You look around a little sheepishly, but you do not see the bathrooms. Finally, off in a corner you see a little gold plaque on a door. That must be it. You proceed apace in that direction. When all of a sudden you are embroiled in an ontological debate:
While my memory is not the sharpest or the best in the world, I think I can manage to remember where I am. Most of the time anyway.
Still, it never ceases to amaze me at how many times, in the course of a normal month, week, day, and (on bad days) hour, people will invoke this sentence as a definitive argument and statement of fact. People will constantly tell me THIS IS SERBIA when I wonder why I cannot figure out the city bus schedule. Why does every official act require a mile-high stack of signed and stamped papers? THIS IS SERBIA! Where is the waiter with my change? THIS IS SERBIA! Why do we repair all the roads at once when the traffic is highest? THIS IS SERBIA!
We usually think we don’t have enough of it, as if it would suddenly run out. And sometimes time seems to stand still. We set ourselves appointments in time, deadlines in time, and sometimes allow ourselves a timeout.
The whole world has agreed to this arbitrary standard, as a means of segmenting our finite human sojourn on this planet. We have divided it up into a certain amount of months, weeks, days, and hours and we agree to allow it to reign supreme over all our activities. Time is a cruel master – it never bends to our needs and we are forever chasing after it.
Having slept quite well, I woke up one fine morning refreshed and in an excellent mood. People who know me will note that this is exceptional behavior and perhaps even cause for alarm.
My routine had all the usual morning hiccups associated with my as yet decaffeinated state: I dropped the spoon while making my coffee; I found a dark thread on my white bathrobe, which it seemed I had inadvertently put on inside out; the butter knife slipped from my hand mid-toast; reaching for it, I hit the bread and overturned it; I took a new piece of bread (and new knife) and re-booted. Thus reconfigured, I proceeded to my breakfast.
It’s a mystery. Wrapped inside a pickle. On a ham sandwich.
On sale in Aisle 7.
The mystery is that I no longer know where I am when I go to the supermarket in Belgrade. Today, for example, I started out list-in-handed on a journey to IDEA in New Belgrade. I had received in the post a special Happy Birthday coupon for a 10% discount (on almost everything except what I wanted to buy I found in the fine print).
When I arrived, I found a large empty shell where IDEA used to be. It has been “in renovation” for several months now, so one supposes that this is a euphemism for “it’s probably ok for you never to try here again.” Resourcefully, I decided to pull out of the empty parking lot and dog-leg it into Roda next door.
One phone call was all that was needed to introduce violence into our home.
We needed movers. We called a few. We agreed a deal with one. He came, he forgot the deal, and he began threatening to “beat” us when we insisted. He said that he had beaten his mother that very morning. He held the thing we had to move hostage. He added, just for information, that he was a “woman-hater.”
“I am the author of this book,” I told the nice man who looked Official. “Why is it in the Architecture section?”
“Oh, it says Architecture, but really it’s not.”
“I can see that. But people will not look for it here.”
“This is Biography, Journals, and Autobiography.”
“But it says Architecture.”
“It says that, but it is not.”
Given the proper conditions, I am sure that I could get lost in my own flat.
There are people who are born with an innate sense of orientation. These people always know which way is True North, how to get from here to there without circumnavigating the globe and discovering the West Indies, and do not refer to “right” as the “other left.”
I got a message on Viber 27 seconds ago. When do I respond? Immediately? What is the etiquette? Is there any etiquette?
People who have an active and useful memory of the 20th Century (like me for example) used to send letters to each other, a process by which weeks and months could pass in between missives. When we got email and could send a letter instantly without relying on the post office, we started to think about “response times”. One company I worked for mandated a maximum 48-hour response time for emails. This was soon sliced in two and 24 hours became the etiquette. After that, you were being lazy. Or rude. Or both.