Belgrade is a city of unmeasured passion. You can see it all around you, beauty abounds, but chaos does as well. You can walk about the amazing classical buildings, but on the other side, you may see them about to crumble. The ugly, and the beautiful seem to coexist in a way that I’d never seen before. The parks in Belgrade, have this natural feel about them, as if you were walking in the woods. Reason being that they’re untended almost to the point of abandon, but not quite.
It needn’t surprise people that this city of passion is one of artists as well. Stop any girl on the street, and they may well tell you they’re a ballerina, a painter, a poet, an actor, or even all of them at once. It is thus how I came across this lovely girl in a rush. The interaction was short, as she had to go to an audition or something of the sort. Nevertheless, her enthusiasm was astounding, and I thought it was in the bag, as soon as we started texting, as she jumped at the chance of meeting with each other.
So on the day that we were supposed to meet, I go there and right on the dot she was there, beaming in an outfit and with red lips. She told me that she’d show me a good cafe nearby, and being relatively new to the city I decided to take her directions. That said, I also knew that by doing this, I’d possibly hamper my own attempts, as she’d be on her home turf (especially as she told me that she was befriended with the staff), and my logistics to swing her back to mine might become unfavourable.
No matter, I went ahead anyway. I knew either way that our time was limited, as she had to go somewhere for a play. So, if one’s already fighting an uphill battle, why not go all the way? Hell, it might be fun to discover a new locale.
As such, we went to this coffeeshop near my apartment. She seemed to know half the staff, and an advert for a play directed by her flatmate hung on the wall. Not a good sign, isolation is key for romance, the veil of anonymity is essential for lovers. When everyone can cast disapproving glances at you, some people might feel the pressure, and exercise too much restraint. I tried to ignore it, and go as usual.
We talked about life, and theatre. In a strange sort of way, it reminded me of the film “My Dinner with Andre” which I’d seen a few days before. A strange sort of loop around the same topics, as if there were a writer beyond my reality trying to write a theme for my life in the last few months. The world’s a stage, where everyone is wearing masks, and every so often, if you chip away at the mask for long enough, you may catch a glimpse of the true person behind the facade.
I ended up getting slightly more reality than I’d bargained for though. She asked me for an adventure that I’ve had where my life had been in danger, and I shared with her a story. She then told me that she’d known what it was like to be in a situation of the sort. She told me that her friends, whilst being drunk had driven into the Danube river, and the car started to fill up with water. Seconds seemed to become an eternity, and her brain ceased to function, and acted entirely on instinct. She climbed out of the window of the car, and her friends were trapped there. They all managed to get out in the end.
However, as she told the story, she seemed to be in a trance. You could see the emotions flushing through her face, as if she was the medium between the past and the present, I’ve never seen anything of the sort. I grew quite intrigued, listening to her talk about her experiences. Shortly thereafter, she told me about how her and her boyfriend had been at a pro communist rally once a year or so ago.
It was there that my brain sort of screeched to a halt for a second. Wait, what boyfriend? She had never given any indication of his existence. I’d been extremely direct when I met her, as I’d told her I thought she was beautiful, so even a blind man could’ve seen my intent. Furthermore, she continued referring to him throughout the whole interaction in the past, he didn’t seem to exist in the present in any shape or form. As such, whilst I was contemplating the quantum state of non-existence and existence of her boyfriend she’d moved on to when the police raided the rally.
She and him were apprehended and beaten for a day or two in some cramped, dark cell. All of a sudden I felt as if I’d been thrown into a Tom Clancy novel, what with talking about propping up new government orders in a forgotten cafe in Eastern Europe, and talking about how someone was imprisoned and tortured for a prolonged period of time. Needless to say, I had difficulties turning the content of the conversation again into something resembling date-like conversation. You can’t really make flirtatious banter out of police brutality (phrase which I admittedly never thought I’d say in my life).
In either case, after discussing the matter of how certain experiences change who you are as a person, and may well make or break you. I had a hard time not staying in this topic. I love such introspective talks, but there’s also a nagging part of my brain which tells me that if you want to create a romantic connection with someone, you must establish an empathetic connection before even thinking about establishing a philosophical connection. As such, I tried to move to a more agreeable topic.
Conversation is like a fluid, you can’t ever fully grab it in your hands and mould it to whatever you want it to. Nevertheless, you can direct it via knowing where the connecting threads are. If you pull on one thread, you can summon a completely different conversation topic. As such, finally, I managed to move it to a more date-like topic. In either case, the time was running out on the clock, she had to go to the theatre in the next twenty minutes. So, any attempts at me escalating the vibe, would be superseded by the urgency of her schedule.
We ordered the bill, and I tried to go Dutch. She refused completely, saying she’d had a lovely time and she wanted to pay. Not one to refuse a free coffee, I didn’t fight her on it. We left shortly thereafter, and she asked me to accompany her to the city centre. I agreed, might as well. We talked about turns ons and turn offs on what attracts us to people. Curious to know, I asked her what attracted her in me.
We were waiting by some traffic lights as I asked this, she smiled at me and said that she liked my open mindedness and the fact that I’m present with her, and enjoy my time with her. I liked her answer, and I looked at her. I felt the urge to kiss her, but I stopped myself. I don’t think I’d built nearly enough physical contact to warrant it, and her mind was halfway on the play. To kiss her now, would be jarring to say the least, so I let the moment pass.
In the end, we reached the city centre and I bid my goodbyes. She told me that she might invite me in the near future to a play, and I joked that I didn’t speak any Serbian, so I saw little point. She then looked at me and told me that plays are about people, not about language, so I should totally watch one either way. I agreed, and bid my farewells.
Just on the street besides us, there was a loud commotion, which I decided to inspect. It turned out that every salsa club in the vicinity had come together to create a huge salsa flashmob. I was quite intrigued, as I hadn’t danced salsa in some time. So I randomly approached a few people that were standing about, and asked one girl to dance.
My tempo isn’t quite the best, I’ve got the moves, but I don’t have the rhythm but she didn’t seem to care, and loved my lead. Whilst dancing, I could not help but notice how happy she was, and we started talking whilst dancing. We hit it off, and I let her be for the time being, when the song was over.
I then moved on to the next girl, and to the next one. Dancing with new people is always an interesting experience. Before long, several hours had passed. I’d had amazing fun, and I even got to see a dog that danced salsa, which is not something you see every day. In either case, as the event was about to die down and people were leaving, I saw the first girl I’d danced with again. I stopped her, smiled and told her I’d like to invite her out for coffee. She gladly agreed and we made plans to meet on Tuesday. Sadly, the day after I get a text from her saying that she’d found it hard to say no, as we’d clicked with each other, but she was starting to see someone and thus we couldn’t meet. C’est la vie, as the French say.
However, contemplating the events of this past Sunday, I cannot but help but smile smugly to myself. Here I was, in a city where less than a week before I didn’t know a single soul, and now I was having coffee with artists, and dancing the afternoon away. Never, in my wildest dreams, would my twelve year old self believe me, were I to tell him the sort of thing that happens in my life nowadays. I used to be the awkward kid who would never even set foot on the dance floor, and here I was dancing with half a dozen girls at the drop of a hat, and without a single sip of alcohol.
My worse days now, used to be my best days then. It’s high time I gained a little perspective. Yes, I technically “failed” on my date, in the sense that I didn’t achieve all that I had planned, and even now I have a bottle of wine in my fridge just awkwardly waiting there. Nevertheless, I had an absolute blast. I wish this sort of insanity to be the new normal, me swinging from adventure to adventure, from story to story. Hell, it may well be possible, ten years ago, today would’ve been out of my reality. I can only imagine what the next decade may hold in store…
Have you had any curious adventures whilst travelling? What happened?