After so many years, it is still a question which I am asked repeatedly. Do you like it here? Do you like living in Serbia? Generally I continue to answer affirmatively. The fact is that I am here, after having been here for quite a long time. And having no plans to move away, I guess I must like it here...
Oh yes, I mean, IF we are already sick. And IF we get in line early enough. And because only 140,000 doses of the bug are sitting in Serbian vials, by a rough calculation, there is one shot for every 57,142 people.
I would forget to say please (slap). I would omit to say thank you (slap again).I would sometimes burst into a room whose door was closed without knocking (slap-slap). And thus I was taught what everyone in America of the late sixties and seventies, my formative years one might say, called "good manners" and "being polite."
With the spate of price increases here and there of excises and specific taxes which was landed on our collective heads in Serbia this week - cigarettes, bus tickets, fuel, heating costs, and VAT which affects almost everything else - the government is showing us that they are fresh out of fresh ideas.
It is the System. It is what we blame when things go horribly wrong and when it is not the fault of any one individual. It is a force to be reckoned with in Serbia, but it is equally powerful in all corners of the world.
When anyone deals with public administration and its inherent bureaucratic labyrinths, we blame the System. When anyone is admitted into a public hospital and is treated like a piece of meat on a slab, we blame the System. The System is most often used to explain away the arcane and the unacceptable and most usually pertains to the large behemoths created by big government and big business.
We usually think we don't have enough of it, as if it would suddenly run out. And sometimes time seems to stand still. We set ourselves appointments in time, deadlines in time, and sometimes allow ourselves a timeout.
The whole world has agreed to this arbitrary standard, as a means of segmenting our finite human sojourn on this planet. We have divided it up into a certain amount of months, weeks, days, and hours and we agree to allow it to reign supreme over all our activities. Time is a cruel master - it never bends to our needs and we are forever chasing after it.
As much as the city is being held in the grip of Nature and the adamantine grip of her snow, so do I - after having resisted for several days - feel inexorably pulled into the Snow Trap. I have to write about the snow. I do not WANT to write about the snow! I rebel against its banality in subject matter! I push against its encroaching walls!
Yet here we are....
Despite what appears to be a space which is reserved for a person with some kind of physical disability, in reality it is merely a metaphor for the various societal woes which beset the citizenry and therefore is open to wide and (sometimes) poetic interpretation.
Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, or JAT (1927 - 2013), presented the traveler with a very clear set of rock-bottom expectations - bare minimum of operations, reasonably functioning if less than confidence-inspiring aircraft, fairly bad attitudes both on the ground and in the air, and disproportionately high prices.
That was JAT - it used to be nearly the only way in and out of Yugoslavia - and we loved to hate it.
Having been told to meet our bus in this parking lot to begin the 12-hour trip to Halkidiki, we duly showed up at the appointed time and place. Instead of seeing our bus, however, we saw at least 20 such conveyances, surrounded with hundreds of bag-laden holidaymakers.
The process of transformation had already begun.