Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Five days in New York City

Back in DC after five days in NYC. We (my husband and I) have covered a lot of ground by foot in five days. We have lived in Manhattan for three years, until 2010, so we're not tourists nor New Yorkers any more ( :-(( but some strange hybrids who still hate tourists and crowds, but have their favorite places in the city close to those crowds of tourists. Like Union Square or Soho's Broadway.

And NYC at Christmas is really beautiful, with sparkling blue and white trees left and right and Christmas music literary everywhere you go, even on subways and streets.

So, this is, in a nutshell, what we did, and what you should do, if you have good taste, next time you are in NYC.

We love great cappuccinos and lattes so we went to La Colombe in Soho twice in five days. And we stayed with friends in Long Island City, so it was not that close to us. Not only that La Colombe has great espresso, makes great cappuccinos in stylish dark-blue and white cappuccino mugs (very important for the experience of slowly sipping great cappuccino) but also they use organic milk! Score!

The location could not be more perfect, especially at Christmas. It's two blocks away from Broadway, so away from the crowds but close to shopping. If you're a woman or a shopping-loving man, you'll know what I mean.

We also had pizza in L'Asso, a new friendly neighborhood pizza place, which was good, not great.

Guacamole and vegetable quesadillas in Rosa Mexicana in Union Square only for two reasons: I was craving guacamole, and we were in Union Square when I was craving it. They make the best guacamole!

Third Rail coffee close to Washington Square Park was good too.

Cafe Joul on Upper East Side had a mediocre fixed-price brunch--poached eggs with tomato, hollandaise and broccoli was our, probably the wrong choice. I would pass on this one. The location is not interesting either.

The best meal we had this time was in Eataly--mushroom risotto and mushroom-tomato polenta. Both, just, excellent! I love Eataly.

And we saw two movies, when our feet were hurting--The Descendants and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The Descendants was amazing, in fact so good, that I think Clooney will get the Oscar next year.

And Tinker, Tailor, something, was so slow that I wanted to lift my feet on the chair in front and take a nap. Life is unfortunately not long enough for movies like that.

What else?

We did some shopping in Soho and Union Square--Union Square had its annual open Christmas bazaar with original, usually foreign gifts, food and drinks.

We also went to Cafe Falai twice, both times to have bomboloni, Italian, or really, European donuts, with marmalade inside, wrapped in granulated sugar. No resemblance to American, Dunkin donuts, which I loathe and think are made of plastic. No pun intended.

All in all, a very productive visit, so much that I still sleep until 10am (I was waking up at 8am while there).

I guess there's more time for sleeping in DC. But to be honest, I'm glad I'm back. It's just different, living in a city so fun and huge as NYC, and visiting. When you live in it, you're not in any rush to do anything, but when you visit, you feel like you have to get as much as you can out of it, while you can.

And you exhaust yourself...but it's worth it...if you have time to sleep in.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caribbean, where art thou?

I blatantly asked my in-laws if I could use one of their two timeshares. I desperately want to go to Caribbean in January. I love the Caribbean sea and islands and hate winters in DC. Hate them! Then again, I hate winters anywhere. Well, maybe not in Paris. Definitely not in Paris. Sigh.
So, they of course said yes. But easier said than done. Everything is taken! Everything good, that is, everything you could easily reach from DC, such as St. Martin, USVI, Aruba...
Crisis, my respectable behind. In what world crisis did people descend on Caribbean?! Give me a break. I love how American whine to unwhineable stuff.
Actually, I'm an American too. Just half though. One third maybe. And I love to whine.
I'm sure not everyone is doing fine, but isn't that the case at any given time?
So, what's left is Mexico, Cancun. Plenty of Mexico. And some average place in Bahamas. Venezuela (I don't think so.) And Curacao which is wonderful, but there's no direct flight from DC, and the trip lasts eight-nine hours because of the layover. I could be in London by then, and then some.
So, I'm still looking for that perfect, affordable Caribbean vacation in January when I can go to the beach twice a day, and shop during the early afternoon. And eat tons of seafood. Drink Strawberry Daiquiris. And laugh at the forecast at DC.
For a week, at least. But then our whole lives consist of weeks, days, moments.
No, I won't go philosophical on you...yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Exit

I was invited to an Atlantic magazine's event last night in the Watergate building, The Exit Interview, in honor of the departing British Ambassador.
Usually, I'm invited with a guest to these high-profile Washington events, but this time, it was only me. I was just a tiny bit nervous, but then, I just started talking to everybody, even though I only knew one person (a very busy person) in the room. (So proud :)
It was exactly as I expected--a beautiful room on the 8th floor, waiters with trays of white wine and mineral water (I asked for red, just to be different :) Not really. ), bowls of nuts. Lots of foreign policy people, public diplomacy people, journalists, diplomats. Some women, some young men, lots of balding, gray-haired, middle aged men. This observation comes from someone sitting in the last row, by choice, during the interview, and being shined by lots of heads :)
I met several interesting people, including the British Ambassador briefly, since he was rushing of to some high-profile Christmas party.
Speaking of high-profile Christmas parties, I have one to attend myself, tonight. And I got a dress for it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The art of rewrite

You must be tired of my stories about rewriting stories. But, tis the process.
Last night, I brought my rewrite of the Balkan Voodoo to my writing group, and they, of course, butchered it. But I love them anyway.
Not really. They said that it has improved, but I still need to flush out some aspects of my main characters and her relationship to Voodoo. Of course, I have no idea how to do this. Neither did they.
But it's a valid point, so I came to my "office" i.e. a cafe, ordered a latte and I'm hoping caffeine will help me come up with usable ideas.
It's not easy to achieve perfection. And that's what I'm striving toward. The story is very good as it is. But it can be better.
I guess everything could always be better.
So, instead of perpetually working on one thing, when do you say enough, and move on?
For me, it's usually the third rewrite.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

24-hours in Nis and Belgrade

A friend of mine, let's call her Madam J, is going to Serbia soon. A no, she's not a diplomat nor of Serbian origin, she's just smart and worldly, and can smell fun.
So, she made me think about what I love to do in Belgrade and Nis, when I'm there just for a day or two.
Belgrade. Hmmm. Let's see what comes in mind.
I love the stroll from Slavija to Terazije, and along Knez Mihajlova, of course.
I love stopping at Greenet in Nusiceva street and having a small moka there. (Picture attached)
If I happen to be in Terazije in the evening, Ben Akuba, also on Nusiceva, makes the best cocktails, and it's hidden in an apartment, and looks like something out of a novel, dark, with books on shelves against the walls, and menus with nothing but cocktails.
In Nis, I like the walk along Pobedina street, and stopping for a drink in Kazandzijsko Sokace, or in one of the cafes along Pobedina, or even Costa Coffee on the main square, with a great view of the square and people walking toward and away in every direction.
I love having a cheap but excellent horseback riding lesson in Konjicki Klub Nis, close to Niska Banja, and then going to the Spa in Niska Banja, in Radon hotel, for a jacuzzi and a massage, all very affordable for U.S. standards.
But she'll be there around St. Nikola's Slava. So the best thing to do is to befriend a Serb, and go to as many Slavas as possible.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I have been sick since the ballet performance of the Nutcracker in the Philips Collections last Thursday night (damn it!) While I was sitting in the back, admiring the young dancers' flexibility and balance, and enjoying Tchaikovsky's music, my throat turned dry. I, off course kept drinking water, but couldn't moist it. I woke up with a sore throat, and almost a week later, I can't sleep from cough.
I hate being sick! As if someone likes it.
I blame it on the lack of hygiene in the U.S. culture. People don't wash their hands before they prepare meals, nor before they eat. Some of us didn't grow up that way, and are not immune to everything. Some of us grew up washing our hands before and after EVERY meal. Yes. That was the rule of a first grade book in Former Yugoslavia. It was next to the Cyrillic alphabet.
And (damn it), I was actually, really, saying to myself recently how happy I am for not being sick while everyone around me was sick. I thought it was my vegetarian diet, Yoga, and my cleanliness. Much does that do if you eat out, or at someone's house. And it's hard to give that up.
People, what is the matter with you! Wash your hands! It's the flu season, for God's sake.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stars, dreams, coffee grounds, voodoo, whatever...

I'm sorry for the long hiatus. But my 14-year-old Dalmatian dog died in Serbia, and I didn't feel like anything. The strange thing is that I used him as a model for the dog in my Balkan Voodoo story recently. How weird. Especially since I don't believe in fortunetelling or voodoo of any kind. Or even that the star alignment on the day you were born can determine your life. I believe that you make your own destiny. Still, weird things happen to me, from time to time, to shake me a bit.
For example, I don't believe in dreams predicting your future, but I agree that they can help you read someone's (your) subconsciousness. And I don't know what dreams "mean." But when my uncle was in a hospital in 1997, gravely ill, I dreamed I was riding a beautiful white horse the night before he died. Then the day after I read that a white horse in dream means death.
Scary, right?
Now, I know what you are going to think. I would think the same thing--someone told me that the white horse means death, or I read it somewhere, or I made everything up. But I didn't.
I think that believing your life is predestined is a slippery slope. "Well, I can't change anything, why bother," someone might say, get lazy. I think that if you want to change your life, you usually can. Stars, dreams, coffee grounds, voodoo, whatever. But I have to admit, once in a while, something eerie happens that makes me wonder...just a bit.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Drop ending

Thank God I'm not traveling for Thanksgiving. I bet it's a zoo outthere.
Instead, I'm as free as a bird today.
I took Vinyasa Flow at noon, as a part of my 30-day Yoga challenge. I'm still in it, since I haven't missed a single day since Nov. 15th. I guess that's not too long...Still...
Challenge a Serb, or a Serb-American, or rather tell her (or him) that she/he can't do something and she/he will definitely do it. Spite! Stubbornness! All that good stuff!
So, I have been doing Yoga on and off for over a year now, but lately, it's been really on. I go almost every day, or every other day, and I have to tell you, I have never felt better. Not only am I stronger physically but I feel like I can grasp more in my life than I used to. I used to think strength was overrated. Not anymore.
Feeling physically strong makes me feel...strong. I love the fact that I can do more push-ups than ever, that I can hold plank longer or do a side plank, which used to be a nightmare.
I think I'm hooked. I cannot even imagine not doing Yoga forever.
But lately, since the challenge, I have been missing Budokon's kicking and boxing. There's nothing like kicking and boxing to make you feel like a bad ass, i.e. good!
With all this poetry, I will tell you that today I'm grateful for thinking of a great new ending for my newest story, the one I've been writing a lot about, (Balkan Voodoo), while looking for an UPS drop box on Connecticut Avenue.
I know!
Oh, and it's creepy. But good creepy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Balkan Voodoo

It's a sleepy, rainy, dark DC day, but I still have managed to drag myself, my laptop and my mouse out of my house. (I used to be a poet, but I hate rhyme.) On my way to my favorite writing cafe, I stumbled upon a dead rat (Columbia Road) the size of my smaller cat. Despite the fact that my head wants to be on a pillow, or on my soft, fluffy Rubenesque cat (the other one), I will start rewriting my Balkan Voodoo story (my baby) in a few minutes. Right after I finish this blog. Why? Because I got feedback both from my teacher and my writing group, though a bit contradictory, but still, very valid, useful feedback. And I'm actually excited about this rewrite! I want to perfect it and unleash it onto the world!
It's amazing what an accepted story (for publication) can do for your confidence as a writer.
I was describing my writing process to my colleague-writer last night, in my car, while almost driving into the Zoo at 10pm (thank God for the gates, otherwise I would be writing this from a lion's belly).
I get an idea for a story. I set the characters up in my head. And I start writing, from my head onto the blank page, visualising what they would do, what would happen, what could happen...It's like a movie in my head, rolling, and I'm just a journalist, writing it down. I think it comes from years of acting classes and actual acting. I don't stop to look up the words. I don't know what will happen at the end, until the end. I swear. So it was funny to me when some writers said last night that they knew what was going to happen at the end while they were reading it.
"I didn't," I said. And I didn't.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Financial hell

I worked 12 hours yesterday, and I can honestly say, it ain't for me.
I started a new job yesterday morning, and I have already been booked for interpretation in the evening, months ago, so, there was no way out. Plus I had to do Yoga at 7am in order not to fail the challenge.
So, my day started at 6:30am, with devouring a Luna Bar with chocolate chips, and ended at 10 p.m. watching TV like a zombie from my bed.
I'm still tired. I'm sipping a latte.
Oh, yesterday, by 12pm, I so regretted accepting this new position. It was completely conveyed to me under false pretenses.
It started well, with a briefing about an interesting case. But then, when I was handed my load of documents, I was hoping a few were just financial before I got to articles and statements.
I ended up analysing financial documents for seven hours, after which I wanted to shoot myself. Instead I called my employer and said that I either have to be paid much more money for this kind of work (which I knew she wouldn't go for) or can only work part time. She hasn't gotten back to me yet, and I feel like hugging random people on the street.
I cannot even imagine going through the same routine even for one more day. It's hell to me. I kept thinking about how happy I am when I'm writing. Even teaching, which I have been doing for 10 years and increasingly am getting bored off, is New York City compared to reading tax reports in Serbian.
My apologies to all the accountants, but your life is my living hell.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I just made myself hot chocolate with small marshmallows, poured it into my fancy cappuccino mug with hand painted blue flowers, and sat on my sofa with my laptop on my lap cushion, pretending I'm in a loungey cafe. I have no time for a cafe, I'm afraid. So, I have to improvise.
I'm starting to work in a law firm in DC tomorrow morning, full time for five weeks, as an analyst, or more correctly, "a Serbian bilingual professional."
I also signed up for a 30-day Yoga challenge at my local Yoga studio.
Which means I have to do Yoga for 30 consecutive days, otherwise, my name will be on a wall of shame, and I will be outed as a loser.
My parents are also visiting from Serbia.
I had my writing class today as well.
I have been booked months ago to interpreter tomorrow and Saturday evening. So, I'm working for 12 hours tomorrow, from 9:20 to 9:30.
But I also have won $4 on lottery, which is a sign (maybe), a $100 Benetton gift card in a drawing (definitely a sign), and today a literary magazine called my story excellent and wants to publish it in its summer edition.
So, I'm a little busy.
I feel that the stars are aligned in Leos' favor now.  I feel like I'm climbing. I feel...good!

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Vino Veritas

If you like wine, or vines, or drinking or the countryside, you should keep reading. For the rest, bon voyage et au revoir.
One way to celebrate the Veterans Day is to go winery hopping. Which I did, with friends. We decided to go the Vintage Ridge, one of the highest rated Virginia wineries, then Three Foxes and finally the Naked Mountain.
I have already been to the Vintage Ridge, which is in or very close to a sleepy town of Hume, Virginia. It's a beautiful winery with excellent wines, food and service. My favorite wine of theirs is Maiden Voyage, which is sweet, fruity white wine. The setting is exceptional inside the tasting room,  where the tables are amongst the huge barrels with different grapes in them. Every wine is served with small niblets of food, carefully chosen and artfully arranged,  to bring out the flavor. But if you're really hungry, eat first, or you will get tipsy.
The Three Foxes has a beautiful vineyard in front of a small tasting room, but, it was kind of crowded inside, and we were rushed by the woman pouring just drops of each of ten wines into our glasses. She wasn't nearly as nice as the Vintage Ridge connoisseurs, but the Foxes do have some good white wines, for example, Il Gatto Bianco, which I purchased. Just a bottle. Has a great label with a white fluffy cat. I didn't buy it for the cat. I swear. I like the wine! Honest!
The vineyard itself is huge with beautiful views, as well as tables and chairs with individual barbecues.
The Naked Mountain was kind of sleepy, wine was just o.k., but the land was spectacular! Vast and attached to a small forest, with endless views of colorful Virginia fall trees and vines. Unfortunately, no one was naked.
All in all, if you want to go to just one, go to Vintage Ridge. It's still the best Virginia winery I have been to. But if you want to do more than one, (recommended) if you bring your own food, friends and nice weather, then you should stop by the Three Foxes or the Naked Mountain, buy a bottle and have lunch. But just for tasting? It's not worth it. Keep looking. Virginia is full of vines.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An affair...with a story

It was a cold and rainy day... I'm kidding.
I had my writing class this morning, and am full of impressions.
Also, I'm back in my blog inspiration zone cafe, with my latte and alfajor. My mother would say: "you'll grow a latte in your stomach."
Hardly, I have it every other day.
So, my writing class. Fifteen of us, and all but three had their stories read. My expert analysis so far: we have one female writer in it, who is definitely going to be published, maybe even successful. She is so talented. And I know what you are thinking, and I'm flattered, but I'm not talking about myself here. She's real, people.
Everyone else is either a beginner, or isn't talented. I can't tell. I need more than one story to decide which.
Yes, there were a few cute stories, but except for one (and one of mine, of course, but I'll play modest outside of parenthesis) everything else was mediocre at best.
To be honest, some are probably just making the same mistakes I did when I first started writing fiction, with journalistic background. Their style is too non-fictiony, too dry. "This happened, then that happened, then this. The end." But that aside, if the story is really strong, that can be fixed, can be learned, can be rewritten.
So, I think, at this point of my writing, I can spot a talent.
In my writing group, I have many more very talented people. And it's great! We all seem to want each other to succeed. Maybe we are a little competitive, but in the best sense of the word. Competitiveness that drives you to get better, to perfect yourself.
As my Facebook friends know, I have finished a new story (yay) two days ago, and I can honestly say I'm in love with it.
I wrote it in one breath, in about three hours. That's how I write.
Then I left it alone until the evening, and touched it up a bit. Then a touched it up, just a tiny bit yesterday as well. But the reason I keep reading it is because I enjoy every word.
And I'm so excited about presenting it to my writing group!
It's like it's my little baby, and I'm so proud.
p.s. If you're thinking I need therapy, maybe you shouldn't keep reading my blog. It's just going to get worse from here...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A serious post, for a change...

I have been writing this blog for only a few weeks, and I'm already breaking the cardinal Rule Number One: Dont' blog from home. I am, in fact, in my bedroom, listening to Zdravko Colic's music from before I was born, and sipping real hot chocolate I had made for myself (cocoa, brown sugar, vanilla extract, milk. Minus marshmallows and whipped cream. Out.) The reason I'm already breaking the rules is that the rules are there to be broken (no, I'm kidding), I'm having a couple of very busy days, and I don't want to have more than a few between posts. Such as me, a dedicated person ;-)
Tomorrow is the asylum case I'm working on. On Thursdays I have my writing class. Between these, I have a tone of reading to do. And my mother is here, so I'm trying to see her every other day.
On a more serious note, I went to a panel on Kosovo in the Wilson center yesterday. It was shocking how no one in the Reagan building knew where the Wilson center was. I felt like I was walking through a maze.
A political scholar from Serbia was talking about different possibilities of what could happen in regards to Serbia not recognizing Kosovo as independent, and the ramifications of it, as well as how the EU is blackmailing Serbia. He didn't say that, I did.
My humble opinion has been that the best thing to resolve the Kosovo issue would be partition. But now, that I know more, I'm not so sure. This political analyst said that the partition would endanger Serbs and other minorities who live in other parts of Kosovo, besides the North, plus it would set dangerous precedents (Macedonia, Republika Srpska...)
An interesting thing was that he was shooting down all these different popular ideas, possible solutions,  floating in the media and among people, until there was none left. Actually the only solutions he saw--dual sovereignty, high degree of autonomy for minorities, didn't sound like a solution at all. It sounded like a consolation prize.
The most interesting thing on the panel was a gentleman from the Albanian-American society, council, group, or something similar, who, during the Q&A, held a small speech on how Serbs on barricades in Kosovo are just troublemakers, and then finally asked, why is the Serbian government supporting them? I think the answer was something along the lines: What else could they do? Everyone has to walk on eggshells around the Kosovo problem. And damned the first one who says: we have to accept its independence.
I wouldn't want to walk on that politician's grave.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cupcake at the Barre

My husband wanted a membership to Phillips Collection for Christmas last year. So I got him a dual membership--a gift that keeps on giving--to me.
Today is Phillips Collection's 90th birthday. We were, of course, invited to it. But the reason we showed up at 10am-ish, like old people, is because we each got a free Georgetown cupcake! By 12pm. That's one way to promote art!
It worked. The museum was packed with people by 10:30am.
In all fairness, we did want to see Degas' Dancers at the Barre, since the last time we were at Phillips for an Artful Evening (first Thursday of every month) you couldn't even come close to the dancers or the barre. And there was nothing free!
So we glimpsed at the Dancers from a far, smirked at the coughing crowd and screaming children
(why do Americans love to cough and sneeze in public?!) of a hundred people on the third floor of the Phillips Collection, and went downstairs for a cocktail and live jazz.
Cupcake or no cupcake, Degas' Dancers are spectacular. And the entrance is free today, it seems, for general public. No cupcakes, I'm afraid, but there is a real barre. You could even try stretching on it...
p.s. A secret cupcake (in a small pink box) turned out to be Red Velvet. Not my favorite, but I have to admit, it was yummy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A drink out with the girls and boys

I met my friends in Proof on 8th and G last night, for a drink. The guys were happy drinking Bourbon, or Scotch (who cares, it's all the same to me) and I really wanted a Mojito. I don't drink often, and I only like sweet drinks, (I know, I'm such a girl) cocktails, an occasional glass of wine (sweet, fruity,) or Champagne/Prosecco. I see alcohol as a treat, like chocolate or cake, or sometimes, if I remember, I have a drink when I'm stressed. Last time I treated myself with a cocktail, minus friends, was when Bray and Scarff was installing my new washing machine for several weeks, or when I was negotiating a contract with four businessmen. So, when I do decide to go out for a drink (I don't drink at home unless I have guests over) I get excited over that cocktail or two, like a little girl.
So, when Proof didn't make Mojitos (who doesn't make Mojitos?! Lameness!) I asked for a Bellini. Nope, they heard of it (impressive!), but they didn't have anything peachy. So, I ended up with a glass of Prosecco, which was yummy, and in a stylish flute (very important) but not what I wanted. A friend wanted a Heineken beer. They didn't have that either. So when we all finished our second or third choice drinks, we went across to the Poste. And they made me a Mojito! But a mediocre one. And I'm somewhat a Mojito snob. (Wait, this is very deja-vu-y?!) In my drinking life, I have sent several mojitos back since rum was floating on top and I'm not a pirate! I have also had some amazing crafty ones, like the one in Chi-Cha lounge recently, or the one my friend Jon or John (Damn you Jon Steward) makes at home. Mojito is like a cappuccino for me. If it's good, it's really good, if it's bad, it's undrinkable.
The Poste's Mojito was drinkable, just too watery, too much ice, not enough rum, or flavor, or mint, or syrup, or...
We also ordered food which came in like, I would imagine, a fat camp. A cheese plate had six pieces of cheese! Small pieces, bites. Pathetic! And every other portion of finger food we ordered (fries, smoked trout pate...) was minuscule! The guys picked up the bill, but I'm betting it wasn't cheap. It's in Hotel Monaco, and the lobby, the bathroom, everything is so fancy.
After probably ten orders of finger food, and several drinks (I only had one) we left, hungry.
So, If you want a good cocktail in DC, a Heineken beer or if you are hungry, don't go to the Poste or Proof. That's my seasoned advice to you, my green DC friend.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Broken Ana

"What did you do on Halloween?"
I took a late Power Vinyasa class. Then watched House. Went to bed half an hour after midnight, and never turned into a pumpkin. Lame, I know.
But, the Post-Halloween day happens to be the first day of a month. I often (when I know what date it is) try to do something "useful" on the first day of a month. Or a year. Or on Serbian Christmas. It's because I had been brainwashed by my mother that you should start something you want to be successful at, on Serbian Christmas. So if you always wanted to fly, you should try that on Jan. 7th, according to an old Serbian belief. I believe that my mother learned all these from her late-grandmother, born and raised in a village in Southeast Serbia. I question her sources...
So, today, I made a plan. I'll be working on my Broken Mirror story, then submit it to my teacher for review. Then work on my Does Ana have a reason to sleep so beautifully probably for the last time, before I submit it somewhere. And then, I have a 3pm meeting with a contact to brainstorm about my career. So, I'm half down Ana story, and decided to take a break by writing this blog.
I think my writing is going really well, in general and today. There are days when I can't even think about writing (makes me nauseated) but mostly I am really looking forward to it. Like today. But then there are days when I want to write but everything that comes out seems contrite and cliched.
Today was good. Worked pretty fast. Came up with some original solutions for unoriginal problems, some great descriptions. Have been working on being more descriptive in my writing, up to the point that I have been told recently that I'm too descriptive. Hmmm... sounds like something my mother has been saying about me since I was five--that I'm either at one end, or the other. It has been hard to strike a balance.
But, I'm planning on being done with these huge stories for my book soon, then move to the remaining...twenty...or so. Yes, I know, it's a lot. I actually become a little bit discouraged when I realize how much work is ahead of me, but then, I realize how much work I have already put it, and I hate doing things in vain. So, hopefully, I'll have a second version of my first book, by Jan. 2012. Exactly a year from my first version.
Come to think of it, it has been a long year...but that's probably because I have lived it in DC...

Monday, October 31, 2011

The night of the witches

Oct. 2005. Just days before my second Halloween ever. I was in a mall in Arizona with a group of Kosovo lawyers and judges. I stumble upon Fredericks of Hollywood, before I ever heard of them (I moved to the States a year before, and No, I didn't remember that line from Sex and the city) and I didn't have a Halloween costume. There's no Halloween in Serbia. Yes, there are all kinds of horrors, and freaks (just like here) but no one dresses up unless insane or insanely drunk, and no one celebrates  "the night of the witches" unless that is their pet name for their mother-in-law (very frequently used in Serbia, to describe a woman someone (usually a man) is fond of.)
Back to Arizona. So I was trying on different costumes, having fun (hey, this was fun for me, new for me) and I decided to buy one. O.K? Now I'm embarrassed to say which one, but it's not really relevant to the story. Wait, what's the story? In my defense, it was only slightly slutty, I thought that might have been the point of Halloween, being new to the country and all, and it looked really good on me. And I was very, very young. (Now I'm just very young.)
I wore it for two years and gave it away to charity right after I got my Masters Degree and became google-able.
Rewind to my first Halloween. Belgrade, 2003. The Canadian Embassy. My friend (student) Karen lent me a tail and ears, and in an all black bodysuit, I suddenly became a tigress (similar to lioness but more feisty.) I remember the inspired costumes and a huge party, as well as an elaborate, pro haunted house in the U.S. Embassy. By the way, the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade was the happening place at that time. The best happy hours, every Friday!
Today. My...ninth Halloween. A friend promised a party (you know who you are) and then hasn't delivered, but I have already bought some devil parts--horns, bow-tie, tail. And I'm not wearing it now.
At least not yet.
p.s. For some reason, I don't remember the Halloween of 2004. I was probably still too green, or I repressed it in my mind due to the extreme happiness of the one who recently changed continents.
p.p.s. Haven't I promised I would be silly...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seed of truth

I have a story to tell you, a serious one (Sorry. I promise to be silly tomorrow.) Let's say that I heard (from a reliable source) about a person from Former Yugoslavia seeking asylum here based on abuse he or she suffered there for being gay. As I heard details about this story, I believed every bit of it, and I knew it was true. I understood.
This person hasn't had any contact with his/her family for years since they couldn't accept him/her being gay. And he/she just couldn't pretend his/her whole life to be someone else.
Hearing this story, the details I unfortunately am not allowed to describe, a movie was suddenly rolling in my head. I was able to picture every bit of it very vividly. And I kept thinking, would something similar happen to me if I were gay? And I was thinking about what would I do if I were him/her, growing up in Former Yugoslavia, knowing I'm different than most of my peers, and different in a way my society wouldn't accept. Not even today, let alone in the 90s, or before.
Would I fight it or would I cave. Would I escape?
I hope I would fight. I think I would escape. I don't know. It's just so hard, even hypothetically.
Let just say this person said something along the lines: "I knew there was no life for me there. I'm happy here, I have a wonderful partner I want to spend the rest of my life with..." But he/she misses his/her family. Why does it have to be one or the other?
This story is one of the reason I write about Serbo-Croatian characters and events. They fascinate me! Their beliefs, and superstitions, and traditions, all of it. They fascinate me, because, even if I grew up there, I don't understand them. I never did. I think I always felt a little out of place there, even when I was little.
I will never understand how a person can disown his/her child for being what he/she is, for being the only person he/she could be, for not being a fraud or a liar. That's why I write about these kinds of  people. What makes them have such strong beliefs, ancient beliefs and never question them, for decades. What makes them make the same mistakes, generations after generations.
I guess that's a journalist in the fiction writer in me. Every story I write has to have a seed of truth in it. Otherwise, I don't think it's worth telling.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where would your "end" be...

I just got back from my writing class. Not the writing group. The writing class. If you are confused, please refer to previous posts. My "Broken Mirror" story got critiqued so I did what I always do (unless there's something better to do)--go to a cafe, order a latte and rewrite, while the comments are fresh in my mind. "If you did this in college, where would your end be," my mother would say to this disciplined routine I am actually quite proud of. The end in this saying being everything possible you could accomplish in life, the end of your possibilities. I don't believe I have any. But that's another story...
So, I'm half down my latte, having had to do something for The New Yorker assignment first (The New Yorker comes first, which is a frequent conflict in my marriage. So does my writing, my cats, my Yoga...), but I also have another 352 things to do today. Still, I'm going to attempt to rewrite my story first, and the rest will have to wait for a couple of hours.
An interesting thing happened in class today--my teacher singled out my favorite part of my story as her favorite. I thought that was very encouraging. And my beginning was a little slow, so now I think I know where and how to restart. And re-end. And while I'm writing about rewriting, I'm getting excited about it. I know, I'm a freak. But that excitement makes me think I'm exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do. Right?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Long story short...

I'm a part of a Writing Group of about eight people, who meet every two weeks and discuss each other's stories. We are all writers, all took the same Short Story class this summer, and decided to keep meeting since the best thing we got out of that class was each other's feedback. Our teacher was a bit "lazy" and would leave us with only about four comments per each story we would submit, which is not much to go on. But after 16 people (from class) or eight people (from group) read and dissect your story, you have plenty to go on, even too much. It can be overwhelming at times. "Who do I listen to, whom do I trust..." but after a while you instinctively know who's right about your story and who's wrong.
By the way, if you have ever written, you know that your stories are your babies. You are protective of them, know them so well, you understand them, then all of a sudden, someone tells you they are fat and need to lose weight, or their speaking is too convoluted and you need to take them to a speech therapist. It's hard. But necessary. I you want to sell your baby, i.e. get published.
Rewind a bit: I took a Writing Conference this summer, and met an agent who was very interested in my stories. I write historical fiction about Serbian characters from 1900 until now. All characters are connected, making an interwoven collection of short stories I want to publish before I'm 70.
Back to the agent. So, he read one of my stories and said: "They have great potential, but you're not ready yet. Take a short story class." That was this early summer. Since then, I have constantly been in a class, or a group, or both, like now. And I have gotten feedback from the same people,  on before and after,  who said that I have significantly improved my fiction writing in a very short time. All truth and nothing but.
Let me remind you that back in January, I gullibly thought my collection was perfect, and was sure that I'm holding the next "Kite Runner." Not so fast...Turned out that my Masters in journalism and non-fiction writing got a lot into my fiction.
So, learning never ends. But that's... O.K.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monumental Flower

I took my mother to a painting class with cake and wine to this place called Uncorked Art, on 300 D Street, SW. We were trying to paint our own versions of Georgia O'Keeffe's Flower. It was my mother's first painting class ever, being too busy with two little kids by 21, to ever paint, draw, write, or basically do anything creative. And she loved it!
There were about 18 of us, all women except for the bartender, who were drinking, singing to Coltrane coming from the laptop, and loudly talking.
This was my second painting class, not counting the 8th grade. My first one was in Georgetown this summer, and we were painting The Washington Monument.
I was so excited when I painted that one, my first painting ever. And so proud.
I had fun yesterday, but I wasn't a virgin anymore, so it wasn't as exciting. My back even hurt after seating on a bar stool for two and a half hours. I don't remember any pain first time around.
Then today, I thought of it: The Washington Monument, O'Keeffe's Flower. Hmmm. Draw your own conclusions;-)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mojitos and Oysters

My girlfriends and I went to Chi-Cha Lounge last night. It's been a while since I've been there, and I instantly remembered why I liked the place. We sat at the bar, ordered drinks and food, and chatted in a dim-lounge smelling of Hookah. It looked very Middle Eastern, the ambiance with smoke, the smell of apples and red velvet sofas.
Chi-Cha roll made the best sushi roll I had in DC so far. And the bartender made one of the best mojitos.
So, all and all, I'm going back.
Later we moved to Tabac, just two blocks down U street, where we had another round of drinks, some Turkish food, and I had oysters, with the view of the monuments, all the way from the top.
Busier than Chi-Cha, different, more cluby and restauranty atmosphere with both tables and wide standing space.
The food was fine, and my mojito was good, but not as good as Chi-Cha's.
I'm a Mojito snob. And a coffee snob. And a Belgrade snob. All in all, I guess, I'm a little snobby.
But for an evening out, both of this places are cool, especially if you have good company, like I did last night.
p.s. By the way, going out with cool girlfriends, oh, so fun!

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I made a full circle in exactly one week. Here I am, a creature of habit, back in Dolcezza, after Yoga, having the exact same one-shot latte ( they make the best lattes in DC) and the same alfajor in-house made cookie, and writing this blog. I'm glad to say that I had a busy, but successful and above all, fun week! It went by so fast, yet so many things happened.
After I write this, I'm going to do more research and translation for The new Yorker, which makes me very happy. I love working for them. It's sort of investigative journalism which makes me feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes, whom I also love.
After work, lattes, cookie, I'm meeting my girlfriends for cocktails.
p.s. No wonder I still don't have kids ;-) 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"If you don't know what crazy is, you're not normal."

I have experienced collective madness and delirium last night, at Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra's concert at Carnegie. It was so fun, that at one point my chest was hurting from laugh.
This is actually my third concert of theirs--Lincoln Center, Park Slope and now Carnegie, and they have all been good, but this one--just perfection. In two and a half hours of playing time, I had goosebumps, danced, screamed, jumped and was drenched in sweat and endorphins.
I came with friends, but then, the funny thing happened--I made more friends. It was so easy. A song that I love started, I went just to the front of the podium, and two other girls asked me to dance a kolo, a traditional Serbian group dance, with them. I have never seen them before. I absolutely admire people like that!
I also befriended the guy in the seat next to me. He was my partner in driving the elder couple in front of us crazy, with our loud singing and hand waving. That's when we weren't dancing like we put our fingers into a power outlet.
After the concert, with my brand new girlfriend having a backstage pass, and already being there, I talked my way into the backstage area, and met Mr. Bregovic, even had my picture taken with him.
I love myself driven and brave. This is Marija I want to be, this person, brought by NYC in me, having fun and fighting hard for what she wants.
p.s. Bregovic sang: "If you don't know what crazy is, you're not normal." We collectively jumped and screamed to that. Point taken.
p.p.s. My Carnegie seat neighbor turned out to be Albanian. And I dragged him almost on stage to dance to Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian-Gypsy music. I love this city!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New York, Neeeew Yoooork...

It's funny how once you lose something you forget everything bad about it. You just remember the good stuff.
I forgot how aggressive New York is, or should I say New Yorkers. And how crowded the subway is and how hot, then cold, hot, cold. Oh, right, that's why I have this cold :-(
Thirteen months in DC and I have already learned how to say I'm sorry. I felt like an alien today, bumping into people and apologizing. Tourist, I bet, they thought, cringing. I know I used to, just a year ago.
New Yorkers have no time for apologies. Nor pain. Or they don't feel any.
On my way from Long Island City to Soho, then Union Square, and back, I was elbowed, bumped into, tripped and I can't remember what else, but I had to shower twice today.
So, why do I love NYC? Because it's home of the best muffin in the world, a cappuccino muffin, at Cafe Angelique's on Bleecker. Which they didn't have today. So I had to console myself with one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had--at Max Brenner's in Union Square.
Should I go on? It's not the food, or shopping, or even theatre, or how a street you walk on every day suddenly becomes a movie set. It's just has this enchanting spirit, like it's alive and very seductive and makes you believe everything is possible.
Well maybe it is. That's why I'm networking. I'll tell you tomorrow...

Monday, October 17, 2011

A woman who sold a piece of her soul, in a steak house

I had dinner with my rich friend, and his rich friend at Maloney and Porcelli's tonight. It's a steak house and I'm a vegetarian, and not any vegetarian, but the one who gives money to PETA and The Humane Society, as well as various charities fighting for humane farming. So I felt like the devil in a church, in that steak house. Or like an angel in hell. What the hell am I doing here?!
My friend was bragging about this restaurant as having the best steaks in NYC, and all I was thinking was poor cow.
"Ummm, I'm a vegetarian, " I said, sweetly, as kind as possible, with a smile.
He hit his forehead with his right fist. He forgot. He apologized a million times during dinner. And afterwords.
But that didn't prevent him from ordering a big piece of meat, with a bone. I tried not to think about it. I looked away. I looked down at my Atlantic salmon, and my bad Mojito, soon replaced by a Mimosa. But I felt like a hypocrite a bit.
The truth is he offered to help me with my publishing and my career. So I sold my soul to the devil. Kind of. A bit.
On the other hand, even my family still eats meat...

Acela to NYC

I'm on Acela to New York City! That's right, didn't I say I was planning on shaking things up in DC? Well, that usually means leaving DC.
Actually, a friend called me on Saturday, and asked if I would like to go to Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra's concert in Carnegie Hall this Wednesday. Hell, yeah, I said, and within a couple of hours, bought a ticket. Yes, that's me, impulsive, loving Bregovic's music and NYC. It helps that I actually have friends I can stay with, and Amtrak points.
I was actually craving it (NYC) last week, as I was working on a translation for The New Yorker article.
So, now I'm on board, having Ginger ale and Milka chocolate (What a gourmet combination) and plotting what useful things I could do and who could I see while in the funnest city in the world. The saddest thing--it used to be my home. A happy fact--it's only two hours and 48 minutes away from DC's Union Station.
So, where should I start my little adventure? Union Square? Madison Square Park? Soho?
Hmmm, endless possibilities, and my mouth is watering...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Does Ana have a reason to drink lattes?

A friend suggested recently I should blog again. I used to blog almost every day for a year of my life in Manhattan, which I still pine for. Not blogging, Manhattan. Not the drink, the island.
But life goes on, and most of my friends are smart with great ideas, so here I am, in Dolcezza, having one of the best DC lattes and an alfojar-- hand, in-house made cookie, high-on caffeine and sugar, as well as on a story I just revised--Does Ana have a reason to sleep so beautifully.
Cool title, right? The story is even better. I know, I need more confidence. But my suspicion that this story might be one of the best fiction stories I have ever written (and anyone has ever written) was confirmed by excellent writers from my beloved writing group from The Writer's Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
So, the goal of this new blog would be to write about my writing, and DC life. Which I'm planning on spicing up,