Dear diary, or should I say dear Belgrade?
Strange how memories sometimes come out at the moment when we don't want them, or believe that we already got rid of them, but they are always present somewhere in our minds, in our hearts and pay us visit when we less expect them. That's exactly what happened to me today.
When I woke up this morning, the sky was dark grey and it was raining heavily. It seemed autumn, yes autumn, and inevitably, or maybe I just wanted it, the view from my window sent me back in the past. Approximately ten years ago. It was 3rd September 2000 and I was about to take a part of my new life adventure simply called Italy. The weather was pretty much the same as today's. I had a feeling that the sky was crying of sadness or those were "tears" of happiness? I had to feel happy, I thought I was happy, as a matter of fact I was happy. Italy here I come!
"Izvini, ti si iz Beograda?" A quite tall, blond girl with a strange accent was approching me ready to shake her hand with mine. I was happy to see that among all that crowd of students there was someone who was speaking my language, except for that "Are you from Belgrade?". At the sound of that name, white city, a capital of my country, Federal Republic of Jugoslavia, I got rigid, almost anoyed, not to say angry. "No, I am not from Belgrade. I am from Kraljevo, but these "stupid" Italians just know for Belgrade, like there were no other cities in Serbia. Let say that I am a temporary Beograđanka. At least during the entrance exams." I replied politely. The girl smiled. "My names is Denis. I am from Pula, in Croatia." I smiled too. From one side I was astonished because one Croatian girl was that open, she made actually the first step towards me, but from the other side I was quite happy. I had a friend, although just for one day, but that was already a plus, considering the entire situation. Unknown country. Unknown people. Among total strangers there was someone familiar, with whom I could speak the same language, and laugh, and even after ten years, almost ten years, I still have my Istrian friend. That was the first time somebody considered me from Belgrade but it was not enough to made me change my mind about it. My destiny was to hate Belgrade forever. I was not aware of the fact that "takes two for tango" and that once I would learn to "dance".
A couple days after the entrance exam I got a telephone call from Denis who was informing me that I passed that exam and that I was in. Unfortunately, that was not her case, but luckily she managed to transfer to the other university in Trieste, while I stayed in Gorizia, a divided town in italian and slovenian part, where my department for international and diplomatic studies was situated. No metter of distance, we continued our balcan friendship. After some problems, one week after the lessons at university began, I finally managed to find a place to live, and I moved from a hotel where I was to a catholic student house only for girls where already some of my female collegues were living. One day one of the nuns told me that there was a girl from my country in the room 99, on the tird floor. And guess what, Snežana, that was her name, was from Belgrade. Oh, no, Belgrade again. It was the second time in a few days and it was a really nightmare. And it was just a beginning.
One day Snežana asked me why I was so allergic to her hometown. Was that obvious? , I was asking myself. You do not hate something or someone for nothing. There must have been something. And it was. For the very same reason I refused Marina's proposal to study English together at the Belgrade university. A part of the fact I really wanted to leave Serbia because I was fed up with a Milošević regime and I saw the only way out in quitting the country. I learned Italian in six months. Yes, I wanted to study abroad, but in case that something went wrong with this plan A, my plan B would never be Belgrade. No way! Snežana thought that was some love delusion behind this Belgrade resistance, but she was quite away from the truth. I simply hated Belgrade because..yes why? Because Belgrade stole my childhood, that's why! But town itself can not be guilty. The roots of this hatred were deeper and they were even leeding to my hometown. Did I hate both, Belgrade and Kraljevo, and was I simply running away from both with that life trip to Italy?
Everything began when I got born. In winter of 1979, 4th December, in a city hospital where a so-called doctor, after beating my mum, left her at the surgery table with the words that her shift was over and that she did not care neither for me nor for my mother. While nurses called other doctor, they lost a lot of time and while my mom was dying, the doctor arrived. They pulled me out somehow and they tore some nerv of my back which caused my immobility. I was ok, I began to speak on time, but I was not able to walk. When you live in the province, when doctors can't fix things, they simple wash their hands, and they send a patiant to some capital hospital. That's how I ended up, at the age of a couple months, to Belgrade. Until I was four, when I made my first own steps, I spent some time in various hospitals, mostly at the institute for mother and child. Nobody knew why I was not able to walk and they suggested to my parents to address some "upper forces". My mum and dad brought me to various nadrilekari. We never knew what exactly happened, but on Bogojavljenje of 1984, I made first steps, thank God, sometimes miracle happends and maybe that was my cases. However, from time to time I had to go back to Belgrade, for various check ups, and I was always upset. Bad memories were stronger than I was and they guided me through entire my life and they still do. The last bad memory is of 1994, when I had a plastic surgery at Tiršova. Again some doctors made a mistake and I had to pay. It was probably my destiny but all these things made me a better and stronger person. And that was a story I told to Snežana. For the first time I was able to do it and to face all my fears. Soon, after her Erasmus ended, Snežana left and from that point, I believe, the revenge of Belgrade had the official beginning.
Last night I mentioned internet. At some point I began to chat. Something, some strange force, made me visit always the room Belgrade, and I started to chat with Beograđani daily. After every day, I was noticing that my mood was changing. It was not easy to admit why I hated that much their town, and they were all insisting on Belgrade's beauty, people. I always considered people from Belgrade uobraženima, they were full of themselves. Period. Full stop. And they were angry because of that. In that period I began to write my book and unconsciously I located the story in Belgrade I even didn't know, nor I wanted to know. It was the first serious sign I ignored. Consciously this time. In summer 2003 I came on holiday in Serbia and my chat friends proposed me to spend one weekend in Belgrade. If I had refused, they would consider me coward, so I accepted. It was my first visit in peace. I had fun, I admit, but I was far away to consider our capital a friendly town. It needed some years. Four to be precise.
In spring of 2004, my faculty organized a study field trip to Balcans. One week in total, two das, guess where, in Belgrade. It was a great week, really, except one negative note. While we were leaving Belgrade, I, for no reason, began to cry. I was shocked! Was I sad because of leaving Belgrade! Couldn't be! No way! And another year passed. Again spring, a year after. I decided to write about Jugoslavia - Vatican state relations after the II WW, that was my BA thesis topic, and my mentor had a brilliant idea. He sent me to do a research at the State archive, where? Not in Rome, for undergraduate student is not possible to visit state archives, but again where? In Belgrade! One month in Belgrade, on Medak III. This time I made a tourist. I was going everywhere with a map of town, and I discovered, peace by peace, some new Belgrade. A different Belgrade. Even lovely, to some extension. But the really conversion was possible only in 2007. In summer of 2007.
I knew Jelena from some internet forum and at some point, somewhere between 2005 and 2006, we began to chat on msn. At that time I was at MA in Forlì, and she was studying Spanish in Belgrade. We had a lot of things in common. We were studying "together" online, and chatting in the breaks. And eating, how could I forgot it? :) One day we began to call each other seko, sister, and almost for four year she is for me like a real sister I never had. Meantime, I initiated to listen TDI radio online, with a chatbox, where I "met" Marko, my dear friend, and that summer of 2007, he and Jelena pick me up at the Belgrade's airport, where we met for the first time, and it was like we knew each other for years. I still can hear the ecco of his words when he called me after I landed at the Surčin airport. "There is something tall and blond, it is waiting for you at the exit. I am waiting for you in the car." And then I saw her, holding a pink pack of pink candles, our favourite colour. We immediately hugged each other and I was so happy. My dear belgrade sister. My mum was upset. "A totally unknown gir is coming to pick you up at the airport. You are crazy!" She said. And I laughed. I knew how it would be and it was even better.
That summer Jelena had a mission. To go with me to the Hungarian embassy. One morning I came to Belgrade and we supposed to meet in front of McDonald's , at Slavija square but.... I went to Terazije. "Seko, where are you?" She phoned me. "I am in front of McDonald's." I replied. "Where? I can't see you." "You know, I am near the main entrance. There are some bikes." "Where?" "Here, near me." "I can't see them. Don't tell me that you went to Terazije!" Oh, no. It was exactly what I did. I went to the opposite side. "It seems so." We still laugh about. Now, there is no way that I would make the same mistake." Ivana, I mentioned last night, is Jelena's best friend, a dear and crazy friend I also love so much. I also met her that summer. It was nice. In summer of 2008 she hosted me, while I had some bureaucratic problems to solve at the Italian embassy and I also spent two days at her place last September. I will always blame these two young ladies from Voždovac for my "conversion". And not only two of them. But also some other people as my "addopted" child who still calls me mum. Jovana. And Nemanja. And Ida. Milica, now in New York. Marija H. Bojan, my dear friend I met in Paris. Jelena R., Ivana G., Đole, from that chat period I mentioned before. Tijana K. I met in Italy. And ofcourse, people from the Alpbach summer school. We spent great 12 days in Belgrade this autumn.
You know, I applied for job in Belgrade. I don't know whether I will get accepted or not. But I know one thing. I learned to "dance". And for me, now, there are no doubts. Belgrade is a sort of home. A place where I am happy and where live some people without whom my life would not have the same sense. Seko Jejo, Ivana, hvala!
Good-night Belgrade, I miss you!