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Memory Box 1

Buying Cigarettes in Montenegro

The smell of dust and cypresses, and the bored vendor shimmering gently in the heat waves. He is chewing gum. He does not look pleased to see me.
Spread out on the makeshift table in front of him are lots of packets of cigarettes.
He spits the gum in the dust and asks:
"Do you want the ones with the obituary or without?"
The obituary in question is the warning label, and its presence or its lack on cigarette packets indicates where they were smuggled in from.

Going home from the beach

The sky is ribboned with glowing pinks and oranges, and the wood is still golden-coloured but growing darker by degrees.
"How long until sunset?"
"I don't know. 15 minutes maybe."
"It takes us 20 minutes to walk this path. How fast do you think we'll get there if we run?"
"I don't know Nikola. And the reason I don't know is because I've never run through the wood. It's part of my strange habits of not wanting to break my ankle." But my mood is unexpectedly light, matching the sky.
"Do you want to hike the highway in the dark?"
"Not especially."
"In that case what do you say we race the light?"
"I say let's not tell my mother about it."
Our laughter tangles with the leaves, follows our pounding, skipping feet and years later I'll remember it as the summer I spent with friends, in which everything felt like an adventure.

Russian Church, Belgrade, Orthodox Christmas - January 1984

The other children and I are linking hands. We form a line, and the child leading holds the Christmas star. Earlier we had been coerced into reciting poetry, and now we dance. We snake around the tree, holding hands and singing.

Hristaslava, Hristaslava The Glory of the Christ.

Winter in Belgrade

The snow turns the streets white, transforms the town briefly into a more magical, cleaner version of itself. In this secret town I wade through the drifts and leave a trail that vanishes as quickly as the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel scattered in the wood.

The inside of a wave, Sveti Stefan, 1988

The sea has eaten me, swept me up, swallowed me in one big gulp. I am in the belly of a wave. I know I should be scared but I'm not. It is perfectly calm here. Infinately blue.
I am in the sea's womb, enclosed in a perfect pocket of space.

A Hospital. October, 1989

A window. A piece of sky. Tall dark trees.
The last glimpse of a dark-haired man in the hospital room through the shutting door.

NATO Bombing, 1999

The colour of bombs is a gaudy red with snakes of orange. They make a noise like fireworks.

Sometimes it rains ash and the ash covers the streets like snow.

The only thing worse than knowing exactly what has been hit is the not knowing anything at all. The only thing worse than being there is being safe when everyone you love isn't.

I am drinking vodka. I am eating fire.
The colour of my grief is also a gaudy red, the colour of blood and jagged wounds.

Views from the train crossing Skadar Lake - October 2003

The window is stained but I've learned not to dwell on questions such as when it was last washed, or what the origin of the puddle on the floor is.
It's the first time I've made this trip as an adult, without the company of my mother or grandmother.

As such, I treasure it as something wholly mine. The hills are threaded with mist. For a moment when the sun struck the autum leaves , it seemed as thought he hills were on fire the mist rising off them like smoke. Skadar is an expanse of blue and green, colonised in parts by the lillies and marsh grasses.


We eat olives and white cheese and thick slices of wholemeal bread.
The whole world is sleepy with sunlight.
A cat has curled itself around my neck, purring.

Belgrade, A Highway

Rolled down car windows and the tooting of horns.
"Get a move on, motherfucker!"
"Fuck your mother!"
"Fuck yours!"
The song of drivers accompanied with graceful hand gestures.

Bakeries in the morning

Fresh bread that warms the hands. Elaborately curled pretzels. Cheese and spinach pies. Baklava.
An accumulation of small pleasures.


A summer storm to end the drought.
The smell of wet stone.
The shelter of the doorway.
My wet hair.
The light coalescing on the cheekbones of the man I am with.

2004. The night before leaving for London again.

Wine. Music. An mix of nostalgia and rock'n'roll on the radio.
"When will you come back?"
"I don't know. When I can."
A lull. A silence. Bittersweet.
Occasional cars passing on the street outside.
The scent of nightflowers, and linden in bloom.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2004 09:54 pm (UTC)
wow. thank you.

better than photographs.
Oct. 14th, 2004 03:16 am (UTC)
thank you :)
It was looking at your pictures actually that inspired me to think of Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro again and trying to portray and remember the things I don't have pictures of. :)
Oct. 14th, 2004 03:36 am (UTC)
I'd like to go back to the area at some point.

I must go through the pictures - there's a lot more not on the website.

I'm trying to remember the Monetnegro trip - a grey, wet day - I think the coastal town we went to was Budva - Svety Stefan visible further down the coast - and inland to a town that was once the capital?

The rest of the time I mainly hung around in Dubrovnik, meeting lots of people (and snogged a Macedonian, but I'm really not that kind of boy, honest). It was 13th-20th Sept 2001. Kind of an interesting time to be away, not to mention fly...
Oct. 14th, 2004 04:26 am (UTC)
I must go through the pictures - there's a lot more not on the website.

Ooooooh. :)
I love photographs. It's like an addiction.

I'm trying to remember the Monetnegro trip - a grey, wet day - I think the coastal town we went to was Budva - Svety Stefan visible further down the coast - and inland to a town that was once the capital?

Cetinje perhaps?
Sveti Stefan is lovely, a real little labyrinth of twisting cobblestone alleyways, and if you climb up to the top there is a little stone chapel and a stairway of whit stone leading to a little clearing from which there is a great view of the coast and the sea. I've only been there at night though, so it limited my mad photo-taking sprees.

There is lots of very lovely things about Montenegro if you are willing to overlook the pathological laziness of the populace.

Dubrovnik is lovely. I was only there once, years ago, but I remember it as absolutely beautiful and it sounds like it was an interesting (if slightly dodgy) trip all in all.

The best time for Montenegro/Adriatic coast is probably May, or September - it should still be warm but the tourist season will not be in full swing and there shouldn't be a drought.
Oct. 14th, 2004 01:11 am (UTC)
NATO bombing
I lost a lot of faith in governments when that happened. I knew politicians lied, of course, but I trusted them to tell the truth about military action. So they went and bombed the sorts of places they said they wouldn’t bomb. And I became more cynical.
Oct. 14th, 2004 03:19 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
Heh. Me too.
The phrase *humanitarian warfare* is enough to give me an allergic reaction.

Physically I was marooned in england when it was happening, but I was very much emotionally present in Belgrade/Yug and just watched with mounting horror as chemicals from bombed out medicine and processing factories were dumped into the country's principal rivers.
Oct. 14th, 2004 04:01 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
How long have you been living over here?
Oct. 14th, 2004 04:05 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
er. gosh. *does mental calculation*
12 years, approximately.
Oct. 14th, 2004 04:32 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
Slightly confused now. You came over with family? Or are you older than I imagined? :-) Should I shut up now?
Oct. 14th, 2004 06:55 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
*ponders how you're doing your math and how old you imagine me to be*

I've been shunted around quite a lot really.
I got sent away from Yugoslavia when the first Balkans war was breaking out in 1991, spent a year in Holland with friends of family and then moved to the UK in 1992 where my aunt and uncle and cousins were already living in London.

I was at the time 12 years old. Of course by the time the NATO bombing came around, I was 19 and at University, and had been living in the UK a number of years.
Oct. 14th, 2004 07:45 am (UTC)
Re: NATO bombing
*coughs nervously*

I thought you were about 25/26/27. Not far off :-)

If you’d come over to the UK on your own, not staying with family, you’d’ve been at least 16 then (blithe assumption), so you’d be at least 28 now.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 14th, 2004 06:56 am (UTC)
*kittenish back stretch*
Oct. 14th, 2004 07:48 am (UTC)
Wow. You really are a writer.
Oct. 14th, 2004 08:30 am (UTC)
thank you. :)
Oct. 14th, 2004 11:16 am (UTC)
She really is!
Oct. 14th, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)
Re: She really is!
*purrs and beams and purrs some more*
Oct. 14th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC)

le sigh.

I love.
Oct. 14th, 2004 11:21 am (UTC)
I especially love the one about the beach and the one about the rain.
Oct. 14th, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)
*happy glow*
Thank you :)
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


deep sky, firefly

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