Autumn in New York & Summer in Serbia.

Tell me, friends: what would we do without Autumn in New York? For those who have experienced it, you know that there’s nothing quite like it. During this time of year, Tom Hanks feels compelled to buy school supplies; Bryant Park rips up its 9.6-acre lawn to clear space for the skating rink; and Central Park transforms into a perfectly orange pastoral, complete with horse-drawn carriages and the occasional bride stomping down Bethesda Terrace. 

New Yorkers, momentarily, may feel compelled to seek out the pleasures of “suburban” autumn. They might even Google, “nearest pumpkin patch.” But they’ll soon realize that the closest farms are in Long Island and New Jersey — which, to a New Yorker, is impossibly far away. It’s hard enough to get us to leave our boroughs, what makes you think we’re going to leave the city?

So what is it, then, that draws us to autumn in the city? Our pumpkins are imported from upstate and charged one-too-many dollars. They sit outside Morton Williams on limp haystacks, waiting to be noticed. If you buy one, you risk your neighbor stealing it from your front door or your friendly cockroach munching on it in your kitchen. 

And then there’s all the festivals, activities, and events that bring tourism. Just when you think you’ve escaped the crowds of the Halloween Parade in the East Village, you are met with the chaos of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Not to mention, by the way, that every store starts putting our Christmas decor during the third week of October.

But somehow, I surprise myself every September: those silly Morton Williams pumpkins make me smile. I enjoy the leisurely Sunday mornings by the Jackie -O Reservoir, watching Central Park lose its green face. I don’t mind tripping over sidewalk chalkboards promoting a cafe’s seasonal latte. I especially love rediscovering my fall jackets, and the particular way the wind shocks my eyes. Or how about the evening when your landlord finally kicks on the heaters? Little surprises, secret pastimes — jouissance!

This October, I’ve been so lucky to share my Sundays with my Instagram followers. Dubbed “The Sunday Diaries,” I share what a casual (or glamorous) day in the city is like. It all started with an innocent picnic in Bryant Park with my dear friend Hannah. She prepared these mouthwatering crostini with ricotta and roasted tomato, except there were way too many birds and the lawn was sopping wet from the night’s rain. We looked out toward Bryant Park Grille, an elegant and expensive restaurant that appeared to be everything our picnic wasn’t. One of us said, “I’ve always wanted to go there,” and then it was as if lightning hit us. Your life consists only of the decisions you make — and always, that means curating the lifestyle you want. We both said, at the same time, “Why don’t we go there?” And really, what had been stopping us? We dined there the following Sunday, and thus, The Sunday Diaries were born. They are akin to December’s vlogmas, but specifically for autumn. My favorite season!

All of October, I’ve shared what I’ve been up to: drinking cappuccinos at fancy brunch spots, wearing fluffy sweaters to the Park, admiring fresh cut flowers in local markets, stocking up on vintage dresses at thrift bazaars, and hosting an Oscar-themed birthday party. Don’t be fooled, my life isn’t like this every day. There’s a lot of long shifts, a lot of teary Facetime calls, a lot of poems that are stuck in revision. Bills to pay, a bookshelf I can’t seem to buy, fake plants that are collecting dust. But on these special days … the ones where I choose me, and choose to make the city feel wonderful … It feels like life can always be like that. 

I am always brought down to reality, however, on Sunday evenings. It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest, or worse, that there’s an anvil waiting to fall on my head — anxiety. Every beautiful component of Sunday is something I want to share with Aleksa, who is still not here with me. Quickly, everything starts to feel very wrong. You can’t imagine how many times I’m asked, “But I don’t understand, you’re both married, he can’t come here now?” It’s a question with good intentions, just one that I am very tired of answering. People want to understand, and I appreciate their sympathy. What they don’t realize is that I, too, have no idea how to react to what I am saying. Do you respond with ugly tears, do you get so frustrated that you break your favorite vase? Or do you just continue to be you, enjoy the fall for what it is, see your friends, and feel terribly alone at night?

I’ve never, ever, enjoyed the summer. Even as a little girl, it was a season that carried with it an associative melancholy (ie, my summer is likely your winter.) The sun is too much, the fashion is boring, the days are horribly long. But it truly boils down to the ennui of it all; I am someone who constantly needs to be busy. That’s my flaw. Although I desperately, probably, need to relax, I still haven’t narrowed down what actually relaxes me. It isn’t bubble baths and it isn’t yoga. About ten years ago, I would have said running — but that no longer does it for me. It might very well be writing these blogs.

With autumn in my corner — a new job, a Masters’s program, a new apartment — I’m incredibly busy. And I can’t help but think about how different my life was only a few months ago, when I spent my summer in Serbia.

***

The week I left for Belgrade is all but a blur. It was May 10th, and Aleksa and I had been apart for 101 days. Within that time, I had accomplished so much: three bridal fittings, two bridal showers, graduation paperwork, graduation photos, final exams, final essays, and the joys of packing for a long trip. The very same weekend I was packing for my summer away, my roommate was moving out of our apartment. Our home was a mess. I was either strategically moving my wedding dress out of the way and scratching up the floors with my suitcases, or he was combing through the intimate corners of our space, trying to determine what to toss, what to keep, and what to leave behind. 

Twenty-four hours before my flight, I helped him load up his U-haul and watched him drive away. The whole thing was very nostalgic. I walked upstairs, returning to what looked like a former shell of our home, feeling nervous, elated, and sad. I realized that that night would be my last evening sleeping in that apartment, and that the next time I returned to New York, I’d be sleeping in an apartment belonging to me and Aleksa.

That following morning was just as chaotic. I woke up too early, as I usually do for international flights, and left around 10 A.M. for JFK. I was completely by myself juggling two giant suitcases, a large green tote, and my big wedding dress. I couldn’t even tell you how I managed to get those belongings down three flights of stairs and into an Uber. Carrying a wedding dress in an airport, by the way, is no easy task. You can’t get coffee as you risk spilling anything on the bag, and you can’t exactly put your dress down to wander off. You can’t carry it, leisurely, on your arm as you stroll through the airport’s gift shops because any sudden movements might knock over a souvenir or bag of chips.

All I could do was stand there, the heavy dress straining my shoulders and drawing attention. In some ways, it was nice. Everyone who noticed what I was carrying seemed to smile at me, even with their masks on. The TSA was wonderful. They opened a giant machine to scan my dress so that it wouldn’t get crushed or dirty in the conveyor belt. And luckily, somehow, the stars happened to align for me. I managed to get a row on my flight with absolutely no people, which meant the cabin above my row was completely empty. My dress hung up there, unharmed by suitcases and carry-on bags, and I was able to finally breathe. Every now and then, a flight attendant would walk by and say, vencanica? And I’d say, da! 

The first thing I noticed when landing in Belgrade was the coolness of the morning. I had been warning about the Serbian summer heat, but this was still the baby’s breath of spring. Belgrade was gorgeous.

Now, considering that this blog has a history with Serbian news tabloids, let me try to be as clear as possible: this was my experience of summer in Belgrade. Not a general overview of what Serbians do in the summer in their country. This is as narcissistic as it gets! Just me and Belgrade.

During the cooler month of May, I spent a lot of time being a tourist. I had never experienced the warm seasons in Serbia, so it was an adjustment. 

One of my first memories of that trip was going to Galerija. Aleksa and I had spent my first few days reuniting with friends and family, so this was our first outing: checking out the sales and shops at a newly opened mall. From what I gathered, not all Belgraders are fans of Galerija. It’s too new, or it’s too empty, or they’re just loyal to Ada and Delta City and Rajićeva and UŠĆE — all the other malls that have filled the city. Personally, I like Galerija. The bottom floor has restaurants that all lead toward an outdoor terrace that overlooks the river, which in my book, is a great architectural and business model. I enjoyed getting breakfast two or three times at Avenia, where the eggs and tortilla were cooked over medium in an amazing secret sauce. 

Galerija is also a huge layout with big, open floors and fresh new stores. It’s the kind of place an American would want to be if they were shopping for Christmas presents on Black Friday — no one is on top of each other, no one feels cramped. Compared to UŠĆE, whose layout is traditionally more “mall” but always, always, swimming with shoppers — Galerija is a breath of fresh air! I was lucky to see the early days of the mall last winter when the building had barely any businesses open or functioning. There was a giant Christmas tree standing in this domed corner of the structure, and that’s when I knew it would eventually blossom into a gorgeous, roomy mall. 

Belgraders, like most people, enjoy escaping the heat by hiding away in shopping centers. But some days, they like facing the heat, too. Aleksa and I spent a few days walking the paths and park by Kalemegdan Fortress, a structure rich with Serbian history. So much of the city felt alive down here in ways that mirrored Central Park: street performers, street artists, walking tours, lovers holding hands, children running around, dogs smiling with their tongues out. I adored looking over the fortress toward the view of New Belgrade, all the city lights twinkling and the sunset one dreamy mess of colors. 

We spent many afternoons walking Knez Mihailova — it reminds me of New York’s Soho, but if Soho’s streets were wide and filled with European buildings. All the stores are around here, and I watched the windows change from the end of winter sales to spring dresses and summer swimsuits. I wouldn’t say that Knez Mihailova or Bulevar kralja Aleksandra is what people do all summer long, just how us Manhattanites don’t do Soho all summer long. But it’s a beautiful area with hidden gems, decent sales, and lovely people. You can get a real taste of Belgrade’s nightlife here. 

Aleksa and I visited Ada’s waterfront twice; it looks like parts of the Jersey Shore. With boardwalks and umbrellaed areas for restaurants, this seemed most familiar to me when you think of typical summer shenanigans. All kinds of people seemed to enjoy their time here. Whether their kids were swimming in the water or the adults were enjoying a cocktail in the shade, Ada had a space for everyone. Including us, licking ice cream cones in the grassy area while our allergies skyrocketed thanks to the floating pollen clouds everywhere. Safe to say, our immune systems kept us from revisiting. It was all tears and sneezes. 

For one day, Aleksa and I headed to Zemun. There’s nothing I can compare this area to. Parts of it look like Italy or Greece, and other parts seem completely unrecognizable. The streets are narrow and steep, with pink flowers blooming in unexpected corners while tiny cats innocently roam. It took some convincing to get me to walk up the Gardoš tower, but I eventually did. The lookout was beautiful from this historical monument: the tops of orange-tinged roofs, the sparkling waters, the city in the distance. We had a great lunch at one of the waterside restaurants — you might be seeing a pattern, now, of Belgrade having beautiful restaurants by water or nature — where Aleksa devoured an entire pizza in five mins.

We took a day trip to Novi Sad, of course, with Aleksa’s “best man” and his lovely girlfriend. We admired the pink and green buildings, the restaurant with its mini-red umbrellas hanging over our heads, The Girl with the Horn of Plenty statue (surrounded by vibrant red flowers) in the Park, and the museum Aleksa forced us all into. Just kidding, we enjoyed that museum. We were able to see portraits that had been destroyed during invasion, the clothes of previous eras, and the treasures from another life. 

I’m leaving out, of course, the one-hundred-and-one other things we did during my summer stay. I haven’t gotten into the plenty of girl’s nights I had — like drinking espresso martinis with Martina at Hotel Pavillion far too late into the night, then walking in the dark to Belgrade National Theatre, when one guy yelled out of his car that we looked sweeter than sugar which sent us into hysterics — or the warm afternoon I spent with Sonja and her mom looking for bridesmaid dresses in Indjija, followed by the coziness of her home aftward, where we sipped coffees and pet her Black Lab, Šharlo … or the many evenings we saw Aleksa’s friends, who spoke to me in English and Serbian about their plans, their girlfriends, their thoughts on the USA — all over rakija or beer, obviously, which always prompted a late-night run to get giant pljeskavice, and then they’d devour those in their neighborhood, laughing or insulting each other in the dark. 

I had plenty of one a.m. talks with Neda, my adorable sister-in-law, going over boys and school and TikTok dances — and then that one time I dragged her to the mall with me to buy something for our wedding, but we couldn’t stop laughing, which made the jewelry seller start laughing, so nearly everyone was looking at us. And I have also left out all my lovely days with Aleksa’s family. The week I arrived in Belgrade, Eurovision had just kicked off. I had heard of it before, but never knew the star quality and possession this contest held over people. We were all glued to the TV, holding our breath — laughing at the playfulness of Serbia’s girl group, Hurricane, and taken back by the rock-and-roll of Italy’s Måneskin. Aleksa’s mother and I often watched movies together or went over the nitty-gritty wedding details that Aleksa didn’t care about — like the color of napkins and the shapes of vases. Aleksa’s father and I always seemed to be making fun of something, whether it was the announcer’s voice on the radio or the way Aleksa would describe American burgers. Aleksa’s grandparents had us over for lunch plenty of times, too. His grandpa was always fermenting plums for next season’s alcohol; his grandma was always rolling pastry into spirals, which resembled the Jewish dessert, rugelach, but was something else entirely. 

What I mean to truly say, from all of this, is that summer is not just about the dog days. 

Sure, it can be. I adored visiting the castles, the cafes, the bookstores, and wedding venues.

 But it wouldn’t have been half of what it was if not for the people I love there. My summer in Serbia is not something that can be recreated, let alone a travel guide for curious tourists or a critique-all for the current residents of Belgrade. It was a period of immense joy and new beginnings, a time where I finally got to live with Aleksa and reconnect with friends and family. 

And that should be reason enough to understand what follows the afterglow: a tsunami of sadness and confusion. Despite autumn’s magical effect on Manhattan — despite the tiny gourds on my windowsill, the wool coats, the cinnamon-apple teas, the warmth of my friend’s phone calls — I still feel the absence of Aleksa. A part of me hoped that my admiration for this season would help calm these feelings, but they’re just as strong as ever. Every time I see a crinkly brown leaf blow through my building’s hallway, I just want to shout, Aleksa, look! Autumn! 

My life is so drastically different from just one season ago, that sometimes, it feels like this past summer was not my life. I was simply watching someone else live it, or I’ve somehow inherited false memories. Now, all I can do is exist without my husband or the people that made up my summer.

Instead, I can experience this year’s autumn filled with the friends and family that are absent from Aleksa’s corner of the world. Binational marriages, international friendships, they’re impossibly tricky. Whether I am in Serbia or America, I’ll always have a group of people missing from my life. That’s not as bad as it seems, though. If not for the omnipresence of summer, I wouldn’t be so excited by fall’s subtle arrival. Eventually, we must pause and take notice of the change. And when you do, you feel alive in a brand new way. 

How Aleksa and I Met.

In order to understand the bizarre circumstances in which Aleksa and I were fated to meet, you must first know the story of how my parents met.

In 1991, my father was a captain for Circle Line, the company that formerly operated the ferries that carry visitors to Liberty Island (where the iconic Statue of Liberty stands) and Ellis Island.

My mother was living with my great-grandmother at the time. Mafalda, affectionately nicknamed Mary, was an Italian woman with a fervor for wanderlust. Throughout her life, she took trips back to Amalfi — where she was born —and across the globe. Her home was garnished in the souvenirs of her travels: ceramic vases from Germany, geishas made of opal mosaic, even Polish tea sets. 

And if not for Mary, who had her heart set on seeing the Statue of Liberty in 1991, who had urged my mother to take the trip with her to New York one Saturday in September — my parents wouldn’t have met.

And their story goes like this: My mom is a tourist boarding the Miss Ellis Island ferry. My dad is in the wheeling house, where the captain sits atop the shop. And from way up there, he sees some beautiful, dark-haired woman crossing the bridge from the dock onto his boat. Supposedly, REM’s hit song “It’s The End of the World As We Know It,” was playing on the radio. And if my dad was telling this story, he would unapologetically say it really was the “end of his world” — a world without my mother! My Dad sent down a deckhand to retrieve her phone number. But my mother — that femme fatale — sent his deckhand away with this message: “Why don’t I take your number instead?” 

And that next weekend, my father drove from Brooklyn to New York to pick up my mother for their first date. Six months later, he proposed on Christmas Eve in Central Park. And they’re still very much in love today.

***

In 2017, I had applied for a lucrative fellowship that promised a travel fund for a creative project. I had my heart set on Ireland so that I could study Gaelic folklore. I had made it to the final round of interviews, but was ultimately rejected. “Don’t stress about this,” my sponsor had told me. “This fellowship is notorious for turning away freshmen. What they like to see is drive. If you apply again, they will take you. I’ve seen it happen many times.”

I did just that. In 2018, I applied yet again to the fellowship. This time, my heart was set on a different idea; going to St. Petersburg to study the methodology of Russian literature. To my sponsor’s shock, to my college’s shock, and to my own … I was rejected, again, after the final round. As disappointed as I was, there were new issues on the horizon, like, where was I going to live this summer? I had made no plans for residency since we had all hoped I’d be going abroad. 

Panicked, I called my Dad to ask him what I should do. He suggested I spend the summer working at the Statue of Liberty “because I still have friends there who can get you a job.” And after a few phone calls, my summer plans were decided. I would be working in the gift shop at Liberty Island.

I did not know anything about Liberty Island at the time; I did not know that there was a foreign exchange program for students; I did not know the ferry schedule. So on my very first day of work, I was late. And I missed the Liberty Island ferry.

Without much choice, I had to take the Miss Ellis Island ferry instead. It still would take me to my destination, but the commute would be fifteen minutes more. I was stressed — I would be very late!

And waiting on the dock — also late for his first day of work — was a man with chocolate-silver hair and dark eyes. He was pale and he was tall and the moment I saw him, I felt strange. He was wearing a black v-neck and blue jeans with white Hogan trainers. It wasn’t that strange, unless you consider that I was wearing the same outfit (only they were white Nikes). It wasn’t a work uniform, it was just our outfits for the day. The first weird coincidence.

And this man turned to me and said something, like, “Are you here for orientation?” and I said yes, taking note that he had an unfamiliar accent. And he replied, “Nice. I missed the ferry,” while running his long fingers through his hair. 

We spoke about our backgrounds as we waited for the Miss Ellis Island to arrive. His name was Aleksa, and he was from this country wedged in between a bunch of Balkan countries: Serbia. I was Kasey, and I was living in New York to go to college.

This next piece of this blog will be from an excerpt from a memoir I wrote in 2019. I never usually do this, but I think the memoir will convey the story better, and richer, than blog writing will:

As we start nitpicking at our backgrounds, the Miss Ellis Island ferry pulls into the harbor. It’s one of the first ferries of the day, so no passengers are disembarking. Instead, we watch as the deckhands slam the gangway off of its tracks and slide it down onto the dock. A deckhand wraps his hands around a thick, brown rope and pulls. The captain shouts, watch your step.

Aleksa and I step onto the steep, metal sheet and enter the gray first floor of the ferry. I walk past him, confused, and sit on a metal bench alongside the starboard windows. I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I’m on the Miss Ellis Island ferry, and there’s a man, and I feel something much more present than just my attraction to him. I feel like I’m not meeting him for the first time, and just the thought of it makes me feel ridiculous. As I move over to make room for him to sit down, his thigh touches mine for an instant— an instant that completely scares me. It’s not just deja vu, but it’s electricity … It’s like I am undoing the amnesia, like I am remembering him, like our history is coming back to me. Only today is the first time we’ve ever met.

“I’ve never been to Serbia,” I say, trying to distract myself. “What’s it like?”

“We’re very proud. I’m not sure how to describe it.”

“How did you get this job?”

“I applied for a work visa.”

“So you don’t live here, now?”

“No. My visa will expire, eventually.” My heart sinks. How could I read a situation so wrong?

“That … sucks,” I say, and I mean it. That moment where the atoms were pirouetting between our skin … — was it really that fantastical, I think to myself, or am I just smitten for his accent? The ferry continues to board with passengers. It’s May, and the air is warm and good for my dry skin. I don’t know what to think about other than the strange omnipresence he has.

“It does sucks,” he says a few moments later. “ I love New York. You guys are so open.”

“How could you live here?” I ask. I’m genuinely clueless about the issue.

“I have to figure it out. Most likely a long term work visa.” He crosses his arms, leans back, and smiles at me. “Have you been to Europe?”

“Some. I haven’t been to Italy,” I say. “And my family is from Italy.”

His eyes open wide. “You’ve never been to your motherland? That’s insane.”

He looks me up and down like he’s trying to understand me. “I’ll take you there,” he finally says. “I will take you to Italy.” 

“Okay,” I say, knowing he’s joking. “I’ll go to Italy with you.”

Then he closes his eyes, and his eyelids act like translucent sheets against the sunbeams spilling into the ferry. I notice his short, black eyelashes, the tiny-spider veins around his sockets revealing he’s tired. I notice his shoes, which aren’t white and clean — the flaw of this compelling me to like him more. I like how he has a big dimple in his chin, I like that his fingers are long and his palms are wide. I like that he smells faintly of pine trees and sweat. And I like how his shoulders move with the boat’s motions: gently up, then down, then swaying, unaware that they’re doing so. 

He doesn’t notice me noticing him; or maybe he does. With his eyes still closed, he responds, “you think I’m joking with you. You want to see Italy, I’ll show you Italy.”

***

Little did I know, then, but Aleksa kept his word. A few months later — when the leaves were browning, when New York was adorned with ghosts and pumpkins, when Aleksa’s visa had ended and he was back in Serbia — I called him one night. “So, what do you think about Italy?” I asked. Within minutes, he booked our hotels and our plane tickets. We would be reuniting in Rome. 

If you ask Aleksa what happened next, he would say that he went to bed, woke up, and asked his father: “Do you know a good jeweler? Because I know the girl I want to marry.” And that afternoon, he bought a ring.

So, kind reader — that is how we met! On a boat one fateful day in May, with so much coincidence and symmetry, with the beginning of something that looked like love, with the previous history of my parent’s destined meeting, with all of New York’s tourists crowding us. All because we were late to our first day of work. 

Best,

That American Girl

Lost in Translation: “That American Girl” vs. Serbian News/Tabloids

Click here for serbian translation. (Pritisnite ovde za prevod na srpski.) Scroll below if link not working!

A few days ago, one of my blog posts, “That Serbian Girl” went viral. This was unexpected news for me, as I am sure it was unexpected news to Serbians when tabloids revealed that some American girl had criticized them. But not just “some” American girl… That American Girl!

The first thing I want to say is that I, as the writer of this blog, was saddened and frustrated by most of the media response. Not only were huge chunks of my blog mistranslated from English into Serbian, but entire sections were taken out of context and sensationalized. I have no idea how many people *truly* read the blog in English, and I have no idea how many people *only* read the media’s version. It is disheartening, in many ways, to think that some people did not seek out my original blog post. 

I realize the irony in creating a response to this situation in English. But with the help of my Serbian friends, and a few little books here and there, I mostly understand what was said in response to my piece. And although I don’t have to do this, there are a few things I want to clarify before closing this conversation. 

For one, information is lost in translation. A few media posts describe that I have Anglo-Italian roots, or that I am from England. Whoever originally attempted to paraphrase my blog misunderstood a section that said I had a “New England childhood.” New England is a region of the United States that refers to six states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. I was born in Connecticut, one of those six states. New England is known for beautiful autumn foliage and for its strong coastline community. The name is derived from America’s colonial past. In some ways, I might not be what you think of when you think of “American” — whatever that might mean — but I am from a region where this country began. It’s where my ancestors, from Italy, decided to settle.

Unfortunately, this slipped through translation and sparked a conversation that wasn’t based on any truth. I’m not English, I’m not Anglo-Saxon. And I point this out as a microcosm for other mistranslations and paraphrasing that went on with my piece. 

There are many things I want to say, but at the very least, I will say the articles mischaracterized me.

I will not dive into it all, but here’s a few areas I want to clarify. I am supplying you, dear reader, with what a few Serbian news dailies wrote as well. However, I am translating from Serbian into English (what irony) for you to understand. I hope I have not mistranslated things, since I do have the help of some friends. But the reality is, information might get lost in translation. Keep that in mind, always. 

On the “matter” of coffee:

What I wrote in my blog: Serbian women like to hang out in cafés. They will nurse what appears to be the same coffee for two hours. And then they leave. Rarely do they seem to order the pastry or the sandwich. Sometimes, they order a bottle of water. 

What Serbian news dailies wrote (translated): She finds it strange that we do not have the habit of ordering a croissant, cake or sandwich with a drink.

Me clarifying now: I do not find it “strange” or bizarre that Serbians take their time with their coffee. It was only an observation — an observation I can make because I, too, take my time in cafes whenever I visit Serbia. (I’m sitting with Serbian people, so of course, I am getting the true cafe experience!) It’s not a bad thing. When American girlfriends get coffee, it can sometimes mean they’ll grab a small bite to eat, too. Like a pastry. All I meant was I didn’t see that. 


This somehow got contrived as me judging you for being lazy, which isn’t true, and which I didn’t even say. As for gossip … what country has people who don’t?” I wrote that “[Belgrade] feels like New York” when it comes to that! 

On the “matter” of pink hair and boots:

What I wrote in my blog: If you do happen to spot the occasional woman with pink hair and edgy boots, there’s a 99% chance she’s a tourist visiting Belgrade. 

What the dialogue was (translated): Why is it bad that there aren’t many people with pink hair and boots? (from qwerty,, September 7, 2021 11:42 PM)

Me clarifying now: I was surprised that many people interpreted this poorly. I don’t own either of those traits. So why would I condemn people for not possessing it, too? I never said it was bad. All I said was that I didn’t see a lot of that aesthetic. And that’s okay; that is cool! That’s what makes Belgrade’s fashion unique to Belgrade. Unfortunately, all the cool bits about fashion that I did discuss seem to have slipped through most article translations.

On the “matter” of plastic surgery:

What I wrote in my blog: It seems the closer you get to the city center, like any major city, the more high-fashion and plastic surgery you start to encounter.

What Serbian news dailies wrote (translated): “The closer to the center – the more plastic surgery.”

Me clarifying now: This is the headline that captured a lot of attention. It set the precedent that I had said negative things about the Serbian girls. And the writer of this piece wanted it to come across that way — I know this because they follow this sentence with [translated] “However, the American also writes about positive things…” 

I will stand by this: there is plastic surgery in a major city, as I originally wrote. Nothing is a lie. The closer you are to the city center — and it is the same with Midtown Manhattan, and probably Trafalgar Square in London, and etc — the more luxurious things you will see. And plastic surgery, like Chanel bags and Prada perfumes, is a luxury that not everyone can afford. City centers often cultivate a large sum of the city’s money (partially due to tourism, partially due to the businesses and shops offered there, sometimes for maintaining historical archives, etc.) That’s all. I don’t care who has or hasn’t had plastic surgery. This sentence was an observation about the metaphysical aesthetic of any city — that Belgrade, in a lot of ways, is like New York in that regard. I can tell you that this sentence was not meant to insult people. But because this headline had such a robust response, I do want to apologize to anyone who was offended. I had no idea that was going to be taken out of context. I wish it hadn’t been. But here we are.

And finally … on the “matter” of dating:

I wrote a lot on my blog about dating. And I made sure to specify that dating can mean different things in different regions of the USA, let alone the world. 

Dating, within my experience, has always meant you’re not in a relationship with that person. You might not even kiss them. A date means two people hang out and feel if there’s a vibe. If dinner goes well, maybe they’ll go on another date. If dinner doesn’t go well, they call it quits without possibly ever even holding hands. Two people can go out for ice cream and, by the end of their ice cream cone, realize they’re better off as friends. Or, two people can go out for cappuccinos one rainy afternoon, and realize there’s something there, and plan to go to a museum the next day. That’s what Aleksa and I did, after all. 

When girlfriends complained to me that they wished there was a stronger dating scene in Belgrade, as there seems to be with NYC, I listened. Is that the case for all of Serbia, for every person, for every situation? No, of course not. And I wrote my blog aware of that … even starting off my blog with this: 

Let’s get the obvious notion out of the way: everyone is different. There is no standard Serbian woman, just as there is no standard American woman.

And expanding on that, there is no standard Serbian person, or Serbian mentality (as Momo Kapor urges us to believe!) Everyone is unique, and every culture has its varieties. 

There is the idealized. There is the realized. And then there’s the truth, which lies somewhere in the middle of all of that. Right now, my blog and these articles responding to my blog are in a similar situation. They exist in a plane of translation and mistranslation, of words skewed over digital screens, and of people who have ruminated on facts and fiction.

If you take anything away from my blog, take this: 

I encourage you to always seek out the truth. Because there’s often more than one truth. Or better yet, your truth might not be someone else’s truth.

In these articles, there are certainly more areas where I was mischaracterized, mistranslated, and misinterpreted. But I think I’ve covered all of the major zones here. 

Funny enough, this is how I know the original writer didn’t read deep into my blog: they wrote that Aleksa and I are engaged and to be married soon.

Anyone who has ever known me … knows that I never shut up about my amazing husband or our beautiful wedding in Belgrade! You can look through my blog archives to find all the wedding content you could desire. 

With all this said, it felt imperative for me to address what’s happened before continuing to write posts. Especially since the blog has taken on a new life! 

all my love, and until next time …

That American Girl

____________________________________________

Pre nekoliko dana, jedna od mojih blog objava, “That Serbian Girl” je postala viralna. Ovo su za mene bile neočekivane vesti, kao što sam sigurna da su i Srbima kada su tabloidi otkrili kako ih je neka Američka devojka kritikovala. Ali ne bilo koja Američka devojka… “Ta Američka devojka”!

Prva stvar koju želim da kažem je da ja, kao pisac ovog bloga, sam bila tužna i frustrirana većinom medijskog odziva. Ne samo da je veliki deo bloga loše preveden sa engleskog na erpski, nego su celi delovi izvučeni iz konteksta i senzacionalizovani. Nemam ideju koliko je ljudi zapravo pročitalo blog na engleskom, i nemam ideju koliko je ljudi “samo” pročitalo medijsku verziju. To je obeshrabrujuće, na mnogo načina, što neki ljudi nisu pročitali moj originalan blog post.

Razumem ironiju prilikom pravljenja odgovora na ovu situaciju na engleskom. Ali uz pomoć mojih srpskih prijatelja, i par knjiga tu i tamo, uglavnom razumem šta je rečeno u vezi sa mojim komadom. I iako ne moram da radim ovo, želim da razjasnim par stvari pre nego što zatvorim ovu konverzaciju.

Kao prvo, informacije se gube u prevodu. Par medijskih objava opisuju kako ja imam anglo-italijanske korene, ili ta sam iz Engleske. Ko god je originalno pokušao da parafrazira moj blog nije razumeo sekciju gde je pisalo da sam imala “Nju Ingland detinjstvo”. Nju Ingland je region SAD-a koji se odnosi na 6 saveznih država: Konetikat, Masačusets, Mejn, Vermont, Nju Hempšir i Roud Ajland. Ja sam rođena u Konetikatu, jednoj od tih 6 država. Nju Ingland je poznat po prelepom jesenjem lišću i jakoj obalnoj zajednici. Ime je izvučeno od kolonijalne prošlosti SAD-a. Na neki način, možda nisam ono što neko pomisli kada pomisli o “Amerikancu” – šta god to značilo – ali ja sam iz regions gde je ova država “počela”. Tu su moji preci, iz Italije, odlučili da se dosele.

Nažalolst, ovo je bilo loše prevedeno i započelo konverzaciju koja nike bazirana ni na kakvoj istini. Nisam Engleskinja, nisam Anglo-sakson. I ovo ističem kao mikrokosmos za druge pogrešne prevoded i parafraziranje koji su išli uz moj komad.

Ima mnogo stvari koje želim da kažem, ali u najmanju ruku, reći ću da su me članci pogrešno okarakterisali.

Neću da ulazim u sve, ali ima par delova koje bih htela da razjasnim. Ja vas snabdevam, dragi čitaoce, sa onim što su par srpskih novosti ispisale takođe. Međutim, prevodim sa srpskog na engleski(ironično) kako bi ste vi razumeli. Nadam se da nisam neke stvari pogrešno prevela, jer imam pomoć par prijatelja. Ali realnost je, informacije mogu biti izgubljene u prevodu. Uvek to imajte na umu.

Na “temu” kafe:

Šta sam napisala u blogu: Srpske žene vole da se druže u kafićima. Ispijaće će ono što izgleda kao da je ista kafa dva sata. A posle toga izađu. Retko kada naručuju neko pecivo ili sendvič. Ponekad, naruče flašu vode.

Šta su srpske novosti pisale: Njoj je čudno što nemamo naviku da naručimo kroasan, tortu ili sendvič uz piće.

Moje razjašnjenje: Nije mi čudno niti bizarno što Srbi polako piju svoju kafu. To je bilo samo moje opažanje – opažanje koje mogu da napravim, jer ja takođe provodim svoje vreme u kafićima kada posetim Srbiju.(Sedim sa Srbima, pa naravno dobijam pravo iskustvo kafića!) To nije loša stvar. Kada Američke drugarice uzimaju kafu, to može ponekad da znači da će uzeti i nešto malo da prezalogaje, takođe. Kao neko pecivo. Sve što sam mislila u blogu je da to nisam zapazila. 

Ovo se nekako pretvorilo u to da ja osuđujem vas da ste lenji, što uopšte nije tačno, i što uopšte nisam rekla. A za tračarenje… koja država ima ljude koji ne tračare? Napisala sam da “Beograd je sličan Njujorku” kada je to u pitanju!

Na “temu” roze kose i čizama:

Šta sam napisala u blogu: Ako vam se desi da vidite ženu sa roze kosom i čizmama, 99% su šanse da je turista u poseti Beogradu.

Šta je bio dijalog: Zašto je loše što nema puno ljudi sa roze kosom i čizmama?

Moje razjašnjenje: Iznenađena sam da je toliko ljudi ovo pogrešno shvatilo. Ja lično ne posedujem ni jednu od ovih odlika. Pa zašto bih ja osuđivala ljude što ih oni ne poseduju? Nikada nisam rekla da je to loša stvar. Samo sam rekla da nisam videla puno te “estetike”. I to je okej; to je kul! To je ono što čini Beogradsku modu jedinstvenom za Beograd. Nažalost, svi kul delovi o modi o kojima sam pričala su se izgleda provukli kroz pogrešan prevod.

Na “temu” plastične hirurgije: 

Šta sam napisala u blogu: Izgleda da što si bliži centru grada, kao u svakom većem gradu, više možeš da naletiš na visoku modu i plastičnu hirurgiju.

Šta su srpske novosti pisale: Što bliže centru – to više plastične hirurgije!

Moje razjašnjenje: Ovo je naslov koji je privukao pregršt pažnje. Ovime je postavljen presedan da sam ja govorila negativne stvari o Srpskim devojkama. I pisac ovog dela je očigledno želeo da to tako ispadne – znam ovo jer ovu rečenicu prati: “Međutim, Amerikanka takođe piše o pozitivnim stvarima…”

Ja stovim pri ovome: ima plastične hirurgije u velikim gradovima, kao što sam originalno napisala. Tu ne postoji laž. Što si bliže centru grada – i isto je u Centru Menhetna, i verovatno u Trafalgar Skveru u Londonu, itd. – videćeš više luksuznijih stvari. I plastična hirurgija, kao Chanel torbe i Prada parfemu, su luksuz koji ne mo-e svako da priušti. Centar grada uglavnom kultiviše veću sumu gradskog novca(delom zbog turizma, delom zbog prodavnica i biznisa u ponudi tamo, ponekad zbog održavanja istorijskih arhiva, itd.) To je to. Briga me je ko jeste ili nije imao plastičnu hirurgiju. Ova rečenica je bila opažanje o metafizičkoj estetici bilo kog grada – da je Beograd, na mnogo načina, kao Njujork u tom smislu. Mogu da vam kažem da ova rečenica nije namenjena da bi bilo koga vređala. Ali zato što je ovaj naslov imao ovako opsežan odgovor, želim da se izvinim svakome ko je bio uvređen. Nisam imala ideju da će to biti izvučeno van konteksta. Volela bih da nije bilo, ali tu smo.

I na kraju…na “temu” dejtinga:

Na mom blogu sam puno pisala o dejtingu. I potrudila sam se da specifično naglasim da dejtovanje može da znači različite stvari u različitim regionima SAD-a, a kamoli u svetu.

Dejting, po mom iskustvu, je uvek značilo da niste u vezi sa određenom osobom. Možda ste čak niste ni poljubili. Dejt znači da dvoje ljudi izađu i osete da li između njih postoji “vajb”. Ako večera prođe dobro, možda neko drugo veče ponovo izađu. Ako ne prođe dobro, oni tu završe priču i da verovatno se nisu ni držali za ruke. Dvoje ljudi može da izađe na sladoled, i do kraja tog izlaska, da shvate da je bolje da su prijatelji. Ili, dvoje ljudi može da izađe na kapućino kišnog popodneva, i da shvate da tu nešto postoji, i da isplaniraju da sledećeg nada odu do muzeja. To je ono što smo Aleksa i ja radili, posle svega.

Kada su mi se prijateljice žalile da bi želele da postoji jača dejting scena u Beogradu, kao što postoji u Njujorku, slušala sam ih. Da li je to slučaj za celu Srbiju, za svaku osobu, za svaku situaciju? Naravno da ne. I pisala sam svoj blog svesna toga… počinjući svog blog ovako:

Sklonimo očigledan pojam sa puta: svi su različiti. Ne postoji standardna Srpkinja, kao što ne postoji ni standardna Amerikanka.

I proširujući na to, ne postoji standardan Srbin ni Srpkinja, kao ni srpski mentalitet(kao što bi nas Momo Kapor naterao da verujemo!) Svako je jedinstven, i svaka kultura ima svoje varijacije.

Postoji idealizovano. Postoji i realizovano. A postoji i istina, koja je negde u sredini svega toga. Trenutno, moj blog i ovi članci koji odogovaraju na moj blog su u sličnoj situaciji. Postoje u ravni prevoda i pogrešnog prevođenja, sastoje se od reči izvrtenih preko digitalnih ekrana, i od ljudi koji su se premišljaji oko činjenica i fikcije.

Ako nešto treba da izvučete iz mog bloga, to je ovo:

Podstičem vas da uvek tražite istinu. Jer uvek ima više od jedne istine. Ili bolje, vaša istina možda nije nečija druga istina.

U ovim člancima, ima sigurno još delova gde sam bila pogrešno okarakterisana, pogrešno prevedena i pogrešno protumačena. Ali mislim da sam prešla sve glavne zone ovde.

Evo kako znam da originalni pisac članka nije čitao previše duboko u blog: napisali su da smo Aleksa i ja vereni i trebali bi uskoro da se venčamo.

Bilo ko ko me zna, zna da ne zatvaram usta o mom previdnom mužu i o našem predivnom venčanju u Beogradu! Možete pogledati kroz arhive mog bloga da pronađete sav svadbeni sadržaj koji vas zanima.

Sa svim što je rečeno, deluje imperativno da pomenem šta se desilo pre nego što nastavim da pišem objave. Posebno od kada je blog dobio novi život!

Sva moja ljubav, i do sledećeg puta …

That American Girl

That Serbian Girl

A few years ago, during my first trip to Belgrade, I was walking down Knez Mihailova when I passed a rustic-looking book shop. You know the kind: wood paneling, old-fashioned windows, a pop of emerald green here and there. To top things off, it was just after Christmas — a particular time of year where everything feels softer and lovelier, if only for a few moments — so I was sold. I tugged on Aleksa’s jacket — who had proposed to me days earlier — and in we went.

I walked out of there holding a copy of a work by Momo Kapor: “A Guide to the Serbian Mentality.” It was the least I felt I could do. I, the purveyor of a New England childhood and Italian ancestors, knew nothing about Serbians. And yet I had agreed to marry a Serbian man, take his Serbian last name, and maybe, in the far future, raise Serbian-American children. So, I was determined to assimilate myself with Serbia in any way I could — even from a little white book. 

Because when you’re marrying a Serbian man, you’re also marrying Serbia. 

Momo Kapor’s book was filled with quirky anecdotes, traumatic memories, half-truths, and spot-on observations. The funny thing is, I can’t remember most of it. I read it during lockdown on the porch of my parent’s house. I remember drinking lemonade (or was it iced tea?) and a wasp swatting around my ankle. I remember the lump of sadness in my throat when a detail reminded me of Aleksa. And I recall one confusing analogy about wives being like Chinese rice. But the chapter that stuck with me, that I ruminate on from time to time, was on Serbian women.

Now, keep in mind: Kapor published this work in 2006, so these observations may have been based on the women he saw on the streets of Belgrade in the 1990s. He described Serbian women as feminine, but with hard edges. They smoke cigarettes like Parisians; they have dark eyes like demons. They’re cool. They’re very fashionable. They don’t need a man. There is something, unequivocally, erotic about the Serbian woman standing in the street. She’s untouchable. Without morals, yet innocent. Elegant, but brutish. 

It’s the classic battle of the binaries. I don’t know if I agree with all, or any, of it. But what do I know? My Belgrade and Kapor’s Belgrade are thirty years apart. So I might as well give it the old college try. Here is what I can tell you, as an American woman, about Serbian women. 

Let’s get the obvious notion out of the way: everyone is different. There is no standard Serbian woman, just as there is no standard American woman. There is, however, an elusive, collective, socially perceived “woman” in most cultures. The Italians are fashionable; the Parisians are effortless. After living for a cumulative four months in Serbia, here is what I can tell you about Serbian girls: both the real and the idealized.

CULTURE

Serbian women like to hang out in cafés. They will nurse what appears to be the same coffee for two hours. And then they leave. Rarely do they seem to order the pastry or the sandwich. Sometimes, they order a bottle of water. 

They gossip. They hang out with their girlfriends at the club. They talk about what she’s wearing, what he said, why she did that, and hey, who used to go out with that guy? It feels like New York, in some ways. Everyone vaguely knows someone who knows someone else, and they’re out having a good time. In other ways, it can be trite, silly — almost like high school. She doesn’t like that some girl has a designer bag; and oh, he must think he’s cool because he’s wearing the latest Nikes. I don’t know if I’ve been in New York for too long, but I can’t remember the last time that people my age entertained that kind of conversation. The cool thing about New York is that everyone is always themselves. There is no “in” crowd. You’re just there, and if you’re lucky, the right person will invite you to the right party, even if you’ve only just met. In Belgrade, many social interactions felt cliquey. There appeared to be an “in” crowd.

This doesn’t mean Serbian women (and men) aren’t some of the nicest strangers I’ve ever met. Not to mention some of the best people to drink and party with. But those who have strong, negative feelings will not hide those feelings. They aren’t American about it, and that can feel unfamiliar. In New York, you might run into an ex and feel awkward. But you say hi, how are you? (Or you do the normal thing, which is to run away in the opposite direction.) In Serbia, those feelings aren’t as concealed. If you’re not liked, it’s obvious and blunt: I don’t like that girl, so I’m not sitting there; I don’t like this song, so I’m not dancing; I’m mad at my girlfriend, so I will scowl at her from this table.

A few people have told me they think the culture is like this because many people don’t leave home. This is another cultural difference that’s hard to grasp as an American. Since eighteen years old, I’ve been living on my own, without my family. Many of you reading this might be able to say the same. In Serbia, however, many children live in their parent’s homes well into their late twenties. It’s not like the USA where people go to college all over the States, making new groups of friends in new cities. Because many students are confined to where their parents live, that means they are confined to going to college and work in that area. This means they interact with the same groups of friends from their childhood years as they do in their adult years. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. But that could be a major component to this cultural difference. 

For me, the bigger mystery was dating. Regionally across the USA, this might have a different meaning. But where I am, dating means you’re not in a relationship. You’re just going on dates. You’re feeling each other out. And maybe, down the road, you will decide to actually get together and make it official. Dating means you’re just dating. You can go on dates with many people, or go on many dates with one person. And if you’re into neither dating nor relationships, you can hook up with people, have a friend with benefits, do one-night stands. Semantics, semantics. 

From what I understood, Serbians kind of skip the whole dating thing. If two people like each other, they nosedive into a relationship. When I suggested “hooking up” it was like suggesting a truck fell out of the sky and landed into a community pool: unheard of. 

A few confided to me that they preferred the American way of thinking. In Serbia, if you don’t really “like” anyone, there’s no one to go on dates with. Whereas in NYC, one might be spotted in a bookstore and some roguish man might ask for your number. This does not happen in Belgrade. The men are not forthright about asking you on a date, because they need to already have some kind of relationship with you. 

Just the other day, I observed the most adorable Manhattan meet-cute. I was standing in the aisle of Morton Williams when a blonde woman couldn’t reach a carton of ice cream. As some tall gentleman helped her retrieve it, he said, surprised, “No way! Ben & Jerry’s made a brownie batter flavor?” And the two proceeded to talk about ice cream flavors and their favorite brands before the woman said, “Hey, what’s your name?” and he went “Paul,” and she said “Paul, I want your number, and we’re going out for ice cream.”

New York has a certain charm when it comes to meeting strangers and taking chances. Especially when it comes to dating. There’s an excitement in getting dressed up, going out to dinner, or walking around the city blocks. And after the date, you get to decide what you do next. Could that person be more? Could they be “the one”? Or are they a placeholder, someone you want to have fun with? 

I was eating a crepe in Belgrade when I noticed a man looking at me. “He’s not going to do anything about it,” my friend said — a Serbian girl who had lived, for a time, in the United States. “What do you mean?” I asked, slicing my crepe into little strips. 

“They look,” she said. “But they don’t ask you out.” And to me, that was the key difference in dating culture. Americans are so bold, they’ll flag your number down while you’re reaching for ice cream in a grocery store. Serbians, it seems, maybe not so much. At least, not in the same way Americans go about it. I think there is a truth that Serbian men (and women) will go after what they want. But the methods are all a bit mystifying to me. Although, I’m not exactly in the dating game when I go to Serbia. 

My friend explained, during the rest of that breakfast, how everyone seemed to be bugging her because she had openly voiced her disinterest in dating at the moment. “They act like I’m sick, or something’s wrong with me!” she said, frustrated. “I just don’t want to see anyone right now, I have no interest in it, or in anyone.” 

What she had expressed is the bona-fide truth that makes up so much of American culture: girl boss, single life, not interested in dating. It’s the recipe for the protagonist of thousands of American rom-com films, the girl who knows that she doesn’t want anyone. It’s good to know that that narrative exists everywhere. And yet what seems to lack in Belgrade is the comfort of knowing it’s okay to be single and not interested. American women have relished in this view. Her girlfriends will embrace it with her. As for Serbia, it appears that friends will try to meddle with your love life before accepting you don’t want one. They will call up friends, set up dates, ask if there is something very wrong with you.

With all this said, it should speak to some of the lengths Serbians will go to protect and care for their loved ones. They are some of the kindest people I know. In the streets, Serbians will help you find a store. In the restaurants, they will recommend you the best dishes. They will welcome you into their homes, even if they don’t know you. If you’re in need of a left shoe, they’ll find someone with a left shoe. There are cliques, there is gossip, and there is drama all over the world. I can’t summarize an entire culture of people, but if Momo Kapor can leave us with a “guide” to the Serbian mentality, I suppose I can leave you with mine. They are lovely, spirited people who look out for each other.

FASHION

The women glide through the streets in a variety of styles, but all still feminine at the core. You won’t see many alternative fashionistas. If you do happen to spot the occasional woman with pink hair and edgy boots, there’s a 99% chance she’s a tourist visiting Belgrade. Belgrade is not like New York; there is rarely a woman with overalls walking besides a woman in a gothic dress. You just don’t see it. This isn’t to say that everyone dresses the same, because they don’t. I’d argue it’s more like a collective capsule wardrobe — everyone’s pieces seem to work together

There’s a lot of flowy dresses, a lot of white sneakers. Classic jeans, classic sweaters; nice blouses and blazers. Since Serbian girls are tall, I’ve noticed many of them don’t gravitate toward heels or heeled boots. There’s too many Michael Kors and Guess bags for me to count. It seems the closer you get to the city center, like any major city, the more high-fashion and plastic surgery you start to encounter.

There is some hyper-feminine fashion that has infiltrated Belgrade. A few of the boutiques, or butik, sell pieces that are eye-catching: dresses with loud prints, blazers dyed hot pink, belts with diamonds, slingbacks with tulle bows. My Serbian girlfriends have described this fashion as either Turkish or garish. Some people like it, some people think it’s tacky. To me, a lot of it feels like the forgotten Charlotte Russe: a beloved mall store that all my suburban followers might tragically, or blissfully, remember. Charlotte Russe was infamous for having super glam shoes and cheap, trendy options. With the right accessories, a bodycon dress could be styled for Thanksgiving dinner or styled for the dance club. It just depended on the scarf, or lack thereof.

MAKEUP, SKINCARE

As for makeup, it’s hard to say. I’m the kind of person who wears eye-makeup every day. In Belgrade, I saw natural makeup often. A bit of mascara here, a bit of blush there. But given Serbia’s reputation for its notorious nightlife, the makeup would get heavier as the day went on. I’ll never forget the afternoon I went to lilly, a drugstore like CVS, and bought a package of “everyday” lashes. Those lashes were as thick and as black as dustpan brushes. You should have seen the “fashion” version… 

As for skincare, the majority of drugstores left me wanting more. There were a few brands I recognized, and many I did not. I cannot speak to the efficacy of the brands I don’t know. What disappointed me was how many products contained fragrance or perfume … even organic ones! I picked up a bottle of Eucerin body wash that claimed to be scent-free, but I was grossly misinformed when I discovered its lavender notes in the shower.

I think the modern woman, who uses social media and cares about skincare, will do her research. I trust that Serbian girls have a collection of products that work!

Speaking of skin, the Serbian complexion is on the Mediterranean side. As one man described it, Serbs have “golden skin and chocolate hair.” Despite that, it appears that Serbian girls admire bronzed skin just as much as American girls do. Working on your tan, buying fake tan, and wearing too-dark foundation (yikes) — it’s relevant. You can buy bronzer in spray, foam, or powder form for any part of your body. I’m someone who prefers looking as pale as a vampire, although admitting this to my Serbian peers seems to cause a stir. One time, at Aleksa’s tennis lesson, a woman behind the soda counter demanded I get into the sun before I waste away. I had to remind her that not all of us were born with beautiful, golden skin that tans. Aleksa and his sister were also exposed to my sunscreen-obsessed tendencies. I have a bottle in the car, a bottle in my bag, a bottle in the bathroom. They often shook their heads in laughter, strolling out into the midday sunshine with no worries and no SPF.

During a makeup trial for my wedding, I let the artist in on a secret: I do tan, I just choose not to. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it ages well. She was a sweetheart, but she was also completely baffled. “I’ve never met a bride who wants to be pale,” she said as I insisted on being ghostlike for my wedding. Ever the kindred spirit, she proceeded to paint me orange during that first trial. Perhaps she wanted to show me I was making a grave mistake. But it was clear that the only mistake was my foundation shade.

“Beautiful Turkish bride,” she sighed, whisking the foundation brush across my face like an artist going to town on a canvas. When we looked at my carrot-y complexion in the mirror, she corrected herself. “No … Spanish bride. You are a true Spanish bride. Beautiful, beautiful,” — and out the door I was sent.

At my next session, I made sure to buy my own ivory foundation. “Pale bride … American bride,” I pleaded, pantomiming a paint brush. 

HAIR

Most women that I saw on the streets of Belgrade had long, beautiful hair. Often dark, although not as dark as mine, worn in fashionable ponytails or straightened flat to the head. I didn’t see as much variety as I had thought I would. I could be wrong about this, but I did not see women my age sporting hair accessories. I saw women in their forties wearing fancy barrettes or headbands, but no one younger than that (besides me.) I wonder if it is seen as matronly to wear hair accessories in Serbia, the way it is seen as “millenial” to wear skinny jeans and side parts. Regardless, fashionable headwear seemed reserved to the older crowd, with the younger crowd donning more trendy “Kardashian” styles: sleek ponytails, waist-length manes, and chic low-buns. 

Most mornings, I felt like an old maid getting ready for the daily mass. I would turn on my hot rollers and wait for them to glow, then roll them into my hair and pintuck them into a blowout style. Then, I’d spray massive amounts of hairspray across my head. I felt like the only person walking around with big, voluminous hair, but I didn’t care. I am American, after all.

And then there is the lovelier subject of body hair. I didn’t notice anything on this matter until my wedding activities began to approach. There was the issue of “when do you want to book your arm waxing” and “wait, why don’t you wax your arms?” I could be out of the loop, but this is a beauty standard I’ve never heard of, let alone considered, in the USA. I don’t know any American women who wax their arms (this excludes my swimming friends.) But it seemed quite common in Serbia to wax or shave arm hair completely. I didn’t go through with it, by the way. Your wedding isn’t the time to try new things, such as waxing your forearms.

OVERVIEW

I’ve clarified that this is my understanding based on my observations while in Serbia. By observations, let me elaborate. This is what I’ve noticed while standing in line to board my gate from JFK to Belgrade. This is what I’ve noticed sitting next to Serbians on the plane, walking with them through customs, and while claiming our luggage. This is what I’ve overheard from conversations with friends, from people chatting around me in malls and parks and restaurants. This is what I’ve experienced while preparing for my wedding, working with Serbian women who were decorators, florists, musicians, bakers, hair stylists, planners, and more. 

Serbian women … are they as elusive as Momo Kapor makes them out to be? In some ways, yes. They’re fashionable without doubt. And their honesty can be brutal. But coldhearted and lacking morals? That wasn’t what I saw. Culturally, this is a population who looks out for one another. They have, historically speaking, been through a great deal. The Serbian woman simply knows what she wants, and that’s enough to make any man intimidated. 

We’re Having A Second Wedding.

From the day Aleksa got down on one knee, we’ve been plastered with questions about our binational situation. How we met, where we will live, and if long distance relationships are even real.

But when the engagement ring made its shiny appearance, there was one question everyone had: where will you have the wedding?

Before a novel coronavirus took the world by storm, Aleksa and I had all of these brilliant plans. He was to return to New York in May 2020 on a work and travel visa; he was to spend that summer working at the Statue of Liberty. And by October 2020, when his visa was expected to end, we would have a better idea of what we were going to do about our wedding. He was going to return to Serbia, and I was going to meet him in Munich for Christmas. We imagined that he’d be back in spring 2021 on yet another visa. And we believed we’d have a big, extravagant wedding in New York City later that year in the fall. I imagined one of the big city churches and a venue with enough greenery that you could see the changing of the leaves outside. We thought that we’d have a small, civil gathering in Serbia, too. That was the initial plan.

But as we all know too well by now, the virus changed our plans. Instead of spending the summer of 2020 planning my future autumnal wedding, I spent it online, mostly visiting the Embassy of the Republic or Serbia. I waited everyday for an update on travel restrictions, desperate to know if the borders would reopen. Eager to know when I would reunite with my fiancé.

You’d think that with all that time apart, I would have viewed wedding planning as an escapism. I’m sure for some brides-to-be, it was; and I hope that it was a cathartic experience for them. The difference is that I was not in lockdown with my fiancé. I didn’t have the luxury of being cooped up indoors with him, saving photos to Pinterest boards and binging wedding films together. Without seeming bitter, we just had different things to worry about — namely, how we would see each other again.

And when we finally, happily reunited a year later, our wedding had new challenges. One, how would Aleksa get into the USA? During the pandemic, his visa process was paused. Eventually, the visa he applied for expired because he outgrew the limitations.

It was tragic. You know how Beast watches his precious rose wither away under glass? That was what that visa seemed like. So our only option was to wait out the pandemic and the travel restrictions so that Aleksa could apply for a different visa.

Initially, we were okay with that. But then there was all this talk of the pandemic’s longevity. Predictions that this virus and its variants could last for two, three, maybe four years. As the hypothesis began rolling into 2024, we watched our wedding date slip further away into oblivion. For any other couple, this might not be so bad. But for a long distance couple, that just means we were delaying living our lives together.

So we started wondering — is having the wedding in the USA the best decision?

A few days after reuniting with Aleksa in 2021, it was Christmas in Serbia. We had just finished setting up a tiny, plastic Christmas tree with tinsel and metal balls.

“It would mean a lot to me if we had a wedding in Serbia,” Aleksa said. He may have said it out of nowhere, but the idea had been there for a while.

“My family and friends won’t get to come to a wedding in the USA. And we don’t even know when I can go to the USA.” Aleksa was fiddling with the tree lights, by this point. “And there’s a lot of Serbian traditions I would like to experience. That I always thought I’d get to do.”

I was actually really pleased to hear my fiancé had put thought into his wedding day. In America, we have a culture of encouraging young women to daydream and fantasize about their “big day.” But men’s expectations of the wedding are rather overlooked, if not ignored completely. It touched me that Aleksa had envisioned his wedding and wanted it to happen.

But it wasn’t only that. We are in love and want to be together. And we knew that we were going to have to fight, and make sacrifices, to have a future together.

And suddenly, all started to come together. I called my mom and dad that night and explained that we were going to try shooting for a summer wedding in Serbia. I called up some friends and booked a bridal appointment at Kleinfeld. Two weeks later, Aleksa and I found our wedding venue. Two weeks after that, I found my dress in Manhattan. It was such an exciting experience. But it was also completely chaotic.

Our decision to have a wedding in Serbia downright upset some people and deeply confused others. It all stemmed from an invitation I sent out. Inside, I disclosed that the wedding would be in Serbia and that we understood people could likely not attend given the travel expense and the pandemic — but that we wanted to share our happy news with them, and to treat this invite as a wedding announcement. And that when Aleksa is finally in the USA, we will host another reception to celebrate our marriage.

Essentially, anyone who wanted to come could fly to Serbia for the wedding. But we didn’t expect anyone to do that. We’d have a future event for our American side.

“What does this mean?!” People texted, called, and voicemailed. They were offended by this. And no, it wasn’t because I implied they can’t afford the travel expense — they were offended that it didn’t align with their expectations of my wedding day.

I tried explaining that this was likely going to be one of two weddings — the one in Serbia being for Aleksa’s family and friends, and the one in the USA being for mine. But this response seemed to gauge more judgement — like, why does *she* get to have two weddings? — or provoked dismissive ideas. There was an assumption that one wedding was the “real” wedding and the second wedding was the faux wedding. And people were eager to know which one the Serbian wedding was.

Others felt betrayed by me, somehow, for planning a wedding in Serbia. When I attempted to relay information about visas and travel restrictions, I was met with anger. Anger that it was a destination wedding, anger that it wasn’t in the USA, anger that I was buying a “real” wedding gown for this event. There was no sympathy for the circumstances we were in — the fact that my fiancé and I could not be together, the fact that we have no choice but to be separated due to our countries — but rather pure anger.

“There’s really no reason to have two weddings,” one person said to me, irritated. “That just seems excessive.”

I have to imagine that underneath this anger was misunderstanding and sadness. Because the reality is that it wasn’t an easy decision. Of course, I’ve always imagined my wedding in Connecticut or New York, where I have lived my whole life. I imagined my wedding ceremony in English — I imagined saying “I do.” I imagined my best friends being there, my aunts and uncles running around the morning of, my little cousin as the flower girl. And I always, always pictured a picturesque fall wedding. I’m talking about pumpkins, people! A long sleeve wedding dress. I never imagined things to go this way.

But when you’re in a long distance relationship, or any relationship, really, you make compromises. And this was ours.

If we want to have two weddings, we will. To me, at least, it’s important that my family and friends hear our vows in English. It’s important that the people who mean something to me be there on my big day. For Aleksa, it’s important to him that he meets my relatives and experiences American wedding customs.

The next question that follows: what will this American wedding be like? Or, translation: is this a real wedding? It’s real to us, so we hope it’s real for you. As for all the trimmings — the dress, the cake, walking down the aisle — I don’t necessarily know at this time. I want to be clear about our wedding in Serbia: it was perfect. The church ceremony was gorgeous and meaningful, even if it was in Serbian. Our wedding venue was decorated in the most whimsical pink and white flowers. Aleksa was the most handsome groom. The music was amazing, the food was outstanding. Aleksa’s family and friends were wonderful and accommodating to us. It was the happiest day of my life. There are elements that I just can’t replicate or do again — not because it would be taboo, but because it simply wouldn’t work. You had to be there in Belgrade, on June 26th, 2021, to experience it.

This second wedding is going to be different for sure. We won’t officially plan anything until Aleksa is in the USA, but we already have some ideas churning. For one, I want my wonderful friends and family, who do support me, to be there this time. Especially my New York friends — they have been excited for me from the start! Many of which put together envelopes that said “do not open until the day of the wedding” and sent me off to Serbia with them. (You can believe I was crying reading those letter — they meant so much while I was so far away!)

Next, I would like us to do our vows in English this time. We never got to do that. Rather than a whole church ceremony again, which isn’t necessary, it would be nice to do our vows to each other.

Things like bridal parties and garter tossed are probably out of the question. I imagine this being more like a big party. Preferably in winter. I know, I know, I dreamt of this whole autumnal wedding. But in an odd way, there’s something about letting that specific dream go and accepting this new one. Marriage is about compromise. And so are long distances relationships. Building up this new dream rather than trying to live up to the old one feels, in many ways, very 2021. The year of moving forward.

I would love to rewear my dress, maybe with faux fur this time, maybe with a red lip and hair don. Maybe. It would be beautiful to do photos in a snowy woods. And having all of my girlfriends over for some kind of flannel-pajamas, hot-chocolate bachelorette thing. Maybe! I think it would be magical to celebrate our love with amazing dinner with friends and family inside some king of Christmas-esque inn. I have many different ideas. But who knows what will happen? I suppose that anything is possible given these not-so-typical circumstances. Whatever we decide, wherever it is, and whoever decides to come, is going to have a lovely time. Be on the lookout for your invitation. These things only happen … twice!

Being a Long Distance Wife.

For the last few weeks, I haven’t necessarily been living on earth. I’ve been living on the planet in which all newlywed couples thrive — Planet Just Married. It’s a reality swept up in wedding gifts and honeymoon souvenirs, where one finds themselves crying tears of joy as they flip through their wedding album for the tenth time that week.

Since returning to Manhattan, I’ve moved into a new space. It dons the costume of a woman whose recently exchanged I do’s. My cabinets boast a set of Mr. & Mrs. mugs, my dresser shows off an 8×10 picture frame of me and the groom. Beside my bed is a night table with a jewelry dish, where I promptly remove my rings at night. On the other side of the bed is another night table — only it’s empty. The space beside me at night is also empty. My husband is still not here in the United States, still halfway across the world, still not allowed to be with me.

Last week, as I emptied space in the closet for Mr. Blagojević’s belongings, I began to violently sob. It occurred to me that this closet — our closet — will be empty of his things for many months. It just isn’t fair. We’ve done everything right and still cannot be together. Not until everything is legally processed. Sometimes, our wedding feels like some distant fever dream, a party I attended in another timeline — not my life. It’s only when I’m rewatching our video or revisiting photographs that I feel calmer about our situation. That I can wipe away my tears and remember yes, this happened to me. This wonderful thing happened, despite what is happening now.

Since returning home, I am naturally asked, “how do you feel?” now that I am a married woman. My response is bittersweet: I am both happy and heartbroken. I feel both like myself and also like someone else. As though I am just existing right now, watching some married woman set up a home for a future spouse. The bathroom has a hook for his robe, the bar cart has a space for his glasses — but he’s not here.

This is supposed to be a period of cheesiness and romantic shenanigans. We’re newlyweds — we’re “supposed” to be licking brownie batter off of spoons and dancing in our living room or something like that. Instead, we are both neck deep in paperwork and phone calls with our lawyer, back to Facetime calls and different sleep schedules. To put it bluntly, we have been robbed of this delicate time in our lives. And it hurts. I can’t imagine anyone would want to go through this, to have the most beautiful wedding and magical honeymoon only to still wake up alone. And not just for weeks, but for months. Indefinite months. Of course I’m happy to be married. It was always going to be Aleksa. But I am equally sad. And I need people in my life, including myself, to allow space for that right now.

I’ve discovered that when it comes to weddings, there seems to be plenty of expectations of what we’re “supposed” to feel. In the days immediately following my wedding, everyone who means something to me kept asking, “so how DO you feel?” They said it with such conviction that I worried something must be off with me. I’d peer into the big bathroom mirror in our honeymoon suite, searching for some sign of a mythical, womanly change in myself. What that was supposed to look like, I have no idea. When I look at photos of my mother from her honeymoon, she has this otherworldly glow about her. Every part of her seems to be smiling. Even her hair. So I kept thinking to myself, do people see that in me? Is my hair smiling?

The closest I felt to this whimsical, wifely feeling was the morning after our wedding. We spent the night at beautiful Hotel Moskva, which some of you know is akin to my safe haven in Belgrade. It was 8 A.M. when my eyes fluttered open: first to the grogginess of the Sunday morning, then to the giant, white wedding down hanging from the closet. And when I looked beside me, I saw my husband. It was the first time I could say that. He had his face squished into his pillow and the sheets wrapped around half of his torso. His yucky socks were on the floor, which meant he was truly, deeply sleeping. And I thought to myself, that’s my husband! That’s my person. All the ridiculous comments we have endured, all the pain and suffering of long distance we have gone through, and now I’m in bed next to my husband. Finally! No one can say anything. No one can take that away from me. He is my husband.

Later that morning, we waddled toward a breakfast of orange juice, croissants, and Serbian deli meats. I began wondering if he felt like a husband, and what I even meant by that. And as the texts rolled in on my screen, “omg, congrats! how do you feel?” I wondered more about this enchanting “wife feeling” that was allegedly going to envelop me. I ordered a latte for breakfast – I can still order lattes, right? — and gazed around me at all the Serbians. Could any of them tell I had just been married the night before?

With my family still in Belgrade, we decided to all take a Sunday morning stroll through Knez Mihailva — which is the downtown area just left of Hotel Moskva. We strutted past old men selling sunglasses, kiosks filled with cigarettes and bubblegum, and a violin duo playing the waltz from “Eyes Wide Shut.” I scanned each passing crowd for couples, wondering if anyone else was “just married” and if I could tell they were just married. But I couldn’t tell the difference among any couples. Which made me wonder more and more if the whole thing was made up — if I would ever have the mythical glow of a married woman. Because catching my reflection in the window of Hleb & Kefe bakery, I didn’t “look” like a bride or a wife. I just looked happy with a twinge of exhaustion in my eyes.

I see, in hindsight, that this was all anxiety about leaving my husband. Countless times in this relationship, we’ve been invalidated. Whether the comments are coming from the “long distance doesn’t work” lecture or the “it’s a green card scam” xenophobia, whether it’s the government telling us we aren’t technically together until we prove our case — I’m exhausted. And if just for a minute I know it’s real, that I know we’re really husband and wife, that I can feel like a wife — I can rest. Because in every honeymoon photo I see, my hair *is* smiling, and I look overjoyed to be next to him. And now that we’re apart, I feel separation anxiety. I wish I could just call him up any time of day, I wish we could have dinner together. But we can’t. Those things still don’t belong to us, despite the rings on our finger.

Regardless of our circumstances, I found myself relating to brides in a way I didn’t imagine I would: post wedding blues. I couldn’t believe it. Running around and organizing events for our big day was probably the least fun thing I’ve ever done. I’d imagine it’s fun if you’re the maid of honor or mother of the bride, but being the bride herself, it was a constant headache. My phone pinged everyday with frivolous news: the venue doesn’t have enough candle holders, eucalyptus leaves aren’t in season for your bouquet, your husband said to go with pink napkins but we wanted to check if you meant blush napkins. We drove to dozens of bakeries and had plenty of meetings just planning out our Serbian-American dinner menu. Not to mention, again, that the majority of this information was exchanged to me in Serbian, which was a language barrier hurdle to overcome. Try preparing a destination wedding in a language you aren’t well versed in. It’s hard!

And yet there I was, a few days after our wedding, sad that it was all over. The months of preparation, the search for the dress, the makeup trials, all done! I understand, now, why people go on honeymoon after their wedding. It certainly is a luxury, but it’s incredibly special to spend that one-on-one time with your new spouse. It’s a time to celebrate your new chapter together as well as decompress from the mountain of stress that a wedding brings.

We had so much fun in Greece that I will have to dedicate space to its own blog post. But I can say that our NYC studio is scattered with a few evil eyes, a Santorini blanket, and a photo of us basking in front of the infamous blue domes.

Until Aleksa arrives in Manhattan, this will be my version of married life. It’s not ideal, but it makes me excited for the future we have together. It’s not just the big things, like excitement for Aleksa to see the city during Christmas time, but also the little things, like excitement for Aleksa to see our coffee table.

In this way, I suppose I feel like a wife. Picking out bedspreads and cutlery — it’s not the shopping that’s exciting, but the thought that in the near future, Aleksa and I can use it together.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I just want my husband here with me.

Yet even though some days feel incredibly hard — hard to get up out of bed and know Aleksa has been up for 6 hours already in Serbia, sad to make a cup of coffee for just myself — it appears our situation is starting to get somewhere.

The first round of paperwork is done, and next, we have interviews to attend. It’s hard explaining to others that this is a legal immigration process at this point. I take pity, sometimes, when explaining the seriousness of it to others. “But you’re married!” they say with wrinkles in their forehead. “Why can’t you be together?” The short answer: it just doesn’t work that way.

But if you want a longer answer, here’s a brief story about our time in Greece that sheds light on what we are facing.

Remember when I said that I was waiting for the Universe to grace me with this alleged “wife” feeling? Well, it did happen. And it was momentarily glorious. The day that Aleksa and I boarded the plane for our honeymoon, the man at the check-in counter asked each of us for our paperwork. We handed him our boarding passes and vaccine cards. None of this is out of the ordinary in 2021.

“Where’s your form?” the man asked me. He was referring to a negative Covid test as well as a health travel document for Americans. Here’s the thing: I would have happily done this paperwork. But I didn’t have to. Serbian citizens do not need a negative Covid test or travel document to enter Greece. And because Aleksa and I are married, that makes me legally family. And the legal family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this paperwork.

“We’re married. She doesn’t need it,” Aleksa replied. He pulled out our marriage certificate to verify our status. And sure enough, there was nothing they could do. Aleksa and I are legally family, and the family of Serbian citizens didn’t need to do this form.

It was the first time, in the history of our relationship, that we felt untouchable in the eyes of higher authority. Between visas and passports and green cards, there’s always been something stopping us. Different rules for different countries, different realities for two different citizenships. But that day, we couldn’t be touched. We were legally family.

So, that was my moment. Finally being validated, finally having an undeniable connection to one another that couldn’t be dismissed. It was liberating. For so long, we have been under the authority of our countries rules. Now, we finally have a bit more say in our lives — we’re finally able to overcome some of the very rules that keep as apart.

But we’re nor entirely there yet, nor are we completely untouchable.

As we were leaving Greece to head back to Aleksa’s home in Belgrade, we ran into a new hiccup. Despite our Covid tests, despite our paperwork, despite my shiny hair and wedding band — the woman working at the check in counter did not allow me to board the plane. “So you’re an American married to a Serbian citizen,” she pestered.

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a legal resident of Serbia?”

“No.”

“And you don’t have a Serbian passport?”

“No.”

“Then I’m sorry, but we can’t let you on the plane.”

We tried everything we could. We pulled our marriage certificates and called up people we knew at the Serbian airport. We even had two different families fighting for us at the check in counter to allow me on the plane. We didn’t even fully understand why I wasn’t allowed on the plane. What it boils down to is this: we just happened to get a miserable person, and miserable people like to make others miserable. It had nothing to do with paperwork, because I had all the right documents. It had to do with the fact that this person did not want to understand us and our circumstances. And after much back and forth with the counter, after reluctantly being given my boarding pass, and even making it to the gate, the woman sent security to retrieve me. “But why?” I asked. “You’re separating me from my husband.” It was four in the morning and I was crying. It was our second to last day together before I headed back to New York.

“Because,” the woman said to me. “You’re American. And you can’t board this plane.”

And just like that, reality shifted around me yet again. I realized that for a while, life is going to be like this: having to prove our marriage to others, having to defend our countries of citizenship, having to go through legal demands as this. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s not fair. It’s just how it is.

If you’re wondering how things turned out, Aleksa had no choice but to board the plane, and yes, there were other Americans on the plane who presented no documents and still were allowed on. I happened to have all my documents, but we just happened to be unlucky with who we had at check-in. I drove six hours back to Belgrade through Greece, North Macedonia, and southern Serbia. In the end, it wasn’t the worst. But at the time, it felt soul crushing. Just when I thought we were finally recognized by the Universe, we were yet again dismissed.

But what I’ve realized throughout all of this is that I am strong. And that other than this current legal process I must endure, I am not proving my marriage to anyone. Not to judge-mental classmates (who are never happy for you!), not to opinionated family members, not to jealous friends or nosy coworkers. It’s sick to think this way, but sometimes, I swear that when people learn my husband and I are still apart, it makes them happy. As if it’s validated some weird part of their ego, that I’m sad.

What they fail to understand is that I’m sad to be away from my husband — I’m not sad in my marriage. Even though it’s not the typical experience of a newlywed couple, we are so happy and excited to be married. We have something undeniably special that people only dream of. We had a beautiful wedding and we have a beautiful connection with each other. I can deal with FaceTime calls for now if it means he gets to be here soon.

I truly am looking forward to the day that Aleksa will get to use his bed side table and drink out of a Mr. mug. Until then, I think I’ll be existing on this little planet of Just Married limbo. It’s not so bad — there’s still plenty of wedding gifts I’m unpacking.

Planning a Wedding Abroad

I’ve been here for over a month, now, and the trip isn’t exactly what I envisioned. I imagined long, lazy mornings where Aleksa and I sat on the patio drinking coffee; picnics in the park filled with Serbian meats and cheeses; day trips to medieval castles and fortresses throughout the country; a weekend in Zlatibor, a ski-mountain town with its own kind of charm. 

Instead, we’ve been busy, busy, busy. Forget coffee on the patio, we have to meet up with the wedding decorator for coffee! There’s no time for day trips here or there because we have to drive to this florist in this part of Belgrade. 

On one muggy Saturday, Aleksa and I walked up and down the city looking for Italian pastry. Obviously, Serbian bakeries (Pekara) serve Serbian desserts — not cannoli and pignoli. But it is important to my family and our Italian roots to honor the longstanding wedding tradition, Venetian hour. 

“What is Venetian hour?” the wedding planner asked me at our most recent appointment. We were sitting in the room where Aleksa and I will eventually share our first dance. All eyes, wide and eager, turned to me for an answer. 

Venetian hour, Viennese hour, Italian hour … this tradition of many names originates from Southern Italy (where my family is from — Amalfi!). Toward the end of the wedding, about an hour after the cake has been cut, a table with desserts is prepared. You’d think that a wedding cake would be enough sweets for one evening, but not for Italians. Mangia, mangia — we’re always about eating and celebrating! This lavish arrangement of pastry, cookies, and more are meant to be over the top and luxurious. It’s a special occasion, and you’ve got to honor the homeland. Of course, espresso and coffee will be there, too!

Aleksa and I were lucky to find one pekara in Belgrade that can accommodate our Venetian hour. “But do you really need all of these sweets? People will be stuffed from the cake,” she told Aleksa in Serbian. The answer remains: yes, we really do.

Her bakery reminded me of the ones in Little Italy, New York: a shiny glass display case with gold accents, people bustling in and out, and about a hundred little cannoli covered in powdered sugar and cherries. Back in January 2020, when I visited Italy, this wasn’t the typical scene. Often the cannolo would be ordered from a menu and arrive on a ceramic plate with a doily underneath it, sometimes even a fork. Or in Milan, the cannolo was given to me wrapped in a napkin with a cappucio (not cappuccino – they shortened it to cappuccio in this region!) to go with it. 

***

I get asked the same two questions very often:

  • Are you ready for your wedding?
  • How are you planning a wedding there?

There are some people who genuinely mean the first question. “Ready” means are you doing well, are you having fun? Are you all set for the big day?

But sometimes the “ready” is meant to be invasive. What this person wants to know is, are you sure you want to marry this guy? Because I am unsure for you. 

I don’t answer those people. I don’t like to associate with anyone who is committed to being miserable, actually.

What I can say is that planning a wedding abroad has been as different as you can probably imagine. The keyword is different. Not bad, not hard. Sometimes, I feel frustrated because things are out of my control. And other times, I feel at ease because of that same reason. At the end of the day, my soon-to-be husband is Serbian, and these are his culture’s traditions. So I am adapting to them because I love him.

When I say “out of my control”, I am mostly referring to a difference in American thinking versus Serbian thinking. I live in Manhattan; I’m used to things being done right then and right there. You wake up at 5 am for work, you stay up until 2 am finishing the school assignment. It’s how we live. Here, the lifestyle is more laid back. When I want something done, say the flowers, for example, the florist casually says to me, “call two days before the wedding and I’ll see what I have.” 

There are some USA traditions that I don’t like, that I wouldn’t have done even if the wedding was in New York. For example, bridal parties. Growing up, I was the “new girl.” My family moved often and quickly, sometimes being a few towns over, other times being a few states over. I collected girlfriends here and there, all equally important to me during different parts of my life. In short: I have many maids of honor. It’s impossible to pick just one.

Also, I don’t like that the bridal party often wears matching color dresses. Everyone has a different undertone and skin tone, so how can you put them all in the same color? Not everyone looks good in lilac! It drives me nuts. 

Meanwhile, there are some traditions we are, of course, honoring. My father will walk me down the aisle, which actually took some convincing and discussion with the church here. Aleksa and I will spend the night apart, which is an older tradition for certain. And Aleksa won’t see me in my dress until the alter, which is another USA tradition.

For my American audience, here is a list of Serbian wedding customs that are different from ours. I apologize if they are a  bit inaccurate, I am still learning!

  • The groom can see the bride in her dress before the wedding. Our wedding photographers told us that it’s common for the couple to take their wedding photos a few days before the wedding. When I asked them, “But how can the groom see the dress before the wedding?” they were confused. That’s when I learned, it’s not a thing here! Of course, many couples in the USA forego this tradition, too. But I’m not!
  • The bride and groom don’t have a “song” … until recently, that is. Aleksa’s parents say it has become more common with the Balkans adapting more Western culture. But it’s not originally a tradition here.
  • The groom sees the bride before the church. Actually, the groom is supposed to go to the father of the bride’s home and “buy” the bride. There’s something in there about shooting an apple off the roof to prove his quality, but I have no idea. That’s not happening. (It’s a VERY old Serbian tradition.)
  • The bride and groom wear “crowns” in the church. Visually, they look like gold king and queen crowns. But they have another name, and they’re supposed to represent Jesus’ wreath. 
  • The guests bring the cake. They bring LOTS of cake. We told our guests we’re doing this part a bit more American, so leave the cake at home.
  • Bridal parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties … not a thing. But just like the “song”, this is starting to become a tradition thanks to its popularity in Western culture. 

I will leave this list here for now, as I want to include more Serbian wedding traditions. But I don’t think I’ll fully know all of them until the big day is here, and they’re happening in front of me! Likewise, there’s so much more to say on this subject. We’ve been planning for months. And we’re so excited to share all the photos and footage with you soon.

Until then …

That American Girl

Where to Cry in Belgrade

When I’m in Belgrade, Hotel Moskva is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a charming, luxurious hotel that feels akin to “The Plaza” in New York. The peach-toned building has an emerald green roof and a vivid red carpet draped over the front marble staircase. Somehow, this vibrant structure withstands the changing seasons, especially in winter when Belgrade seems the most dull and gray. 

I’m one of those oddballs that prefers winter over summer. Maybe it’s my love for Christmas that clouds my better judgement, or my contempt for the sun which burns my pale skin. Who knows? I prefer days when the world is covered by a white blanket of snow, when I can throw on a bathrobe and fill my home with warm candles. Or better yet, when I can head to midtown in my best wool coat to go ice skating. Most New Yorkers will tell you that the Rockefeller Christmas tree brings out a particular kind of anger in them. They dislike the tourists, they hate the capitalist element, and they especially loathe when 49th and 50h are closed for traffic. 

I don’t particularly enjoy those things, either. But I am one of those New Yorkers who stops to look at the Rockefeller Christmas tree each time I pass it. In 2018, I remember my good friend, HG, crying as she looked at the tree. “Are you serious right now?” I laughed, making fun of her. She nodded and continued to bawl with happy tears. I didn’t understand that feeling until this past 2020 Christmas. I stood away from the tree at a Covid-restricted distance, admiring it from a far. It was the first time I was unable to stand directly underneath the tree and look up through the branches at the enormous glowing light bulbs. NYPD surveilled a fence around the tree as tourists snapped photos from the sides.

 I suddenly remember my eyes filling with heavy tears, wondering, what is happening? I had never seen midtown so dead in my life. The few people standing near me were wearing masks stained with flurries. People I cared about were gone. Travel restrictions were still in order. I hadn’t seen my fiancé in a year, and my engagement ring felt a little bit more like a costume each day. My last year of college, the one that was supposed to be filled with opportunity and fun, was online. Racism and xenophobia regarding the virus and not regarding the virus. An anxious election had just passed, with votes being recounted and disputed. 

And yet the tree was standing there, completely oblivious to what was happening below. It donned the face of a previous New York, of a time when reality seemed a bit kinder. And that was enough to make me cry. 

Hotel Moskva isn’t exactly a Rockefeller Center, although it does house it’s own stunning Christmas tree each year. For me, however, Hotel Moskva is where I can go to feel grounded. In the winter, I know that the lobby will be lively and decorated in holly and gold. In the summer, the large outdoor patio comes alive: brown wicker furniture under huge umbrellas, relaxing piano music, iced tea pitchers and pink flower beds. I’m not saying you should cry here, but I think it’s okay to cry here if you want. I won’t judge you, anyway. It’s the perfect place for people to watch, to unwind after shopping at Knez Mihailova, or to take a quick nap if you’re so bold. 

 Beyond this patio, Belgraders put on their masks before going into stores. Or their waiting, masks half-off, for the next bus to arrive. Businesses are reopening across the street with fresh hand sanitizer pumps on display. Others are permanently closed with graffiti consuming the doorways. You can’t see it from the patio, but further down the street is a local market with fresh flowers, delicious fruits, and crisp breads. 

Hotel Moskva has a rich history that I don’t want to ignore. It’s one of the oldest gems in Serbia and a part of the Historic Hotels Worldwide. It’s survived centuries plagued with disease, war, bombs, poverty, secession, and more. It housed thousands of people in its existence, still possessing all the original materials it was constructed with. It sits proudly in the street with character and vigor. Maybe that’s why it feels so safe to be there.

This week, I went by myself to Hotel Moskva to clear my head. I sat down on a white cushion wicker bench and ordered a vanilla latte in Serbian. To my left, two business men spoke in English with thick accents. I tried not to listen, but it was so hard. How exciting to hear English like this!

“My barber is a freak,” one man said. He sported a gray suit. “He tells me he’s only ever read one book his whole life.”

“Let me guess. Bible?” the blonde man said back to him. Another gray suit. 

“Of course,” the man said back. “And I told him, ‘aren’t you embarrassed? You’ve lived for forty-six years, and all you’ve read is the Bible?’ But he corrected me. He’s apparently read the Bible fifteen times. So that counts to him as fifteen books.”

The blonde man shook his head in disapproval. “Embarrassing.” 

“Oh look, now he’s on Instagram posting shirtless. Guess what the caption is?”

“What?” 

Our bodies are temples. What verse do you think he stole that from?”

I was tempted to butt in, but I thought maybe it was best to remain a mystery — to not reveal I was that American girl in Belgrade. For all they knew, I was a Serbian woman eating a smoked salmon sandwich, not understanding a word of what they said.

***

Ignoring their conversation, I cracked open my book, White Wedding by Milly Johnson. I mean this without any shade toward the author, but this is one of those silly feel-good books that you take to the beach or read in the car (if you can stomach that — I get car sick when I read!) It’s about three women who meet in a bridal shop, all with different anxieties about getting married. 

I wish I could say that I was reading White Wedding right now to fill up a frilly space in my heart, like wedding jitters or summer romance. Instead, I’m reading it because I’m grieving. Which is why I decided to go alone to Hotel Moskva in the first place. 

I recently learned that my ex boyfriend’s father passed away from Covid-19 last April. I don’t know what is appropriate to admit I am feeling. First is guilt; I feel awful that I only just learned this. I wished I could have expressed my condolences much sooner. Next, I am shocked and saddened by the news, even though my ex and I are no longer in each other’s lives. I am hurting for his family, who truly are wonderful people, and their loss. I feel strange to have known this man. He was always kind and generous to me, and now he’s gone. And finally, I feel anxious. I can’t process his absence. I feel an urgency to get up and do something, but there is nothing to do. I have cried intensely at least twice.

This news has brought up so many questions. One being: is he even mine to grieve? So much loss has surrounded everyone since March 2020, it feels impossible to carry all of it. I sometimes dream I am drowning or that I am in a stranger’s car.  Other times I am awake and feel I don’t belong in my body, that my hands aren’t really my hands. When I feel this way, I just want to be somewhere that feels more real and alive than I do. In New York, that’s Rockefeller. In Belgrade, that’s apparently Hotel Moskva.

So I sat with my grief and confusion, with my book and my sandwich, among the flower beds and wicker chairs this Tuesday. I am allowing myself to feel what I do for the time being. To anyone out there reading this, I hope you are well, I hope you are healthy, and I hope the same for your loved ones. When you are feeling bad, I hope you have a safe haven that you can visit. And if you don’t, I hope you find one soon. It doesn’t have to be a luxurious hotel or sparkling tourist attraction. It can be the right book or a fresh set of bed sheets.

Writing a blog, even.

Best,

That American Girl

When in Belgrade

Last Wednesday, I found myself dining for the second time at the Beton Hala. It’s a waterfront full of restaurants and cafes that overlooks the Sava — one of Belgrade’s main rivers. This time, I was at Toro: a trendy Latin restaurant adorned with high-top tables and delicious cocktails. But I wasn’t there for the ambiance; I was reuniting with Sonja and Jasmina, my two dear Serbian friends.

At this point, we’ve reunited three times: once in January 2020, again in January 2021, and now, in May 2021. Our story begins not in Belgrade, but back where I live — in the city of Manhattan. Three summers ago, we all happened to take a summer job at the Statue of Liberty. For me, it was practically family business (I’ll explain that in another blog). Sonja and Jasmina, however, found the opportunity through a work and travel program.

Everyone has one summer that is life-changing (or so I hope!) For us, it was Summer 2019. It was the summer that Sonja and Jasmina came to New York City; the summer that I met Aleksa; the summer when we worked at the Statue of Liberty.

At the Crown Cafe, Aleksa stocked shelves with cold Coca-Cola bottles, Jasmine whipped up fresh lattes, and Sonja tossed French fries.

As for myself, I spent those long, humid days gift wrapping coffee mugs or organizing key chains in the gift shop. But, if it was busy, I worked in the restaurant on cashier duty. From my front-and-center kiosk, I could see Aleksa, Jasmina, and Sonja running around in the heat. Like true New Yorkers!

When that summer came to an end, we promised to return to work at the Statue. That should have been May 2020. But for obvious reasons, the work and travel program fell through. Travel restrictions hung over all of our heads in different ways. For myself, it meant I had no idea when I would see my fiance. For Sonja and Jasmina, it meant a lot of canceled dreams. Dreams of penultimately seeing Hawaii, of living together in the city, and of reuniting with other friends from around the world.

It was a sad, heartbreaking time for all of us — which is why this summer is so special. Face masks are coming off and businesses are opening their doors. We may not be in Manhattan, but we’re all living in the same city again. We don’t have to catch up with each other over Facetime and Whatsapp — we can go grab dinner at the Beton Hala.

And so, on this particular night at Toro, we were celebrating life, romance, and friendship. “Živeli!” we said as we clunked our glasses together. As I sipped on a vodka lemonade, I told the girls about some of my wild and hilarious happenings in Belgrade so far.

“I was standing by the bathrooms at the Ada mall …”

“I’ve never been there,” Sonja interjected. “Have you?” she said, looking at Jasmina.

“No,” Jasmina laughed.

“Well now you know that all the crazies hang out by the bathroom. I’m kidding,” I laughed. “But really. This woman and her daughter came up to me with a card and they were trying to sell me something. I could just tell by her expressions. Only I couldn’t understand them. So I told the woman, ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Serbian.’ And she looks at me all confused and snaps, ‘What?!?’ so I repeat myself. ‘I’m sorry, izvini, I don’t speak Serbian.’ And do you know what she says to me?”

Sonja and Jasmina shook their heads, no.

“She says to me, ‘Yes … but who are you?'”

They burst into a fit of laughter. “You’re the American Spy, I’m telling you! That’s SO funny.” Sonja said, tearing up. “You know, Kasey, you should start a blog. I bet there are so many people who’d want to read about your travels here. You have so many stories.”

I took another sip of my drink and said, “that’s actually a really good idea, Sonja. Maybe I’ll do a blog.”

My fellow creative writers will understand me when I say that we are encouraged to write personal essays, memoirs, and poems — not necessarily blogs. For a long time, I’ve had a growing collection of stories about my time in Belgrade. I’ve been here three times now, and for a collective total of four months. You can only imagine what it’s like to be an American in a country that most Americans don’t know about (which is unfortunate, by the way!) Or what it’s like to be in love with someone whose first language isn’t your own, who lives halfway across the world. I owe these stories to my friends, my family, my fiance, and my curious online followers. But I especially owe this to Sonja, who continued to push the idea.

“You can call it the American Spy – that’s the name of the blog!” Sonja joked that evening. Although not quite on brand, I thought it was best to dub this blog as what most people refer to me as here: That American Girl.

I’ll be adding something new each week — I hope you stick with me and I hope you get something out of it.

Until then,

That American Girl