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.
“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.
I wake up and ask the Czech, my bunkmate, where we are, thinking we must have arrived already. “Plovdov,” he says. The name means nothing to me, other than that it’s not Sofia. His name is Thomas, and we both have to catch the 11:55 to Belgrade. It’s about 9am. “Plovdov is two hours from Sophia,” Thomas explains through a thick Czech accent, though he says he’s from Miami these days. Later, he tells me that he used to be a television producer, in fact, produced a German program that’s still on the air, an entertainment news program called Lufe-Hufe or something, basically a German entertainment tonight. He is about 10 years older than me, and reminds me of Colin Hay.
They wake us up twice during the night. At 3:30, at the Bulgarian border. I’d hearda bout thisbefore: how they made everyone get off the train, trudge up to a tiny passport control office where one clerk worked and nine others stood around, and you wait in line for the passport stamp. Since I’d never done an international train crossing I had nothing to compare it to, and forewarned is forearmed, so I had no complaints. The obnoxious Welsh college students standing behind me were another matter. The weather was FREEZING, this was STUPID, the traind was SHITE. The whole thing was over in about 15 minutes, and I go back to the train to sleep while everyone else finishes. I wonder idly what would have happened to me if I’d simply slept through it, hadn’t gotten off, hadn’t gotten stamped. Apparently nothing. I hit my bunk, fall asleep, awake when Thomas and the two Italian kids we’re rooming with come in, fall asleep again, then wake up again when a man in uniform and surgical mask asks to see our passports. Which he does, and looks for the stamp, and I realize I’d likely be in a Bulgarian prison right now if I’d slept through the border crossing. They wake us up again, feels like an hour or two later, dawn coming on, and again check our passports.
The give them back to everyone except me. Mine they keep.
“Where are you going?”
“Belgrade,” I say blearily. He looks at me suspiciously and walks away. After about 10 minutes, I start to get nervous. I don’t like being more than five feet from my pasport these days, and if I’m going to be locked up by immigration, I’d prefer to be imprisoned in a country where I could make use of the immersion course that is incarceration. I track down the immigration officer at the back of the train.
“You have my passport,” I say.
“Yes,” he blinks.
“Can I have it back?” I ask with a sarcastic edge, the lack of sleep making me surly.
He snorts derisively. “In about 10 minutes,” he says in a thick Soviet-era accent, the kind of accent that says: “Look, fucker, I’m the bureaucracy, and in this part of the world, the bureaucracy is god, and you’ll get your passportback when and if I damn well feel like it.”
“Right,” I’m too tired to argue, or even care much at this point, and if they’re going to cart me off to prison, I’m at least going to be well rested when they do. I fall back into my bunk, and true to his word, I get my passport back in 10 minutes, though I’m now undroubtedly on a Bulgarian watch list for who-knows-what. But by the time you catch me, copper, I’ll be safe in Novi Sad.