the book of my lives / my new life

several months ago i read a book which stuck with me until now, and one i think i would be remembering (& referencing) for a long time.. i waited for the right moment to write about this book on my blog, as part of my little book club. it is aleksandar hemon’s memoir “the book of my lives”. critics praised hemon’s writing style, often comparing him to vladimir nabokov, both for their style and the fact that they both started writing in a foreign language rather late in their lives.

since i am no book critic, i will not focus on such particularities; i liked hemon’s work for other reasons. in this post i will focus on three of them and, finally, reflect further on the last one.

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i liked what he wrote about sarajevo, bosnia & the way people used to be before the war started. he describes sarajevo as “the world capital of gossip”, says that people of sarajevo “hated pretentiousness; it was a form of self-hatred” and later confirms what we all know.. that “there’s no word for “privacy” in bosnian”.

aleksandar hemon managed to describe the outbreak of the war as well, even to us – bosnians. as i wrote several times already, i was only seven years old when the war started and i didn’t manage to comprehend the cause of the war and what would be its outcome. years after the war had ended i understood that nobody could tell as much. as hemon wrote “i have spent time trying to comprehend how everything i had known and loved came violently apart..”. as a person who found himself abroad at the beginning of the war, he was maybe in a better position to see where we were going and where the war would lead us:  “if my mind and my city were the same thing then i was losing my mind.” finally, he wrote: “it was all over. the world had arrived and now we were all waiting to see who would live, who would kill, and who would die”. the outbreak of the war in bosnia was a defining moment in hemon’s life. just like many bosnians, he had to start a new episode: “on may 1, I didn’t fly home. on may 2, the roads out of the city were blocked; the last train (with my parents on it) departed; the longest siege in modern history began. in chicago, i submitted my application for political asylum. the rest is the rest of my life.”

my favorite part of the book was hemon’s return to sarajevo for the first time after the war had ended. or even better, his return to chicago afterwards. he wrote something which defines my feelings towards home: “when i came back from my first visit to sarajevo, in the spring of 1997, the chicago i came back to belonged to me. returning from home, i returned home.”

on 20th april i began my new life.

after seven years living in milan, i moved to vienna. meaning: a new city, a new language and a new life.

i had moved a few times already, for the first time when i was fifteen – i left the town i grew up in and moved to sarajevo. four years later, after i had finished high-school, i went to malaysia where i stayed for another four years. even though moving to malaysia might seem like more of a change, i would say that leaving home when i was fifteen was a defining moment in my life. it meant the change of lifestyle. it meant that i would no longer live with my parents, that i would have more freedom, but it also meant that i would be on my own. after graduation, i moved again. this time closer to home, to italy. unlike with the previous episodes, i didn’t have any idea how long the new episode would last, since it did not involve school or uni. as it turned out, it was the longest one – i had been living in italy for seven years before i decided it was time for me to move on.

so, here i am. at the beginning of a new life. i have to say that all my lives taught me what i had to learn, and all of them were very interesting, exciting and sometimes exhausting. each of my lives brought me a new hometown, a new language and many interesting people to meet.

however, my new life will be slightly different from my previous ones. i will have support – my husband, the reason i am here.

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autumn in mommy’s kitchen

autumn has always been my favorite season. even though it is an introduction to cold & dark winter (which i don’t like at all), i tend to enjoy those reddish shades of trees, the cold breeze and (i have to admit) even the rain.
well, my birthday is also in autumn (i’m a november baby!), so that adds to autumn celebration.

oh, and another thing.. i love the food in autumn! all the fruits and vegetables we were craving for in spring and summer are finally here. back in the days when i was little, my mother would prepare fruit jams, so we would get the taste of summer even during the winter months. during those days, that cosy and welcoming fragrance would be all around our house.

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this is a picture of my mommy’s kitchen, my all-time-favorite place, especially when there’s arrival of fresh vegetables from my uncle’s garden. as you may see in the above photo, there are all kinds of veggies here – you name it, we’ve got it: peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, beans, and so on.
it goes without saying, it’s all organic (i don’t wanna put a label on it – but my uncle is the one who prefers growing his veggies that way).

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of course, my mom has immediately started to prepare some tasty meals using these veggies -> spinach pie, fried peppers, corn and creamy soups.

oh, and while she was in the mood, she made some cookies.. which are to be accompanied by a cup of coffee or warm tea.

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after she sent me several photos, i insisted upon receiving more of them. i wanted to see what else she managed to cook and also i love the way she decorates the food. i was trying to convince her to start her own cooking blog, but i guess i wasn’t persistent enough.

so, what do you think? should i try to convince to pursue the “cooking blog” idea (with my help, of course)? i think it would be nice to see some of the typical bosnian dishes – with the twist, which she often adds – using different and sometimes unusual spices (at least for that corner of the world).

out of africa

“i had a farm in africa at the foot of the ngong hills..”

with these words karen von blixen (with her pen name isak dinesen) starts her memoir “out of africa”. she narrates her life in the farmland in the ngong hills, southwest of nairobi.

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“i had a farm in africa at the foot of the ngong hills. the equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. in the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”

this memoir was later turned into a movie (which i STILL did not see!), starring meryl streep & robert redford. however, the movie is only loosely based on the book. unlike the movie, the novel does not have a defined plot, it in the slow way narrates the author’s years spent in africa; it contains mix of landscapes of kenya, events with natives and author’s plans, dreams and thoughts.

and this is how i decided to group all those lovely quotes i came across when reading the book.

the first part is dedicated to africa, its landscapes and emotions it creates in the author. it is also a part which inspired me to start planning a trip to that corner of the world.

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“the geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. there was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like strong and refined essence of a continent.”

“the views were immensely wide. everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequealled nobility.”

“when you have caught the rhythm of africa, you find that it is the same in all her music.”

the second part is dedicated to development of author’s emotions and feelings towards life during the eighteen years spent in africa.. what she has learned from the natives and from the nature itself, how she became addicted to her surrounding, and finally, how she was feeling when she realized she ought to sell the farm and move back to europe.

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“perhaps he knew, as i did not, that the earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”

“up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. in the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: here i am, where i ought to be.”

“my life, i will not let you go except you bless me, but then i will let you go.”

“there are things which cannot be carried through even with the good will of everybody concerned”

“when in the end, the day came on which i was going away, i learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them.”

i absolutely loved this book. it reminded me how important it is to be connected to our homeland, no matter if it’s the country we were born in or the country we decided to make our home. after all, this world is our homeland.

kafka on the shore

“kafka on the shore”, a tour through a metaphysical reality follows the two very odd characters: a teenage boy, kafka tamura, who runs away from home either to escape an oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an older man nakata, who never recovered from a childhood accident, happened during world war II, and now is drawn toward kafka for reasons that he cannot explain.

for the good part of the book, i was trying to understand and rationalize what was happening, but it kept on getting more mysterious as i was reaching to an end. only when i decided to relax, try to accept its mysteriousness and see what happens, i realized how amazing this book is and how much i like it!

kafka on the shore

once i got rid of my habit to try to connect and comprehend everything (yes, i’m an engineer afterall), i came across to many interesting quotes, which i wrote down, as usual.

the first set of quotes i am to present here are advises on how to overcome certain situations we all might be facing.

“whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

“listen, every object is a flux. the earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil – they’re all fluid and in transion. they don’t stay in one form or in one place forever.”

“a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.”

this book also focuses on the past moments and memories. its characters are highly nostalgic; however they remind us even though we should keep our memories always with us, we still have to let some things go and move on.

“people need a place they can go back to. there’s still time to make it, i think. for me, and for you.”

“memories warm you up from the inside. but they also tear you apart.”

as usual, i saved my favorite quote for last.

“if you remember me, then i don’t care if everyone else forgets.”

i dedicate it to all those who were my biggest support in the past year, my husband, my sister, and to my close friends.. and one in particular.. to my friend samira, who always looks at things from another point of view and who enjoyed “kafka on the shore” as much as i did.

now and then.. la grand-place, no. 857

la grand-place in brussels has been on the unesco heritage list since 1998. it is on the list thanks to the architecture itself, which provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of one particular period in this important political and commercial centre. most of the buildings on la grand-place (eng. the main square) are dating mainly from the late 17th century. la grand-place also shows the evolution and achievements of a mercantile city of northern europe at the height of its prosperity.

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i have been to brussels (and on la grand-place) twice; the first time in november 2005. and now, after almost eight years. what can i say, the place itself did not change a bit.. but i sure have.

when i came to brussels for the first time, i was only 21 years old. i was living in kuala lumpur, malaysia, and decided to spend my semester break with my sister, who at the time lived in stockholm. she treated me with the weekend trip to brussels.

we had a great time! since it was the second half of november, it was already snowing in stockholm, but in brussels it was still autumn.. with golden leafs around&all. i also remember how i felt completely dependent on my sister. she got the tickets, found the place where we could spend the night and finally, she was my guide brussels since she’s already been there. when i came for the second time all those feelings came back. i remembered how i used to be back then.

so, what happened in the meantime.. i became an aerospace engineer and came back from malaysia, afterwards i moved to milan, where i discovered the world of oil&gas pipelines.. and became fluent in italian. for a long time i had to juggle between my work & master’s (which was not particularly fun).. however, i’ve travelled a lot (& seen a lot of unesco heritage sites!). i got to meet a lot of fascinating individuals.. and one in particular.. i got married to a wonderful man (whom with i came to brussels & la grand-place for the second time).

finally, here are the pics of me on la grand-place; one from november 2005. and the other from may 2013.

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leggere lolita a teheran / reading lolita in tehran

last night i finished a book i was reading for last couple of months. as i said, i’m a slow reader. it doesn’t mean i didn’t like it, in my view it required time. after every couple of chapters i would stop to think for a while, since i could relate to what was going on in the book.

lolita

reading lolita in tehran is written by azar nafisi, iranian writer and university professor. my copy was in italian, since it was a birthday gift from my friend sonja. it’s a memoir book, nafisi writes about her life in iran, starting with forming a book club with several of her best female students, reflects on islamic revolution, remembers 8 year-long war between iraq and iran, and ends the book with her decision to leave her motherland.

the quotes i’ve chosen are related to three topics which got me thinking. those are the war, the inner world which we can create within ourselves and nostalgia for one’s motherland.

war

“la guerra finì com’era cominciata, all’improvviso e in silenzio. almeno questo fu la nostra impressione. le sue conseguenze, però, ce le saremmo portate dietro a lungo, forse per sempre.”

“the war ended the way it had started, suddenly and quietly. at least that is how it seemed to us. the effects of the war would stay with us for a long time, perhaps forever.”

this is exactly how i feel about bosnian war and its consequences. even though it didn’t affect my family as much, our lives changed completely. my motherland is not what it used to be before the war.

inner world

“ho detto che ci incontravamo nel mio soggiorno per proteggerci dalla realtà esterna. ho anche detto che quella realtà continuava a pretendere la nostra attenzione, come un bambino viziato che non vuole concedere ai poveri genitori nemmeno un attimo di tregua. influenzava i nostri momenti di intimità, ne cambiava le forme, ci precipitava in un’improvvisa e inaspettata complicità. arrivavamo a conoscerci a fondo in tanti modi diversi. non soltanto le attività più ordinarie acquistavano una luce tutta nuova, per via di quel nostro segreto; era la stessa vita quotidiana, nella sua interezza, che a volte finiva per assomigliare alla finzione.”

“i have said that we were in that room to protect ourselves from the reality outside. i have also said that this reality imposed itself on us, like a petulant child who would not give his frustrated parents a moment to themselves. it created and shaped our intimacies, throwing us into unexpected complicity. Our relations became personal in many different ways. not only did the most ordinary activities gain a new luminosity in the light of our secret, but everyday life sometimes took on the quality of make-believe or fiction.”

i was often told i live in my own little world, ever since i was little. until reading this book i would often think that maybe i was too much introvert, overly closed to outer world and i that should open up a bit. now i know i need my own space (just like everyone else) in order to understand reality and to carry on with my dreams and goals.

nostalgia

“ho lasciato l’iran, ma l’iran non ha lasciato me.”
“i left iran, but iran did not leave me.”

oh i could so relate to this. i believe all of us who left our home felt at least once this way.
nafisi managed to capture what i haven’t been able to do ever since i decided to leave bosnia.

i left bosnia, but bosnia did not leave me.
napustila sam bosnu, ali bosna mene nije napustila.

an old photo

this is a photo of my sister and me, taken in gradac, croatia, in summer 1991.
it remains until today one of my favorite photos because it shows the two of us in our true colors. all dressed-up (with hats!) and so lovey-dovey. yes, we’re still like that.

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but that’s not all what this photo is about. as i’ve previously written, it was taken in summer 1991, during the summer holiday at the seaside. that holiday is the one i remember very vividly. soon after a 4-year long war started in my motherland and our life completely changed. we used to revive those moments many many times over, since they were the only things we had.

then, the photo was taken with a very old analog camera. it was my dad’s camera, but he wasn’t its first owner either. it was a present from his uncle and even though it was from the 70ties, pics taken with that camera were of such good quality. and since the camera was one of very few things left from him, it was one of dad’s favorite gadgets.

also, one might notice that the photo has that “yellowish” shade. no, the camera was not that old. the film was left in the camera for 4 years or so, since (again due to the war) we couldn’t find the place where it could be developed. i still remember the day we got all the photos left in the camera. when i saw this photo for the first time i was already 11 years old (in the picture, i was 7), and it felt so strange to see how i used to be and how much i’ve changed.

and last but not least, this pic is a true reminder of the lasting sister love.. and that’s what makes it even more special.