Beatrix of the NetherlandsYup I said I’ll write next time about Queens’ Day but today happened something quite strange: I’ve seen the Queen! OK the circumstances at the end weren’t so lovely but still. Namely after visiting few museums (among the rest Hemp Museum where you can smoke a little bit weed) during the day I ended on the Dam Square in Amsterdam where was about to begin the big event: it is Remembrance Day, a national memorial ceremony. All flags show mourning (they aren’t on the top of the stick (don’t know expression in English)) and each May 4th there is a ceremony on the Dam Square in which the Queen also take participation and at 8.00 pm there is a 2 minutes of silence.

Edgar DavidsIt was quite crowdy on the Square. The speeches have been made first in the church on the square and then there is a procession from the church to the Square to leave the flowers on the memorial monument to the Dutch who lost their lives in World War II which is also on the Dam Square.

I was in the crowd and I saw Dutch Queen, Beatrix of the Netherlands (I was some 5 m from her) as well as some famous people (and among them Edgar Davids).

Anyway, during 2 minute of silence suddenly some man started to yell (and I thought what a stupid, stupid joke). Then there was another scream which I believe it was some Dutch word and then we heard a roar, very strange sound as if a massive train is passing beneath us. That is when people were started to scream and stampede began. The metal fences were down, everyone was running away from the sound. My backpack was on the ground and camera in the hands so I was clumsy; managed to grab backpack, guarding camera but couldn’t avoid the lying fence so I fell. It wasn’t pleasant whatsoever because people in panic ARE dangerous.

Luckily I was on my feet soon enough to avoid to be covered with more bodies. I jumped over one fence in the area that was restricted few minutes before where there were no many people so I was able to watch what on earth is going on. People were hysterically crying, both kids and adults; many were carried by policemen and ambulance and no one knew what was the cause of the those screams and what was that really frightening sound.

Of course first association for all was last year’s Queens Day when many people lost their lives in the attack. Today however, luckily there were no such a consequences but I realized how deep trauma event from the last year has left on Dutch people. And that was the scariest part: knowing that people in such a perfect and ordered lovely, wealthy country live in utter fear without even realizing it. All they need is a trigger, a shout of a sick man and voile: psychology of the mass in on the stage.

Marlene was completely in panic. She sent me text message immediately to check if I’m alright. Rowena called to tell her that she just saw me on TV (there was a live broadcast from the Dam) and she turned on TV and start to type me a message when all this happened. She raised her eyes from mobile phone to TV and saw panic and stampede. Later when they said it was a sick man who was screaming Rowena explained what happened: “Oh it was just Milan not behaving himself”

I thought how would we in Serbia reacted: probably just thinking “What an idiot!”, maybe someone would be irritated and solve the problem with his own hands but I doubt it would provoke such a panic. But I totally understand Dutch people. They just didn’t accustomed to such violent excesses and after experience from the last year I doubt they’ll be cured anytime soon.


I didn’t have a time to write my blog regularly because I was out whole day and then in the evening I wasn’t quite in the mood to type. Anyway, Amsterdam happened few times in the meantime. On the first day (which was quite nice) I decided to take a canal cruise through A’dam’s canals (utterly touristic). I was sitting outside of the boat so that I could make a photos without glass (the boat was covered) and therefore couldn’t hear the story guide has been telling about the buildings before we were passing, but anyway I’ve read about that in the guide. The only thing was that after cruising I went to walk and then took almost the same route which I realized only after few hours and checking photos I’ve made.

Everything looks the same. So many times I thought “I have to take a photo of that, and that, and this, and that …” only to realize that those photos are almost the same. Another curious thing is that I’ve managed (in spite of the fact I had a map) to get lost so many times! Everyone told me Amsterdam is not big city but then I didn’t expect it’s so small. So many times I was heading towards one point and after so much walking without finding it turned out that I must have passed that point long ago and almost reach the point which is not on the map whatsoever! Also it happened numerous times that When I finally managed to locate on the map where I am after only few minutes I’ve been lost again! Today (on the lovely meeting with Dutch BookCrossers I had) I’ve heard explanation.Namely, on the BC convention hosts were explaining how the streets of Amsterdam aren’t straight but in the shape of a horseshoe, following the canal rings. What they forgot to say that after every half an hour (or so) the whole horseshoe pattern is moving anticlockwise and all streets aren’t at the same position on the map as they used to be before that click. Gosh that was so frustrating! But then after few days of not having the slightest idea where you’re going everything become quite clear and simple. (today I know perfectly where should I go to reach Van Gogh’s Museum and then where should I go to reach CaffePlaza to meet other BookCrossres)

But to go back on the first day… After finishing canal cruising I went to walk through the streets and bridges of A’dam. And suddenly in one moment I’ve heard knocking on the glass next to my ear so I instinctively turned my head in that direction. OK I know A’dam has Red Light District and of course I was planing to visit it but I didn’t know where exactly it is and even less that I’m in the middle of it. When I turned my head I saw big (really big) almost completely naked woman in her 50ties (or even more) winking me and inviting me inside. I must say the scene wouldn’t be pretty even if I have been prepared. If I wanna be completely honest it was scary, but of course I’m not used to those kind of window shopping so I needed a little more time to realize that’s OK; it’s OK to look at those women, to wink back or even to accept invitation. So The Red Light District turned out to be the first place I visited in Amsterdam and it was quite interesting. Also the real window stars can bee seen when night starts to fall although indeed there is a pick for all sorts of preferences.

[now I’m gonna time-jump again]

I saw great exhibition in Amsterdam Historical Museum: “The Hoerengracht (1983-1988)”. This world-famous iinstallation is a walk through reinterpretation of a section of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. With its display of richly decorated rooms of window prostitutes, the work is more than a superb example of assemblage art. It is a monument to the Wallen (window prostitution) of the 1980s and this is the first time the work is shown in Amsterdam. the exhibition examines the connection between art and Red Light District. Alongside Kienholz’s (authors of the exhibition Edward and Nancy Kienholz) work, international contemporary artists comment on the theme of window prostitution. “Role Exchange” by Marina Abramovic, for example, explores what happens when an artist and a prostitute change places. For four hours they changed places: prostitute went to the exhibition opening while Abramovis took her place in the window. I was so excited when I saw this installation: There are two screens: one was showing Marina in the window smoking and smiling to the viewers (me) and the other, prostitute chatting with people at the exhibition opening.

As I said I didn’t want to be in the museums when the weather was so nice so I walked whole first few days. I went in the Westerkerk and its tower (the tallest in the city at 85m). The church also has the largest nave of any Dutch protestant church. Rembrandt was buried here though his grave has never been found. The panoramic views of Amsterdam from the top of the tower indeed justify the rather gruelling climb. We were lucky cause the weather was so nice so the views were fantastic.

Beside the Westkerk is [in typical Dutch spirit] Homomonument, monument dedicated to the homosexual women and men who lost their lives during World War II. The pink triangular badge which gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps later became an emblem of gay pride and was an inspiration for this monument which consists of three large pink granite triangles.

In the same street where is Westkerk is also Anne Frank House but when I saw how huge queue is I decided just to pass it. I might go there before return although I’m not keen on spending hours in the line. By the way I visited (just on short) Van Gogh’s Museum today and and it was such an emotional experience. However I’m not going to write about that now. I’ll go there few more times for sure so it’ll be separate post. I’m just mentioning this because when I peeked out of the museum on the street I saw 1km line of people waiting to enter the museum. The same situation was with Rijksmuseum. And today it was raining incredibly (first day with rain whole day long). I didn’t wait cause I purchased Museum Card which allows beside free entrance in almost all Dutch museums, skipping the waiting line 🙂

Anyway, day before Queen’s Day is of course Queen’s Night. It is the day when many people arrives in Amsterdam and the party is starting. By the way, on Queen’s Day Amsterdam at least doubles its population (750000), not only with foreign tourists (like me) but with Dutch from other cities as well. All of a sudden there’s complete blockage of all streets in Amsterdam by people. Every single square has a stage with DJs or different groups. I was cruising from one to another; they were mainly house music which was OK but not to much fun. Then there was stages where people were having great fun but it was sort of Dutch folk music and I must say that certainly is not my mug of tea. It reminded me on some German, Alpine yodelling (not the same but leaves that impression), with middle aged men with accordion, guitar, violin but the audience was screaming the words. It was silly. And then I’ve found the stage with the disco music from 70s-80s and that was a blast! They were singing Bony M songs with all choreography and costumes and I had really great time! Oh and then rain shower started but I didn’t even mind that! It was such a great time indeed.

And then next day (Apr 30th) was the Queen’s Day, the biggest, craziest holiday in The Netherlands … but I think I’ll write about that, next time.

So my big journey started yesterday. I was planing for so long to visit Holland that I wasn’t fully realizing that this is actually happening. My dear friend Marlene invited me many times during last few years but of course because we had that visa obstacle it wasn’t that easy going on your own. (not that I’m complaining cause I was travel a lot but that was mostly in group and Holland was never place I’d visit in a group where I would have to follow certain schedule). So now when that obstacle has been removed I thought quite casually “Why not?”. I checked the term with Marlene and purchased the plane tickets but even then it looked like a dream. Then day before yesterday I started to panic because I had to leave the house in three hours and I didn’t even started to pack my things (that should make a picture how realistic this trip looked to me).

I did get seats next to the window (which I asked) but it was above the wing which messed my plans to use my new camera (that I bought for this trip) It’s Canon PowerShot G11 (I’m so happy about it that I had to mention again). I was a little bit worry about the Schiphol airport which is one of the airport with the highest flight frequency. I supposed to get the bus station, buy the right ticket and then catch the right bus with English speaking driver, explain to him where I’m suppose to go so that he can tell me on which station I should wait another bus. During the flight I was reading about Schiphol and was quite calmed down because guide I have, said that’s one of the most users friendly airports and indeed it is. It was extremely easy to find the right direction and right place to pick up the baggage. The custom clerk didn’t make me problems; asked me questions I expected and stamped my passport (thank you Murphy for not applying your law then!!!). I was on the verge to make silly joke when he asked me the purpose of my visit. I thought to say “Birthday party” [30th April is a Queensday which is the birthday of Dutch Queen’s mother (which was also the queen)]. But then I’ll be here on Rowena’s (Marlene’s daughter’s) B-Day as well which would be my way out with the clerk.

And then at the Schiphool it was such a huge surprise when I suddenly saw a “MILAN ZZZ” sign!!! (for those who don’t know my nick name on BookCrossing (place where I met Marlene) site is zzz). It was Rowena who hold it and then I saw Marlene’s father (!!!) and Marlene! That was not the plan whatsoever so I was really surprised! And then we started to talk as if we know each other zillion years (which is not far from truth) without any unpleasant “oh-say-something-quickly-to-break-this-silence” moment. We all really clicked perfectly. By the way Marlene’s mother suggested the “Who the fuck is Milan?” sign (alluding on the song with Alice of course) but they didn’t do that. Of course I would just pass beside them without even changing my facial expression 🙂 (later she said that’s exactly what she would do as well).

We really couldn´t stop to talk and in spite the fact that I didn´t sleep for more than 24 hours I wasn´t feeling tired. In the afternoon I went in walk through Heemstede and it´s such a lovely town indeed. From the air Holland looks exactly like a Farmiville (those who play it on Facebook (which I don’t and don’t send me invitations!) will know what I’m saying). Everything is so ordered in perfect geometry; on the edges are modern windmills and fields of all sorts of things. The town is lovely; the houses are utterly gorgeous the cobbled streets with street lights; amazingly beautiful gardens and the most strange huge windows without curtains or blinds. Of course Dutch aren’t peeking cause they are completely accustomed on that; however I’m not so I had to admit I was looking inside interested about inner decoration. Then I was wondering “Do they ever walk naked through their house?” Not that I was hoping to catch some nudity but I thought in your house you can be relaxed and free to do whatever you want; However in this case it would be as if they are displaying themselves on the streets. The windows are huge almost from the floor to the ceiling and often you can see entire house till the end on the other side.
Everything leaves impression of the rally rich country. I visited lots of places and in most of them I thought “Oh this could be nice to do in Serbia” however I don’t see Serbia anywhere near to this. Sadly. (will post some pics about neighborhood later).

Today (2nd day) was absolutely lovely with no clouds. I went to Marlene’s parents on the coffee and to meet them of course. They are fantastic! I love their humour and it really relaxed me totally (well, not that was too nervous but you never know). Oh and just like in Serbia, in Holland people are kissing three times! We talked about everything, we catched the topic on which Marlene and I had a huge fight last year (which is past Dutch foreign policy), politics of course, history of the Netherlands and Serbia, question of identity in Holland and Serbia and how there is a huge difference in those two approaches. It was such a great conversation. Oh and Don (Marlene’s father) lended me his bike cause I expressed a wish to do everything Dutch when in Holland 🙂

So in spite that only few kilometres from where I am Van Gogh is waiting me (which is something I’m really dreaming about) I was strong and decided to restrain myself from spending such a lovely day in the museum (I’m sure I’ll eventually catch some rain here) so I decided to go and bike through Holland’s countryside and enjoy the nature. So I took a maps Marlene’s father gave me; put my camera, few sandwiches, water and some long sleeves shirt in my backpack and hit the road.

Holland is cyclist paradise! There are cyclist roads beside the main, car ones, signs for cyclists with marked routes, everyone (car drivers) respects them. It’s just amazing. However thank god there were no cops cause I made few big mistakes: I know I was suppose to ride a bike on the right side of the cyclist road but few times I forgot that cyclist road can be on the left side of the road for cars. So I was turning right from the cyclist road following the direction only to realize that the cyclist road is on my left side  next to the road for cars where I was driving. I did earn few sirens from the car.

Oh and I did manage to fall. Idiot, I’m so into taking pictures so I suddenly saw something I had to picture and completely forgot I’m on the bike so I stretched my leg to stop myself but the speed was too high (I wasn’t realizing that either) which made me lost balance and I “kissed” the pavement. In the middle of the town, it was really embarrassing but I took that picture.

What I was hoping to see was a fields of tulips, something  I don’t think I can see elsewhere. In one of the guides I have, they suggested a route but I had to changed it a little bit of course. So I drove through Bennebroek, Hillegom, Lisse, Sassenheim where I turned right on my own and then I wasn’t sure where I am but when I saw the sing for Noordwijk aan Zee I realised that “aan Zee” must mean “at the sea” so I had to go and see Northern Sea. I was kind of excited cause I’ll jump in the sea again! All of a sudden I’ve found muself among sand dunes and I knew I’m almost there and then I smell it and heard the waves and there it was. endless horizon filled with blue. I left bike near the cafe bar, took of my shoes and started walking towards it. Sand was actually warm but I knew water isn’t. On the other hand I thought “If you could enter into the Arctic Ocean this will not be a problem” and it wasn’t. It was cold and lovely, quiet, except of the waves few people were walking or jogging… It’s strange that last few seas I saw were all cold and on the north of the Europe. I’m so glad I decided to turn and make my own route. 

Then I was a little bit lost in the town and couldn’t find road to Leiden so I asked two older ladies who were so polite and were explaining me direction about 5 minutes… in Dutch! I did found the road eventually but that episode was so nice. At first they didn’t know whet “Leiden” is. I repeated few times and when I showed them on the map they both in the same time said “Oh Leiden!” (I thought I pronounced exactly the same way they did!). When I reached the Leiden I was quite tired (I biked some 45 km) and decided to take train on my way back. You know you can bring your bicycle into the train … if you buy the ticket for it! Which costs the same as for you! How silly is that!?!

And now it’s 2 am, I’m finishing this first report without knowing where I’ll go tomorrow. The idea is Amsterdam but I’m a little bit afraid if the weather is lovely just like it was today I’ll not be able to resist to go in Van Gogh’s Museum. By the way, I learn how to pronounce Van Gogh corectly and I know when I come back and say his last name in Serbia no one would know about whom I’m talking about! I was so surprised. Of course it’s all “H” (Dutch language has so many and so strong “H”).

till soon *wave*

The Time of the Doves [Plaça del Diamant]
by Mercè Rodoreda

I must say that at the beginning I was a little bit baffled with this book. I mean when G.G. Márquez says how I’m holding “The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War.” I expected I’d be blown away from the page 1. I expected novel profound as an ocean and equally demanding to sail thru… so I was floating page after page after page waiting for a storm and in my expectations ignoring the landscape that has been enfolding before me… until I finally notice that because of the tree I don’t see the forest.

This one beautiful story about a simple girl during a horrible time; story about Natalia [Colometa], a girl who works in a pastry shop and loves her job; I dare to say not very bright girl; quite naïve; girl who doesn’t have ability to articulate her feelings in the that profound way I was expecting before opening this book. Even when she talks about unimaginable things; you have a feeling that behind each word is an entire abyss; you can sense its depth but never see it. You expect scream every second but don’t hear it; you feel the horrors but yet Colometa is playing her role of a cork perfectly:

“To me a cork was like a stopper…I was like a cork myself. Not because I was born that way but because I had to be. And to make my heart like stone. I had to be like a cork to keep going because if instead of being a cork with a heart of stone I’d been like before, made of flesh that hurts when you pinch it, I’d never have gotten across such a high, narrow, long bridge.”

On the backstage of the novel is Spanish Civil War and of course its horror can bee seen everywhere but this is not story about the war. It’s story about simple little things of ordinary people; about their everyday struggle to survive; about their sacrifices; about they ways to turn yourself into a cork to stay alive yes, but much more to stay sane.

When I started to read this novel I talked with my dear friend José Antonio (his BLOGS) from Barcelona and he said that “Rodoreda is considered by many as the best writer in Catalan ever and her “Plaça del Diamant” [the original title of the novel] is a symbol (also against Franco’s regime) with its Colometa and her fight to survive during such a horrible time” oh and he also reminded me that Plaça del Diamant actually exist in Barcelona (it’s in the barrio de Gracia de Barcelona).

Speaking about Franco and Spanish Civil War there is a great Translator’s (David Rosenthal) Note where he wrote small history about Rodoreda and her destiny as a writer who writes in Catalan during Franco’s regime. Of course I knew that then all other languages except Castellano (known as Spanish) were forbidden: Catalan, Gallego, Euskadi. What really stricken me is that Catalan, and probably books in other languages, were burned, newspapers suppressed and offices were hung with signs saying: NO LADRES, HABLA EL IDIOMA DEL IMPERIO ESPAÑOL which means: “Don’t bark, speak the language of the Spanish empire”Of course Rodoreda has left Spain and moved to France.

Another curious thing is that shortly after I finished reading this novel I meet two new friend from Barcelona and just like José Antonio, they were full of admiration toward Mrs. Rodoreda and her work But then in the same time I’ve met two more friends from Spain, but they were from Madrid. They never heard about Rodoreda nor about the book.

How strange (and sad) that something which means so much to so many in one part means nothing in the other part of the same country.

Internet domain .yu has officially dead as of today,12.00 PM.
.YU is one of the last symbols of ex-Yugoslavia (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and it lived 19 years after the country it represented died.
I know it’s silly but I’m kind of sorry *shrug*
Oh well, RIP .yu

Explanation of the image for my foreign friends:
It says:”Na kra.yu” which is a word playing with Cyrillic letters (originally should stay “На крају” but pronunciation is the same) and in Serbian means “At the end”)

Rag and Bone
~ A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead
by Peter Manseau

This book is one of my top 2009 reads; moreover before I sent it away I had to reread it 🙂

It is also probably most surprising reading experience I’ve had for a very long time. It’s a great travelog, it’s incredibly funny, equally educational, shocking (how surprising!), ticklingly blasphemous, and absolutely bizarre!

You really would not even imagine (if you’re unfamiliar with the world of relics like myself) what people are able to do with something (human origin) that consider sacred but even worse is to see what Church (!!!) is doing. I was really shocked so many times while reading this book.

First paragraph (I love it!):
”This is a book about dismembered toes, splinters of shinbone, stolen bits of hair, burned remnants of an anonymous rib cage, and other odds and ends of human remains, but it is not book about death. Around every one of the macabre artifacts that, for a variety of reasons, have come to be venerated as religious relics, circles an endless orbit of believers and skeptics, bureaucrats and clergy, con artists, and just plain curious souls. This is a book about life.”

Manseau has done fantastic research about the issue covering all major religions. There are very informative story about each relic while being part of precise human being and that’s very interesting. But the story of the body after soul continued its journey, is stunning! I found that my own religion as the most bizarre (probably because it’s mine). I was more than once reacted like “Oh gosh no! They didn’t! How could they?” and even “Oh hurry up and lets move to Buddhism!” (I‘m joking!) And then the most pathetic: “OK I’m Christian but at least I’m not Catholic”. There are many (I guess ) blasphemous moments; but then how not be blasphemous when you’re reading about Holy Prepuce (Jesus foreskin)!?!? I didn’t even know such thing even exists and is worshiped (by the way do you know the origin of the Saturn’s rings? Go figure! You wouldn’t believe; there is no way you would even guess!)! Or few churches that each enshrines a head of John the Baptist in the same time?!? I’ve seen in Spain part of The Cross (later I’ve found out there are so many pieces of that same cross that Romans must have deforest entire Middle East to made it) also I’ve seen the hand of some saint and then I thought it’s quite morbid (now I see that was actually light image).

What I liked is that Manseau is never offensive; I don’t think he’s hurting religious being in his readers. At least he didn’t hurt mine. He’s looking from a rational point of view on something which is in enormously large scale not rational whatsoever.
As I said he’s very witty and don’t expect from this book to be profoundly serious. Quite opposite; it looks like a coffee chat … OK I admit, the topic would be quite insane but still a coffee chat. And what I liked the most in this book is how people are 100% ready to believe in something so unlikely accurate and even to actually feel the sacred power of it; whether that is a shinbone or a pebble founded in the ash after cremation. It’s really amazing.

From the blurb:
”Manseau’s “Rag and Bone” reads like a novel, entertains like a TV docudrama, and educates like the best college professor you ever had. It is at once informative, quirky, and funny. Do people really think that the leathery tongue of 12th century saint can bless them with good fortune? They do. Why do people believe in such weird things as the holy relics of religion? Read this book to find out. WARNING: you may well discover that you also hold beliefs in holy relics and not even know it!”

Here I’d like to mention one vignette I found very interesting. It’s part of the relics in Buddhism, religion I know little about. The only Buddhist I know personally is my dear friend Shanna (whose BLOG is one of  virtual places I regularly visit; check why) who told me while visiting me in Belgrade something very interesting: That Buddhism is actually not religion but philosophy.  Reading this book helped me to fully realize her words.

There is a story in the book about the Temple of the Tooth in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Of course it’s worshiped and moreover in Myanmar they made a replica equally worshiped as “the original”. As I said I knew little about Buddhism but I knew that much to see a mountain-sized contradiction. And here is an explanation:

There are two branches in Buddhism: one that is following Siddhartha’s words how we should disconnect ourselves from impermanent things in our life (which is basically everything) and the one that is doing completely opposite thing: that is worshiping something so undoubtedly impermanent such is human body (i.e. Siddhartha’s tooth) and even ready to die for. But what was incredibly surprising is that Siddhartha was fully aware that people would hear his sermons and understand what he had meant or they would hear them and understand the exact opposite. He never denied that he told people what they needed to hear to affect necessary change in their lives. He knew that his followers would take from his message parts they needed the most. For some that meant philosophy, for others that meant teeth.

So what about relics? And should they necessary be connected with religion? Are they mandatory sacred? What one relic could be?

“Relics seem to me to admit that, yes, while we do have spiritual dimension to our lives, we are also flesh under the looking glass of all those around us. Our lives and or deaths are witnessed by others, and what our lives might mean to them is mostly beyond our control. We are simultaneously people who need symbols to survive, and we are symbols ourselves. Our bodies – our toes and shins, our foreskins and ribs, our hands and whiskers, our teeth and hair – have the capacity to tell stories we can not imagine. And the facts of our lives can be as mysterious and in need of explanation as anything that lies beyond.”

This is without doubt one of the best nonfiction book I’ve read in years. I so didn’t expect this. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I was attracted with the bizarre topic it deals with and was hooked from the page 1.

American Visa
Juan de Recacoechea

It was my friend Lotus who brought this fantastic book in light for me with her fantastic review (that you can read here). Of course I immediately added it on my wishlist and few months later my wish has been fulfilled.

Since I live in the country whose citizens until recently needed visas to go in majority of countries (mostly the ones that, as Recacoechea called them “First World Countries”) I’m very familiar both with the value of having visa in your passport and all hell you have to survive to get one. Especially if you’re asking visa for the first time because once refused, you’re marked not only for getting visa for that specific country but for many others as well. So it was painfully familiar and so alive the fear of the main protagonist when talking about possible rejection in the embassy and its consequences.

I was reminded on my own experience when I was about to get my first Schengen visa. It was in Spanish embassy and it supposed to be pro forme, nothing complicated: I had all my papers (all in perfect order), I was fellowship holder by Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had letter of recommendation from the Institute Cervantes (as their student), had invitation letter from the University in Santander-Spain, had letter that confirms that all mu costs (accommodation, food, classes) are covered with the scholarship, had round trip plane ticket Belgrade-Barcelona… so the only missing paper was personal letter from the King Juan Carlos himself! Anyway that wasn’t enough. They were asking me papers that didn’t exist. And huge amount of them. To cut the story they finally gave me visa one hour before my flight! I was in the embassy with all my stuff no knowing will I spend the night in my bed in Belgrade or in Barcelona. That was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life. I told to myself that I’ll not let this to happened again and luckily all following experiences with visa were not nearly like that one.

The other thing Recacoechea is mentioning in his novel is that even if you manage to have visa in your passport that doesn’t mean that the clerk/policeman at the airport will let you in the country. They have all right to tell you “No. Go back!” I did have not one but two visas in my passport, the first one was flawed so they gave me second one and cancelled the one with mistake. OF COURSE I was suspicious… I was trying to explain her (the officer at the airport) the obvious but that was never-ending fight until I said that I’m Fellowship holder of Institute Cervantes. Then she slowly raised her eyes with facial expression I doubted she could even have, she stamped my passport, all of a sudden my Spanish is beautiful, she expressed hope that I’ll enjoy my visit, advised me what should I see before continue my journey to Santander, and she hoped that will not be my last visit to her country. She made me mute (I must have looked like retarded) and I was IN!

Anyway “American Visa” is genre I don’t usually read. It’s sort of detective story (although without detectives lol) influenced by Chendler, main characters’ favourite author but nevertheless it was very interesting and hard-to put-down story (not the same with writing this post since I finished with this book several months ago). This was first Bolivian novel I’ve ever read and I was quite surprised how urban and modern it is. I guess I expected some sort of South American exotic story but what I got was even better; bunch of all sorts of souls on high altitude: prostitutes, thieves, murderers, transvestites, corrupted politicians, high class and the ones at the very bottom. And then there’s the main character, a teacher who’s trying to reach USA and join his son and is capable to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. And it does taking a lot if you live in the country that economy is based on cocaine. You must wonder yourself whether you should feel sympathy toward him or just morally disqualifying him. I guess the environment can transform people into something they never thought they can be. And I’m sure, nor would they want to be.

It’s an interesting story, quite intense about one personal story but also about one country hidden high in the clouds and forgotten by the rest of the world.