One of the Vagabond’s best friends spent a semester in Argentina when he was a junior in high school. Before leaving, his father took him aside and said “Son: think with your big head. Not with your little one.” This may be the best bit of travel advice any father has ever given any son.
Sadly, the only advice Vagabond Sr. ever gave to me on this matter was the name and address of a good strip club where the girls’ virtues were financially negotiable. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have taken better advice even if he’d given it.
It is two in the morning, (or something) and I am wandering through a crowd stage right of Grandmaster Flash, trying to read a girl’s name off a sheet of paper in the darkness. I do this for two hours. The story of why I am wandering through Grandmaster Flash’s audience, screaming a name I am probably getting wrong in a state of almost transcendent intoxication, begins with an elf.
I am stroking the elf. As much as I might wish this was a euphemism for something more enjoyable, it is sadly not, but it is enjoyable enough.
“You like my elf?” The girl sitting to my right asks me. I have absolutely no idea what she means by this rather strange comment, but I’m prepared to state categorically that anything she says preceeded by the word “my” I will like. My “dark brown hair,” for example. My “tiny, shiny nose-ring.” My “mischievous smile.” My “light blue eyes that stare at you like flood lights from my tanned skin, so bright and alive that they somehow burn and freeze your soul at the same time, as if fire could be an icy wind that blasts your into oblivion, annihilates the flesh and cells of your heart until this is nothing left of anything that was once you, except desire.” Alternatively, she could have said my “impressive collection of My Little Pony dols” or “chlamydia” and I would have still been on board. Had she said any of those things I would have said “yes.” But elf, that through me off.
We’re sitting in the reception of the hostel at five in the morning on the second night of the festival. She’s on duty as receptionist, and we sit together on a table listening to music with two Finns and a friend of hers, Zeljka, who’s been taking care of me and everyone else here at the hostel. I’ve only known her for a few hours at this point, and we are both freakishly intoxicated, but I have decided with the sort of finality one can only have in the eighth or ninth level of inebriation, that this must be the future Mrs. Vagabond. For all I know she could be an ardent Sarah Palin fan, dislike hockey or (gulp) be a Scientologist, but I’m willing to put up with a lot from a woman who would help me produce some of the finest looking babies this side of the Danube. At least, that is what every hormone in my body is screaming through various chemical signals while the tiny portion of my neocortex that I haven’t managed to suppress with alcohol yet is throwing his hands up, rolling his eyes and sighing “you’re making an ass of yourself. Again. You know what? Go ahead, I’m going to sleep for the rest of the festival, you won’t need me anyway.”
Id defeats Superego. Flawless Victory.
“My elf,” she says again, and this time she bends over in front of me (oh yes, friends) to show me the cartoon elf tatttooed in the small of her back. I’ve been inadvertantly stroking the damn thing for the last half hour.
Yes, I know a tattoo on the small of girl’s back is a cliche at this point. But it’s a cliche because it fucking works. At least on me.
Shortly after this she passes out, and I go to bed. I have got to meet this girl again.
So despite being completely sober the next morning, I make it a point to tell the other girls at reception how much I *ahem* enjoyed meeting her last night, and low and behold, one of them just offers me her number.
It can’t be this easy.
That night, I call her as I’m leaving for the concert. It actually connects, and she actualy answers. “Hey, it’s me. You gave me your number last night and told me to call you.” Liar! “Do you still want to meet?”
Oh, but she does. She’ll text when she gets to the concert.
But my phone is dying (fuck you, phone) so I have her number, and name on a slip of paper and tell her I’ll call her.
Later. Moby’s playing. “Nothing can stop us now,” he sings. “For we are all made of stars.”
Yes, Moby. That is exactly true. Nothing can stop me now. I am made of stars. I call the Serbian Princess.
I want to meet. She’s in the VIP area, she tells me. Great. Except, oh yes. I’m not a VIP. I try to bribe the guard with several thousand Serbian dinars, what I later realize amounts to seven dollars. I beg. I plead. I tell him there’s a girl waiting. He doesn’t care.
No worries. I call her back. She’s listening to Grand Master Flash, stage right. “Between two planets,” she explains. Oh, of course. Maybe plants? Maybe trees? I give the phone to my Serbian friend to talk to her. He can’t make heads or tails of her directions either. I’m screwed. There’s 90,000 people at this concert, half of them at the main stage. But in destinies sad or merry, Vagabonds can but try, so I promise to meet my friends at 4am in the dance stage area if I fail.
I fail. I scream myself hoarse so badly I still don’t have my voice back three days later. I give up.
At the Dance Stage, the other half of the festival goers are in the audience, and my friends are on the other side from where I am. The likelihood that I’m going to get through this crowd before the end of the concert is about nil. But damnit, a man can only fail at so many things in a night before he says “No. Fuck you, universe, I’m fighting my way through 45,000 people if it kills me because *something* has to go right tonight, damnit.”
Fortunately, I attach myself to a congo line of girls that bat the eyelashes and are parting the crowd in front of me while I ride in their wake.
We live in a world of infinite possibility, but limited probability. According to the theory of quantum mechanics, the sub-atomic particles of our bodies are continuously winking out of existence and reappearing at slightly different positions in spacetime. Usually, the place where they reappear is almost exactly the same place where they originally disappeared from in the first place, but there is, in fact, a very limited possibility that all the particles in your body will vanish at one point in time and show up somewhere like Gary, Indiana (apologies if you actually live in Gary, Indiana). The likelihood of this astonishing event is so minute, however, that it would only happen once in several hundreds of billions of years, a period much longer than the lifespan of the universe itself.
So when I look up in this crowd to see the face of a certain Serbian girl with an elf tattoo staring back at me, I realize that I have, through force of desire, managed to make the impossible manifest itself.
Our reunion, I tell her, is clearly fate. This is kismet. This is the universe telling us it wants something from us, and what the universe wants I want, too. This is the Hand of God. She nods, and smiles, and has no idea what I’m saying.
Nothing can stop us now. For we are all made of stars.
We wake up each day around noon with rakja, the strong local liquor that comes in a variety of flavors. That’s just to try to get the shakes under control, but doesn’t quite do the trick, and usually has to be followed by a few Lav beers. Some of us are still coming off X, or speed from the night before, quaffing entire liters of water. We’ll then decamp to a cafe, where we drink cappucino and more rakja, or vodka. Then we’ll grab some foo from a street vendor, on the way to finding a place for breakfast, which usually consists of lamb, pork or beef stew. We shower around 8pm, to get ready to go to the festival, which finally winds down around six or seven, then we sleep for a few hours, then start again. After four days of hard living, two observations:
My name is Vagabond, and I am an addict.
I’m addicted to nicotine. I’ve smoked and I’ve quit, but tobacco has a chemical hold on me that defies my attempts to rationaly abstain. It releases large quantities of dopamine directly into my cerebral cortex and I’m helpless to say no. My lungs are dying. My tissues are soaked with tar, formaldahyde, rat poison, and fiberglass.
I’m addicted to alcohol. Here there is no end to the drinking. There is no starting and stopping. We drink, and when we wake up hung over we address the issue by drinking more alcohol. I like the way it tastes. I like talking about it with my friends. I like being a snob about which scotch is best. I like drinking while I smoke. I like to smoke while I drink. I like the person I become when I drink. I like his swagger, I like his confidence, I like how assertive his voice gets. I don’t mind the headaches he brings.
I’m addicted to caffeine. I have it as soon as possible every morning, which in Serbia means espresso. I drink gallons of the stuff, partially to help kill the hangover, partly to help bring my edge back, partly because it reminds me of home. I drink five in one sitting, to the amazement of the waitresses in the cafe. Sometimes, I drink it before going to bed to help me relax.
I’m addicted to sugar. I put it in everything. I feel my teeth decay as I suck on extra sugar packets and feel the crystals disolve sweetly in my mouth. I pour sugar in my coffee, my beer, my rakja, my bacon, my eggs, my chicken sandwich, and slowly I feel the gradual onset of adult diabetes coming.
I’m addicted to the sun. I’ve lain naked on boulders by the side of the street in Istanbul on the banks of the Bosphorous, among shards of beer bottle glass, empty water bottles, dog shit and popcorn, lying on my shirt for hours to soak the solar radiation into my skin. My entire body is tanned with melanomas and the accumulation of a month of cellular damage and DNA transcription errors. I no longer use sunscreen. I no longer burn.
I’m addicted to carbohydrates. They go well with beer.
I’m addicted to sex, though fortunately I can’t find a dealer.
I’m addicted to street cafes, with their ashtrays on the tables and napkins strewn about the floor by the wind.
I’m addicted to Novi Sad, a city with a university, gorgeous fortress, pedestrian boulevard, park, beach, shopping mall, decommissioned army barracks, insane summer music festival, fruit market, and psychotically hospitable people.
I’m addicted not knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight.
I’m addicted to my own body.
I’m addicted to yours, too, my dear.
I’m addicted to waking up after noon, to going to bed after the sun rises.
I’m addicted to watching Moby perform on the banks of the Danube.
I’m addicted to leering at beautiful women,which in Serbia rapidly becomes a full-time job.
I’m addicted to love, to hate, to misery, joy, pain, pleasure, everything, EVERYTHING there is I want, all of it, the good and the bad, I want it by the bucketful, by the heaps.
I am addicted, finally, to life, though I’m discovering this somewhat late., I’ve awoken to life, and awoken to it, now cannot stop. Life is the worst drug of all. The most desperate, the most addictive, the most lethal. Any other addiction is only potentially lethal. You may overdose. You may crash your car while you’re drunk. You may give yourself lung cancer. Or you may not. But life, life is always lethal, if you live it long enough. To live as an addict of life is to know this, and live with your addiction anyway. To love the very lethality of life.
I am an addict. I have no intention of living any other way..
“I love you guys!” I scream. “Some of you I just met tonight, but I love you guys!”
The quote is exactly accurate, and completely true. There are five of us, or six, depending on who I mean by ‘us’, and we’re dancing badly to the Arctic Monkeys on the mainstage at the Exit Festival. I’d come to Serbia alone on a train from Istanbul. Now a bald guy named Yanni (or something) was rubbing my bald head for luck and calling me his bald brother. It’s early, both relative to the festival itself and in absolute terms, only about 1am. The Monkeys took the stage around midnight. The last band will go on around 5:30am, at which point I will be hanging out with a different group, a bunch of Brits that want to meet for “Breckie” tomorrow afternoon. I assume “Breckie” to be some type of lawn game played with a sort of small bowling ball, and am quite confused when they say something about food. Mike, the one person I’d known before tonight, is pawing at one of the Brits. Good on ye, mate.
I’ve completely lost Yanni, our new Serbian friend, which is too bad, since Yanni is twice my size and looks like a good man to have at your side in a festival, particularly when tempers start to flare. I’ve also lost Peter, a Serbo-French Brit who works in London and is the only one of us to speak any Serbian. I’d been set up with him by my matchmaker hostel-hosts, two lovely girls named Jellica and Bljena (I think). They are VERY eager to set me up with people.
“You travel alone?” They ask when I checked in on Wednesday.
“Da,” I reply.
“Would you like to sleep with a Greek girl or a British girl?”
“Uh…do I have choose between them?”
They explain that they have two girls who are also rooming alone, which they do not consider to be a good thing. It is not good to be alone, you see. I suddenly agree with them wholeheartedly.
“Which one do you want?”
“Maybe if I could see their passport photos first?”
I sweart to god, I’m not making this up.
“Neh, we don’t have that technology. I think British girl is prettier, but Greek girl is nicer.”
“You’re quite eager to set me up with someone, aren’t you?”
“Neh, but is good to have company, yes?”
“Why don’t YOU keep me company,” I think but don’t say of the lovely Bljena (or something).
They end up giving me (ahem) the Greek girl. Who is very nice indeed, but travelling with about six other Greeks, who take me out for lunch the next day, and allow me to practice my shitty Greek with them. Despite their graciousness, they’re English isn’t the best, and they keep lapsing into Greek for long stretches, leaving me with no beter conversational gambit after awhile then “So…’portokali’ is the Greek word for ‘orange juice’, right?” I make my excuses and head back to the city center.
“You’re a fun guy,” Peter tells me as we look for the main stage that night.. “Now that you’ve got a few beers in you.”
“I had two in me already when we met.”
Note to self: start drinking earlier.
Note to self the following morning: never drink again.
I run into a trio of blond Serbian women. “Hello, where are you going?”
“We’re going to see the Arctic Monkeys.”
“Me too, which way to the main stage?”
“This way, you will come with us.”
Yes, I will. “Stay right there, let me grab my friends.”
Note to self: NO!
I run back twenty meters. No more than twenty meters. “Guys the main stage is this way, just follow me and-” I turn around. I run back. They have disappeared completely, if they ever truly existed in the first place. Like Eurydice, they’ve faded back into the underworld because I turned back. I am literally hopping mad, screaming for my hot Serbian women, to no avail, and to the amusement of the other festival-goers.
“You asshole,” Mike laughs. “You chose US over three blond girls? You don’t deserve to get laid again.”
Ray, if somebody asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!
If hot Serbian women want to take you someplace, you GO!
Mike pulls quite well for himself, and we’re still dancing with the Brits at 3:30 when I finally punk out. We’ve lost most of our original crew, and I am embarrasingly tired and somewhat disheartened from my Eurydice experience. I bug out, exchange numbers wit the brits, and stumble out of the medieval fortress that holds the festival. It is of course at this point, when I’ve written the evening off, that a drunk girl named Yohanna (or something) stumbles into me on the way out and introduces herself to me. And my mood improves.
Hey guys, I’m here at ExitFest in Novi Sad, Serbia. Sorry for the brevity of this post, and the general lack of posts lately, but I’m doing this from an impromptu internet cafe in the tent city they’ve set up for the Exit campers. The place looks like Woodstock (Ed note: how would YOU know?) (Auth note: Fine, it looks like the album cover to my parent’s Woodstock album, happy asshole?) with muddy British undergraduates everywhere. For some reason, travel laptop refuses to connect to any of the wireless hotspots in the city, including my hostel, so I’m going to be somewhat off the grid for the next few days. I’ll post more updates and photos as time and laptop permit.