Już po ptakach



Zastanawiam się o przeszłości,
chciałabym być życzliwa z moim wspomnieniem.

Przypominam sobie naszę miłości
i zrealizuję, że pomimo moich wysiłków

moja krew brakuje krwi anioła…

Poszukałam głębokie w moim sercu
dla powodu twojego okrucieństwa

i w końcu zdałam sobie sprawę,
nie odpuszczam twojej głupoty

uważam cię za niemoralne.


I think about the past, I would like
to be magnanimous in my memory.

I remember our love and I
realize that, despite my efforts,

my blood lacks angel’s blood.

I searched deep in my heart
for the reason for your cruelty

and finally I decided
that I don’t forgive your folly-

I condemn you as immoral.

 

Język

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I do not know how to
put words to tongue
about that which I
feel for you- a ghost
in my eternal memory.

How to express what my heart
felt when it beat near yours
is like attempting to describe
the nearness of the sun to
sky and of the vein to blood.

You are so integrally a part
of me and yet so willing to refuse
me-to escape to another with
so little to offer but a tongue that
you have deemed more worthy,
more fitting to your existence…

But as one who lives between
the folds of linguistic differences,
whose tongue has abandoned her,
and who harbors culture despite
language- I can tell you

that speaking, as melodic
as it might seem, is no more
than a method of expressing love
and need-and I can express both
in many a tongue…be it not yours…

but “I need you” is universal
and “I love you” is beyond this realm.
If you are truly of the soul
then the only tongue is that which
exists between pulses.

Czarnooka Kobieta

For your hair,
You will be called “Czarna.”

Four your height,
You will be called “Maleńka.”

For your teeth,
You will be “Amerykanka.”

For your heart,
You will be “Cukierka.”

For your skin,
So pale, you’ll be called “Biała.”

For your brain,
You will be called “Gwiazdeczka.”

For that face,
You will be “Czarna Owca.”

And for those eyes,
Well…you’ll be known as “Czarownica.”

I dla mnie, on powiedział,
Prostu jesteś moją słoneczką

The Russian Teacher

DSCN0681We meet at a cafe.

He is an older man, late fifties, with a receding hairline and a weak chin. He carries a beige tote bag that zips at the top and holds in his hands a crumpled cyrillic alphabet. He is short, with a silver, expensive looking watch resting upon his wrist beneath the disheveled foldings of his faded button up shirt. The air of self importance is all too evident.

Knowing this must be him, I approach the little man.

Me:Lev?”

The Russian Teacher:Ah, Alexis! I had no way to recognize you! Let’s begin.”

He flops the cyrillic alphabet on the table before me and proceeds to remove a small book from his tote and plops it down next to the crumpled paper.

The Russian Teacher:You are young!- how are you a teacher so young?”

I shrug.

The Russian Teacher:Give me your birthday, only the month and date.”

He briskly digs into his jacket pocket and reveals a piece of laminated paper, then he looks up at me with gleaming, playful eyes.

Me:” October 22″

The Russian Teacher:Hmmmm, ah! The King of Hearts! You are a King? How interesting. King of  Hearts! ”

He says the last word, “hearts”, suggestively. I just smile and laugh nervously. I had a feeling this would be an entertaining experience. Something about older people from the USSR always indicates the necessity for a new set of lenses from which to view the world.

He promptly points to the book.

The Russian Teacher: “This book is very popular now. A female detective. It is a series. Very popular, you will like it. Now, open it and read out loud. Let’s see how well you studied the alphabet before we met. I want to check your pronunciation. I have underlined words you must know. Google translate them, learn them before we meet again. You can also check the pronunciation on Google, just press the little button..you know which?”

I nod and smile. He speaks quickly. His Russian accent is very heavy but it does not slow him down. He eyebrows rise and fall animatedly as he speaks and his eyes do not stop their mischievous gleam.

He looks expectantly at me, down to the book, and then back at me again. I don’t speak Russian. Not a word.

I pull the book towards me and open the cover, turning to the first page.

Me: “Na vot…Na-ko-netz ta-ki…Zhote-e-

The Russian Teacher: “No, stop. This X is ‘H’ not ‘Zh’.”

I had confused the letter ж with х. I haltingly repeat the words.

The Russian Teacher: “Stop. You do not sound like an American. This is good.”

I give a quick smile.

The Russian Teacher: “But you smile like an American. This is bad.”

I try to wipe the grin from my face, but it’s impossible. I’ve tried to stop smiling before, for photos, to seem serious, to make a boyfriend like me more, it doesn’t help. If I’m not smiling it means I’m gravely unhappy. At this moment, I was tickled by this ridiculous teacher sitting before me. I just wanted to laugh. The smile was broad on my face.

The Russian Teacher: “This is bad because it messes up your pronunciation. Americans speak wide- stretching their mouths from side to side. Russian is spoken with mouth closed, up and down.”

He puts each index finger at either dimple and pulls out to explain how Americans speak. Then he opens his mouth open and closed like a goldfish to demonstrate Russian speaking.

The Russian Teacher: “It is that smile. Russians do not smile so much you know.”

I just laugh. I knew this. I could always make a Russian smile…eventually.

He looks at me, eyes alight, and cocks his head to one side. Then he says my name thoughtfully.

The Russian Teacher: “A-lex-is. This is interesting..could be Russian, could be American, could be German…but Ramos is Spanish…?”

Me: “My father is Mexican.”

The Russian Teacher: “And your mother is Polish? You said you speak Polish yes?”

Me: “No, my Mother is…A-Assyrian.”

Best to keep it simple.

The Russian Teacher: “Ah ok! Interesting! ah…ok. The basics! You know ‘hello’ of course. Informal- Privet.”

I repeat. He makes me write it, to practice. I etch привет deliberately into my spiral bound notebook. He nods.

The Russian Teacher: “Good! You’re quick, that’s good.”

We go like this for some time. He says a phrase, I strain my ears to hear each syllable and then repeat it back to him. He reinforces that I must keep my mouth closed as I speak, this means no smiling. I manage. When I don’t catch on in the first or second try he hurriedly says I need to practice and moves on. He teaches in the old way. He spits things out quickly, expects me to catch on or be left behind. I keep up…only just. He gives me a lot of homework.

The Russian Teacher: “I will send you music. To speak a language you must enter the soul of the language. You change your mind to wrap around the language, you think in the tune of the language. This is the only way. And the way to do that is to hear yourself in the language. Listen to the music and repeat it over and over. Hear yourself in the language!!”

He says this with a sort of ferocity that would be intimidating if I wasn’t such a passionate creature myself. I never had a gift for grammar, preferring to roll with a language and pick things up as I go. I understood him.

The Russian Teacher: “Now, In Russian there is the formal and informal way to address you, thou. There is the informal ‘ty’ and the formal ‘vy.’ It is impolite for someone to address you as ‘ty’ without knowing you and asking permission first.”

He stopped and his eyes twinkled.

The Russian Teacher: “So if a dirty old man, thinking to be clever, calls out to you and refers to you as ‘ty’ you respond with ‘не тыкай мне!’ [Ne tykay mne!]. It means, ‘Don’t ‘ty’ me!'”

He smiles in that mischievous way again. For a man who says Russians don’t smile too often, he seems to smile a lot. I repeat and laugh. I have an inkling that the dirty old man might be seated across the table from me, but I push the thought aside and smile.

Needless to say, he asks to call me ‘ty’ just then and I was ‘ty’ thereafter. I guess familiarity moves quickly in Russian, or just for Lev.

After some time, Lev stops the repeating of the words. He reinforces the need for me to look up, learn to pronounce and learn the words he underlined in the female detective book he has brought for me. There seems to be some significance to the fact that the detective in this book is female.

The Russian Teacher: “Like music, you must feel the music before learning to play it, you must feel the language to learn it. I send you the songs! You listen and you repeat everything! I am a pianist, you know. I also wrote a book in English. You see, I have a very high IQ, 178! This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because I am very smart.”

He pauses and gives me that humorous look underneath bushy eyebrows once more. He keeps going on his self-important rampage, hands moving swiftly now to emphasize his point.

The Russian Teacher: “But it is a bad thing too because you are always ahead! In the Soviet Union I was always number one in the city in Mathematics and Music, not that it matters. But everyone is always behind because they are not as smart, so you must wait for them to catch up and repeat yourself. I wrote this book, it is very simply written, really, but it is complex! At first it was just 10 pages, but the editor said I must chew it and chew it again and then it is over 400 pages and now people understand it- but not all of them! You must read it, you will like it, you are smart.”

I laugh and take the card with the book’s name on it along with the dash of flattery he dispensed with.

The Russian Teacher: “I am also starting a business! Here is a card.”

I take the card and read it. Matchmaking and Marriage Counseling. I raise my eyebrows at him and giggle audibly.

Me: “Do you consider yourself an expert?”

The Russian Teacher: “I am married 45 years!! The same woman! There is a Russian saying, ‘Once you begin to understand women, you are no longer a man.'”

He notices my look of chagrin.

The Russian Teacher: “But this is a compliment you see! I am not a man, I am a husband.”

I just laugh. He looks at me expectantly. I am confused. Is he suggesting I need his services? As a matchmaker or as a marriage counselor? I wonder if he had an idea in his head. He swiftly takes back the card. I smile again.

He reaches into his coat pocket again and pulls out a few other laminated papers. He hands me one which has squares of colors on it.

The Russian Teacher: “Ok, before I go. Pick a color which you think represents me right now. Go on, just pick one or two of the colors.”

At this point he seems to be perspiring, probably winded by all the talk of his book and his business. The pink of his blood vessels in his cheeks and nose stand out against the yellow of his skin.

Me: “Red and yellow.”

He hands me a different laminated sheet which has meanings printed across from colors and color pairs.

Red/Yellow- Thrill seeker, enjoys new experiences

I laugh and raise my eyebrows.

The Russian Teacher: “Now I pick for you! Red and Purple!”

I look down at the card.

Red/Purple- You seek physical pleasures, sensuous

I’m pretty sure I blush here but it’s hard to tell. I laugh and swiftly hand back the laminated chart. Dirty old man indeed. But I don’t feel threatened. It is all very light hearted there in the cafe with the sunshine peeping through the windows.

The Russian Teacher: “A-lex-is. A dramatic name, straight from the drama films and television shows.”

Me: “So they tell me…”

Apparently there was a very famous t.v. show in Poland in the 80s and the villain’s name was Alexis. All Poles exclaim this when we are introduced. I wonder if there is a similar phenomenon in Russia.

We schedule our next lesson, for Thursday, he repeats my homework, and he takes my email. The name Ashley is in the e-mail address.

The Russian Teacher: “You want to be Ashley?”

Me: “My middle name is Ashley.”

The Russian Teacher: “Alexis…Ashley…Your parents are very romantic…”

With that, he walks out the door, leaving me confused as to what that means.

The Liberated Polyglot

 

Skopje, Macedonia: Warmth & Love

IMG_1085After my lovely few days in Belgrade, I traversed the Serbian landscape by bus, passing village by village until I reached Skopje.

Truly, if I did not know what to expect in Belgrade, I knew even less about Skopje. This time though, I had an old friend to meet me there and to show me around her beautiful city.

As is to be expected, I fell in love with the place, as I do. Skopje was an incredible clash of cultures, religions and of old and new. On one side of the bridge, Macedonians lived amongst newly erected monuments and cosmopolitan restaurants. On the other side of the bridge stood the magnificent old town, the Albanian side, with its winding streets, mosques and Nargile bars.

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Exploring both sides of Skopje was an amazing experience, and having my friend and her sister with me allowed me to truly relax and enjoy what this world had to offer.

First, we visited the Millennium Cross which presides over the city. Newly built, the cross sits at the top of the Vodno mountain, a testament to the Orthodox people of Macedonia. You can get to the Millennium Cross on a lift which brings you to the top where you can enjoy a coffee at the outdoor cafe, play on the playground (if your a child) or take a stroll on some of the trails. At night, the cross lights up and you can see it from anywhere in the city, as any Macedonian will point out to you wherever you might be.

The weather was perfect and I took my blazer off to see if I could get a quick tan in.

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In the city, you can enjoy the endless array of new monuments, though people are still getting used to who is who and which building is the museum and which is the theatre. It’s quite the sight and with two charming and humorous tour guides, it was quite the experience.

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Studies have suggested that Alexander the Great was Macedonian...and his large monument in the city center seems to insist on it.

Studies have suggested that Alexander the Great was Macedonian…and his large monument in the city center seems to insist on it.

Even the shoe shiners get a monument in Skopje and I was told a shot like this one is must before leaving the city :)

Even the shoe shiners get a monument in Skopje and I was told a shot like this one is must before leaving the city 🙂

On the other side of the bridge is the Old Town, and the Albanian side of the city. Here, the call to prayer resonates across the cobble stone streets and mosques sprinkle the horizon. From the Kale, the fortress of the city, the call to prayer takes your breathe away as you overlook all of Skopje and contemplate the history. As one mosque begins the call, the next one follows, and the next and the next, until there is an echoing song that rises above the city. From the ruins of the fortress, it was a unique experience.

 

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Another stop in the Old Town was the Old Bazaar. It was reminiscent of Istanbul, only smaller and more quaint. I bought some things here and there but mostly just took it all in, the sounds and smells.

Peppers

Peppers

Next was a deadly stop, to the bakery.

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And more delicious food would follow…

In Macedonia this is Fast Food...it is amazing.

In Macedonia this is Fast Food…it is amazing.

Börek

Börek

Homemade Kifle. Made by my lovely friend's mother

Homemade Kifle. Made by my lovely friend’s mother

My trip to Skopje was much needed. Being around friends helped to rejuvenate my soul and inspire my heart. Speaking with the lovely roommates of my friend was delightful and light hearted. Waking up to the Macedonian sun and enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee on the patio, with the Millennium Cross just above, was all the relaxation I could have hoped for. After the energetic pace of Belgrade, Skopje made me feel at home and comfortable. No doubt, my friend and her sister made it the wonderful experience that it was. Xoxoxo

Shoppers

Shoppers

The Yugo, they don't make 'em like this anymore

The Yugo, they don’t make ’em like this anymore

Kale

Kale

<3

Београд: Град Дивиних Људи

Belgrade: City of Wonderful People

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There are rare times in life when you get the opportunity to be surprised in a way that touches your heart and warms your soul, this happened to me in Serbia.

I made off for Belgrade all by myself, no one went with me and there was no one to meet me there. I went with some misguided intention of finding myself or some other search for self definition that I can’t seem to put into words. I did not entirely know what I was expecting to find there. Sure, I had studied the history and was relatively familiar with the region, by no means an expert, but I followed some impulse that was raging within me at the time in January when I booked a ticket.

My response? shit shit shit! And then I found myself speeding towards my departure date…petrified at my own audacity.

I spent the better part of six weeks learning the language, or some semblance of it, in preparation.

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Upon arriving, the young man from my hostel that had arranged to pick me up met me at the airport. We became instant friends. Indeed, his profound kindness and warmth was humbling. It so happened that he called a friend of his and the two of them spent the evening driving me around Belgrade, discussing history, democracy and love while showing me the sights and tastes of the city. I was overwhelmed by their openness and willingness to show me their country and their lives.

They dropped me off at my hostel at the end of the night and invited me to their home the next evening for a party they would be having with all of their primary school friends. I accepted the invitation and wondered at the fact that I had come to an unknown country all alone and did not feel alone at all.

IMG_0959The next day, I explored the fortress of the city, Kalemegdan, the zoo, the river and the many other sites that the city had to offer.

I practiced my Serbian and made a few mistakes as I went. Imagine my surprise when I ordered a glass of wine at a Kafana and was met with a whole bottle of wine instead.

Luckily, two neighbors at my hostel, who were from Sarajevo, walked into the kafana right at that moment, so I could share my bottle with still more new friends.

 

The party that evening was incredible. My new

IMG_1479friends shared stories of their lives in Serbia, their experiences as exchange students in Oklahoma (which made me cringe with embarrassment but laugh hysterically as well), and quizzed my ability to read and write in cyrillic (it turns out I taught myself well). They went on to teach me a number of Serbian curses and took out the guitar and sang beautiful, traditional Serbian songs. At the end of the night we went to the store and the boys made omlets for everyone.

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That evening they stayed up up all night speaking and laughing with me and then drove me to the bus station where I was to catch my bus to Skopje, Macedonia. By this point I was in tears. I did not know what to expect from Belgrade, I had no real aim or preconceived notion of the country, but I did not expect such warmth and hospitality. The young people of Belgrade opened up their hearts and their home to me, for this I am forever grateful. More than that, Belgrade will always have a special place in my heart, a heart that often finds itself disillusioned but for moments like these when my optimism is validated and my love for the world grows.

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Lovely friend at the Belgrade Zoo

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Lost somewhere inside Kalemegdan and found this beautiful church

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Kalemegdan

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Walking towards the river and enjoying the street art

 

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Life is rich indeed

Хвала лепо Београд <3
Хвала лепо Београд ❤