So we are car owners again. After our coup with the VW transporter which we bought for 4,000 Euros, packed full of stuff, drove it down to Belgrade and sold it for 5,400 Euros afterwards, we now own a 1,800 Euro Mitsubishi station wagon. And no, we don't intend to pull another deal like the first one. This car we plan to drive until we move out of Europe one day. It has become very expensive to rent a car every time we're in Germany and it's almost impossible to stay in Ostheim without a car. Since we're also going to be in Romania for 18 months, we decided to go for it and look for an old, beat-up car which would serve our needs.
Once again, we were very lucky. Our "new" car is sort of a hand-me-down which has made it from the parents of Michael's best friend to his brother and now to us.
It seems quite certain now that we'll be moving to another Balkan country soon. Doug has been offered a job in Bucharest, Romania which would keep us there for 18 months. He doesn't have a contract yet but this seems (knock on wood) a formality.
I'll miss Natsa. She is the best babysitter and Alan absolutely adores her. I'll miss our friends, Mira and Gaga above all others. I'll miss our house with the skylights that brought us through a Balkan winter without too much damage to our psyches. I'll miss lots of things.
But there is lots to look forward too. More on this as details unfold.
Bruce just informed us about recent changes to the kitchen -- I guess that means we have to go and see what else has changed. [Sigh] I never wish for an Enterprise-style transporter more often than at such moments. I'd so love to just pop in for an afternoon or evening, have a nice meal and good chat with Bruce and Maya, admire the girls who are turning into veritable beauties (they are 11 and breathtaking!) and tease Bribri about his secret reading vice. Alas, no such technical breakthrough anywhere near. So we will have to arrange for a nice long trip. One of these days, I'll talk Doug into it and we'll actually have the time too...
Jewel, Brian and Lila in Ubud, Bali
The next couple of weeks will be spotty in respect to entries. We are traveling (Germany for Easter, then off to the States to visit family there) and therefore won't have much opportunity or time to post.
For those who've come here from Talesmag - we will continue posting on our life and experiences in Belgrade in about a month. If you plan to move to Belgrade and have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and we'll get into touch with you.
Claudia & Douglas
Yesterday morning we called our friends Bruce and Maya. When I talked to Maya, she told me that she had a Seder planned for 36 people. I don't know why but all of a sudden, I felt like I was right there, in Maya's kitchen.
Maya has the most beautiful kitchen in the world. Part of its appeal is that it is located in Saipan, on a hill which overlooks the ocean. On two (and a half) sides big windows allow a breathtaking view of the Pacific. Endless miles and miles of water and nothing but water but somehow one gets never tired looking at it. The light streams in through those windows during the day and make the entire room feel like an expansion of the outside.
We live just a couple of blocks from a green market, which is a big plaza full of little stands selling fruits and vegetables. Because central Belgrade is somewhat lacking in supermarkets, we go to the green market regularly, two or three times a week.
Pushing a stroller around the market can be strenuous. The ancient paving stones are cracked and tipped, and often damp and slippery too -- the market is cleaned by sprays from high pressure hoses, which washes the loose lettuce leaves and gunk away but makes navigation that much trickier. On the other hand, the sellers love babies. We regularly get extra odds and ends -- a free head of lettuce, a couple of bonus bananas -- because Alan has smiled at some horny-handed farmer.
And he smiles a lot, because he loves the green market.
There's an English expression, "ass over teakettle". It means to take a wild fall, forwards or backwards. It's an odd idiom, but pretty common -- universal, really -- so you don't realize just how odd it really is, until your wife turns to you and says, "What was that you just said?"
It has come up a few times recently, because our son has been quite the bold explorer lately.
Ass over teakettle #1: the front steps. There are three of them just outside our front door. Alan loves to stand on the top step and look out over the little courtyard that fronts our house, like a monarch reviewing his kingdom.
Two weeks ago we went to Budapest. We didn't mention it in our weblog because we didn't have a weblog then.
We had a pretty good time. We walked until our feet smoked -- it's a great city for walking, is Budapest -- then we sat down and had coffee and cake, and then we walked some more.
Alan liked it too. Most of the time he sat in his stroller, directing us like Captain Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise. ("Two points to starboard, Lieutenant, and Warp Factor Five towards that ice cream stand over there.") But Budapest has plenty of parks, so we we were able to turn him loose and let him run around a bit. Here's a picture:
We live about three blocks from the main campus of the University of Belgrade. "Main campus" means about four buildings, as the Uni is scattered all over the city. Still, one of those four is the University Library, a very dignified looking building that's painted a curiously pleasing shade of pink.
(At this point I'll just mention in passing that Belgrade has some of the loveliest buildings in Eastern Europe, cheek by jowl with some of the ugliest. More on this topic later.)
Three interesting things about the Library. One, you can't get very far inside -- it's still run on the socialist principle of Authorized Personnel Only. That's not just foreigners, by the way -- even students can't get in without a special permit. (Because, I guess, you wouldn't want students just wandering in and out of a library.)
One cannot call Belgrade a child-friendly city. I have yet to see a restaurant with a changing table or a policeman who will keep Belgrade drivers from parking on the sidewalks, not forcing mothers with strollers to sway into the streets and take it up with cars, trucks and buses.
No bus is equipped for strollers; not only are they always over-crowded but one would not fit through the doors. Aisles in supermarkets are so narrow that one better leaves the kid at home. I'm not even mentioning the bad air quality outside and the much worse air quality in restaurants, cafs or trains. Serbians are very Balkan when it comes to smoking.
However, in other respects Belgrade is the most child-friendly city I've ever been to.
For some days now, Alan has been a very bad eater. He has his morning and evening bottles (1/3 formula, 2/3 milk) but other than that, he doesn't eat much. He nibbles on a cookie now and then, eats some crackers and yesterday I even managed to get a slice of jam toast into him. At mealtimes, it's a spoon or two of whatever I offer him, then he turns away in disgust. Believe me, the variety of foods I've offered him is amazing. I never thought I'd woo a male's stomach like this.
The funny thing is that he doesn't seem to suffer at all. He's his usual bouncy self and wears Doug and me to the ground with his boundless energy. Does he just absorb our energy or does he conjure it out of thin air? Babies are an endless source of wonder.
A big THANK YOU to my brother Hajo who set this web log up for me. I had no clue whatsoever and asked him for help. The result is this nice log!
I'm going to play around a bit with styles and settings but soon I'll have this up and running and will keep you all informed about our exciting life in Belgrade, halfway down the Danube.