Saturday, 16 May 2015

Since I met you baby...

A King died last Thursday night. Not just any king. B.B. King. He was 89.
That same morning in Belgrade, Duda - a decade younger than him, my favourite "komšinica" [kom-she-nee-tza] - neighbour, also died. How extraordinary!? There are no mistakes in the universe!

B.B. King came to Belgrade to do a concert on July 6, the summer I grew up.
B.B. King in Belgrade - 1991

The then-still-glamorous Sava Centre Concert Hall was completely full. Four thousand people came out night after balmy night to enjoy Belgrade's Summertime Jazz & Blues & World Music Festival. Luckily, my boyfriend and I had tickets for every single performance – he being the son of the conductor of Belgrade's Jazz Orchestra. They were really good seats - right in the middle of the hall.

Half-way through one of the most memorable jazz experiences of my life, B.B.King started jamming the opening notes to his famous:  "Since I Met You Baby".  Suddenly he stopped, and flashing his mischievous smile at the audience, said he would play, but he "wanna see some kissin' goin' on"! Who else could create a small-club atmosphere from a giant auditorium other than B.B.?!  He started playing, lazily caressing his guitar, but significantly slowing the beat from its original version: “Since I met you baby, my whole life has changed...”  he mused. As the next instrumental kicked in, he announced: "Let’s see if there is any kissing going on - bring up the lights!"

Two powerful beams began their crawl from the far left and right ends of the concert hall. My boyfriend and I were sitting in the very middle of the room and we quickly understood that the lights would inevitably cross over each other right on us.
"We should totally get up and French kiss when the lights get here - you game?" - he whispered in my ear excitedly. Adrenaline was rushing and my heart was beating wildly, but I shoved my normally-shy self aside and took the plunge:
"Let's do it" - I agreed, falling in love - that very second - even more deeply.

The mighty lights arrived a second later and we got up right as they crossed over, giving B.B. King what he asked for. The deafening roar of the audience was followed by a loud applause. B.B. let his guitar hang as he lifted both arms in the air, sending us a giant kiss and then bowing in our direction:
"That's how you do it! This lady knows how to kiss!”

Although Radio Television Belgrade aired the concert just about a million times and I had it taped on VHS, the clip didn't make it with us as we immigrated over the Atlantic ocean. And although YouTube generously provides the slow and lazy version for your pleasure, it is not the one from Belgrade. Not the one with my most famous kiss.

The doorbell rang furiously and the front door of my parent's Belgrade apartment swung wide open just as I was watching again that taped clip. It was January 30th, 1996. I was holding my newborn son. Komšinica Duda -- our neighbour from two floors above, stormed into our living room, pale-faced, curlers dangling, asking questions. "Is it true?!!!"

My mom appeared, smiling and in an amazingly calm voice confirmed that yes, that boyfriend - turned husband - the one I kissed at the B.B.King concert 4.5 years earlier – had indeed left me, ten days prior to the birth of our son. No, we don't know "now what?“. But all is well. All is perfect. The baby is perfect.

"Ma nek se goni u pičku materinu!" - Duda hissed passionately, cursing him then and again every single time his name came up in the next three years that we lived in Belgrade. No, I will not translate it. It is one of those common-place obscenities my non-Balkan friends can not begin to understand. It kind of has to do with sending him, rushing him rather, back into his mother's vagina. There. I said it. The underlying meaning is absolutely untranslatable.

But it did bring relief. So did the endless supply of platters filled with the most delicious hand-made baked goods and decadent cakes - intended to soothe and comfort the new nursing mom. Love on a plate. My favourite treat of all of Duda’s masterful creations: "Muška Torta". Masculine cake. How appropriate!

What also brought relief was listening to B.B.King and yes, watching and watching again that three
Photo credit Kamenko Pajic
minute clip of my past life. I saw two kids in love, who mere days after that concert witnessed the beginning of the Balkan War, the "voluntary" gathering of the special parachute brigade he belonged to and the not-so-voluntary deportation straight into the war in Slovenia. The 21-year-old us trembling in front of those same front doors of my parents’ apartment facing real fear for the first time, consoling each other, making promises, kissing goodbye. And at the same time, together and very rapidly, growing up.

"Since I met you baby my whole life has changed" became my soothing hymn. Sure, since I met you baby, my whole life has changed. For the better. Then for the worse. Then for the much, much better.

I last saw Duda just about two years ago. It was my first and only brief visit back to Belgrade.
Neighbours are family
I will always remember it as the fireworks of love - me approaching the entrance of Blagajska 10 street, pressing almost every button on the intercom, surprising my darling neighbours telling them all to come down. Screams, cheerful shouts, hugs, kisses, holding hands long and hard with the people who were not my family but became family. Fellow tenants who saw me grow up, get the school done, get married, get pregnant, then come back home with the little bundle in tow. Looking now at the pictures of a grown man they helped me raise those three first fragile years. The enormous amount of love made me humble and speechless and I choke up with tears even now. I now fully understand the concept of "Love thy neighbour".

There is a crazy good jam session going on in heaven right now. Sachmo and Ella and Miles and Etta and countless others gathered around microphones and with guitars and trumpets. And Duda is there wearing a fancy silk dress - her slender figure swaying to the beat, red lipstick and hair all done up - she is beautiful and free of all of her earthly worries. Boy, those curlers did a great job!

No comments:

Post a Comment