Belgrade Confluence at Le Molière

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Sitting in a French restaurant in Belgrade named Le Molière, I am content. There is a peace in moments of contentment that allows for a clarity and insight not otherwise tapped into. Everything becomes brighter, more defined. Smells are stronger, and one can taste the world. The senses buzz in an awareness of life, of living life. Alone at my table, a cappuccino to my right, a belly full of recommendations that satisfy, and a book in my hand I am sad to finish, I feel complete as I look up to observe humans connecting. Middle-aged women gather, loud and overwhelming, laughing, hugging, enjoying the company of the feminine presence. They have much to tell each other over wine and cigarettes. Outside a little girl falls as she chases the wind. Still learning to use her legs, they run away from her. Parents follow laughing as she struggles to get back up, her marshmallow jacket making it difficult for her to bend her arms. I check her face, and she is giggling as well. The extra padding broke her fall. Her parents help her stand, and she is off running again with a carefree energy that reminds me of the freedom only a child can know. I wonder when I lost it, when each of us loses it to become an adult. A man leans against a pillar. I wonder if I stare at him long enough, he will turn this way. He has been there some time in the cold looking to the right. Is he waiting for someone? He notices me watching and walks away uncomfortable in my awareness. How is it that humans can feel when another is watching as though we have invisible eyes in the back of our heads? Behind him people walk through a gallery observing the world in paint. What do they see of themselves as they stare into another’s imagination? I sprinkle sugar over my cappuccino and scrape the sparkling cream off to melt into my mouth before it dissolves into coffee, a simple delight I learned in Germany that gives me great pleasure, a secret dessert before the meal. I catch the eye of a man walking quickly by and smile. He returns this smile, slowing his pace enough to forget for a moment his mission. Smiles are contagious. If you smile enough at the world, it smiles back at you. Even if it resists, eventually it smiles back. There is something within human beings that is almost instinctual this way, as though our natural self craves such connections and welcomes them. Even if the person is unsure how to smile, our deeper self has a knowledge beyond this life’s experiences to recognize a genuine sign of affection and respond with a widening of the mouth that lifts the heart and carries the soul. A part of me will stay in Belgrade. This city has embraced me with its candlelit tables, nostalgic songs, smokey cafes, empty art galleries, and 2000 year old fortress overlooking a city between two worlds at twilight. I see in it my own dilemma, a feeling of in-between: An American who feels more European; who values the simplicity of the old but finds great pleasure in the indulgences of the new; who craves tranquility and peace found in nature but misses the buzzing people-watching of the city if gone too long; who desires freedom while wishing for roots; a jack of all trades and master of none; one longing for companionship but finding comfort and strength in solitude. Belgrade knows well the in-between, a trade city between worlds colliding, a confluence of rivers with its abandoned lit buildings, wine bars in old refrigerators, raves in unused bunkers and on deserted ships, buildings started but never completed. It knows what it means to be gray. Yes, a part of me will stay with this city because it knows what it means to have one foot on either side of the river not wanting to give up one for the other. It would rather remain in the middle with its turbulence, uncertainty, passion, and instability, to feel what it means to live from every aspect and embrace the black and the white as a hazy gray existence of possibility and discovery.

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