The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.

Richard Gere Was Here

I sought a place to collapse and eat after a day of haplessly wandering Sarajevo map-less and on foot. The choice was made simple when I spotted a man standing in the doorway of his Buregdzinica. He wore a lab coat. I liked the idea of eating in a place where food was treated as a science.

After my gestures to order, he flipped burek onto a scale, then tossed it again onto a plate. I didn’t want to know the weight of the portion he felt would suit me, so I just accepted it with a good American smile.

His radio frequently lost the signal and became static. He wandered to a table and hit his newspaper so it would lie flat. He and a friend pored over the news and a betting form, his friend occasionally dashing out for change, then returning with beers from across the square.

I chose a table in the back corner to eat, to write. The doctor kept pacing back to gaze over my shoulder. I usually reacted with my elbows if someone tried to read as I wrote, but I trusted that between his English and my quick scrawling, not even his name would be recognizable.

It was evident that he was curious about my visit–an American woman alone can be quite a conversation piece. I didn’t know how to explain that charming Bosnians I’d met in the last few years inspired me to travel here, made this a necessary stop. I tried a few phrases I knew, fuming at myself for not being more dedicated or gifted in learning the language, offering a slow-anxious-slaughtering of the syllables. (Reading from my notebook the phrase: Neh-Rah-Zoo-Mee-Yehn. I don’t understand.)

The doctor showed off a noteworthy possession: A photograph with Richard Gere. Through gestures, I came to understand the actor also had burek there–that I was in the leftover presence of greatness. He ordered me a coffee from across the courtyard. He set it on my table, then stirred it for me, then tried again to start up conversation.

Finally, the doctor and his friend applauded the arrival of a French student. He was in Bosnia to learn the language and instantly installed as a translator. The French man was placed between my empty plates and the burek doctor with a Bosnian dictionary and a fast-approaching headache. “Do you speak a word of this impossible language?” I admitted sadly I didn’t know much. I was living in Vienna and in the process of learning Turkish–and the doctor slapped the boy and said something easy to understand: “She speaks Turkish and German and you only speak French!”

Nevermind the man’s translations had to move from a language he was newly acquiring into English, which he rarely used. The doctor snorted, laughing to himself, and the laugh traveled to his distracted friend, who looked up from the newspaper and joined in. And the Frenchman and I also laughed, with a sort of amazement that we should all be in the same place, all completely unable to form full sentences and delighting the broken attempts.

-Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

15 comments on “Richard Gere Was Here

  1. alicethehappytraveller
    March 23, 2012

    I’m about to go travelling alone as well, around Europe. I worry that as a woman I won’t be completely safe. Did you plan all your accommodation in advance? I’m looking at cheaper things like homestays, with Airbnb and Gay Homestays. Do you have any advice about where to stay and how much to plan?

    • Sure thing! I traveled solo for about 4 years. I love it. You meet amazing people that way. Just be street smart a la a major American city. Find a buddy at night or walk like you own the joint. Hehe.

      I always booked accommodation in advance, just so I knew I had a fixed place. I met a lot of women who traveled solo and rolled with it, but I wanted to always know I had a place to hang my hat for security’s sake. I had a surprisingly awesome experience in Sarajevo with a private room through hostelbookers. The hostel service found rooms in people’s homes. This was 2 years ago, but I booked with “Hostel Ljubicia.” and stayed with Hana Karisik. We had no mutual language, but she was a fantastic lady. I wrote a poem about her. 🙂 liminalities.net/5-4/fivedays.pdf

  2. eldinsmille
    September 6, 2012

    Ne razumijem! It is great how you write it! Neh-Rah-Zoo-Mee-Yehn

  3. GalOnTrip
    October 12, 2012

    thanks for visiting and following my blog! your site is also awesome so i decided to do the same thing with that! 4 years travelling alone in europe? does it mean that you were in europe 4 yrs in a row without returning to your hometown until 4 years later? that was awesome! did you work in between the trips or it was a pure holiday, sightseeing, shopping etc?

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      October 12, 2012

      I was working while I traveled, and I came home from time to time–holidays, etc. It has been a fantastic experience, though I worry it’s made me permanently restless! Thanks for following!

  4. Daniela
    April 14, 2013

    I just ‘followed’ you from the Lantern … and am I glad to have done so! Sarajevo and Bosnia and just about all of what once was Yugoslavia is the place I most long for … I grew up in Zagreb and left it long ago. My father was from Bosnia. I so loved ‘seeing’ it through your eyes … thank you.

    • Thank you so much for coming by. I’m glad you enjoyed the stories. I waited through a lot of saving-up before I could get to Europe, and the first place I wanted to go was to Bosnia. I’m glad I could show you an outsider’s tour of your home!

  5. Reblogged this on The Nice Thing About Strangers and commented:

    A highlight from Sarajevo

  6. LeProsey
    June 16, 2015

    Great post.
    I totally love the title of it. Massively love.

  7. butimbeautiful
    June 16, 2015

    it’s nice when you can all laugh about it!

  8. davecenker
    June 16, 2015

    Thanks Paige – this is a wonderful reminder that laughter is a universal language that needs no translation 🙂 And, by the way, you were not in the leftover presence of greatness – you were simply expanding upon it in your own creative way 😉

    Thanks, as always, for sharing – the nice thing about strangers has become my go-to blog and I sincerely appreciate your thought-provoking, witty, and diverse observations and insights 😉

    • Dave, thank you so much for the lovely comment! I’m delighted to be the to-go blog. You will help to keep me in the habit. It’s been a challenge lately with work, family, and other writing projects, but it’s always worth it to have a finished tale.

      I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Richard Gere connection, but I did like the food. 🙂
      -Paige

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