Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Happy New Year!

New Year!!
All things considered, my travel to London from Split the went as smoothly as my recent Serbia / Bosnia border crossing. I began this blog post on the long road back west; at least I could understand signs without peering at them as if I'm an illiterate, mumbling letters under my breath. This bus is foregoing the logical main road route and instead we are heading into the green bit of google maps. Green means bumpy squiggly roads, and black ravines. On the bright side after 4 hours high-volume non-stop Spanish, plummeting to my death would be a relief frankly. How can ten people make so much noise...we need a some kind of sound barrier in here.


Anyway back to the 28 December. As if to remind me what a spectacular day Ives and I had previously, the tiny Split plane circled over Brač as the sun rose. I felt a wrench as always when I leave this place. Or it could have been the punč. Unsurprisingly given the state of my head and stomach I was asleep before we reached altitude. I awoke on landing in the pink haze of an icy snowy Zagreb. With a mild panic I wondered how my bag knew to change aircraft. It was probably more knowledgeable than me. Transfers were directed through to passport control and we all went off to our different gates. Efficiency followed for Amsterdam, Zurich and Munich. London flights were delayed because of fog. All normal then.

Feeling slightly shell-shocked I was over London fairly soon. I forgave them the delay because I've never seen anything like it. Not even the merest tip of Canada Tower was visible, and that is how I know I'm nearly back. The only building signposting the Thames was the Shard. It cleared a little as we went up-river but remained heavy even as the sun tried to burn it off. We landed lightly and happily my bag had found its way to the same plane as me. I hoped the foggy one had been able to find a tube in this weather. Knowing her she'd end up in Cockfosters instead.

No, all was well and it was lovely being met. We rattled home, both conversationally and undergroundly. And given everyone was in a post Christmas haze, the tube was quite chatty with shoppers and holiday makers making merry. There is always a strange atmosphere of pre-New Year expectation in this twilight December time. My huge rucksacks caused as much havoc as Lou's wayward big pink and blue cases would. But unlike her cases, mine didn't bite anyone. We hopped off at bank and made the change to the DLR and headed to Contrary Towers. And it was just like I'd never been away. 

I had plans to go to Wiltshire to see family, and there was probably going to be some champagne-fuelled dancing. But apart from that I was relaxed about stuff which is pretty standard. All I wanted to do was spend time with the Contrary one. I was supposed to be doing some work so when she suggested a stroll into the office, I was a willing squatter there for a couple of days. Glossing over certain technical hitches (ooops) I spent a relatively productive time there and it was lovely to work in silence with someone you know.

We spent a giggly few hours trying to find sherry glasses for the office mid-Christmas party. But having failed on our mission and being classy types we opted to sup our Harvey's Bristol Cream from champagne glasses. This co-incided with a mildly scruffy feeling and given I had an evening out planned with a very precise young gentleman, I decided a haircut was in order. For some reason I'd not managed to fit in a cut and colour in Split, but I found an excellent and cheap substitute in Mortimer Street. He was extremely disapproving of the asymetry but acquiesed in silent protest. And the gentleman and I had a lovely evening with Andy Saltzman at the Soho Theatre. We  also had a wonderful exchange with a tipsy Irish lady who wanted to run off with my haircut. Well worth it then.

One outcome of this catchup was a plan for New Years Eve. For reasons which aren't mine to go into, the gentleman arranged for the flirty one and I to take his booking at a local Wapping establishment. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute. Still, we got dressed up and not having a clue what to expect, we opted glamour max. So designer purple lingerie as outerwear was perfect for beardy, tweedy, doggy Wapping. I'm actually now convinced that there are country pubs which are more dressy than central London hipster joints. We drank champagne, ate miniature chicken burgers and danced to 50s tunes. We giggled at people jogging past in fairy lights. Tweedy man followed us around like a lost puppy...or maybe it was his puppy, I can't remember. We left and departed into the strange new world of 2017.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Every snowy cloud

But so warm inside...
The past few weeks has seen me in full traveller mode. As I've been telling people, 'I'm not chasing rainbows, but heating!'. Given that it was so cold at the start of the year on the island, I was happy to accept an invitation from my lovely friend Lou to go to Zagreb. The apartment there promised wall-to-wall central heating with the added bonus of access to snow. We had a perfect week with various diversions which I will write about as-and-when, so I considered hot options in other capital cities. As Lou sadly flew back to London, I caught the 1950's inspired Niš-Ekspres to Belgrade. After a wonderful week there in a snug modern flat, I needed to head back to Split. So naturally Sarajevo was a convenient half-way stopping point. After another entertaining 7 hour bus trip, here I am.

And this week has been warm and comfortable, physically. I'm back in the flat which I stayed in last year and finally met my host and his family. When travelling is going to plan, it is pleasant and unremarkable. So inevitably for February - my most hated month - there have been some difficult times. For instance, mentally and financially this week has been a perfect trial. I’m ‘stuck’ in Sarajevo waiting for a new pair of glasses. Then last weekend my computer broke, my accommodation became uncertain, I was worried about my friend in Split, suffering heartsickness from the idiot I fell for over the summer – and worst of all the anniversary of my dad’s final illness. Feb and March are usually spent in a melancholy haze when in London. So I’m exploring how I feel in this uncertain time, against a backdrop of worldwide uncertainty. Damn reading the news on a daily basis!

The heart of this blog post was taken from an email exchange with Katy of the Bittersweet Life. I had been talking about my worries. She wisely pointed out, 'and when it comes to your life -- where you are -- the in-between-- feels lonely or confusing perhaps, but you know - that is where we all are. In the in-between ...'. I had been pondering why I was in this most 'in-between' capital, even discussing it with my Split friend. Anyway my laptop drama went some way to illustrate why negatives become positives, when looked at from a different point of view.

So after a computer shop recommendation I went exploring the new part of town which, like everywhere in Sarajevo still exhibits war damage and bullet holes in tall residential buildings. Ladies sit begging for food and pennies, and everyone looks at you with open curiosity. Maybe it’s because I walk with London confidence but perhaps I don’t look as local as I feel in Split or Dubrovnik. As the streets got rougher and the graffiti more disturbing, I only felt more curious about this shop.

As an aside I find that if you have a knowledge of the language, the graffiti becomes meaningful and gives an insight into the local politics and atmosphere. This piece said ‘smrt fegotima’ – as I worked it out, knowing smrt is ‘death’, and the -ima means ‘to the’ (pl), I cringed. Death to faggots. Perhaps some parts of Europe have something in common with Trump and the far right. How can hate of difference form such bonds across continents? 

This shop looked like no shiny computer superstore I’d ever been in. Bearing in mind I hate shopping and think that all transactions should be carried out as quickly and communication-free as possible. Add to the fact that I’m woman buying a computer in a totally male dominated part of the world. I was expecting horror! As I went in there was a row going on but I just looked at the shelves, wanting to see something perfect and go.

The lady sat behind the desk caught my eye and said izvolite? What could she do to help me? Leave me alone and cry... I went over and in English asked if they had any more laptops. She told me to take a seat and being English and given an order, I sat. She carried on arguing with the lady and there was a final door slam as the woman left. She turned and smiled at me, saying apparently this lady wanted a refund on a phone she had had for a year and parts of it had clearly been damaged negligently. She explained that the woman wanted to pick an argument because her husband was being difficult.


Whilst debating laptop options with her, we discussed politics, religion, family, prices, new technology and VR and facebook, their new shop, and why I was travelling, and currently stuck in Sarajevo. We talked London, history, places, music... Her view of Trump was ‘many people here in Bosnia are Muslim, why didn’t he ban us too?’ She said her god taught us not to kill, but to love, be peaceful, and care for others. And given that it was the same as Trump’s god, what was the problem with him and Muslims?! My host incidentally has given up joking about Trump and is extremely worried about international business relations. He was also stunned by Brexit and wonders why that when he asks people about it, they are all pro-European! He wonders who voted. One hesitates to comment.

When we finally got round to sales she asked to see my old laptop. I promised to bring it in and they would see if my data was accessible. I left after a couple of hours and I walked back home along the river and through the market. I made an English chicken and mushroom pie for lunch and waited for the call from the shop. When I headed back with the dead computer, I was quite looking forward to seeing them all again. They had fixed me up with windows, an English keyboard, and took my old one apart to rescue the hard drive. Unbelievable service from three people! I finally left the shop at 6.15pm with everything I needed. And the guys thinking I was nuts because I didn’t have any games.

I walked home again thinking that if I hadn’t had this catastrophe I wouldn’t have had so much contact with people. My most interesting parts of being abroad have always been the interactions with others. Even if it is terrifying to step out of comfort zones. People value the exchange of information and views, and it's been great to use apps like Tinder and Facebook to arrange beers and cevapi. I had a wonderful couple of post-work drinks swapping thoughts last night.

Regardless of how low I feel, which admittedly isn't entirely rational at the moment, there are silver linings to every cloud. As I've written about before, it’s so full of colour and detail here, with a raw edge of reality. It’s a good place to be melancholy because you realise how little your problems are, in comparison to the suffering here. After all, the shop assistant’s father was killed in the war. It doesn’t lessen the grief concerning mine, just it comforts me that we are all in this in-between together and we all survive. And live to ponder another day.