(selected stories, translated by Igor Cvijanović)
I often travel by bus, train, airplane, minibus, I don’t bribe customs officers, I manage somehow in awkward situations, I turn their disadvantages into advantages, I paint, I like writing, I live in Novi Sad, I love to read and think about the universe, I’m a patriot without a cause, I’ve been to Norway, Poland, Romania, Austria, Montenegro, Germany and other countries, I have my friends Nataša, Marija, Sidsel, I like airplanes, I’m superstitious, I’m of delicate health, I’m romantic, I like jewelry, I like daydreaming, I can speak English and a bit of German, I often take part in art colonies, I don’t smoke, I dream spectacular dreams, I like summer showers, I like swimming, I like beauty, astronomy, and adventures, I’m more inclined to argue than to forgive, I can’t sing, I don’t like modern folk music, I don’t like noise, I design things, I make ceramic art sculptures and video projects, I don’t like to work under pressure, I have lunch at my parents’ on Sunday, I read when I eat, I’m afraid of lunatics, I don’t like pointed shoes or cotton buds, I detest bones, I believe in reincarnation, I like crime films, I like to show off, I like to be seen, I like red wine, green tea, and to sleep in; but I have never introduced myself like this. Maybe it’s because I prefer to remain as quiet as a mouse, to interpret the picture of others with what I know about myself, and to compose that picture by watching others.
The first sentence might be enough to get to know me, dear Diary. Maybe there isn’t more important information about me. I know you crave exciting events, descriptions, important revelations, big ideas, and actions, but your days are only as spectacular as mine, and there are only five of them. And they’re always tiring. It wouldn’t be nice to ignore all those other days, the ones without markers, flags, spectacles, plots, or breaking points. Because that’s what days are like mostly.
2/12/2015 Darwin Day / BLACK SHEEP
Crossroads. A red light for pedestrians, I stop. A red light for drivers too. They also stop. It’s that moment when we look at each other silently, waiting for the referee to wave his flag and we wonder who’s he going to signal first, them or us? Our looks cross, we assess each other, squinting below our eyelashes. In front of the traffic lights, there is a van with the sign saying Auto Body Mechanic Baštovanović!1 Such a genetic departure in a family of gardeners. A black sheep. How did this happen to them? Is their tradition suddenly broken because of this son or is it in their genes to change their profession often? Do they celebrate the days when they decided to break away from the family tradition? I wonder what Baštovanović’s great-grandfather was, a trader, cobbler, or farmer. And who is going to be the Mechanic’s great-grandchild? Maybe an actor? Or a politician. As if I was better. I hide my unpredictable genetic formula behind the home ground of some ancient ancestor. My surname should be Piščević, brought into this world by my father Ratarević and my mother Kovačević-Šnajder.2 Miraculous evolution.
The contest at the crossroads does not take long. The family rebel gets a green light and goes first. Of course.
1 This surname is equivalent to the English surname Gardener. (TN)
2 These surnames are equivalent to Writer, Farmer, and Smith-Taylor. (TN)
2/19/2021/ International Tug of War Day / DISCO TUG OF WAR
I am cooking and listening to the music hits of the 70s. ABBA starts to sing, I start to dance.
My dog thinks I invite him to dance, so he brings his rope toy. I accept the challenge. Tug of war slash a partner dance. Weird, but not bad.
2/22/2017/ World Thinking Day / BIRDS FROM THE HEAD
My cab slows down. The taximeter monotonously ticks. We stand at a traffic light. I watch the car in front of us. The driver runs his fingers through his hair, he wants to clear his mind. Clouds are reflected on his rear window. The wind changes their shapes. Tock-tock-tock. Two birds fly across the sky. I see their reflection in the glass. At the same time, the man in the car tousles his hair again. From the cab, it looks like the birds have flown out of his head. Tock-tock-tock. If those were his thoughts, who did they dart away to?
3/21/2014/ World Poetry Day / DISCO-BALL
Square mirrors send the circles of limelight in all directions. The disco ball cuts through the gloom of a dusty art café. A circle is on the face of my friend. It stands still on her forehead for a long time, right between her eyes, like the mark that Indian women wear when they are getting married. But that is an illusion. Marija divorced a few years ago on this particular day and she says she’ll never marry again. That’s what we’re celebrating. The circle moves toward her eye. I expect it to cover her pupil. The light bothers her, she keeps moving her head. This sequin kisses her. It shines on her lips while she’s saying the words I can’t hear.
I look at my legs. On my black stockings, the naughty circle shines. Right on my knee. As if a nonexistent light engineer is flirting with me. I look up. A young man talks to a girl at the bar. He has a chaste circle of light on his cheek. Her kiss. A man next to him has the same mark right in the middle of his lower back. I look away. A woman at the neighboring table has the same one on her shoulder. A tattoo. And a young man next to her has a little circle on his waist. On the spot where somebody should pinch him and make him jump. Auch!
Marija talks all the time. About a fellow poet. Talented, but embittered by the whole world, because he can’t, they don’t let him, it’s not fair… I know him, I know that he needs the world only as a sparring partner. He is just like a disco ball with broken little mirrors: he finds it hard to reflect the light.
I ask Marija if she wants another glass of wine. She turns to the waiter and shows him her raised glass. The shining circle from her face slides right to the bottom of the glass.
5/12/2009/ International Nurses Day / HOSPITAL HIERARCHY
I don’t want to sit down. There are only six chairs and three times as many patients. There are older and more exhausted people than me. I feel like I would belong to them if I sat down powerlessly on one of those seats. I am always afraid of this place. I study those gloomy and worried faces. There’s a cloud hovering above all of them, as green as the hospital walls.
Hospitals have a clear hierarchy. Patients and their kin suck up to white clogs of any rank. Proportionally to the seriousness of their condition, they laugh at their jokes louder or more quietly. People in white uniforms walk relaxedly as if they were proteges of some mighty despot. Some of them don’t really look that good, but they’re not aware yet. They don’t understand that the despot can throw them in a dungeon on a whim and forget them forever.
Colorful shopping bags swing by the knees of white uniforms. They contain presents that do not express gratitude but hope that this is the day when the patients get discharged from their disease. They disappear down the hallway. I hear my name on PA. I open the door with an unhappy smile and take the colorful bag out of my purse.
5/19/2010/ World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day / RADIO GARDEN
A stream of water from a rubber hose bounces off clay jugs and flowerpots in the backyard. That’s where the neighbor grows rosemary and several accidental plants, a little bit of moss, a plum sprout, and tiny field flowers. He has thoroughly soaked a chestnut tree, a birch, yellow and red roses, a maple tree, tulips, marigolds, poppies, lilacs, strawberries, and some saffron. The thirsty plants squint and bristle. The garden is becoming calmer. It feels love and repays with its deep greenery.
The murmuring of water stops. I hear it when the wind moves a birch or plum branch. A bird behind the house chirps about its presence. Another shortly caws in the distance. It doesn’t like how it sounds either, so it goes quiet soon. White butterflies touch wet grass. A bumblebee drones to the Hortensia bush. The bell in the steeple strikes two o’clock. Once and twice.
5/24/2022/ European Day of Parks / GREEN SKY
Two drakes fight over a duck that doesn’t know where to run. Her drake defends her, he waddles and grumbles: This is not nice, this is not nice. The other one doesn’t care and follows them, he has only one thing on his mind. Korto and I watch turtles lined on the logs in the water. Their little legs and heads protrude very elegantly from their shells, they soak in the sun’s rays. We pass the bag island, as Đorđe and I like to call it. In fact, it’s an oasis for herons. Grey and immovable, their bodies look like bags hooked into trees. But in Vienna, there are no such bags. On the dog beach, Korto meets new friends, steals their ball, takes it away, and marks it in his doggy way. I apologize to the dogs and their owners.
It has rained. The bags are quiet because they’re fishing, immovable like pikes in the water, grey as branches. One on the left steals a fish from the water and swallows it through its long neck. Frogs croak their lungs out. Three black and white ducks squat in the grass, always in the same place. They comment passers-by as an unsatisfied panel of judges, and they get upset when they see us: here they are again, here they are again, they say and turn away their heads. Đorđe says: Don’t come closer because of the dogs. Dandelions after rain resemble stars on a green sky. A fat, short-legged dog cheerfully chases two ducks, they flee back into the lake. Blu has found a tennis ball and can’t decide who to chase first, the ducks or the little fat dog. Korto growls because he doesn’t want to look like a wimp. A woodpecker inspects the quality of wood and then flies away undulatingly. A young man on a bridge is lovingly staring into his phone in his hand. He is hoping for a torrent of likes. Flowers emit solemn smells of expensive perfumes used by prominent ladies, dressed up for a premiere in the theater. They sit in my box, they’re hot and sweaty. Blackbirds call each other. A dragonfly swoops over canes for the first time this year.
Our streetcar has arrived. We wonder if we’re going to miss it. Our future has just been told by this bird blabbering from a branch, I tell Đorđe; but we didn’t understand it. He answers: It got so carried away chattering that it already reached next week with its prophecy. Yeah, I’m thinking, it reads my diary in advance, aloud, in front of everybody.
6/5/2007/ World Environment Day / NEW TRASHCAN
I love how the lid on a new trashcan in the bathroom nonchalantly makes a full circle whenever I hit it with new garbage. This trashcan has enriched the whole corner of the bathroom. The lid rotates halfway down and then continues the same way up. It wavers a bit before it closes the circle, and then it swings a bit more and stops slowly, returning to the initial position. Gracefully.
6/18/2022/ International Day for Countering Hate Speech / WOOF!
Dogs sometimes bark at each other for no reason. Why are you angry, why are you yelling at me? I’m not yelling, you’re angry! I’m not angry! No? Neither am I. Let’s go sniffing then. Come on! And that’s how a close friendship started.
6/21/2014/ World Music Day / ATONAL MAJA
I’m entertaining Maja in me at a concert of atonal music. I watch musicians, their clothes, hairstyles. I analyze the audience, who’s a musician, who wants to look interested. I fear for a pregnant woman in the audience because the sound is becoming too loud. My womb trembles. But she and her prenatal baby tolerate the screeching, which is interrupted by a deep tone, from darkness, as if from someone’s womb. Then another. The oboist is trying to start a rebellion. He succeeds in it; the instruments get out of control. Each of them sounds like a child discovering the abilities of their voice. There are two Japanese women in the orchestra, one on the right, and the other on the left side. The left one expresses her anger through her violin from one side of the stage. The right one answers with her cello from the other.
An American who didn’t want to immerse into classical music and opera came up with a saying: It’s not over till the fat lady sings. And there she is, coming onto the stage. I rely on her to establish some order. I hear Maja in me giving a politically incorrect shout: Let’s go, fatso!
7/11/2011/ World Population Day / TAKE 5
I love summer showers. When water bursts out from the clouds, time stops. The city takes a deep breath. People go to hide in the hallways of buildings and talk to strangers. One more drink is ordered in cafés. All plans are delayed. Computers are turned off and everybody is looking out of windows. Business meetings are prolonged by informal conversations and jokes.
As if a film director took a megaphone and shouted to everyone: Take five!
8/19/2004/ World Photography Day / MENTALPHOTOSESSION IN TIVAT
I used to think it was bad luck to return the same way you came, so instead of going by the sea, I went down some streets which I could only presume where they led. I still don’t know which beach I’ll go to for a swim. Houses and gardens draw my attention. I can’t take photos of them, because I don’t take my camera with me when I go swimming. I can only memorize what I see.
An old metal fence, hopelessly neglected, a lot of flowerpots on the stairs, and a sporadic flower. Click, go my eyes. The fence has seen off a good deal of time, which is always better and more innocent if it is long gone.
A similarly neglected house, with no flowers in the garden to make it magical. Seven men’s underpants on the clothesline. The previous week. The underpants are dull in color, neither grey nor blue, and a bit creased. It all looks sad, I’m looking for a new shot.
The eighties. Stairs with no banister leading to the upper terrace. On top of the stairs, an elderly woman is sitting. I can’t see her upper half because of the flowerpots on the terrace. I only see her polka-dotted skirt. Next to her, there is a cat, I see its tail. Its legs are on one side of the stairs, and the tail on the other. The granny has a tail! Click! Click! I saw a witch! The tail lazily sways at the same pace as the slipper on the toes of the crossed leg…
I run like mad, to the first beach. I swim for a whole hour. The sun sets to the right, the Earth rushes to the left. I watch my hands making half circles and pushing water in front of me like silk. On the first wave, that big star twinkles a few times. I watch the second, third, and then the fourth half circle of water which my hands make. Cypresses from the peninsula dive into them, headfirst, and then replicate that image on every wave… I hear my breath and my shoulders coming in and out of water. The sound of water. My breath. A stroke. A piece of shit. There you go. A touch of reality in every film. A dead wasp on my right. In front of me, a little piece of shit.
I come out of the water. A bony man with a bucket in his hand announces through his nose that he sells corn for a euro. Two shaved heads with golden chains around their fat necks are quiet on the sunbeds under sunshades and are looking out to the sea. From one of their phones, Severina sings My dear.
I put my hands on the pebbles. I feel a hair and cigarette butt under my fingers. A young man in a canoe. There’s a dog on its bow. The dog might not like water, but it likes its canoeist so much that it would risk getting wet just to be with him. The dog is calm and showing off. The man is rowing to the shiny strip going from the coast to the horizon. They don’t know that they’re just entering the extension of the sun. I risk hurting my eyes. I wait for them to disappear in the whiteness. Click, click, click…
I return to the house on the shore following the wave line. A man in yellow swimming trunks pushes an orange beer crate to let me pass, and then he sits on it and looks at the sea.
In my elegant sandals, I wade through the water, I slip on a rock, and become a funny image myself. Olive Oyl the swimmer in trouble on slippery rocks. Click. Before I go into the house, I take another look to photograph the sunset. I turn on the boiler, take a piece of paper and a pencil, and sit down on the terrace to develop my photos before the water is heated.
10/3/2020/ World Grey Hair Day / GREY IS NEW BLACK
Who’s your human, a beagle asks Korto. The tall one there, with grey hair, he’s pointing his muzzle toward me. Grey hair is fashionable now. Whoof, says the beagle. And what does fashionable mean? Hmm, Korto mumbles. I’m not sure exactly. Look, there’s a ball! Woo hoo, the beagle exclaims.
10/4/2011/ World Animal Day / ENDANGERED SPECIES
A train shrieks in the bend like a dying dinosaur. It rested on a straight patch, but in a new bend, a new turn of agony ensues. Is this the last dinosaur on Earth? The last dragon, as dinosaurs were called by curious ordinary people, long ago, before archeologists appeared. These might be new dragons, with renewed genes, from the ancient egg that Jeff Bloom smuggled into Europe.
We arrive at the station. There’s another train approaching us from the opposite direction. It speeds up while we slow down. At the same pace. Our windows pass theirs. I didn’t even realize we were stopping until the faces in the long line of windows had oozed from our windows. We stop. The iron animals passed each other so elegantly. Like they were seducing each other.
The dinosaur had some rest, and now we’re on the move again. I listen to the struggle to survive, which continues in the front part of the train. I think the wounded dinosaur is attacked by a smaller, but pretty lively member of the extinct species. They bicker a bit but without any serious animosity. They hiss and lazily screech at each other. Occasionally you can hear the trunk of a broken tree flying, after the stronger one blows it with its tail. Then they glide low through the air together, not shrieking but hissing like dragons, while their wings flutter on the wind. And they drift like that all the way to the next bend.
10/10/2015/ World Mental Health Day / A LOST THOUGHT
My parents expect me for Sunday lunch. The day is cloudy and warm. A pleasant fall without colors. Nothing from the real world attracts my attention enough to draw my thoughts to the surface. I’m not interested in the street or passers-by, I’m just thinking. Even about the thinking itself. On an unmarked street crossing, I must react with my lower part of consciousness. I stop and abruptly exit my thoughts. I cross the street and realize that I feel a certain kind of pleasure because of an interesting conclusion, but I don’t know which one. I go on, convinced that this thought will come back to me. But it doesn’t. I listen all the way to the next corner. Nothing. I try my usual method and remember what I was thinking about before I was abruptly called to pay attention to general security. What was I thinking about near that bakery, and then near the supermarket, then the photoshop… My thoughts return one by one, but the one that was there before the crossing is just not here. I’m not giving up on it just like that. It aroused a good feeling. Like it was important. I decide to go back and get it, like forgotten keys.
I go back, I cross the street, and then I stop at the same place where my thoughts were interrupted. Just like then, I look toward the kiosk across the street. The mind always follows the look of eyes. When it drifts away out of the window at dawn, the memory of a dream goes with it. That’s how my idea disappeared. My eyes wander, looking for it. A driver in his car impatiently waits for me to cross the street. I go toward my parents’ place reluctantly. Our lunch is getting cold, but I don’t care. I turn, cross the street, and go back again. I do it a few more times as if I was looking for money that I dropped from my pocket. That’s what people on the street probably think, so I’m not ashamed to search for my free thought so devotedly. They also try to look down at the concrete imperceptibly, so that they first catch a glimpse of my lost treasure.
The empty feeling in my stomach finally sets me back to lunch. I walk slowly. My thought has vanished into thin air, into dust and dark. I want to believe that I’ll find it again on my own. If it ever returns to me, even in another form, will I recognize it? Or has somebody stolen it away already?
10/16/2016/ World Food Day / LITEROGURMANIA
I’m eating soup and fret above Haghenbeck’s culinary tale about the life of Frida Kahlo. I mustn’t splash soup over its pages. Dad took the book from the library, and I borrowed it from him to read another thing or two about my fellow artist. I follow the plot and my thoughts simultaneously: What did I put into this soup last time because it was so good… Haghenbeck helps. Not to remember, but to try something new. I combine my recipe and “Frida’s recipe” for rice soup, and I make dream soup. Mm-hmm-mmm…
Am I witnessing a new literary trend or is it a coincidence that I consecutively read books in which novels are spiced by recipes and food descriptions? In The Prague Cemetery, Eco fills his character’s moral atrocities with a seducing feast containing meals I don’t know, but which sound so noble that they make my mouth water. Murakami writes volumes of romances, sugarcoating them with his main character’s culinary ingenuity. It crossed my mind to look up online the culinary excerpt from 1Q84. I would borrow it again and look up those parts myself, but I can’t fret again over soup and pudding stains on someone else’s books.
In Lazy Days, Erlend Loe peppers the life of a middle-aged Norwegian man with an obsession with a sensual TV chef Nigella Lawson. Her recipes are probably good too, but her light blue sweater… And where are female recipes? Maybe I don’t read female writers enough? My connection between literature and gastronomy exclusively amounts to reading books while eating, but while I’m waiting for the soup from the Haghenbeck-Frida recipe to cool down, I realize I have an ambition. I want to make my contribution to literature.
I present the recipe for Mediterranean muffins.
1 bag yeast
½ sugar teaspoon
1 Vegeta teaspoon
1 basil teaspoon
1 salt teaspoon
375 g flour
80 g green olives without stones
40 g capers
275 ml water or milk
100 ml olive oil
Mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then put them together. Spoon the mass into oiled muffin cups. Bake in the oven at 210° C for about 20 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite literature.
10/17/2011/ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty / BRACA’S TRICK
I rush to work. The square is a bit dusty because of the distant traffic sounds. I don’t like the silence. It makes this space empty and too big. I look around to find the busker. I worry I won’t hear him and that the colorless facades are going to merge with the worries of people passing by. Braca plays the mandolin in the square every morning. A smile is etched on his face, but sometimes it is imperceptibly overlaid by the shades of real feelings. He sits by the monument every morning, with those smiles on his face, patient, gathered around his little instrument, whose strings vibrate so lightly, like someone dear to you has just burst out laughing.
A familiar sound echoes from the greyness. My heart opens with happiness. Music sprinkles the street just like Tinker Bell sprinkles the lost boys with the magic powder. Sun rises in my thoughts. From my standing position, I jump four meters into the distance like a deer, several times. I spread my arms and sway my long fingers left and right following the rhythm of the music, like seaweeds carried by warm currents. Braca plays the theme from Doctor Zhivago and improvises the sections that he can’t remember well or finds boring. The notes from his strings glow on the decorations around the windows of decrepit houses and the metal frames of extinguished neon signs. I leap into another pirouette before I softly land on the tops of my toes.
In reality, I just make my smile visible. I collect myself, take a breath, and go on walking just like everyone else on the street. An older man in a hat bends over and puts money into Braca’s box. Did he jump for joy at the same moment as me? I wonder what his choreography was like.
12/22/2017/ Global Orgasm Day / SLEEPLESS NIGHT
I want to watch a movie whose main character will be me. A movie without stress, with no unpleasant encounters. A comedy, fantasy, romance, science fiction… Maybe to walk until my feet get off the ground and then by walking to soar high enough so that I can do loops and run through the wind all around, like through water. But the sleep isn’t coming. The noise from a restaurant near my hotel keeps it at bay. Black are the eyes of the Vlach girl that seduced me… Why didn’t I have more wine, maybe I would fall asleep more easily. A kolo takes over. It rocks my bed and indulgently demands attention.
Is somebody knocking on my door? A wooden sound interrupts my sleep. I can’t determine where it comes from. No, it’s not that sharp to be on my door. A neighbor’s door? No. Regular banging continues. I hear a woman’s voice: Ah. The noise won’t stop. She repeats: Ah. A male voice responds curtly: Agh. As if she’d just remembered something, she exclaims: Ah! But the noise stops, and the hotel becomes quiet again. It’s three o’clock. The shower hums and the toilet tank is filling. Sleep alights on my eyelids. But maybe not on everyone’s.
Baam! Toom-toom-baam! It’s still dark. Maybe it’s the hooligans. I don’t hear anyone asking for help. I don’t hear drunken voices either. Bam! Metal sounds are loud, but there’s no rage. Garbagemen are emptying dumpsters. They use decibels to say they are angry because they have to work so early while the whole hotel is asleep. I don’t know if I dreamed anything. The noise fills my mind. I’m trying to retrieve my sleep, but it’s getting further away from me. Rrkk-hr… Rrrkkk-hr… In the room with the rhythmical bed, the man sleeps like a baby. Every room around can hear that. I see her wide-open eyes staring at the dark ceiling while the chains of snoring roll over her body. She’s not asleep, I’m sure. But I’m not sorry for her, she chose him. I am sorry for myself.
Light wakes me. The sun rises. The neighbor is quiet now, and maybe only saliva is oozing from his mouth onto the pillow. Dear birds start a lively conversation. They chat about the meaning of life and breakfast, so sweetly that they take me back to sleep.
Ti-dit! My cell phone says I got a message. My lovely man wrote something gentle. He’s already awake and wants to see me. I decide to send him a kiss and a nice word when I wake up, and I keep sleeping.
Riiiiiing, the phone alarm is shrill and persistent. I move it away. I daydream about the dream. I never watched a whole movie, only the trailers. I don’t know where to start the day. I doubt it’ll be different from other days, but I’m curious. I get up.
Of course, there are spectacular days in my life, those that are for a film, or a story. But, I tell you, there are only five of those in total. I memorize some because they turn into anniversaries. Births, deaths, important calls, first encounters, buying, selling, decisions, accidents… About the other thousands of days, I can say in short that I don’t even know if they existed. They flash and disappear, boring, tiring, ordinary, unrepeatable, unreturnable. I have no regrets, I always think the best day is yet to come.
Instead of memories, I collect photographs, personal documents, paid receipts, biographical phrases, letters, emails, train and other tickets, melodies, smells, flyers left in pockets… I don’t keep a diary, but I note down a few things as evidence of my presence. I forget the rest, I need room to look forward. From other people’s memories, stories about me that I forgot spring up sometimes. They don’t remember what I remember about them either. Perhaps everyone was born to memorize only a part of the puzzle, a detail from the big picture of the world. Perhaps everyone was born to be an ordinary day without which the year wouldn’t be complete. Every day furtively wants to wear a crown, to be a birthday, New Year’s Day, a cause for celebration, party, or joy. That’s why I sometimes celebrate what’s important to others: fruits of the Earth, literacy, food, information accessibility, oceans, butterflies, dolphins, family, tolerance, bosses, hiking, public service, rhinos, young doctors, water, mental health, noise protection, jumps, population, Sun, postal service, tourism, orgasm, media freedom, intellectual property, migratory birds, apples, beer, or the lefthanded.
Day after day I learn to joyfully see every single one of them, even those with no markers, flags, spectacles, plot, or breaking points. Because that’s what days are like most often…