Saturday, January 22, 2011

I WILL SURVIVE


At some point during the day we cross the border. I'm not sure where, or when, cramped as i am into the back of this tiny Yugo for the long drive back from Dubrovnik. It seems this car has only two shock absorbers - and we are both stuck in the back, sweating like pigs. Lili raises her head from time to time to take in the scenery, while i lie slumped against a non-functional window winder. Goran, at the wheel of this Yugoslavian version of hell on wheels, is attempting to set a land speed record for the slowest ever circumnavigation of Kotor lake. I feel every bump, every nuance of his hand on the wheel.

I muse on the disappointment that was Dubrovnik. Cruiseships of tourists forensically traipsing its stony streets; a brute force of clueless investigators. The Croatian restaurant prices rising in direct proportion to the slowness and rudeness of their waiters. The residents mimicking the drabness and dullness of their visitors, blending with the tourists in shapeless t-shirts, thongs, long shorts - and the men are not dressed much better - with their backpacks, digital cameras, and Amex cards. Banal. That's the word for it: banal. Dubrovnik: a lifeless, decrepit stone monument to the banal turista.

Still, the sea was a nice colour.

Driving back, we pass two tall, tanned girls walking side-by-side along the road. I pull a muscle in my neck as i turn to watch them slowly diminish in the rear window, in their high heeled shoes, stylised make-up, long raven hair, tiger-print bikinis, and legs.
Montenegro, da? i ask Goran, our Yugo pilot.
Da.
I thought so.

We part company with Goran and Valentina at the waterfront with meaningless platitudes and promises to catch up soon. What i really need is a drink and a lie down. A good strong drink and a good lie down. And some shade. And a chair. My needs and wants are minimal. We weave our way along the boulevard towards our street. Everywhere, the tall Montenegran women sway their bikini-and-shawl-clad hips, some with their hair piled high, others wearing it long over hooped earrings and smooth, spotless olive skin. God, i need a drink. Walking up to our room overlooking the bay, we watch as two muscular guys come barrelling down the winding mountain road on Yamaha road bikes, racing each other at speed, leaning into corners with about six degrees of separation between them and the hot bitumen. No shirts, no shoes, no helmets. They pass with a sound like hornets slung from a slingshot.

Lili and i continue up the winding, near-vertical climb as one of these maniacs roars back up the hill, the other presumably dead in a ditch somewhere. We pass a gym, its doors open wide onto the pavement, and as i glance in i see what looks like a heavyweight fighter belting the shit out of a big black punching bag. Probably practising for the next turista who happens to look sideways at his girlfriend. We climb higher up the side of the mountain, towards our room at the villa. Bright white houses fan out behind us around the bay, asleep in the afternoon sun, catching a slight breeze under the hot orange din of the terracotta tiles. The pool of the Hotel Avala lies still beneath us, the sweeping resort almost devoid of guests, its vaulting lobbies and promenades having witnessed more sublime times.

The old lady greets us on the terrace, and brings out a tray of ice, water and Coca Cola. We slump in the shade, absorbing the curves of the white wooden lilos. I need alcohol. I'm too tired and parched to talk, so i signal to Lili with a simultaneous raising of wrist and eyebrow. Lili translates. The old lady with the white hair nods, disappearing back into the villa, and returning with a bottle of something with a label that looks ... ah ... local. I pour a splash over ice, and add some coke.

I met Lili at university, after returning as an allegedly 'mature' age student to study philosophy and photography. And women, like Lili – forever changing my disinterested, anarchic, and vaguely nihilistic attitude to politics. I met her, ironically, in a Practical Ethics class. On semester break i stole her from her dull-witted uni-student boyfriend, packed her into a borrowed car, and drove her up the coast, camping all the way from Cervantes to Broome, where we ran out of money and lived on one of the northern creeks, cooking up fish from the mangroves with a few vegetables. Lili had been dragged to Australia from a beautiful, tourist spa town in central Serbia by her mother, kicking and screaming, at the tender age of 17, knowing barely a phrase of English. She had been suffering post-Terra Australis depression ever since. She had barely been out of the city, so our regular forays into the bush introduced her to this weathered and beautifully brutal red land. It altered her perception. As did the drugs. But don't get me started on drugs.

It seems we are drinking šljivovica. I can feel it putting hair on my chest with each sip. I twirl my moustache. Judging by the label, my testicles are about to swell up like two huge blue plums. I raise my glass in honour of my beautiful sidekick, Lili. It doesn't count unless you look each other in the eye. She taught me that.

На здоровье!

After knocking back a few, i realise Lili is deep in conversation with the old lady with the white hair. Later, in our room, she tells me what they were talking about. It seems the "old lady" is younger than me. Her husband was the same age as me when he died. 42. Sitting in a café in Belgrade, sipping coffee with his wife, talking about nothing in particular when a NATO bomb struck the street.

His wife's hair went white overnight.

There is a disco here which goes all night long. It's loud. I can't sleep. Ah well, if you can't beat them (and you can't - they have security) join them. I suggest to Lili that we should venture out and join the eurotrash now dancing to the strains of a house version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive". The clubs are like an endless screening of Fashion TV, the fabulous women in their perpetual high heels clad in little more than underwear, parading up and down anything that looks like a catwalk, the men muscular, shirtless, and ridiculously tall.

I'm too drunk, Lili says.
Well let's fuck, i suggest, remembering the time in the hotel in the middle of Belgrade last week, when she was leaning half-undressed on the windowsill, looking out onto the street ...
I'm too drunk, Lili says.
So how about you slip into something more comfortable, like a coma, i suggest, in what passes as foreplay when you've drunk half a bottle of šljivovica. I take a swig from the bottle secreted by the bedside, my testicles swollen like plums, and fall asleep.

In the morning, i hire a scooter and we shake off our hangovers as we breeze down the coast to Sveti Stefan. The views are spectacular. I pull over and we soak it in, the narrow causeway stretching out to the sheer walls of the island citadel, perched dramatically on the outrageous cyan of the Adriatic. We head down to a beachside bar to swim and lie under an umbrella on a lezalika. As i take off again along the winding mountain roads, Lili begins belting me about the head. I round a blind curve and come face-to-face with an oncoming truck, and i realise she is trying to gently remind me that we are not in Australia and i should, ideally, be on the other side of the road.
When i signed the scooter hire contract, i noticed it did at least acknowledge the fact that an accident was inevitable if you rode the scooter long enough:

Mini Moto does not contribute to the insurancy of a person who rents the vehicle or the third person in case of the eventual accident. Hmm.

When we first rode out this morning, were immediately overtaken by the maniac on the Yamaha R1 we'd seen tearing up the mountain yesterday. Last i saw of him, he was pulling a wheelstand down a crowded main street, between pedestrians, cars, and market stalls. At least when Valentino Rossi races, they are all going in the same direction.
Of course no-one here wears a motorcycle helmet. And who are we to break this centuries-old Balkan tradition?
On the way back into Budva, we miss the turnoff and are stuck on the main road – steep, busy, with nowhere to stop and turn around – so we just keep going, up the winding mountain road, before plunging into a dark tunnel where i can't find the headlamp switch and we ride on screaming at oncoming headlights on both sides of the road – until we emerge on the far side of the mountain to a brightly stunning, sheer view down a beautiful beach about a kilometre below.

We swim, we explore, we ride. We drink like loons. At the end of the day we find ourselves on a hillside at Podmaine Monastery, taking photographs and talking to a mad Serb who wants to drive us around his village in his Mercedes and treat us to a pig on a spit. Thanks, champ, but no thanks. We go inside and i light a candle for Alexei's mother. I am deep in contemplation when a rather striking-looking nun arrives, and ushers us into the kitchen, where we sit on a wooden bench at a wooden table with the monks as she serves soup, bread, and shopska salad.

Montenegro. Even the fucking nuns are sexy.

1 comment:

Ms Martin said...

Oh Marcus. So lovely to read your words again.