About Face!

As it seems there is no other way to say it, I shall flatly say it: it’s all over.

After 15 years (marked on the twentieth day of November, two thousand seventeen: save the date) of inhabiting the White City on the Danube, I look back at my many grumblings and rumblings and I see, on the whole, that I have not been nearly Grumpy enough to justify my own moniker.

I have had flashes of outrage, passing wry smiles, inward chuckles, and laugh-out-loud moments of disbelieving hilarity occasioned by the often surreal experience of living in Belgrade, but I have utterly failed to become the grumpy curmudgeon railing against the machine, victimized by circumstance, and put upon by society. This malcontent, in fact, has been my arch foe. He points a finger and frowns. He cannot see the irony. And NOTHING is funny in all this…

Therefore, the moment has come – long overdue according to some – to perform an about face. The time of Grumpy is passing into history and the age of Delight is upon us. All hail!

Under the heading of a leopard cannot easily change his stripes, nor a zebra his spots, so too must I issue a disclaimer here that I will cannot always be delighted by Phenomenon Belgrade. Life deals the cards as they come and you play the hand it gives you.

To paraphrase Bill Bryson, I live in Belgrade because someone had to. Yugoslavia had never been quite at the top of my top-tens for places to live, and I arrived in mid-transition Belgrade in 2002 without any real expectations, misgivings, or anticipation. In fact, I was not too sure about what to expect. I knew only that my previous life in Rome was winding to a close and the a new window of opportunity was opening, even if it had a few cracks in the glass and some chipped paint along the mullion.

The early years were spent in slack-jawed dumbfoundery. Everywhere I went I was amazed and befuddled with what I saw. So different to my experience heretofore and so strange to my eyes, I wandered about the city seeing and taking notes. These notes eventually became Grumpy in Belgrade.

The two Grumpy books are a monument to my hard-headed tendency to cling to what I regarded as “normal” behavior and contrast it with what I found in my new home. Having lunch at three in the afternoon, starting a morning meeting with a rakija, being faced down in a bank by pistol-packing security guy, or being refused bread for lack of exact change – all these things set me slightly off kilter.

Today this rarely happens.

My current self has come to grips with the fact that – hey! – this is not America (or Italy, or France, or Germany, or the UK, or anywhere else I have lived throughout my perambulations). I am no longer as flabbergasted with the stuff of daily life in this city as once I was with… well… everything.

What I notice now are the random acts, the delightful creatures that perform them, and how they make up bright tiles in the overall mosaic. What I notice now is my answer to the question (which comes with alarming regularity) as to what the heck I am doing here?

Where else would I be? I answer.

It may come to pass in the realm of extreme possibility that one day I will move on to live elsewhere, perhaps in Tahiti or Malaga or Bujumbura, but in the meantime I have to come to grips with the fact that I am still here, and, despite all evidence to the contrary, I am ok with that.

Therefore watch this space as I attempt to bring out the delightful, strange, spontaneous, and inexplicable that makes life in the White City on the Danube insurmountably inhabitable.

Who knows how long it will last!

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