Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Return To Innocence

Navy blue skirt. Crisp white shirt. A red triangular neck scarf. A star-shaped pin with a gold hammer & sickle symbol. All these comprised my uniform on the day in September 1976. when I became Tito’s pioneer with the rest of my Grade 1 class in Belgrade's Pioneer City
We wore that uniform every time we had a special assembly or whenever a foreign politician decided to pay my school or city a visit, be it philandering Valerie Giscard d’Estaing or notorious Nicolae Ceausescu. For the infamous visit of Muammar al-Qaddafi I was already a university student and could bail-out of those mandatory moments of waving a miniature flag, red carnation in hand.  

A wide blue rectangular Moskvitch was parallel-parked on the Smiljanićeva street, my dad periodically sliding underneath it on a home made dolly (my sister and I called it for some meaningless reason "lek-lor", remember Mina? It was one of our favourite outdoor toys!). I remember our father’s pharmacist hands often being black on weekends, smelling of motor-oil from changing it himself or replacing a part he managed to source. There was also mom’s red Fiat 126P, the size of a Costco shopping cart, and displaying the licence plate BG 159-19. For a good period of time - we had a near fluorescent lemon-yellow Citroen GS with black stripes racing along the bottom of each side of it. And in the last few years we could afford a car it was the sand coloured Lada Samara, BG 360-340. We loved this car so much we named it "the desert fox". But not after Rommel!
Not after Rommel because no one wanted a part of a German soldier at play-time. Everyone wanted only to be a partisan. Or even better a secret group of friends fighting Gestapo on the streets of Belgrade as seen in the favourite TV series of my childhood “Otpisani”. Because in school, on TV and at the cinema, it was all about the WW2 and how - despite all odds - with Tito’s leadership we beat the Nazi's and became the ‘modern’ Yugoslavia.

And then they were parents like mine who refused to belong to the communist party. They did well as pharmacist and a lawyer, but never really as well as their peers who opted for the membership. Career advancements, free corporate apartments and posts overseas were reserved only for those who attended meetings and proclaimed themselves as communists. Instead, my parents would shut the windows, draw the curtains, explain to us kids the utmost importance of secrecy and keeping topics from home at home, then proceed to gather and entertain their free-minded friends, generously criticizing the government, exchanging passionate commentaries and telling jokes that could earn each adult significant time at the Goli otok - the barren island - an inhumane and often terminal stop for political prisoners. 

In essence, this is the fabric of my childhood. And as incredible as it might sound to you and the by-now fully North-Americanized me: we had the best time of our lives living in Yugoslavia!
Comrades flash to warn each other of hidden speed radars

Perhaps that is why this past winter I fell in love with Cuba. I had been to Cuba many times before - the favourite (read: inexpensive) winter getaway location for a single mom and her son snatched on a last minute website often just in time to tell my boss and his teacher. This winter, we made it our mission to let go of the all-inclusive circus (more on that soon) and explore Havana for a couple of days. Our mission: Havana before Obama.

The result? The nostalgic and overwhelming feeling I had entered the time capsule. 
Here is why:
Revolution is still a current and hot topic
 The Cuban flag is a point of national pride on many balconies
The red star still a common political and fashion statement
School uniforms ensure all kids are equal
Morro castle proudly reminds of hard fought independence 
And cannons and cannonballs are at every corner. Yey!
The coffee is real and far from the venti skinny vanilla latte craze
Domestic cola and beer reign, blissfully unaware of Pepsis & Buds 
Guys still sweet-talk girls over backgammon
Neighbours unite in common problems

Men and women are equal. Old age is treated with utmost respect
Even though the city is quite uniquely avant-garde
Dryers are obsolete on La Isla
Big work is only being done now because of Obama's impending visit
But as long as all Cubans remember the unfaltering courage  
They are at liberty to smile & salsa, enjoying a rare freedom

There is something seductively naïve in the collective demeanour of Cubans. They are kind, they are proud and their streets are safe for everyone even in the wee hours of the night. They know the world has moved on. And the Internet exists. The globe is suddenly much smaller. But they also recognize that the deep western unhappiness, cancerous corporate greed and modern-day enslavement is nothing to strive for. They really haven't missed much. 
When the taxi windows and doors closed and we departed for Havana, our driver Miguel (not his real name) told us - just like my parents did back in the days of former Yugoslavia - how things really are. Then he got careful to end all such conversations as we passed the toll booth. Cubans are anxious to see what will happen with the physical end of the Castros. Anxious yet calm. And hopeful.           
By day they work, considering themselves successful if they get anywhere near the Canadian and European tourists, taking any job even though they might have a medical, engineering or teaching degree already completed. Unlike their real professions, this allows them to earn in convertible pesos, needed for everything other than the government determined rations of food. 
By night they dance. The new generations of world-class musicians stemming from the original Buena Vista Social Club wizards does not allow for sitting not even a minute out. It is in their every step, smile and swing.
Mi familia explorando Habana
And they are  h a p p y.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Five People You Meet On... Facebook

It's spring. Far from spring-like weather in Toronto but spring nonetheless. And what comes with spring aside from the bombardment of boot-camps, colonic cleanses and restrictive diets promising a beach-ready body in a jiffy? Spring cleaning!
Being the daughter of my particular mother (sorry mama!) growing up, I loathed spring cleaning, mainly because this energetic, capable and cheerful excellent lawyer parent was no joke when it came to anything. Especially cleaning. In a home where on any given day we would've been safe to eat off the floor, spring cleaning meant a bat-shit-crazy level of intensity. Mattresses were lifted, carpets rolled, curtain rods dismembered; cashmere sweaters washed by hand in a mild shampoo then dried flat and carefully folded so they could survive the summer and potential moth attacks high up in the lavender-infused closets. Every goddamn Murano glass figurine and delicate crystal piece was carefully removed from its place, washed, and the shelf dusted until it squeaked with surgical-grade cleanliness. Silverware, a special cloth and drops of some German-made liquid were sure to take hours of rubbing and shining of the cutlery we got to use only once a year. Unless I were to get married again. All to the never-ending droning of the eager vacuum-cleaner - an orange-coloured beast made in Slovenia with an always-empty dust bag - as per orders of my drill sergeant mom. Mama, sorry again, but I loathed spring cleaning!

These days I live like a princess. My only task this time of the year is to stuff the clothes I no longer want or fit into the bag and call the CDA Clothesline donation program. Hand down the books I won't re-read. Scoop all the cosmetic sample packs - Gift With Purchase junkie that I am - into a shoebox so I can drop it off in a women's shelter together with the 'babyish' toys my boys reluctantly decided to part ways with. And voilà! It's done!

Could this be it? Do I feel 'clean' and ready to spring forward into new adventures the way we did when my mom was in command? Umm, not quite...

I recently got reminded that there is more to de-cluttering than just the stuff that no longer serves my family. What about the energy that surrounds me? What about people who proved toxic or ill-meaning?

So I sat last night and sifted through my expansive Facebook friend list. Do I really know everybody? Between my early Belgrade years, the high school, the Jewish Choir and neighbours and university and then my early Canada days and brand-new friends and colleagues and my big kid's friends and their moms by now multiplied by another two kids's moms, plus fellow volunteers and travellers and coaches and writers... amazingly, there are very few people I actually haven't met in person! For the most part, the energy they emit is so pure and so good that I can bask in it for hours.

Here are the five people I stumbled upon last night while Facebook-cleansing (for anonymity reasons gender references might have been deliberately altered).

Cyber-Crush: There is this guy I've actually never met. But some time ago a friend of a friend must have shared some of his writing and I was hooked. Became a fan and a follower and a 'friend'. It's the kind of stuff I forgot could be put in words, especially in somewhat cumbersome Serbian. That Balkan men tend to be rough and jock-like has been my greatest misconception. This guy muses about the complicated in us women, adoring it for all the havoc we wreak upon his big sensitive heart. This guy understands the music and lyrics and the wicked way in which a song can make us weep or chill or rejoice and everything in between. This guy sees the political turmoil of my homeland of the crooked and corrupted while finding the threads of unspoiled and normal and optimistic. It is fair to say that he is a must-have in life even if only on the screen, removed by the ocean and a few vast corn-fields. The Verdict: label him with that 'favourite' star so I make sure I get my dose of awesome every time I check in.

Cluster-Fuck: Everything the Cyber-Crush is not. Stupid. Misogynist. Inappropriate. His signature dumb grin always next to a tall beer someone bought him, tongue sticking out in proof: "Booze = Fun". Sheepish bro-smile on sports event. Horrendously hollow. Universally unwise. Should not procreate. Don't ask how we ended up being Facebook friends. The Verdict: delete the bastard. Nothing good/smart or remarkable will ever come out of this. Block!

Fart-Mountain: This one came in a package with a whole bunch of great people and ended on my list by mere proximity. It didn't take long to distill the theme: with indignant irony he comments on a world that never does him right. Not enough money. Not enough attention. Not enough respect. Not enough opportunity. Food is too expensive. Selection not up to the expectation. And you are guessing right - not enough sex - so there is always this raunchy undertone that might come across as charming to the people just looking to speed up the mandatory minutes. Otherwise everyone just sees one giant wuss. The Verdict: Un-friend fart-mountain. There has never been a friend there anyway.

Anti-Aphrodite: This is a tricky one. Because of some vague biographical details you are led to believe you share a common spirit. You could be friends. You give. You open up. You trust. You wonder... why are the tiny eyes tirelessly darting left and right as if constantly scanning the terrain for terrorist traps? Why are the lips always tightly pursed and instead of an opinion you only get: “Mhmm"? Was that "Mhmm good" or "Mhmm bad"? You never find out. There are whispers in someone else's ears. Silent nods. Elbow pokes. And there's the rampant paranoia the gossip queen suffers from - is it true this person said/thinks/heard...? 
My forties brought with them an abundance of unbelievably-generous, wise, insightful, beautiful and resourceful women-friends. I have no need for a patsavoura in my life. But then I'm a Life Coach. And a feminist. The Verdict: I'll let her delete me. Or by cyber-osmosis she will learn a thing or two about grace. It's her choice. 

Everyone Else: As of this writing, yes, all 718 of you. Thank you for being in my life. The articles you share make me think. Your travel destinations make me plan. Your music choices make me way cooler than I am. The books you recommend make me spend. Your political views... with Donald still rambling around, let's for now leave the political views. Your baby's pictures make my ovaries tingle! Your recipes make me eager to strap on my apron. Your photography inspires me. Your choice of words make me envious. Your fitness levels make me push harder. Your funny pet videos make me melt. Your quotes make me reflect. Your milestones make me rejoice. 

Above all, seeing you often crowding together, right here on my computer screen - mere strangers from around the globe - makes me hopeful. Hopeful we are becoming an army of good. The crowd that understands there is nothing to compete for. Just to generously share everything there is that is good. And no matter what the haters tell you, it really can all start with a “Like”. 
I love you Facebook family!