Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Alchemist

To the man who spent his life turning stones into sugar cubes.
(In other words: "Thanks, Grandpa")

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle.” 

Had I been more inclined to believe in miracles and divine intervention, the day I stumbled over the innocuous amalgam of magic and sedimentation would have been the day the religious world as we know it crumbled to dust; there is no doubt in my mind that someone – some overzealous servant of Absolute Being or another – would have proclaimed its existence to all creation (in the vain hope of putting to rest eternal brawls for spiritual supremacy, no doubt), thereby plunging mankind into yet another bout of brotherhood-inspired bloodshed. As it was… if any faith ended up broken, only one person ever need atone for it. 

“You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.” 

 I could give you a million reasons for what happened that evening: I could claim a momentary lapse in judgment, disguise the entire ordeal as an act of kindness, or enshroud it in words of piety and praise. The simple truth is, however, that a favourable combination of time and circumstances will crumble even the most impenetrable of citadels - and who am I to claim superiority over the great city of Troy? Suffice it to say it was done. 


 “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” 

 I did not really need to see his face again; its most prominent features – the jadeite green of the eyes, the elegantly scripted (in ceil blue) ‘i’ across the bridge of the nose, the slightly recalcitrant set of the chin – have all been preserved for posterity, albeit scattered across several generations. Nor did I really need to hear his voice (and even if I did it would have made no difference, as proper vocalization requires a pair of lungs, a larynx and a mouth – any and all of which the ghosts of our past rarely possess) – what I really needed, with all the desperation of the Son of Dawn clawing at the gates of Heaven, was to re-confirm, reestablish as an irrefutable actuality, the fact that he had been a part of my life once, a part of my everyday reality. A part of me, if you will. 


“The one who loves you will make you weep.” 

The very air around me shifted, but I did not open my eyes to determine whether the shadowy form before me was true to my memory (it could have just as easily reproduced his likeness from those last, pain-ridden days – there are no guarantees in death!). I could not look, could not breathe, desperate for a sign that he was as happy to see me as I was to see him, yet too afraid to move lest I disturbed the subtle balance of the moment. Can such a gentle sound as a rustle of cloth break a human heart? Because I swear, the moment his shirt cuffs grazed his hips on their upward journey, mine shattered into a thousand pieces… 


 “The quality of mercy is not strain'd, 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven 
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: 
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” 

Silently, his hand blossomed into a universal gesture of request and I dropped the offending piece of rock into his palm. I hardly dared believe my eyes as it bubbled and morphed, the colour slowly but irresistibly fading, until all that was left in its wake was a perfect little hexahedron of pure white: a sugar cube. 
And that’s when the tears came. 


“Promise me you'll never forget me because if I thought you would I'd never leave.” 

Had I been more inclined to believe in miracles and divine intervention, the day I stumbled over the innocuous amalgam of magic and sedimentation would have been the day the religious world as we know it crumbled to dust; there is no doubt in my mind that someone – some overzealous servant of Absolute Being or another – would have proclaimed its existence to all creation (in the vain hope of putting to rest eternal brawls for spiritual supremacy, no doubt), thereby plunging mankind into yet another bout of brotherhood-inspired bloodshed. As it was… If any faith ended up broken, two new ones sprang up in its place. 

“Children, there is someone I would like you to meet...”
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Problem With Serbs (a.k.a. "Why stop now, just when we're hating it?")

You know what the problem with Serbs is? They're just so damned irreverent - you send them an heir presumptive, they shoot him; you send them a heavy bomber, they greet it with "bombar dan"; Neil Gaiman writes lyrics to a song and, well...

I wish the carpet sharks would stop larking 'round the park
Pronouncing future kings and current saints
Their cars are oh so shiny and their accent is divine
But I wish they'd take a day off now and then

They say we'll all get fed
When they come back from the dead
And pass the 5 per cent in parliament
And to prove this they elected dozen zealots for the sect
Who instantly declared their own dissent

So I think we need a brand new host of proxies
Preferably some who can spell "Guignol"
(someone get Neil on the phone, I can't do this all alone!)
- I'm really sick of living in a powder keg

'Twas a terrible mistake, us giving up the hawthorn stake
Now batty bigwig bloodsuckers abound
And should all this fail to kill us, they'll just lump us with gorillas
- Screw edification, bring out the restraints

I think we ought to tell them jacquerie is still legit
And just make sure that we fare better than the French
Though (from past experience) they'll make a perch of nearest fence
And simply ride the bench until the coast is clear

So yes, we need a brand new host of proxies
To remind the world of Tesla, not the Hague
Someone who can take a nudge and patent something besides grudge
And write rondeaux instead of hymns to status quo

We could use some good promotion both sides of Atlantic ocean
(God knows we need all the help that we can get)
So I'm hoping you'll ignore the Slavic accent in your score
- This is really hard in English alphabet

But we really need a brand new host of proxies
Preferably some who can spell "Guignol"
(Amanda, grab a microphone - I can't do this all alone!)
I'm really sick of living in
I'm bloody sick of living in
I'm fucking sick of living in a powder keg!

Sorry, Mr G... If it's any consolation at all, you'd definitely get my vote for popedom.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Old birds and new tricks

I'm on a 3000 words per day (as in "translated", not "written") regime until the end of March. Of course, Mrs Perry chose this particular week to do this and all hell broke loose.
This is what happens when Dags goes bird-watching at 4 AM...

Calling of Thunderbirds
(a.k.a. "Wasn't geeky enough")

Mrs Orlovich silenced the angrily buzzing contraption with a wave of her hand. It was a good thing she remembered the medication, she acknowledged to the now silent device; the tremor was less pronounced this morning. It made life easier for sexagenarians if things didn't slip through their fingers the first chance they got – or at least that's what Mr Orlovich used to say before they stamped his birth certificate “deceased”.
Mrs Orlovich was a patient woman. Even Mrs Golubovich, the annoying gossip-monger from the second floor, admitted as much: she had waited forty years to see her husband’s back (and consequently felt cheated when they refused to place the old bastard face down on his lacquered catafalque) and twenty years to see her only child’s face again (after two decades of international phone calls, it was rather anticlimactic to have a balding, middle-aged stranger walk into her flat with an unintelligible brunette in tow) without so much as a word of complaint.
But she missed her grandchildren terribly.
Having sat through countless tirades on young generations’ lack of regard for the elders and their time (courtesy of Mr Orlovich and that spouse-stealing biddy, Mrs Golubovich) Mrs Orlovich still tended to disagree: the young did, in fact, possess a healthy regard of both their elders and time – precisely the reason they strove to avoid the former. There were times even the ever-patient Mrs Orlovich had the urge to throttle the codger (especially after the hundredth retelling of the same story – the one involving his first car, a bottle of home-made spirits and a very young and very willing Mrs Golubovich).
She still missed her grandchildren so very much.
Carefully, Mrs Orlovich picked up the blue-glowing tool and navigated her way through the arcane symbols.
Thunderbird 3.1.9. flashed into life.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's all Geek to me

Anyone who’s spent more than two seconds in my company will tell you two things about me right off the bat:

1. I am (or so it would appear to the untrained eye) one very, very self-confident person


2. I’m weird.

The same two facts stood as far as my memory extends, even if the order in which they are perceived changed over the years. Apart from a few incidents back in high school – carefully calculated flights into the perfectly made-up face of the middle class elite, one and all – my fashion sense, hairstyle or physical appearance never made the headlines of the (admittedly, somewhat restricted) society levels I circumnavigated. My interests, however…

Let’s just say I was lucky my parents never kept up with the contemporary lingo.

Why am I telling you all this?

As it happens, I'm a parent myself now. And while my four-year-old could give Gizmo & The Gremlins a run for their money in terms of… err… vivacity, my nine-year-old is more of a Bastian B. Bux type; that my nine-year-old is, in fact, a “she” doesn't help her case much, either.

“Girls are supposed to like Disney princesses and play with dolls, right?”

And I’m “supposed to” hold a nine-to-five job and wear skirts, I know. Your point?

As a matter of fact, my daughter does like Disney's lady MCs (Mu Lan and Pochahontas come to mind) and she also plays with her dolls, still; the fact that she renamed them all after Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings characters – Mommy, the sole provider or all things entertaining, not being big on action figures – is completely beside the point.

This is probably where I should mention that neither franchise has ever been as popular here as overseas... Shocking, I know.

Pop music? She's into Beatles.
Disney Channel? She watches House.
Princess Boutique? She prefers Warcraft.
Fashion outfits? You tell me; she's waiting for this to restock.

At this age, it’s probably mostly our doing: her father and I first met in a gaggle of F1-fans and immediately proceeded to tear into each other's throats over the correct pronunciation of Keith Richard’s name. Our courtship took place in a drinking establishment called 'Easy Rider' and included screaming matches on modern-day perception of sexuality Vs the Greco-Roman one, immature pouting over instant messengers and their relative merits to society at large, and an all-out war between Slavic (lead by one L.Tolstoy) and Anglo-Saxon (commandeered by W.Shakespeare, Esq.) tribes.

The first piece of furniture we bought as a married couple? A computer desk; the second one was a matching chair.

Yep, nostra culpa.


For someone as 'unpopular' and 'ungirly' as she might seem, my daughter is – and thank the Valar for it! – rather taunt-proof for her age. We had our fair share of foul weather back in kindergarten and first grade, but as soon as she was old enough to hit the ‘Connect’ button all on her own (even if Mommy kept breathing down her neck to ensure there were no nasty surprises content-wise, and still does) she realized one thing that set everything right in her pre-teen world:

It's not that's she's really different. She’s just a part of a different group.

In a society – hell, a world! – full of little girls hell-bent on emulating Hannah Montana, I’m raising a nine-year-old who ‘wants to be like Spock when she grows up’.

And let me tell you… I couldn’t be more proud of it.

LLAP, geekettes. You are the Force.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Day I Learned To Play Dodgeball

Remember that silly old game they constantly made us play in the lower grades of elementary school? A smiling teacher would lead us to the playground, a half-deflated leather ball in one hand, and then divide the gathered children into two opposing teams: the pitchers and the dodgers. To the utter disbelief of my more competitive friends I would invariably volunteer for a dodger - and then stand like a statue in the middle of the field for the rest of the game. Or as long, that is, as it took some eager pitcher to hit me through the flock of running, screaming children.

Then I would happily trot back to my London or Sjenkjevich, and spend the rest of the PE class blissfully lost in reading. Had I known that in the subsequent years I would come to need the faculties other children pursued with such zeal, perhaps I would have shown more enthusiasm for the game. Then again, maybe not…

~ ~ ~

It was late spring in 1999, and life was a never ending source of fun. I had just turned 22, was working for an art gallery as an acquisition manager, my 2nd year exams at English literature department were under way and... As a reward for an exquisite series of tricks a certain ape in Belgrade had performed, my country was chosen to provide the fireworks for NATO's 50th anniversary.

Oh, goodie...

“You think this was a smart move?” Daemiel asked as we rode the 5-mile bus line to the city center with a bottle of red wine in the backpack each. It was our friend O’Milyana’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate a friend’s birthday than getting royally sloshed while watching the firecrackers?

“Why not?” I shrugged; the absence of sirens throughout the long hours of early afternoon had left me unusually optimistic. “It’s not like I’d be wrapped in cotton if I stayed home, either.”

The street I grew up in was one of the most peaceful in the town - at that point, however, it boasted the presence of assorted high officers in the local army and therefore could be considered a legitimate military target.

“True”, Daemiel consented absent-mindedly, looking out past the row of empty seats and onto the street below. “Our stop comes next.”

We got off the bus and into the nearest liquor store. “God loves variety”, Daemiel nodded her approval as I emerged behind the counter with a bottle of dry gin and Indian tonic water.

“I think we’ve got everyone covered now”, I mused as we walked out of the store - while O'Milyana and her mom were wine persons, Daemiel and myself preferred the sparkly aroma of good old gin&tonic. But just as my friend opened her mouth to profess her enthusiasm for the forthcoming festivities, a loud bang echoed off the surrounding buildings.

“You don’t suppose it’s…?” Daemiel searched my face, her pupils acquiring the quality of miniature flying saucers.

“Nah…” I shook my head with a scowl. “If it were, the air-raid alarm would have already gone off.”

I turned to continue on my way when, just to spite me, the damned things did go off. The air filled with the wailing of a thousand horny cats from Hell, and within seconds Daemiel and I were alone in the street.

“Great…” I grumbled, looking for the nearest shelter. “Now what?”

“I think we better get to O’Milyana’s place…. Fast”, my suddenly monochrome friend spat out and hurried towards the 14-storey-building which harbored the birthday girl.

By the time we entered the building the electricity was already out, and we were facing the threat of panting up the 10 flights of stairs in complete darkness. Fortunately, the preceding couple of weeks left us well-trained for this sort of emergency and we promptly produced our compact flashlights out of the backpacks.

At the third floor we almost collided with a frenzied group of tenants clutching supplies of food, clothes and covering that would see a lees ambitious party through a fortnight in the Andes.

“Watch your fucking way!" Exclaimed an elderly man with a battery-operated TV set under one arm; he almost knocked Daemiel down with the bird cage he hung over the other.

“What’s wrong with these people?” I muttered as we approached the door that had our friend’s last name printed on it in capital, bold letters.

Before I could raise my hand to knock the door flung open, and we were all but shoved inside by O’Milyana’s mother. “You kids are crazy”, she glared at us, motioning for O'Milyana's room. “She’s in there, but we are leaving for the shelter so be quick.”

We stumbled across the narrow corridor, completely baffled by the lady’s words. "Be quick… What the Hell did that mean?” I wondered as I kissed my friend to wish her many happy returns.

It turned out it meant Daemiel and I were not invited to the little underground party tenants of the building threw whenever they heard the cat call. “You know how it is…” O’Milyana shrugged, plump cheeks red with embarrassment. “No one likes strangers in the shelter.”

Sure, we already suspected as much. To the untrained eye, Daemiel and I could indeed look like two members of US special units on their way to kill off the unsuspecting civilians with a bottle of drink and a flashlight.

We trudged our weary way down the staircase, and found ourselves back on the street where we came from.

“Now what?” It was Daemiel’s turn to inquire.

Unfortunately, O’Milyana was telling the truth: unless you were a resident of the building in question, or a relative close enough for someone to stick his neck out for you and face the edgy crowd, there was no way to gain entry into the classified circles of shelter-dwellers. We could either sit it out, or walk it out.

We decided to drink it out.

“There goes another plant!” Daemiel raised her bottle as a stifled detonation reached our camp at the base of a gray skyscraper.

“Mm-hm” I nodded as I performed the astounding feat of mixing gin and tonic straight from the bottle. I would have broken the world’s record too, but for the second explosion that sounded too close for my liking.

The contents of my mouth came splashing all over the pavement as I grabbed the backpack with one hand and the sleeve of Daemiel's shirt with the other.


We ran down the empty street, debating whether the word “civilian” would be more effective written across our backs or on our foreheads and whether a deserted playground would prove more secure of a shelter than an empty bus station, when the monotonous tone of the siren announced that the air was finally clear.

“What the…?” I glanced up, almost toppling over a trash can some idiot of a dustman left at the end of the pavement.

“Saved by the siren…” Daemiel laughed. It might’ve been me, but I could’ve sworn there was something wrong with the wine Daemiel was drinking back at the base camp; she didn’t seem a least bit drunk to me.

We caught the bus back home only to be informed half-way that we could either turn back or walk the rest of the way: a two-mile area stretching right across the only road to our home town was strewn with cluster bombs, and there was no bus driver depressed enough to brave the crossing.

“How long will it take to clear it away?” We asked the police officer securing the scene.

“I’d say three hours, at least”, he shrugged.

Daemiel exchanged glances.

“But the road is clear, yes?” I tried again, hoping beyond hope.

“Sort of…” was the helpful answer I got, so we decided not to push our luck any further and got back on the bus to the city center.

That night, as we returned from a friendly game of yamb at Daemiel's boyfriend’s place, we heard the air-raid alarm go off again.

We were standing at the end of a treelined path leading through the park that separated us from the relative safety of our respective homes. We were expecting to hear distant detonations, like we always had in the past, but this time the explosion was much closer and the air blast broke the boughs of several trees along the path. Too close.

“It’s the transformer” Daemiel whispered. It was rumored that the power supplies would be the next “legitimate military target”, and the said transformer was situated less than a mile away. She crouched beside the road with her arms around her knees, and started rocking back and forth; there was a look of genuine terror in her eyes.

I caught myself thinking about earlier that day, the old man with the cage and O'Milyana's mom, the sobbing young mother with a feverish baby and belligerent pensioners on the bus we caught back home. I could have sworn I heard something crack at that moment, and found myself taking a step towards the park.

“What are you doing?!” The utter stupidity of my act shook Daemiel out of her hysteria. “You will get hit!” Whether she was referring to the boughs or the bombs, she didn’t say.

“Nah…” I smiled to dismiss her worries. “I’ll dodge”, I winked and started walking down the branch-strewn path with my eyes firmly set on the finish line.

And so I’ve been walking ever since.
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 'F' Word

It's controversial. It's derogatory. It's almost-but-not-quite work safe.

It's the 'f' word.

And I have no compunctions whatsoever using it to describe myself.

All right, folks: the word of the day is "fan".

No, I do NOT mean "the blower" (although I'll admit to a passing acquaintance with a handful of individuals who would fit both descriptions quite nicely), I mean "the enthusiast"!

Now, I'm not denying my lack of reluctance to apply the said (hash)tag to my person probably stems from age-related confidence (it's not like I'm in danger of being designated a fangirl at the ripe age of 33... Hell, I could probably use the ego boost, too!), but the fact remains that 'yours truly' is fanatical... about books.

I love them. I love everything about them: the architectural plans, the construction, the façades... I even love the urban reconstruction planning that inevitably follows the purchase (have you ever tried to fit two generations' worth of paperback purchases into a 172 sq. ft. room? no?! holy typeface, you have no idea what you're missing!).

From the ultimately heroic (if slightly self-destructive) act that is writing/editing, through the noble quest for the cover design, down to the arcane magic of paper grade choice, I'm hard pressed to name a single aspect of immortalizing the written word that doesn't make me want to squee like a twelwe-year-old on a Twilight premiere.

I love the blasted things, shoddy big-name endorsements and all!

Blame my late grandfather; he was in the business when I was growing up...

I'm one of those annoying people that will go see a book-based movie and spend the entirety of the show internally griping about plot inconsistencies.

I'm one of those oddballs who like to track down obscure references, revel in obvious onomasticon uses and am, in fact, addicted to book porn.

I'll never miss a chance to gush about my favourite title, author, or a publishing house.

And I'll never, ever economize on books.

So yes, it would seem Dags is indeed an archetypal fan(girl). And if you have a problem with that...

I have another 'f' word for you, and it's definitely not work safe.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

(Over) The Counter Culture Treatment

This is not to say we didn't have our moments before she decided to pick up her higher education right where she left it (somewhere on the outskirts of the 20th century), but having Selver back in the daily grind of the academia definitely came with a few unexpected perks.

"So, I've been thinking..."

There is a reason I befriended her, you know...

"Remember how everyone used to balk at us for reading Musashi, roleplaying Chronicles and learning Quenya back in the first grade?"

She's talking high school, people. Breathe.

For a split second I was tempted to point out that, some decade and a half down the road, the majority of people would still balk at us for the same reasons... but I wisely decided to keep my peace.

"Yes, and?"

"And Diablo, of course..."

(That would be Lamborghini, not Blizzard Entertainment - the latter doubled as anti-missile defense system several years later, though)

Her eyes took on the usual slightly feral gleam as she went to rattle off all of our cultural transgressions: "And Quasar emissions, that chess game in PE, your 'resident preacher' getup... And Cicero! Gods, the Cicero stunt was a blast!"

She was all but wiping tears of mirth by this point, wheres I was more inclined to gnash my teeth and glare.

"All right, I get it... we were nerds. Your point?"

And there it was. The eyebrow.

"I can't fucking believe she's using the eyebrow on ME!"

"Oh, come on!" Selver, ever the bitch, actually laughed at my facial expression (She did have 18 years to build up resistance to The Scowl Of Imminent Immolation, mind you!). "Both of your kids could double-click open a browser before they could use the potty, for Senna's sake!"

You don't want to know. Trust me.

"Fine..." I huffed. "We're still nerds. Will you get to the bloody point now?"

Finally satisfied with the boost she gave to my blood pressure levels, The-Best-Friend-From-Hell relented.

"I used to think I was just anti-social, and you were some kind of Japanese Elf warrior in your past life."

"Ha, ha..." I drawled. "I'd reschedule that literature exam if I were you - the whole 'Appearance Vs Reality' thing is messing with your brain."

"You're just jealous," she quipped; unfortunately, she did have a point.

"So tell me, oh Wise One..." If all else fails you can always fall back on snark with Selver, I learned quite a while ago. "What great truths has the Triple Goddess imparted on you while you were deconstructing doll houses?"

The wench simply ignored my jibe.

"Classical case of defensive mechanism. To our credit, we did work our way up through the levels quite efficiently."

I groaned.

"I'm well aware I was a neurotic teen, all right? Tell me something I don't know."

"You're still a neurotic teen, but that's rather beside the point," she shrugged. "Immersion in alternative cultures is a sign of immaturity..."

"Maturity is grossly overrated," I muttered.

"...and so is witticism, FYI."

She actually pronounced it that way: "ɛf-waɪ-aɪ". It was the perfect moment for me to return the eyebrow favour, and I did so with unabashed glee.

"Fine. You got me." Selver was always the more graceful loser of us two. "But the point I was trying to make is: we were always clever bastards, you and me."

"How so?" Now she really had my attention. It's not often I fail to follow her reasoning outside the slightly illogical fascination with browser games.

"Can you imagine the amount of both cash and recuperative years spent, had we taken the traditional, rehabilitative way to sanity?"

A brief cataloguing of our teenage years (the hyperinflation, the so-called 'Yugoslav Wars' and the subsequent economic and political sanctions, and the constant, deranging presence of the Socialist Party came to mind) finally had me nodding a heartfelt agreement with her rhetoric.

Indeed, the counter-culture treatment beats over-the-counter treatment any day.
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