Melons and watermelons are displayed in orthogonal grids beside the road. Everything else is random: men sit on horses sideways, like you’d imagine an elegant historical drama female protagonist would, because they’d be wearing skirts made of flannel, or goat skin, in this case. The trust these men give to horses along the serpentines is beyond. There are cows in the opposite lane too, a few minutes down from where the “Hotel New York” signage brushes against the seldom tree. The air is damp, making the flags heavier in the wind; in era, how they say it. In my language era refers to time, just like in English. As in, the end of an era.
Swept away by wind, or by time:
what remains is the sentiment.
Reason is what cannot be remembered.
I heard stories about multi-generational cults that gather in the mountains, where bearded men get together and kill animals whose blood turns into streams that are then followed by raki (rakija). The aggression in the narrative thrusts against the tundra in the landscape, beside what used to be pines, accidentally set on fire by a non-extinguished cigarette butt that landed in a place too dry. We pass by a gas-station street fight, closely and slowly enough to notice it, because of the impossibly bad traffic jam. The other boys film it with their phones, and pull away. Someone jumps in to separate the two. “This is how the road always is, in the summer”, I hear, because these are the only car-friendly paths that go around the country, and they cannot handle too many tourists. They turn into highways only from time to time, so there is plenty of stuff to notice in the meantime. I think of how hard it’d be: to drive all night, to get to you, is that alright — like, how would Roy Orbison or Cyndi Lauper make it? These are probably not the roads of which American songs are sung, but they remind me of them, terribly. There are wedding halls beside the highway, decorated to insanity, with cake-frosting inspired plaster ornaments and a formally dressed entourage in the front. And then nothing, until a giant mosque appears, shining in the dark. And then a display of ham and meat-derived products. An illuminated Christian cross is on the other side, inscribed in the mountain facing Montenegro.
Women wear thick lipsticks, which I’ve recently read becomes a trend every once the economy goes to hell. Young boys help out by the pool, sporting weak facial hair and eyebrows that urge you to take them seriously. Their body language is innocent, the coffee they make is watery. The looks they give are hopeful, but estranged. The fruit they carry along the beaches is ripe.
Don’t you know what you have here? The land is soaked with a secret, one that has no place in the dictionaries we tried to perfect. It’s tracing the air between two cars almost colliding, as you’re overtaking the lane on the intermediate road. It’s what Angelina Jolie tried to call honey and blood, but that’s such an imprecise, materialistic way to put it. I feel it in the distance between the beach and the mountain, which seems so thin from a bird’s-eye view; or in the waves that crash as they turn over a lighter that surfaces on one of the privatised shores. It’s one of the beaches that Dua Lipa attended this summer.
I look at my friend, the one who invited me to come here. Does he not know this? How can he not know? He, too, has this elusive bleakness in his eyes. The one that makes you think that, when his mind is at rest, there are tears going down the inside of his cheeks, but on the outside it’s almost as if he’s smiling. His heart must be full of questions too; questions that we try to answer with political charades, with shopping, and music — the truest form of art.
All our countries meet at a place where mountains collect thunder. As we drive to the border, we go through all the seasons. Someone’s waiting for me on the other side; but even that person is not my person. We are all just members of tribes.
On one of our last stops, Elian tells me that the stuffed animals I see attached to the trees in the motel garden are there to scare away the bad spirits. “We’re pagan, you see. You have to understand that”. At first I think he’s trying to make fun of me and of my supposed ignorance — the one I convinced myself to have. Don’t I also come from a country possessed by rituals?
I order a salad that incidentally comes with an ingredient that I’m allergic to. We both agree that it’s better that he eats it there, instead of me, than to take a doggy bag.
‘Cause packing food for later reminds us both of recession.