Back in the Day

Posted on Saturday, August 27, 2011, under

Back in the day they built scores of Socio-Realistic, khaki-grey, blocks in Belgrade. One such, dubbed televizor, for its windows the shape of a TV screen, stood out as an aesthetic curio. The four-storey block our family lived in was of yellow-grey tint, flanked by trees and us kids playing footy in communal parks.
Back in the day people tended to keep their front door unlocked. A neighbour would knock and step in for chitchat, followed by Turkish coffee cup reading. If a doorbell buzzed, it was either a/ a postman b/ a Gypsy asking for alms or c/ a neighbour returning a hairdryer. Crime was as rare as quail eggs. Instead there were graffiti upon the walls normally in black or creamy white, commemorating love or spite: M. LOVES H.; M. IS MORON.

In padlocked cellars we kept fishing rods, sledges, muckboots, sauerkraut barrels — why padlocked was anyone’s guess. All slept behind wooden bars, like captives forgotten most of the year.
In our block’s cellar this green powdery stuff sat in one corner, a note above it read: ‘Rat Poison, Keep Away’. Tanya once told me she’d seen the little beasts. But I think she made it up just to keep the conversation alive. We would sometimes sit and chat, Tanya and me, at the building entry on the chilly flight of stairs. Our bums were constantly cold. The hall lights would switch off automatically: once they did, we’d switch to a whisper, hoping the light wouldn’t come back on to break our tall enamoured shadows. After Tanya and I bade goodnight I’d leap three steps at a time in pitch dark up to the second floor, knock excitedly. Mum would squint as I stepped into the light.

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Back from Hols

Posted on Sunday, August 21, 2011, under

Back from a three-week holiday in Serbia and Turkey. After a two-day-three-aeroplane journey I am so knackered my senses ignore a foul stench coming from the toilet drain. The walls have absorbed the Japanese summer humidity. On the balcony a cicada, dead on its back. After three days I am still battling a numbing jetlag/stomachache. First night I sleep 14 hours. Second night a deer walks into my dream. I think it is female. She has big chestnut eyes, is standing on top of a flat mushroom-shaped glacier sniffing my bruised hands. I was most likely on the run (recently read Stevenson’s Kidnapped, there is a scene in which David Belfour and Alan Breck are hiding from redcoats on top a flat rock). I wake up mid-dream which happens to be middle of the night, cannot sleep afterwards. Third night I manage to clock 7 hours.

The holidays, by the way, were great. The highlights were visits to Ephesus and Pamukkale about which I tend to write at some point. The whole trip to Europe has been marked, if anything, by unrelated hurts and deaths, especially on television. The recurrences were sporadic, incidental, and perhaps for that reason bore an odd unifying quality. Examples:

In my hotel room TV is on for no apparent reason and Harry Potter’s gothic shadows and hairy spiders only serve to suddenly remind me that I forgot a certain book on the beach: Poe’s famous scarab tale (Did you know that R.L. Stevenson acknowledged Poe’s story’s direct influence on the skeleton in his Treasure Island? Neither did I.)
On CNN Jeff Bridges unravels a ‘theory’ how marriage is one big step towards death (Sure, Jeff).
Riots in Hackney on the Beeb (used to live, eat and love, in Navarino Road).
The dead city of Ephesus.
On the plane from Moscow to Seoul I pick a documentary on Hemingway, who survived a plethora of diseases, from anthrax to dysentery to pneumonia (check out this incredible list of Hemingway’s hurts:, two plane crashes, encounters with bulls, sharks and lions, but not his own shotgun (I recall Norman Lewis strongly hinting at Hemingway’s ultimate inability to cope with deterioration of his bodily functions).
Ah, and that cicada on its back.

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