Even if you’re somewhere for decades, you only get the briefest glimpses of most people’s lives. Traveling, this is even truer. A glancing brush on the sidewalk can still resonate, however. Walk-ons and extras all, we still deserve to be read.
In Joyce’s “The Dead,” the coat girl has but two lines, but who can forget this declaration, delivered with “great bitterness,” “The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you.”
In Orwell’s “Such, Such Were the Joys,” there is this frightful sketch, “There was a new boy named Bachelor, a pretty, mother’s darling of a boy, who came a little while before I left. The first thing I noticed about him was the beautiful pearly whiteness of his teeth. By the end of that term his teeth were an extraordinary shade of green.”
Belgrade in summer is hotter than I expected. Passing Caffe Loža, I noticed an “OLD ROUTE 66” sign and “Times Square” license plate among its decoration, so I entered. Inside, I saw pictures of a San Francisco streetcar, the Titanic, Uncle Sam, James Bond and even Mark Twain, etc., but no Marilyn Monroe, Elvis or James Dean.
Not all minor temples to America are the same. What really set Caffe Loža apart, though, was a mural of John Trumbull’s General George Washington Resigning His Commission!
“Wow, look at that!” I said to the young waiter.
“It’s George Washington.”
“I know, but why is it on this wall?!”
“I don’t know how to explain, but Loža is, ah, like a political organization.”
Washington was a Freemason, I think he’s trying to say.
Since I was the only customer, we had time to talk, though he couldn’t help but look down at his phone often. Real life can’t command his complete attention.
Practicing English, he asked me basic questions, “How long have you been in Serbia?” “What do you think of Serbia?” “Do you like Serbian food?”
“I like Belgrade very much,” I said. “People here are very relaxed, and there are cafes and bars everywhere.”
“Here, everybody drinks every day,” he smiled. “After work, I go to see my girlfriend, then I go drink beer with my friends.”
“But that’s expensive.”
“Not really. Almost every place here, a beer is only 150 dinars [$1.41].”
I’m assuming he’s living with his parents, so pays no rent. It’s common to have three generations under one roof. During the Socialist years, two families routinely shared one apartment.
There are no trash days in Serbia. You take garbage to public dumpsters. The destitute dig through these to scavenge glass bottles and aluminum cans. I doubt they can afford to drink every day.
In Hong Kong and South Korea, old people collect cardboard boxes to resell. White haired and bent over, they push laden carts down busy streets. Even when clearly visible, bottom dwellers are not quite seen, not until you become one of them, usually.
Just launched into adulthood, the Caffe Loža waiter anticipates an infinity of conquests and adventures. He’s already run around a bit. Rome, Moscow, Vienna… Last year, he took a two-week vacation to Turkey.
“Serbs, Turkish, we have an ugly history, but Turkey is very nice, the food is great, and the people are very nice. It is the cheapest vacation. Many Serbs go.”
He’s been to Hungary three times. “Hungary, I don’t like. Serbs don’t like Hungarians too much…” He paused to think about it and reload his English. “We’re Orthodox. They’re Catholics. Orthodox and Catholics, there is a problem. We’re close to Russians.”
“But Serbs don’t like Romanians.”
“No,” he laughed.
“They’re Orthodox, and Serbs also don’t like Bulgarians, right?”
“No,” he laughed even harder.
“Neighbors are like that. Everywhere, you have neighbors hating each other. Well, not always, but usually.”
“Like China and Japan.”
“Or Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodians really hate Vietnamese.”
“Vietnam invaded Cambodia, took a lot of their land.”
He tried to go to the US, but coul
Article from LewRockwell