and its nation.

These forests might host the same type of trees, but they definitely could not be German. These village roads are paved the same as any Austrian ones, but this soil could only be Bosnian. I think the nature of a place attracts like-minded people. It’s not the sea that makes a Mediterranean dweller relaxed, slow-paced, and laid-back. But rather, it is the nature of the sea that compliments the temperament of its resident. And just as well, it is not the occupier of the land that dictates its structure. The villages are not more rocky, rough, and rugged here because their owners misuse the land, but because these are hard, driven, tough people, the only kind who would be able to survive—and flock to—these conditions.

Trading the main “European” highway for a windy, beaten road led us into the “real” Bosnia and Herzegovina. We didn’t need to see any people to feel that the tension was palpable as ever. Mosque after mosque, stood next to catholic church across from orthodox church never too far from more mosques. These are symbols of pride…of a whole-hearted sense of “being.” These diverse citizens are living and dying together in each village. Dark gravestones boast for their residents with spite in a yard where not a single cross can be found. On the other side of a fence, shiny memorials host a cross as tall as the eye can see, clearly competing with its neighboring prayer tower.

Bullet holes and shrapnel damage pierce the sides of old barns, and houses standing idly, and of ones fully occupational. Forgiveness is what’s missing here. It is one thing to read about the history of this region, and it is entirely different to see it…to feel it through the foggy glass of a car window. The emotion is tangible.

Four young girls stood on the side of a busy road that curved around the tallest mountain. They were selling hand-picked raspberries. We chose our selection and one of the girls ran across the street to ask a neighbor if she could wash the berries in their garden for us. She was from another village and didn’t want us to wait too long for her to go wash them in her own garden. They were the best raspberries I’ve ever tasted.

Bosnia and Herzegovina— September 2018

Bosnia and Herzegovina—September 2018

That One Moment

Nothing describes Belgrade like the three words ‘Belgrade is Belgrade’ that we utter at the airport after coming home from abroad. Belgrade abounds in love, warmth and wonderment; we feel safe here and we’re happy to live in this city.
— Momo Kapor

There's always that One Moment: where the streets start making sense. 
When the language being spoken no longer dreadfully tickles your ears.
Each word suddenly carries meaning. 

Everything becomes familiar.
In a way, you belong. 

There's that One Moment-You've felt it plenty of times,
when you begin your tasks without thinking too hard.
The marketplace, the post office. 
You pay the bills. You take part in simple conversation. 

You habitually pass the curious buildings. The architecture doesn't look funny; You don't have to glance twice.
Your eyes have been trained. 

And it's in that One Moment that you stop comparing it to others. 
You bask in the serenity of reality; of the journey.
Existing as one with this place.

That's not to say you don't miss "home."
You do...so much, it hurts sometimes.
But you've accepted that this too will become one of those dreadful towns one day.
And by giving yourself to it, you know you've succumbed to its tranquility. 

You're not new enough to be foreign; not strong enough to be local. 
But it's cozy here.
Uncomfortably comfortable. Just the way you like it. 

Stop.
Relax.
Listen to the Moment. 
What does it sound like? 

A tram heavily bustling down the boulevard. 
The leaves rustling on each branch. 
Shouts and shrieks from the bar downstairs; the game is on tonight. 

What does it look like?

A faint blue light streaming in from the kitchen window. 
Dirty rooftops resting idly. 
Cobwebs in the stairwell.

Breathe in. 
Breathe out.

You exist here.
There's that One Moment when existing becomes living.

You inch out of your comfort zone just a liiiiiiitle more....slowly....gradually. 
You begin to take on more territory...only bit by bit.
And more and more it starts to feel like home. 

With the changing of the seasons you are hit with the same realization that swings at you every time.

You Live Here. 
(For the time being)

Will you be able to accept this? 
Can you break through the screen you've been staring through?-the protective layer that lets the breeze in but not much else...

Will you ever learn to just BE?
Does this One Moment mean you already have? 

But this One Moment is not even one moment at all. 
It is a phase; a season.
Adopting the customs of your surroundings. 
Your title of "visitor" is thrown out the window.

Simple.
Awareness.
Stillness.

Maybe I'm slow to recognize. Maybe I'm quick to discern. 
Maybe this place can fit the missing piece of the complicated puzzle. 
It's not quite the right shape or size, but it will do....

Open your soul to the blessings your city is handing to you. 
Embrace it.
Live.
One small Moment at a time.

Belgrade, Serbia -  June 2018

Belgrade, Serbia - June 2018

Kosančićev Venac

My favorite little hidden gem of Belgrade. The Kosančićev Venac neighborhood feels so special to me. It can only be described as a rejuvenated “Old Belgrade” mixed with the charm of Tbilisi. A year and a half ago I walked these streets and the entire road was torn up, the buildings were falling down, and there was crushed concrete and pipes sticking out everywhere. Today the old houses are being refurbished, and have been touched with a fresh coat of paint, and the cobblestones are perfectly in place. I love waking through here every once in a while to see what improvements have been made: what new little coffee shop has opened, or what the trendy concept stores are selling. It is quieter here; you don’t hear the noise of the city... you don’t feel the chaos that is right around the corner on the main roads. It is a little haven in the middle of Belgrade... I just hope it stays that way...let’s keep the graffiti, trash, dog poop...etc etc out of Kosančićev Venac!

Belgrade, Serbia  - July 2018

Belgrade, Serbia - July 2018

Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

I've never really liked New Belgrade. It has always been my least favorite part of the city. 

It's too far. It lacks emotion. It's unpleasant to look at. Overall it's just blah. 

Maybe it's that there's more graffiti there: carved out etchings of names on chipped benches; brightly spray-painted geopolitical terms and phrases across the walls of old buildings..you know the ones: anti-NATO, 1389, Kosovo is Serbia....etc...etc.

Maybe it's the extra layer of trash sprinkled throughout the overgrown grass and weeds, and across the run-down basketball courts. 

But most of all I think it's because it reminds me of Russia. 

Now...most things that remind me of "home" leave me with warm and fuzzy feelings: the smell of the metro, the bitter and exciting taste of dill sprinkled on top of a fresh salad, the sound of the language that tormented my brain for years. Yes, these are things that--when I'm acquainted with--leave me smiling and remembering the coziness of my childhood. Indeed, most aspects that remind me of Russia make me happy, but the colossal communist buildings are not one of them. 

These overpowering, mega blocks of concrete are plain ugly. They tower over the streets and remind me of the parts of Moscow I never wanted to go to: the outskirts; the "not so nice" parts of the city that I would avoid at all costs. The region that littered the sides of the polluted highways...you know, the ones you would stare at for too long out of your dirty window while stuck in "airport traffic." 

These are the buildings that gawk at me as I cross the bridge over to New Belgrade. Last week was no different. Driving along the wide boulevards in a creaky old bus, we only happened to quickly glance at an advertisement at one of the stops: "Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra Open Air Concert-Free entry."

I'm a sucker for a free concert. Communist propaganda World War II anthems? Sure, I'm there. International folk dance competition? You know I'll stand there for three hours even if it's not that exciting.

There's something about a group of people all gathered together; a crowd of locals (and myself) feasting our eyes and our ears on a free gift of culture. There's a sense of community that captivates me: knowing I am part of something bigger, and that all we, as individuals, long to do is to enjoy some classical music out in the open for all to hear. 

Walking towards the Palata Srbija, I could tell there would be a pretty big turn out. Herds of young people, old folks, and families alike flocked behind the giant, imposing relic. Overbearing slabs of concrete, and tacky chunks of marble stand wide and strong, seemingly overcompensating for something. This is a building that you can feel is trying way too hard...the kind of ominous structure that made socialists feel grandiose and luxurious. This type of stubborn building makes me cranky. It glares at me, and I at it..and I shrug as I head to join the crowds and turn the corner.

The main street is completely blocked off. Traffic has been re-directed and the entire neighborhood has become a pedestrian zone. I see people for what feels like miles. Yet I don't hear them. They are quiet; serene, in awe, as the orchestra poetically crescendos in the background. There must be tens of thousands there, making this Serbia's largest ever open-air concert. The audience stretches out for blocks and blocks. Not a soul cares if they can even see the stage or the dramatic light-display accompanying the strings.

People are sprawled out on little grassy hills, on lawn chairs and yoga mats, as they enjoy the light of a summer evening and delight in a simple bag of chips or the clink of one beer bottle against another. Families with their dogs and babies and grandparents take it all in beneath a purple sky. Kids play cards together, by the light of an old flashlight, and the music keeps going; breathing life into me one stanza at a time.

The residents of New Belgrade seek beauty as much as I do.

The harmony of violin and cello acts as a vivid soundtrack in the most unlikely of settings. My ears tingle. I choke back that certain emotion that always sneaks out when I hear any orchestra, large or small. 

I look to the crowds and suddenly I am transported. Could this be? The 4th of July fireworks' show? Or Sunday Music in the park--a hick bluegrass band causing light-hearted joy and laughter in my grandmother's tiny farm town?

I smell the dewy grass--to me this aroma feels like family; community, backyards, and barbecues, and bonfires, and being barefoot, and canoeing on a river in Michigan.

Being surrounded by these fellow cultured yet simple people illuminates every sense and collides every world within me. 

Thank you, Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra for enlightening me. For showing me something I already knew: beauty is always present in the ugliest places. And yet this beauty is not in any outward thing or structure within the blocks of New Belgrade, but in the alluring souls that inhabit them.

Belgrade, Serbia  - June 2018

Belgrade, Serbia - June 2018

Will You?

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them
— C.S. Lewis

This is what happens when you put off writing for too long. 

This form of medicine is therapeutically life-giving--it revitalizes the soul; it awakens anything that has been slumbering within the cages of your imperfect mind, and yet...the puzzling distractions of the world keep you from it. 

They will do anything to draw you in, to twist your motivation. They slowly transfer the belief that procrastination is the real skill you possess...emptiness; lack of creation, the real masterpiece. And you have mastered it haven't you?

This enemy within one's self, like a wolf, devours any insightful thought, any alluring longing.

You don't even anticipate how you will start the first sentence, but you trust. You let the pen hit the paper, and the act alone shatters any barrier he has built in this valuable space. Mere seconds pass and your hand begins to cramp up. 

Don't think, just do. Don't stop, just write. 

Let words pour out of me like tears filling a page that once prided itself on emptiness. Blank. White. Pure?

The lines begin to fill up, and so do you. 

Effortlessly your emotions suddenly seem to be neatly categorized and subcategorized again. Everything is where it should be. 

Too many thoughts get tangled. They fall into one another and you expectedly long for the ivory keys that you never really mastered. You fantasize about what you would have--could have--become in a former life. Your heart aches for a stage you never would have danced on, and a canvas your brush would have never stroked. You start to remember the rhythm of a concerto you've never played. And suddenly you're directing the scene of a film in a park somewhere that doesn't exist. And you become mesmerized by the bouncing flame that is crackling and dwindling down in an old study somewhere. You clamp together the two ends of an old dusty book. The sound of it shutting is heavy...heavy with importance, and the smell of the pages releases hopeful particles into the air. As you stand, the old brown leather chair crinkles and squeaks and you sigh. Off to bed. Your heart feels full. And you think of all your passions and all the serenity and all the beauty in this twisted world and you wonder why you aren't using the passion most accessible to you. 

And as your wrist glides across the lines of this very page you understand that you are somehow. And you thank God for it. Is it all imagination, or does each word stem from some form of reality?

And every tangled sentiment in that creatively, curiously strange head of yours has been realized...and it begins to make sense. To you at least. 

Слава Ти, Хвала Ти, Боже. 

And the messy collision of worlds seems a little less messy and a little more simple. And as you smile and put the pen down, you think to yourself...

"You should do this more often." 

But will you?

The Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria -  June 2018

The Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria - June 2018

Sometimes

Sometimes you’ll miss home so much it hurts. You’ll realize your soul belongs to a place to which you aren’t able to return...and even if you could go back, it wouldn’t feel right. You’ll understand that an era is long over and you’ll wish to forget the comfort this city once brought you. And yet you will remain hopeful: hopeful for your home’s future; hopeful for its inhabitants; hopeful for its soul, even if yours can’t be a part of it anymore.

Moscow, Russia -  August 2015

Moscow, Russia - August 2015

Spring in Дорћол

Spring in Dorćol feels more special than in any other part of the city. Maybe it’s the trees—suddenly bursting with life—that line each street, providing shade as you journey downhill through the historical buildings. Or maybe it’s the brightly ornate facades that no longer look grey, dim, or crumbling. Or maybe it’s the outdoor verandas decorating the sidewalks outside each cafe, inviting even the most hostile of passersby for a quick coffee, or fresh juice on a cozy patio. Or maybe it’s none of those things at all...maybe it’s just the reawakening spirit of Dorćol, alive and ready for the new season.
 

Dorcol.jpg

Dorćol, Stari Grad, Belgrade, Serbia - May 2018

The Leaves Rustle

The leaves rustle as the sky lets out a long, winded sigh.
Minutes pass and the orchestra of swaying branches crescendos in slow motion. 
The white light peaks its head through each crevice and the wild flowers saunter away.
Living in the moment transcends time and space, taking you to the same moment somewhere far away.
Lying face up in a field someplace you've never been, and the clouds quickly hurry on their way.

Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia-- April 2018

Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia--April 2018

Maybe

I walked with the wind last night
It was strong, yet light and joyful in its flight.
Its every touch was like a kiss, a sweet caress;
And as I had asked the wind to walk with me
I could not ask for less.
— Evelyn C. Wells

Dear Readers, 

As mentioned in my previous post: Photo Albums, I recently discovered a box full of my great-grandmother's memories and family history. In that box was a folder of poems she had written...Poems with titles such as: Joy, The Wind and I, Climbing on Rocks, Walk by a Stream in Late March, Garden in Spring. The most surprising among these poems was one written about my mother as a child.


I didn't really know her all that well. 

I wish I would have asked her more...learned from her.
What was her life like?
How stereotypical of me. "I wish, I wish I wish"

How I long to just sit down with her, ask her a million and a half questions and conscientiously scribble down each response carefully, accurately, so I can remember for later. 

But all I have now are these crinkly carbon papers--the kind that make the best sound when you run your fingers over them. 

She was cold; non emotional.

Maybe she was just closed to those around her.
Maybe I got those genes?
Maybe it's totally and completely unexplainable but it's the only way some people can cope with the heavy burden and yet the beauty of life.
Maybe it's all too much and yet it's all so wonderful that your only reaction to those close to you is to try your hardest to stay poised, collected, unscathed. But oh you love everything so deeply.

Her poetry emanates the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of water droplets trickling out back, the sight of a bright and comforting lemon tree.
Or is that my song she's singing?

Maybe she loved the world the way you do.
Maybe you can learn from her,
Maybe you already have?
Maybe you have learned how to NOT to be like her???
But there's only so much you really understand.

She was intelligent, classy, well-mannered.
How sad that when I knew her I was too young to care about her life and her past. 

I hope one day my great-granddaughter finds a poem I've written about her, and is not surprised by her loving attention; by her openness to a small child playing in the yard. 

and yet.....I hope the exact opposite...

Isn't it better this way?
More meaningful?
A sign of encouragement from the One Above.

HOW I LONG TO GO BACK. 

Why does everyone "long for a simpler time."

Not me. I long for a more complex time.
When it wasn't all so simple.
When you had to struggle for what you wanted.
When you had to put pen to paper. 

When true beauty existed in our culture. 

A Poem Written by my Great-Grandmother about my Mother  --1980's

A Poem Written by my Great-Grandmother about my Mother --1980's

Photo Albums

Nostalgia is denial—denial of the painful present…the name for this denial is golden age thinking—the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in—it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.
— Woody Allen

A month before my wedding I moved with my family to a house down the street. Moving--whether across the ocean or a few blocks over-- always conjures up a nostalgic and vibrant mix of emotions. Perhaps my favorite part of this routine procedure is that it always gives me an excuse to go through things: fat folders of old papers; winter clothes I forgot about; shoe boxes of ticket stubs, tangled bracelets...you know, the things you don't really care about but can't seem to part with. The danger of this comes when I reach the boxes containing what everyone is hoping I won't find: the photo albums. 


For as long as I can remember I have always had a strange attachment to photo albums. On a quiet Saturday afternoon around our house, when everyone would be in their own corners, my dad would be looking something up, my mom reading, my sister watching a movie, and I would be on the floor sprawled out next to the old armoire, albums and scrapbooks in messy piles around me. 

I would pull back the flimsy white film, the page sticking to my fingers, and take out the ones I really liked...I wanted to get a closer look. Clumsily nudging the little magazine cutouts of witty captions and sayings, I could hear my mom's voice in the background: 

"Don't mess up the order!"

Sequence was so important then wasn't it? 

As a kid I adored glancing through the pages and pages of baby pictures. Matching poofy outfits, fine blonde hair, missing teeth, the 90's home decor aesthetic: light pinks, greens, turquoise...horrible couches, and fluffy rugs. I was fascinated by these captured memories and wanted to go back to those moments. At this young age, my soul already dabbled in the depths of golden-age thinking. I guess in a way I already understood the concept of home being somewhere else. Home was the place in those pictures. It was somewhere fun. Before long, this place too would find its fate by becoming one of the homes in between these very pages.

As I got older it became less about myself and my childhood memories, and more about wanting to get in touch with my family's history. I often felt a real disconnect with my own deep rooted heritage, and I feel like I tried to connect with it more than others. 

I was always asking my grandfather questions about his childhood, writing down dates, names and anecdotes so that I wouldn't forget.


It was during this last family move down the block that I found what I didn't know I was missing. I can't remember what we were looking for in particular, but we were searching for something, while opening various boxes in the garage sent by my grandfather. We were only going through the practical ones...the ones that could help us with decor for the house, or preparation for 60+ guests that would be visiting in about three weeks. That's when I saw the description on the side of the decrepit box. It was facing the wall, and written in sloppy faded Sharpee: "Photos, albums, memories." Hiding my excitement and putting on my best poker face I grabbed the scissors to tear open my box of treasures.

"Maybe it's in this one!" Fake naiveté isn't really a lie...is it?

It was in this box that I discovered the history of my great-great grandmother. I found the stack of letters written to her and to my great-grandfather from President and Mrs. Eisenhower ranging between 1946 and 1970. The fine type-written correspondence reminisced about their days in Paris, and playing cards together in the 1920's; updates of my great-grandfather's work in Japan following WWII, what daily life in the White House was like, and how my grandmother was a "lovely young girl." 

I found my grandparents' wedding album from 1961, and pictures of my great-grandmother's farm house in Ohio at the turn of the century. I giddily shuffled through portraits of great-great-great-great somethings from the 1800's, and my great-uncle's baby pictures from the West Indies in the 1940's. I found a piece of hand-written sheet music; a lovely little melody with lyrics written by my great-great-grandmother. And best of all, I found a folder of original poetry written by my great-grandmother. 

I spent hours digesting every detail, fascinated by every page. Who was related to whom? Who looked alike? Who had whose eyes? Where do I come from? Who am I? 

And as it turns out, no matter where in the world my grandmother, great-grandmother and/or great-great grandmother were living throughout their lives, whether that was in Italy, France, Japan, or St. Lucia, by nationality they were all 100% American, meaning that both their mother, father and both grandparents were all American...as far back as America goes. And maybe that's the irony of it all: I have no "interesting" mix in my genes...no far off relatives from various corners of the globe. Our family is just an average group of Americans who, for generations, grew up everywhere but "home."

GG.jpg

My Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother: Jack and Evelyn Wells. 1937

kids.jpg

My sister and I. 1999

 

 

Clichés and Advice for the "Homeful"

Home was truly the best place he could possibly be, but, alas, was not an available option.
— Kenneth Eade

People say "you can't go home again." Isn't that just one of those famous clichés? Google "Cliché" and the same thing will come up every time....for it is "a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought." So why don't we try and bring original thought into the spectrum and focus on an authentic reality? This is all to say...I disagree. You can and you must return.

I have discovered that while I lack one single home, I, in turn, have many. I have often, in a very first-world way, felt homeless...not in the literal or physical way, but psychologically, I have felt tired of wandering. I realize now, that while I lack one single home, I am plentiful in cities that have been my own private world, the manifestation of comfort, and stability, all in a very unstable lifestyle. It is in this way that I recognize my "homeful"-ness.


After graduating from university I unknowingly made the best possible decision: I moved back to Moscow. It was this minuscule and thoughtless choice that dictated the journey that would follow in the next few years. While reflecting on the many changes in a row I concluded something that all of my fellow "homeful" wanderers should consider--going home. And I don't necessarily mean visiting their "passport/birth country," but what I mean is: travel, rediscover, stop by as many of your homes as you possibly can, so that you can move on with the rest of your life. Go back to the places that were taken from you when you left, and reclaim them as your own. 

If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to do this. 

You will never be satisfied if you feel you have unfinished business around the globe; if you sense your soul is elsewhere; in 50 different places at once. For me, I found it important to pick up pieces of myself along the way throughout these cities. But, I only found this out after traveling to them. How can we possibly make future plans when our whole self is scattered in fragments?

During that year and a half in Moscow, during various seasons, I was given the chance to visit every single country that I had lived in in my then 22 years. This was not planned, nor were any of these trips my original intention. But I understand now that it was all a part of something much bigger. Rather than believing in coincidence, I acknowledge the blessing in the fact that "everything happens for a reason."--another cliché, however, this is one I won't grow tired of.

I visited Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Tbilisi, Georgia; Sofia, Bulgaria, Rome, Italy and then finally...the unimaginable...I moved to the United States for the first time since fifth grade.

I always thought I had to choose one; I had to pick one specific identity. But I was wrong. It only took the cathartic familiarity of each place to teach me that it's okay...I'm allowed to be made up of so much more than just the title of one nation, but rather, each of these homes can represent a small portion, a single molecule of my being.

One of my colleagues in Moscow always talked in odd parables and proverbs. He was elderly, tall, and had a maniacal way of laughing in the oddest moments. He got way too close to you when he spoke, and often swung from topic to topic, with no inclination of where his sentences would go next. He was nostalgic, and I believed, mentally disturbed in a way that left him stuck in a former time, longing for what we all recurrently long for. His slogans were often mis-worded, with the right intent but not fully formed the way clichés seem to be. One of these jumbled phrases he wrote on a light blue sticky note, and stuck to my keyboard one cold September afternoon.

"B одну реку нельзя ступить дважды" 

It was an incorrectly formulated phrase from Greek philosophy that means something like "You can't cross the same river twice." I guess because water is constantly changing. A river is always flowing and replacing old water with new water....You can't go home again. 

But you can. You can find another way to cross that river. Wade? Tip-toe? Splash through? And although the water may appear different, you just might make it across. 

Sofia, Bulgaria--  August 2014

Sofia, Bulgaria-- August 2014

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany --October 2015

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany--October 2015

Duality

Over to the left a small choir was singing in haunting harmony, voices twining in a capella simplicity. The truth part was this: the ancient words of this vesperal service had been chanted for more than a millennium...
— Frederica Mathewes-Green

Are not we all, mere humans, searching for more? 
New building, new music, new style, new new new. 
But what about the old? The sacred?

Should faith be dictated by external circumstances. No,
But of course it is....
Culture-what a wonderful word; one of my favorites. 
The adopted culture of my childhood pulls me into her maternal arms,
embracing me in more ways than one.
Can we mix it with our faith?
Of course we can...

Could it be? Even more personal?
To me, I think it could.

Red tapestry lining the floor. Gold sanctuary.
Lips kissing icons, graceful repetition.
I look up towards the alter: open arms of the Divine One.
Silence. But not really.
Faint melodic chanting. Beautiful.

Powerful vulnerability -You are my Hiding Place.
Can I please stay here?
Feet stuck to the floor. Legs stuck to the pew:
wooden and attached to the wall; in the back and off to the side.
No need to bring myself to move or stand.

Slowly each person trickles out: each, except one.
Only She and I.
Elderly. Silky brown scarf delicately tied under her chin.
She lights a candle.

The sound of flickering sweetly resonates in my ear drums.
Wick and wax working against one another in reserved stillness.
Duality: The wick-sturdy. The wax-malleable.
Trinity? Powerful flame sways back and forth above the two.

Soothing incense: calming scent.
Comfortable. 
Crossing barriers.

Prayers come naturally, escorted by tears.
Prayers of thanksgiving:
Thank You for salvation, for protection, for always leading me back.
Prayers are not sad, but I don't smile.
Serious joy: the kind that lifts your soul.
Genuine. 

Duality of my faith becoming singular.

Why should there be a cultural difference? 

It is well with my soul.
Слава Тебе Господь. 

Belgrade, Serbia  -- January 2018

Belgrade, Serbia -- January 2018

The Pub in the Snow

Dear Readers,

A couple of weeks ago was the first snow of the season. Moving across the world (yet again) to a new yet familiar place means the excitement of old traditions. One of these traditions is to take a walk in the first snow of the season.


Everything stops when it snows.

Delicate flakes violently hit the concrete and the rest of the world goes silent. The creaky tram no longer squeaks to a halt picking up loud-footed passengers who stomp up the steps and plop themselves onto the first available seat. Instead, it gracefully makes its way down the boulevard, as if in a silent film. As the city lights blur into fiery ornaments, you can almost hear the classical music pattering away in the background. Drivers no longer aggressively honk their horns at measly pedestrians but simply float down the lanes, smoothly making their stops along the way.

In the cold somehow you feel alive again; dizzy with emotion. Deep breaths inward ice the back of your throat, startling a sharp cough or two. Arms spread out wide, you look up to a universe of a million frozen specks, slowly and rapidly hitting your eyelashes, your bottom lip, your chin.

Doesn't it scare you how quickly you fall back into the mundane; how simply common and normal it all becomes? Without a moment of disturbance or consternation at the sudden change in temperature, it seems as if time has erased itself again. Maybe erased isn't the best word choice...no...more like time has hit a rewind button. But instead of smoothly rolling backwards to pause where you left off watching, it skids, and skips, and freezes, making that squeaky noise that indicates the tape has come undone. So you change the tape, to a different episode in the same series, and only then can you attempt to start watching where you left off. The characters and the theme song are the same, but the storyline has obscurely progressed.

You find yourself back in the snow.

Decked out in lint-dusted grey sweatpants, and an oversized pajama t-shirt, I put my arms through my shiny mink, and he threw on his woolen flat-cap. After a good half an hour of slipping and sliding on the sleekly dusted sidewalks, we decided to find somewhere to warm up, relax, and quietly enjoy our thoughts. Stumbling down a side-street we shuffled into a grungy corner pub, our fingertips numb and noses pink and runny.

Everything about this place was fascinating. 

Stained-glass lanterns dimly lit the ceilings, as a single swirl of cigar smoke leisurely sifted in upward spirals and slipped into my nostrils. Portraits of international war heroes, generals and kings clung to the wall paper, and old weapons hung off wooden panels. Aged curtains grasped onto the ornate windowsills delicately garnished with red and gold detailing. Each cloth layer was dusted with the smoke that trimmed the air: a filmy layer of indoor smog twirling in slow motion and burning the corner of my eyes.

We quickly sat by the window and didn't talk much, our feet dangling below the creaky bar stools, muddy puddles of newborn snowfall dripping from the little ridges on the bottom of our shoes. Everything felt wonderfully perfect as we indulged on stale popcorn from a plastic bowl atop a sticky table covered in rings from my watery cocktail. Condensation on my fingertips mimicked the melting flakes under the street lamps as mint got stuck in my straw and the bubbles rushed to my head. 

Had hours passed? Were we in one concrete spot? Was this place but a figment of our imagination? My phone was dead, and the interior gave absolutely no indication of what time it was. Whether it was eight in the evening or two in the morning was unimportant. Rapidly scribbling musings in a small black notebook, I half expected Hemingway or Fitzgerald to pop out of the corner at any moment. We had entered a vacuum of time and place, and for a short while my world was perfect; alarmingly stable; astoundingly strange in its own sublime way.

As I patiently watched through the window, the infant crystals calmly transformed into fully grown flakes, rapidly coming down in slow motion underneath the bright shadow of the street lampposts. Getting heavier, a white coat carpeted the ground and lined the naked branches, making a perfect and linear layer. This was our cue to head home; to continue our walk in the first snow of the season; to fulfill the quest that was intended by leaving the comforts of our warm studio. And as we stood, bundled up, and strolled home, everything else was still.  

The snow will melt away in a mere couple of days...or even hours. Although our humble walk will not have even mattered...it will be well worth it, for The Pub in the Snow would not have even existed otherwise. 

Belgrade, Serbia-- December 2017

Belgrade, Serbia--December 2017

Love, 

A.C.S.