Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What was it I said about the weather?

Ok, maybe it's not a blizzard, but poor Srce went and put all their tables outside. Ice cream, anyone?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Pictures, at last

I've been meaning to set up an on-line photo album so we can share pictures from our travels. I've finally done it (although I haven't put them all up yet). You can see our Sarajevo photos here. I've also added a link over on the right there under "Serbia Links" that you can check periodically for new collections. I'll try to post here when I put up new pix.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I'm developing a complex

In our house, Dan does most of the cooking. There are some things that I make very well, but mostly I'm too lazy, and tend to eat cereal rather than make a "meal." Dan, not being such a fan of Frosted Flakes, makes very nice meals for us on a regular basis.

That's not how things work in Serbia. The women are definitely the ones who cook and clean, and it's not just what the men expect of them, it's what they expect of themselves. One of Dan's students, upon hearing of our role reversal, said she thought women are "designed by God to do certain things."

What? Ok, culture shock, I'm not from here, I understand that. I thought people would at least be amused by the "modern" relationship Dan and I have, even if it seemed weird. When we first arrived and people asked me what kinds of things I cook, I was always quick to point out that Dan does the actual cooking. I'm realizing now, though, that this doesn't make us seem cute or quirky, it makes me seem like a bad wife.

While I'm very comfortable with (delighted with, in fact) the cooking roles in our house, I'm starting to worry about how people must perceive me. No one has said anything to either of us (except that one student), and I’m sure I’m just imagining it, but I'm afraid people don't think my wifely-skills are up to par, that I'm somehow deficient.

When I told Dan about my growing neuroses, he pointed out that I shouldn't be bothered by what people think (or what I think they think), and that some people will understand, and someday the people who don't might. How rational.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Taxi ride of DEATH!!!

Yesterday Dan and I had the opportunity to go to an Embassy-sponsored jazz concert in Belgrade. It was a great excuse to go to the city, take in some culture, and catch up with some of our Embassy friends, so Dan moved his classes around a little and we went.

We had some errands to take care of before we left for the city, and we were running a little late to catch the 1:00 bus. We grabbed the first taxi we could find to get to the bus station. Dan was telling the driver where to go as I was getting in the car. I grabbed the door, pulled it shut, and... it bounced open. I tried again, same thing. The driver said to pull the handle as I slammed the door. Nope. He got out and started really smashing it from the outside and playing with the latch. Under ordinary circumstances I would have gotten out of the cab and found another one. But we had a bus to catch. So, at the driver's suggestion, I held the door shut for the two minute ride to the station. I do not recommend this at any sort of high speed. I had images of myself being flung from the car into some ditch on the side of the highway. Fortunately, we were only traveling at moderate speeds on city roads (not that being flung onto the sidewalk would be any less painful than a highway ditch), and it was really no problem except when we made right-hand turns and I could feel the door pulling away from me.

When we got to the bus station, we found out there wasn't a 1:00 bus after all, and we had to wait until 1:30. Dan was a little grumpy because we had a few appointments in the city and we were going to be late. I was positively giddy, having just had the best taxi ride of my life. That cab was the absolute epitome of some Serbian something; I'm just not sure what.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The people here...

...are just fantastic. Check out this article Dan found about the taxi drivers / philosophers in Belgrade.

P.S. Dan can't remember where he found the link, but he suspects it was on another ex-pat blog. So if it was you, sorry for the poor scholarship!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bright Sunshiny Day

We're having a spell of stunning weather - temperatures around 18 C with sunny skies. It makes me impatient for the real spring and the trove of delicious fresh vegetables we've been promised. But being a New Englander, I fully expect a blizzard next week to make up for the warmth.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

First City

I'm feeling a bit guilty because I haven't posted any insightful yet witty commentary on life in Serbia lately; I just haven't spent a lot of time here in the past two months.

Yesterday I flew back to Serbia from Vienna. One of the major triumphs of my trip was getting from the bus station to the Belgrade airport and vice versa without any help. This was a huge accomplishment for me, because Dan, being the language guy, does most of the communicating for us. The return trip was particularly satisfying because when you come out of customs at the airport, taxi drivers (SCAMMERS!) start following you around, sweet talking you, trying to get you to ride with them and then they'll charge you an outrageous fee. Knowing their schemes, I ignored them all and took the cheap-o bus to the city center provided by JAT (pronounced yacht), the Serbian airline.

Vienna was absolutely stunning, as expected. I had two days of conference and two days of tourism. The best part of the conference was being in a work-like enviornment again. I haven't had a full work day since I left B&N back in August. I gave a kick-ass presentation and made friends with all sorts of people. The other best part of the conference was that all my expenses were covered by the US government. Your tax dollars at work...

Tourism was also great, and somehow special because Vienna is the first international city I traveled to, way back in 1994. I was on a high-school trip with 39 other students and various chaperones and we made the grand tour of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. That trip was unquestionably how I became hooked on international travel, and so must be partly responsible for this year in Serbia.

The major sights I visited were the Prater ferris wheel - I'm sure you all remember the famous speech Orson Welles gives in The Third Man. In case you've forgotten, here's the text:
Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
I also had the tour of the famous Opera House (WOW!) and saw the morning practice of the Lipizzan horses at the Spanish Riding School. And I ate a lot of strudel. My overall impression of Vienna was that they should still have a king. They have so much tradition and opulence (next Thursday is the annual Opera Ball) and it seems a bit wasted without a monarch to appreciate it all.

I am staying put in Serbia for the next month, when my mom comes to visit and we travel to Budapest. So I promise more cultural commentary is forthcoming.

Viva Mexico

Regular readers know that one of the things we miss most about the US is ethnic food.

I found taco seasoning packets in Vienna.

I understand that actual Mexicans don't necessarily use spice packets, but for me that's just about the real thing. We just finished our first "taco" dinner, Serbian style. We have no tortillas or taco shells, so we used slightly oversized melba toast-like crackers. It worked, and I am happy.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Eight Days to Pitchers & Catchers

I've clearly got baseball on my mind. I was preparing a handout for an upcoming presentation, and I listed the author of Frindle as Matt Clement (Red Sox pitcher) instead of Andrew Clements (the actual author). Eagle-eye Dan spotted the error before I made any copies.

First Tango in Belgrade

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist the cheeseball title.

I finally got in touch with the tango community in Belgrade, and last Wednesday Dan and I went to our first milonga. One of the things that I love about tango is that it's instant community wherever you go. We arrived at the club 15 or 20 minutes after the milonga started, put on our shoes, and had a few warm-up dances. When we sat down for some water and a look around, we were immediately approached by one of the locals. She had spotted us as newcomers, and wanted to make sure we got properly welcomed.

I danced pretty much non-stop until the end of the milonga (oh! my tootsies are sore!), and I was impressed with the tango skills of my many partners. I'd rate just about everyone I danced with as intermediate, with a few beginners and advanced dancers mixed in. It's the perfect level for us, and I had a wonderful time. Carlos & Tova, I think I did you proud, and I received many compliments on my own style and technique.

So the Belgrade tango community gets high marks for dance skills and super-high marks for friendliness. Can't wait to go back.

Thanks to Papa Tango for telling us when the dances are, Dragana, Misa, and Bojana for being so friendly, Sasa for the lift, and Andreja for putting us up for the night even though you had an exam the next day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sticker Shock

Today we went to our local UPS office to mail off my application for graduate school.

It cost 50 euros. And that's taking into account the discount the UPS guy gave us because he remembered reading about us in the newspaper (he was a very nice man).

I had better get accepted.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I Got The Serbian Blues

Tomorrow we're celebrating Black History Month at the American Corner. We've put together a presentation on African-American music that should be excellent, if the play list is any indication. Here is the list of songs that we'll be playing all or part of:
  • Menu Di Ye Jewe - Babatunde Olatunji
  • No Room in the Jailhouse - Reverend J. M. Gates
  • Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel - Howard Roberts Chorale
  • Good News - Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • What'd I Say - Ray Charles
  • Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin
  • I Heard it Through the Grapevine - Marvin Gaye
  • Po' Lazarus - James Carter & The Prisoners
  • I Got a Gal - Big Joe Turner
  • Boom Boom - John Lee Hooker
  • One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - George Thorogood and the Destroyers
  • Pineapple Rag - Scott Joplin
  • Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway
  • It Don't Mean a Thing - Duke Ellington w/ Ivie Anderson
  • Cottontail - Duke Ellington w/ Ella Fitzgerald
  • The Great Pretender - The Platters
  • Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
  • All Shook Up - Elvis Presley
  • Thriller - Michael Jackson
  • The Message - Grandmaster Flash
  • Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) - US3
Are there things we missed or left out? Of course. After all, we only have two hours and we need to leave time for discussion. What would you have done differently? Leave a comment...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mid-Year Report

We recently passed the mid-point of our stay in Serbia.

I don't have anything grand or profound to say, but I'd like to pause and take note of the moment. I can't think ahead to actually leaving; we have so many things to do between now and then... coffee will be drunk, conferences will happen, and babies will be born!

Dan had to submit a mid-year report detailing all of his professional activities. I'd like to offer an incomplete and somewhat random accounting of what I've done since our arrival:
  • Many hours at the computer
  • Drunk gallons of coffee
  • Learned how to make turska kafa
  • Tasted many new foods
  • Serbian lessons
  • Attended a soccer game
  • Belgrade Book Fair
  • Snowboarding
  • Birthday party for Meg
  • Tango
  • Dined with a former ambassador (Pakistan to Nigeria)
  • Stayed out way too late for a couple of old fogeys like us
  • Baked chocolate chip cookies, attempted to bake banana bread
  • Visited the US Embassy
  • One magazine and one TV interview
  • Attended a performance of traditional Serbian folk dances
  • Attended Slava & Orthodox Christmas
  • Workshop at the university
  • Workshop in Lapovo, Serbia
  • Applied to graduate school (found my next calling?)
  • Published 1 1/2 blogs
  • Places I've travelled:
    • Belgrade
    • Novi Sad
    • Nis
    • Budapest, Hungary (x2)
    • The USA
    • Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Books I've read all or part of:
    • The Read-Aloud Handbook
    • The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear
    • A is for Alibi
    • The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax
    • The Partly Cloudy Patriot
    • Dear Mr. Henshaw
    • Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs...
    • Catch-22
    • Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction
    • New York Trilogy
    • The Power of Reading
    • The World is Flat
    • The Ballad of the Whiskey-Robber
    • others that I can't remember because we took them home at Christmas
  • Passing Addictions:
    • Sudoku
    • Computer Pinball
    • Srce hot chocolate
    • Various flavors of Next juices
    • Knorr cream of asparagus soup packets
    • Burek sa mesom
    • Mythbusters
    • American Chopper
    • Lost

Confused foreigner

I have a question for all the Serbs out there reading my blog:

Who actually likes turbofolk?

I am mystified by the continued existence of this music form when I haven't met anyone who will fess up to actually enjoying it. The only people I know who listen to it are the bus drivers (which is unfortunate for those of us who rely on buses to get around). Everyone else just talks about how bad it is.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Working something very different from 9-5

Dan and I recently started a third, joint blog to keep track of some of the more official things we do, including upcoming events at the American Corner, any special workshops or presentations we're giving, class assignments for Dan, and other related news.

The new blog, titled Serbia ELF News, may be of slightly less interest to our American family and friends, but the Serbian bloggers out there should check in now and then because we'll be doing a few presentations in different cities around Serbia this spring - you never know when we'll be coming soon to a theater near you.

I only have one posting up at the moment, and it's that I'm going to VIENNA in February to present at a conference for American Corner staff from all over Europe. The conference is How to Run a Model American Corner and my topic is library programs for children. Yes!

The King of Kong

Last night we went to our local theater to see the new King Kong. I'm a long time fan of the original - when I was little my Uncle Donny would bring over a VHS tape to play for me and my siblings, and we watched it many, many times. So I was excited to see the remake with new special effects and whatnot.

The gorilla was great, I though the actors were good, but I think Peter Jackson is suffering from George Lucas syndrome. Which is to say that he's so popular, there's no one to say "No, Peter, you don't need that CGI effect" or "Do you really think it advances the plot to spend two hours wandering around the jungle?" or "Man, Peter, what's with the bugs?"

There were parts I enjoyed quite a bit, but I thought it was way too long. I admit that I was especially sensitive to this because the seats in our movie theater can only be charitably described as chairs, in that I can sit on them but only if I'm willing to endure intense physical pain. And for those Quincyites out there, I'm talking about seats WAY worse than The Wolly.

I'm glad we went; it was a definite cinematic experience and it was easy to see how much Peter Jackson loves the original. I just have to remember to bring my own chair when we go see Narnia next week.