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,