BY DOLLY LASSITER
This piece is part of the Relationship Issue. Read more here.
The cool club is Academia (accent on the third syllable in Serbo-Croatian, ak-ah-DAY- me-ahh). Belgrade is a dingy dirty, last-gasp-of-socialismcapital. You buy a fabulous pair of red plastic glasses with prescription lenses for $5. The Yugoslavian men and women are all willowy beauties,lithe and robust. They all speak English. You love it. And so do all the other students on your junior year abroad program. Everyone has florid affairs.
Your first night there you go to a party with a bunch of film school students and artists. It’s very dark. Pedja, who will go on to play Igor Karkakoffin the Harry Potter movies, is fascinating and quotes Emily Dickinson “the soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”Also “for love is immortality” and “forever is composed of nows.”
He is interested in talking with you. Whee! American guys are never interested in talking with you (you haven’t moved to New York City yet, theonly place in the continental United States an American male ever asks you for a date). It’s not that you have a predilection for foreigners, it’s thatAmericans have a distaste for you. Boo hoo. You’re too weird and you write strange notes to people (kind of like Emily Dickinson but without the poetry). Of course you make out with him.
When you are on your way back from the restroom, another looming man bars your passage, with such winsome charm, you can’t resist. His name isDragan, like the mythical beast. He’s not an artist, he’s a med student. He lives in a small apartment with his mom, dad, and little sister, where they brew their own wine on the balcony and ferment their own cabbage (you learn all this much later).
That night he’s smoking and decides that he’s the man to teach you everything you need to know how to say in Serbo-Croatian, essentially elaboratecurse words, sonnets of swearing.
He starts small: Jebem ti sunsa (may you get f*cked by the sun). Idija pitchka ti materinu (go home to your mother’s c*nt). He kisses you. Fall down down down into the ring of fire.
The next day you are interviewed on the radio.
The interviewer’s first question, “how does it feel to come from a country with no culture?”
Ha ha! It feels great, you philistine! How can you call a country that invented pop rocks AND pop tarts ‘without culture???’ The land of O’Keefe,Coppola, and Whitman?
A week later you’re spending most nights at his family’s apartment. He has a futon mattress on the floor of his bedroom and a clock beside itshaped like a silver football with a red face. He is a serious student and a good son.
He LOVES his Zippo lighter (spoiler alert: within a month of beginning to date you, he gives up smoking) and his Jack Daniels and his Levis, precisely rolled up at the hems. Part of what he loves aboutyou is that you are from the land of his loves.
His family has a house in a tiny hamlet in the country, Vojska, or “Soldier,” an ominous moniker in a land destined for endless strife, where you cango out and pick the chartreuse green peppers, sun-warmed tomatoes, and spiky little cucumbers for your evening salad.
And you have lunch the next day at a long table full of extended family and neighbors, a chicken running around our feet, then later getting up todance the kolo together (if you can dance the hava nagilah, you can dance the kolo). This is your fantasy of a fantasy. Roast lamb, Srpska salata, freshbread, homemade wine mixed with cold seltzer. People singing and sweating together. Dessert is kasten pire (chestnut dust – superbly delicious).
But sometimes you just can’t wait. And you don’t want to be in such close proximity to people sleeping in wedlock and a younger sister, so therefore you must gather these rosebuds while ye may, which happens to be on a dark and deserted street in central Belgrade. (aside: look up the etymology of wedlock, what a somber and scary word for marriage!)
Tips: do not choose a residential building, as people may come and go at all hours. Find a storefront that is locked and shuttered and clearly closedfor business. Look for an entryway about 4’ deep – you want to be just a little visible (ie, not an entryway where someone else might come lookingfor some al fresco privacy), but neither a very shallow entryway where your licentious activity will be clearly visible. It works well if one of you is wearing a long flowing Victorian overcoat (think French Lieutenant’s Woman), ideally with a hood.
Dragan braces himself against the door. You’re not wearing any underwear, so that’s good. His strong and tender hands slide your close fitting,stretchy knit skirt slowly and sinuously and seductively up above your hips and he has his way with you.
Dolly Lassiter is a filmmaker and writer. She has taught film production, directing for the camera, storytelling, and led workshops with students and faculty at Bryn Mawr College, Hunter College, and Cornell University. She was a Hepburn Fellow for film and video at Bryn Mawr College. Dolly works as the chief digital officer for a small nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in NYC. She co-founded an online video company dedicated to making it easier for all families to eat more healthily and sustainably. Dolly was a Producer and Correspondent for the PBS news program “Need to Know.” She is currently co-directing a film on bacteria and our overuse of antibiotics. Dolly leads a long-running meditation class for adults with mental health issues at St. Francis Friends of the Poor and, formerly, with women veterans who survived military sexual trauma at the VA Hospital. Dolly is the author of JOY(reversed), a weird little multimedia meditation book for beginners with super-short videos, audio clips, photos and other resources, (written under the pseudonym Sarah Shine). She writes about meditation and daily life at micromeditation.org. Dolly is also a pseudonym. She lives with her partner and two kids in leafy Park Slope, Brooklyn.