Archive for January, 2009

January 22, 2009

Thinking properly, part 2 – looking Lady Destiny in the eyes

I enter the small flat. They are sitting at the kitchen table. Greetings are exchanged, and we begin the process.

I translate their words to Jenny, the social worker. Her very calm, soothing demeanor makes it difficult for me, and even them, to be nervous. I convey their story – the sad history, the current situation, the outcome they desire.

They answer her questions. She asks them more. They speak about everything, calmly and truthfully. They do what they must – slowly, they lay their lives in front of us on the table, bare and defenseless.

I look into their eyes, and they look at mine. For a moment, I become a part of their world, of them. I may be translating their words coldly and objectively, but I cannot help feeling incredibly moved by the whole situation. Their lives, and the lives and destinies of two more persons they care about immensely, will be determined by this conversation, by this appraisal of whether or not they are… adequate.

We finish. I say goodbye to the family. It is a truly strange feeling; stepping into someone’s life, watching them talk about their most private, most important thing in their world, and then disappearing, probably never to see them again.

I take Jenny to the tea-place where just hours ago I had a very special situation of my own.  We talk about the adoption case, Serbia and life in general. I receive my payment and we say our goodbyes.

I cannot talk about the adoption case in detail, because I am forbidden by law, but it is not necessary. What is important here is to realize that, yes, there are special moments; moments which have enormous impact on how your life will go from there on.

But they are not always so clear and powerful. In fact, they are a lot more common than you think. But too often we say no to them.

It could be from fear, or social conditioning, or indifference, or any combination of those. In any case, the result is that you say no to them; and because of that you don’t organize that road-trip, you don’t meet that amazing new person and you don’t learn that language you always wanted to. You miss a chance not to grow, but to flourish. Because you thought that it wasn’t anything important.

I passed by Dina on the street, and our eyes met. We, stopped, talked and realized we don’t know each other, but exchanged phone numbers anyway.

Two months later, I promised to her I’ll visit her in Paris next summer.

Next summer, I visited her in Paris. I slept in 5 different places, from a student’s flat so small you literally cannot lie down on the floor (don’t ask about the bathroom. Just don’t.), 10 minutes by foot from Notre Damme, to a spacious apartment in a luxurious suburb.  I met Laura, Penelope, David, Vladi, Brankica and others. I had breakfast with Milica on Montmartre. I walked, relaxed, read books, planned my experimental workshop and also learned a lot about myself. Being alone most of the day in a beautiful city had that effect, among many others.

My trip to Paris was a fantastic experience, and I have no idea how much further it will positively influence my life.

But it wouldn’t have happened if Dina and I didn’t look each other in the eyes. And decided to stop. You know, just to check if we know each other.

So, say yes to those moments. Learn to recognize them and capture them before they pass you by. Listen to that voice. It takes practice, and, as with everything in life, you will make mistakes. Some of those moments will lead absolutely nowhere. But some will make you go to places or do things or meet people you never dreamed you would.

Like when our eyes met. And next summer, I was in Paris.

to be continued

January 12, 2009

from Rembrandt to Jack Daniels – doing vs. wanting to do

Nikola: “Hey, there’s an exhibition of Rembrandt’s work in Zagreb, wanna go?”

me: “I don’t listen to hip-hop.  Yeah ok, but it’s not like I’ll understand it.”

Nikola: “Yeah, me neither, but can’t we at least give it a try?”

True. And besides, I’ve been having a growing desire to understand art. Until recently I was pretty much part of the “What’s the big deal with Mona Lisa anyway?” crowd. Ok, I still am. I’d like to understand art, enjoy it etc. but I don’t really know how. All of my attempts to get to know art had ended in my looking at paintings and going “Oh look, a naked lady, drawn nicely. Oh, a guy sitting very still, thankfully not naked, drawn nicely. Booooriiing”.  I’ve never felt the je ne sais quoi you’re supposed to feel when in front of a masterpiece.

And don’t get me started on abstract art.

However, after a few years of an on and off relationship with drawing, combined with an awesome high-school art teacher, my art sense finally started tingling. It’s not something I can really express in words, other than, well, I’d really like to stand in front of a large picture and finally understand that je ne sais motherfucking quoi.

So, off I went to Zagreb.

A little back-story. Nikola, who invited me, is a friend I’ve known since we were kids. Since he’s from Split, our friendship for the most of our lives was  “that cool dude I see once or twice a year” i.e. whenever I go to visit my mom’s family from Split.

That was until one december evening of 2005 when we were chatting and he suggested we could walk across Spain. I took him up on the offer, and next summer we spent one month walking some 800 km, from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. It was an amazing experience, and one of a number of examples of Nikola and me motivating each other to, simply put, do things.

Because Nikola is one of those people who do things. If they want to do something (and they often do), they usually make it happen. Spain is one example. Another is a several thousand miles long trip across land and sea from Croatia to Japan (Croatian only, but lots of nice pics). Or a group of creative people he organized which made several satirical and Monty-Pythonish sketches which were a small sensation in Croatia (homepage is in Croatian only).

A lot of people have ideas. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a road-trip?”. “I have the bestest idea for a best-selling book ever” “Being an interpreter is awesome, all I have to do is learn 4 languages.” And stuff like that.

However, when it comes to making those things happen, it’s oh so easy to postpone them. “I’ll start tomorrow, honest.” “I don’t have the time now, I have to study for exams.” “It’s not like I really wanted to do that anyway.” And stuff like that.

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January 2, 2009

Thinking properly, part 1 – when Lady Destiny is a guy with a stutter

“Hello, is this Relja? I am calling concerning your interpreting services for the adoption case with the _______ family.”

“Ah, yes, I’ve received the email a couple of weeks ago. So, when am I needed?”

“Er, today.”

“Er, today?”

“Yes. I’m dreadfully sorry, there’s been a mix-up, and, well, please, I desperately need an interpreter for today’s case!”

The middle-aged lady’s heavily-British-accented voice sounds very sincere, but far from desperate – she was very composed, pleasant even, and I will soon find out why – the work she does is anything but easy.

Luckily, I’m free at the time she needs me, and I decide to spend an hour or so at one of my favorite cafes, a quiet tea house, before meeting with her, in order to prepare myself, both mentally and with the necessary vocabulary.

I enter the cafe and go up the stairs to take my usual seat. One of the girls who work there is talking with some guy. I say hi to her and, out of courtesy, to him, thinking that they’re friends or something.

“Oh n-no, we don’t kn-know each o-o-ot-other, but now th-that we’ve m-met, wo-would you li-like to par-par-participate in a psy-psy-psychologi-ca-cal test I’m do-doing for my fa-faculty?”

I stop and try to think. I have a very delicate adoption case in which I’m the interpreter. I have less than an hour to do at least some rudimentary preparation (e.g. google some common technical terms in adoption issues and their Serbian translations etc.). It is imperative that I am mentally relaxed; somebody’s future greatly depends on how well I’ll translate their words. I am short on time, and the guy who wants me to do the test has a stutter.

“Ok.”

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