Thursday, August 29, 2013

Countdown to Downton Abbey...and brief au revoir to my novel

Countdown to my trip to Europe.

My, yesterday, altered trip.
So now it's London, Newbury (Highclere Castle) Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Sarti, Greece, Nis, Belgrade, DC.

No Istanbul. Had to cancel that leg. Unfortunately. Another time.

And on the writing front, I am finishing my novel. I came up with an ending. And I'm planning on finishing it by September 8, and sending it to my readers. The whole thing. The whole 83,000 words or 314 pages.
I still need to touch up on my family tree and add that to the beginning of the book.
Then I can finally go on vacation!
I wonder, will I be able to stay away from my book for one whole month? I mean, at this point, we are as attached as a baby kangaroo to its mommy. Or two pieced of Velcro tape.
But, it's a known strategy for writers to leave their books in drawers (or on Sylvester-cat thumb drives) for a while to gain some distance and perspective.

So, I aiming for that, and for the feedback from my readers on the book as a whole.

And when I come back in mid-October, I will be deep in editing phase. After which, there will be a Query letter writing phase. Then looking for the right agent phase. Then submitting phase. Then biting my nails phase. Then the drinking phase. Then waiting by the e-mail box phase.

How fun.

But for now, I am happy. I'm looking forward to my trip. So very much. I have it all planned out. The Highclere castle, and the gardens and the Egyptian exhibition tickets.  Tea at Downtown Abbey (You're envious, admit it!) And the British Museum, Sherlock Holmes museum, Neal's Yard in Covent Garden... and drinking pints and English breakfast with my London friends...and the afternoon tea...

As soon as I read and edit the last two chapters.

So, ten days to we go...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fal-mith or Fal-mouth and fried clams face-off

I haven't eaten this much fried food in a year. 

No wonder some of the South Shorers/ Cape Coders are a little...what should I say...hmmm...fluffy? I would be too if I lived here.

I'm a vegetarian who flirts with veganism. But on vacation, I'm just a vegetarian. I find it impossible to be vegan when staying with friends, meat, dairy, fish-eating relatives or in a hotel. Vegetarian included a bit of sea food. So pescaterian, I guess.

So, I tried what New England does best. Fried clams. Fried scallops. But no lobster or crab.
I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't know that lobster and crab are cooked alive (horror!) until last year. I know, I must be dumb, right? Well, it's not like I have grown up by the sea. I haven't even knew what a lobster was until I came to Boston for the first time ten years ago.
So, since I realized that lobsters and crabs feel pain and suffer terribly, I stopped eating them.
But what do you eat in the land where lobster is on the national flag and in the anthem?
Scallops and clams.
Yes, I believe they don't have the central nervous system, therefore, cannot feel pain? I hope? ( I should do research on that...)
So, yesterday I tried fried clams in Lobster Hut in Ply-mouth, and today in Haddad's in Brant Rock, i.e. Marshfield. It's where Steve Carell has a general store. (I love Steve Carell.)

Anywho, the Ply-mouth fried clams were way better! Rounder, and bigger, and softer and just more delicious.
I would pass on Haddad's clams. Just ok. Just eatable.
I hear their clam chowder and award-winning. But I haven't tried it yet. Not enough room.

My second observation about Cape/South Shore.
The names of the towns are hilarious! And you have to know how to pronounce them, you can't just read them.
I like to call Plymouth, Ply-mouth. And Falmouth, Fal-mouth. I guess some people with very bad mouths once upon the time lived there. Foul-mouthed people.
(I know, I find that funny. You feel sorry for me right about now. Oh well. I did good in Charades today!)

Then there's my favorite one. Sandwich. That must took a while to come up with. Then Mashpee. Makes you hungry.

So, I think the town names are the second reason people here are plumper than in DC.

And, I bought great little whale earrings in Falmouth. Amazing views of the ocean and the ferries to Martha's Vineyard from the Nobska Lighthouse, cute little main street with a patisserie making dark chocolate raspberry mouse desert.
Also recommended.
Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Travelogue: Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth

If you're heading toward Cape Cod, make sure you stop at Plymouth.

There's a great place on Main Street, Kiskadee Coffee Company (18 Main Street), where you can get a decent cup of coffee and free Wi-Fi, and lots of smiles.

After that, go down the hill to Lobster Hut for fried whole clams! (Delicious and heart-attack inducing, but mostly the delicious part.)

Then after that, and maybe a little bit of shopping or strolling on Main Street, where you can see women walk with pet rats, go to Plimoth Plantation.

I have traveled quite a bit, but have never seen anything like the Plimoth Plantation.

Its Wampanoag village and especially the 17th century English village are definitely worth the trip.

The Wampanoag village is small small-spaced reenactment of how Wampanoags lived before the English settled. People dressed in Wampanoag clothes will answer any questions you might have while sitting on dead animals, or crafting a boat, or making a corn porridge. The men are also scantily dressed if that is what you enjoy.

But the English village is even more impressive in my view since the actors there talk the same way English talked in 1620, and answer questions as if it were 1620. So, to an actor's question where I came from, I said the Ottoman Empire. To that he said he encountered some pirates once from the Ottoman Empire. I'm guessing they weren't very nice.
Then I asked him why would a printer (that was his occupation in England) leave London, come to America and work as a farmer, and he said he was the second son and couldn't inherit land there. All land in England had already been owned. But in Plimoth, if he worked hard for seven years, he could get a 100 acres. He would have been happy with just one, he added.

The whole village is absolutely a brilliant idea and a well-executed one. Together with the live Wampanoag songs, English women buttoned up to their necks next to fire in 87 degree weather, and live milking of a goat that didn't seem to mind it so much, it is definitely worth the time and money.

Go, see, learn, prosper.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Travelogue Day 1: Beware of Budget Rent-A-Car

Greetings from Boston's South Shore, where the nights are freezing in August and the air is salty.

Smooth ride from DC to Boston. JetBlue. One hour. Piece of cake.

But then, only then, the hell unleashed.

Prepaid a car through USAA with Budget.

Oh, if I only had a time machine.

There was a line out the door. Fifty people waiting. Twenty crying children. The bathroom looked worse then once upon a time at a border crossings between Serbia and Macedonia. Dirty, toilet paper only on the floor.

The Budget employees move around at glacial speed. One of them takes a break. The other one asks him"what did you get?" He answers "sea food." He leaves now 60 people in line with only one person working. 30 screaming children.

Tiny little socialist looking room is sweaty, musky.

I intercept an employee to complain. "Everyone available is working," he "ma'am's me.

People are nervous, the employees are laughing to each other, they tell customers not to complaint otherwise it will take "longer."

I call the Budget's office in some God forsaken village near Tulsa, OK.
In a redneck accent he says:"I can't help you ma'am. I'm not there."
I ask for the manager. He can "write it up," but he can't do anything about it either. The Logan Budget manager has left.

Finally I get to the counter after an hour of heartburn. I give her a prepaid confirmation. He disregards it and finds another person's reservation and charges me for that one.
I say no. I already paid.
She doesn't understand what I'm saying. I try again. Nothing.
I say until the 23rd. She says the computer says until the 25th. I show my confirmation. She still doesn't get it.
My husband is about to lose it. He asks what circle is this?
I'm glad I don't carry a gun.

She finally asks for help, and finally gets that she was looking at someone else's reservation. An hour and a half. No apology. Doesn't know how to say thank you or welcome.

She gives us a car with a wrong name on the rental agreement.

We speed away.

Life is too short.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tango Americano

I think I have a girl crush on my Tango teacher.

Yes, I took a beginner's Tango lesson today. My first in the United States.
And it was...not what I expected.

For one, we were partnered up immediately. Unfortunately, not with attractive young men. Or women. Nor with talented ones.

So, my partners' age range was from about 40 to 70. No, I'm not kidding. There was a 70-year old Russian man there today, dancing with me, asking me to "lean in."
Hmmm...I guess I was leaning back? Self-preservation? No wonder I have lower back pain.
p.s. He probably owns half of Montenegro.

Anyway, back to Tango.

My first ten minutes, I was thinking No way am I coming back to this. It was slow. The men couldn't follow the beat, tempo. Kept stepping on my socked feet. Yes, I went to Tango, ladies and gentlemen, in my sneakers. And was politely asked to take them off.
In case you didn't know, you Tango in shoes. There. Now I feel extra dumb.

Back to the men. They should I put this... really really bad. And they all smelled of very strong colognes.
What is it with Tango and long squirts of cologne? Literary every one of them was cologne-full.
And not of a good kind.

Then, I got to dance a bit with the male teacher, whose cologne was yummy, who obviously knew what he was doing, knew how to lead and was nice and cute. So that helped.

But my female teacher. Oh, my. Let's just say, for an hour there, I wish I were gay. Or she were gay.

She was/is British. So she obviously has that uptight British accent.(I like uptight). Everyone knows I'm the biggest Anglophile there is. Oh come on, I have seen Sherlock Holmes and Downtown Abbey about 37 times. Each. I have been to London eight times!

Then she was so fragile looking, gentle, and sophisticated, like a doll. And, oh, beautiful and so pleasant, nice and funny even.

Hence the girl crush. I don't get those often. (Next thing you know, my girlfriends start avoiding me. Please don't.)

So, now, a dilemma.

Do I stay away from all the beat-less, stinky, unattractive men? Or do I go back to enjoy the woman?
That is the question?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A birthday card that made me cry

Sometimes I forget I'm an immigrant. Maybe because I'm an American citizen. Maybe because I'm married to an American. Maybe because my sister and her family are American too. Maybe because I'm bilingual. Or because I write and dream in English. Maybe because I went to graduate school here.

Then something happens like a birthday card arriving from Serbia.

My husband said last night: "You have a letter from your mother."

Letter from my mother?!?! First comes panic. Then I glance at the envelope on the table and it's big and thick.
Oh, it's a card. Of course. My birthday is in a week. My mother always sends me a card. I always send her a card too. That's how I was brought up.

So, I'm happy, I open the card, but then, as I'm reading throat clenches and I feel my nose twitching and my eyes watering up.

Yes, I'm an immigrant, and the words like:" I love you more than anything else in the world, and on your birthday I'm going to go to church to thank God he gave you to me, since I cannot be with you...."

Even now, I'm in a cafe, and I'm choking back tears so my mascara wouldn't drip into my latte and people wouldn't come by to give me their therapists' cards.

If you're an immigrant who left part of your nuclear family in another country, you will understand me.

If not, just try to.

Being an immigrant is like running a race where everybody's lane is flat, and yours has hurdles.

My books touches a bit on this issue.

Let me post this before my nose starts dripping down on my laptop...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Confessions of a germophobe

Today I had my annual gynecological exam. Yes, women, smart women have preventative gyno exams once a year. Deal with it.

So, I'm waiting for the doctor to come in when the nurse comes back into the office to :"check something:"

She meddles with the tray with plastic gloves and swabs and such wonderful things :(

Then she leaves the room, and I notice that she touched the door knob twice and didn't wear gloves, and didn't wash hands before touching the gloves my gynecologist is going to examine me with.

The following is my train of thoughts from that moment until the doctor walked in:

Should I throw those gloves away and put new ones on the tray? But I have to wash my hands first. I can do that, there's a sink and soap, even Purell. Oh, I'll be fine. But what if I'm not? I'm in a hospital and these knobs carry some probably very angry germs. Hah, I'll be fine, I haven't even seen until now what they do with the gloves and swabs and I have always been fine. But this one time, what if I don't do anything and then I catch some...uterine virus...or some infection...or parasite...."

At that moment, I decide to act. So I get up from my bed, but not before I put my socked feet into my Chucks, because God knows what's on the floor, and wobble to the tray with gloves. I grab them, throw them into the bin with a "hazardous material" sign, wash my hands quickly, Purell them as well, just in case, pull other two, three gloves out of the glove box with my two fingers, put them on the tray and as I'm dropping them down, my doctor walks in.
I smile and walk back to lay down.
I don't think she noticed that I'm a bit crazy.

Yes, my friends, I am a germophobe.

And I'm getting worse with age.

And behind it all is a fear of getting sick, and a strong belief that I would get sick if I don't wash my hands, or other people don't wash theirs. So, I would rather be safe than sorry.

I'm actually proud of doing what I did. I should have also probably reported the nurse who touches the knobs then gloves for internal exams. But then again, maybe gloves cannot transfer germs. Can they?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Calling all Serb-Americans to star in my book

Checking in.

It is August 2! (Crap, already?!?!)

And I have 79,708 words to plug in.

So, I'm almost there, almost reached my goal.

Oh man, these last few days were brutal, I tell you, brutal!

I bring this chapter, Storm, to my writing-partner/editor, and she very rightfully says: "These are two chapters, not one. Rewrite."

And I look at her elaborate report. Yes, she writes a report. Golden.

And she's right. I see that she's right. She just is. It makes sense. This is why writers make horrible self-readers. No perspective.

Now if this were another person's story, I would have probably said the same thing.

So I start rewriting the same day, full of anxiety, there's my deadline, I can't afford to lose word count, I have a trip coming up, blah blah, but mostly I had no damn clue what to do?!

So I take it slow and work through it, and I can finally say today, I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or the sun above the water.

I'm swimming upstream! (Just hope I don't get caught in some damn net.)

Of course, I'm nowhere near polished completion.
But, pay attention, light!

Also, one of these chapters is about these three Serb-Americans in the States who get drunk, so drunk on rakija over Ceca one evening they glorify Serbia they left behind and trash Americans. So, I myself cannot think of every little genius thing that bugged me when I moved here from Serbia in 2004. It's been a while. So, if you have moved from Serbia to the U.S. in this century, please contact me to tell me what you missed the most? What is it you couldn't stand about America?

It would be of enormous help.

So, I have six more days to build, then a whole month to polish. Then I'm taking off.

My birthday is in the middle too. I have big plans for that marvelous day too!

And a photo shoot planned.

Stay tuned!