Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Montenegro, Sarajevo, and All That Jazz

So, spending a week on the Adriatic Coast really does not put one in a mood to blog.  Rather, it encourages  a form of lethargy that manifests in strong desires to lie on the beach in the sun.  I am not in the least ashamed to admit that I gave in to those desires.

Montenegro is gorgeous.  So is Bosnia.  In terms of countryside, they put Serbia to shame.  They really enjoy tunnels in Montenegro, but seeing as the entire country is made of mountains, it does make sense.  Sarajevo is still full of bullet holes, which is fairly insane.

Anyways, I don't think I have the patience to summarize the whole trip, so I'm going to give a bullet pointed list of Really Cool Stuff I Did.  Here goes:
  • I walked an entire circuit of the city walls of Dubrovnik, a really cool ex-Venetian walled city in the south of Croatia.  We had a very gay tour guide, upon whose tour I may have been slightly drunk.
  • I toured the Bay of Kotor, going to Our Lady of the Rock, a pretty church on a manmade island with lots of crazy stories about its creation, and also contained a very gay tour guide
  • I stood on the exact spot where Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started the First World War
  • I woke up at 4.15 AM to the prayer coming from the minaret of the mosque a hundred yards from my window in Sarajevo
  • We stopped the bus multiple times on our drive through Bosnia due to herds of sheep crossing the road
  • I kayaked and paddle boated to the islands off of Petrovac, avoiding sea urchins and the perils of the wide open Adriatic
  • I drank wine that was served on the Titanic from a 300 year old family-run winery in Novi Sad
There's also a shorter list of Really Cool Things I Didn't Get To Do since I was in Serbia, which mainly contains my bitterness for missing Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals.

This is a short post, since I have to go present my class paper very soon.  Tonight, farewell dinner, tomorrow, flying home.  Hopefully I can find a ride from the airport...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gorgeous Countryside, Talking to Serbians, and My Newfound Love of Opera

Hello dear readers! It has certainly been a busy week since last I posted. First, updates on the bad news in my life:
  • The Atlanta Thrashers are for real leaving the South and are moving up to the freezing god-forsaken tundra that is Winnipeg. This is disheartening, to say the least. I am kind of at a loss for what to do with my hockey fan-ness, since the only other team I could really root for geographically is the 'canes, and they're boring.
  • I need to look for a new job, because while I was in Europe, Clemson gave my old one to someone else
  • Random strangers are still failing to walk up to me, recognize my awesomeness, and reward it by handing me large sums of money
So, that's that.  Now we should take a peek at what I've been doing this week!

On Thursday, we toured the Serbian countryside, visiting two monasteries, a cave, and the best restaurant that we've been to so far.  Eating with a stream flowing underneath your table's pavilion is a delightful experience, made better by quince rakija, lots of wine, and bread brought immediately from the oven to your table.  There is pictorial evidence of all this floating around, should you like to see it.  What else?  I touched the tomb of Prince Lazar, made friends with a lizard, finally bought a new chain to replace the one I lost in October, and had a wonderful day.  

On Friday we had meetings, and it was Very Hot, and that is what happened.  Dinner was very good that night, five of us were taken by the Professor to a place we never could have found on our own, and there were kittens.  To elaborate, we did not eat the kittens.  We played with them after dinner and Sarah discovered that cats eat potatoes.

On Saturday we met students who study America and then talked to them at length.  This was the beginning of a day that involved a lot of that.  Later on in the evening, and by evening I mean past two AM the same night, I also ended up having quite good and long conversation with a Serbian computer science student outside of some bars down by the river, and meeting a bunch of Serbian women who were back visiting from New York and Chicago.  We met them at Loki (this is an all-night sort-of burger (WAY BETTER than burgers) place which exists mostly for drunk people to eat and is like Manna), and they were full of sass.  

Also Saturday night:  I dress in very sharp clothes (including bow tie) and go to the Opera.  It was the Marriage of Figaro, and Figaro and the Countess were absolutely wonderful, and made the show.  I think that, were Opera in the States to be cheap enough, I could really get into this.  We'll see how that goes later on in life.  Because, let's face it, everyone loves getting dressed up to see people sing loudly in Italian about cuckoldry.  I could get used to that.  However, front & second row seats to the Serbian National Opera were 800 dinar - that's between 12 and 13 dollars.  I seriously doubt that stateside prices are comparable... When number three up yonder changes in my favor though, it's Opera time.  That's where it's at. 

So that's your update.  Today I woke up after very little sleep and went to the Catholic church with Jessie to experience that, and it was good, and then we went to the market and bought strawberries and wonderful bread at a bakery on the way home.  And then I took a nap.  Voila!  The tale is at an end.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Self improvement and lurking evil in the North

It is Wednesday! This means that tomorrow is Thursday. Thursday, we go visit some monasteries. I'm cool with that.

Today we met Zarko Korac, who is among a lot of other things the leader of the Social-Democratic Party and an antiwar activist and a professor. He was very interesting, to say the least. Yesterday we had some other meetings of that sort - Director of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's North & South America sector and Director of the EU sector, and a professor of PoliSci. They all know the same things, and facts, but they interpret and spin them so differently. Boundless optimism from the EU office director, official lines from the State Secretary the day before (and all the other government officials to some extent) and the professors tending towards the pessimistic. An experience. Anyway I've been writing stuff for class about them for a while today so I really don't wanna go into detail or post another boring journal excerpt so that's it there I think.

Today I finally felt decent enough to get up and go running, so I did. Crazy what allergy meds and getting rid of a cough will do for you. I was sleeping like 8 hours and feeling like hell, then last night I got 5 and was bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning. Except for the part about the tail, but that'd be pretty cool, if people had tails. It'd probably be easier to tell their moods. Anyways, mine would have been bushy.

One last note: My wonderful sister has made known to me that, frustrated by their failure with the Coyotes, the dread city of Winnipeg and its demonic overlords Chipman and Thomson have once again cast their greedy eyes towards the Thrashers, and even now are plotting to drag them north into an icy prison from whence there is no return. If that happens, I might have to turn into a something else fan... Maybe Blackhawks? I could get another Hossa jersey! And then he'd leave the season after. Who knows. We'll see.

Monday, May 16, 2011

From my class journal, May 16

Today we visited the Foreign Ministry and the Helsinki Commission for Human Rights.  At the Foreign Ministry we had two meetings, the first with NAME Amb. Stefanovic, the Deputy Foreign Minister and State Secretary, the second ranking individual in the ministry.  He spoke about the foreign policy priorities of Serbia.  They were in order of importance, EU ascension, Kosovo, regional cooperation and stabilization, and economic cooperation.  He was very positive and put a good face on everything.  He claimed, in response to my question, that the Serbian failure to hand over Mladic to The Hague is the result of not knowing where he is.  He also made the point that 44 or 46 indicted war criminals have been handed over, and that no one should doubt Serbian cooperation with the ICTY because of two failures.  I agree with this point, but remain skeptical that they do not hand him over for other reasons.  He was also vehement that Serbia would attain EU candidate status within the year.  This is something that I also doubt, and his evidence of why this would happen was not substantial.  However, his optimism is as well founded as my pessimism.  Time will tell.  The second speaker was the head of the office of Neighboring Countries.  He spoke first very briefly in general terms about Serbian foreign policy goals and how they relate to the region – obviously, the surrounding states will be any nation’s closest partners in trade and such, and the region needs to be stable for all of the states to achieve their goal-in-common – that of EU ascension.  He stressed that  Serbia is engaged in promoting bilateral relations with surrounding states and that strides have been made in that area and that the state enjoys good relations with many of its neighbors, especially in regards to support in efforts to join the EU.  He then went over Serbia’s neighbors individually and spoke on each regarding the condition of their relationship with Serbia and what issues are those of dispute or negotiation.  Our third meeting in the afternoon was with the woman who runs the Helsinki Commission in Serbia.  She spoke at length on the current political situation.  Topics covered involved EU ascension, democracy in Serbia, ethnic minorities including Roma, nationalism, Kosovo, BiH, and of course human rights.  Her opinion on Mladic is very different: “I don’t know whether they are unwilling to arrest him or whether they cannot arrest him. Both are disturbing.”  Obviously she believes that some cadre in the Serbian government or elite is protecting him from arrest and extradition; however, she believes that it shouldn’t matter.  She also made the point that 44 of 46 criminals have been arrested and brought to The Hague, and so that a clear picture of Serbian complicity in the violence of the 90’s has been established.  There is no need to add to this, so the EU should adopt Serbia as a candidate nation regardless of his arrest.  This would ensure Serbian ties to the EU, push Russian influence from the region, and end the “dilemma” that is plaguing the nation over whether EU membership is indeed the future for Serbia.  Though her viewpoint differed from Stefanovic’s greatly on many points, both stress that the EU is the only real path for Serbia’s future.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Serbian Beginning, in Three Parts

Day One:
In which plane rides are boring.
You get on a plane, and sit, for very long periods of time, with the exception of exciting four minute breaks where you get to pee, and then you land, and then you finally get to get off the plane.  And then in many cases you hang out in an airport for a few hours, and then you get back on an airplane, and do it all over again.  Why anyone would be that silly escapes me, except - wait, what?  It goes five hundred miles an hour?  And Belgrade is 5000 miles from Clemson?  I guess that's why. 

Day TwoIn which jet lag is a myth
Well in any case it is very minimal for me anyway.  If that is not the case for you I am terribly sorry.  Excuse me while I chortle quietly to myself.  Anyway, I landed in Belgrade.  The runway looks like a twenty year old asphalt street in the Californian desert that no one feels like repairing - it's all crossed with tar lines and rather gravelly.  For an airport serving the capital of a nation, it's not incredibly big, nor really modern or anything.  Security compared to anything in America is weak.  But that's ok, who wants to bomb Serbia.  What? Us a dozen years ago? Well, that was then, this is now.  They haven't invaded Kosovo for at least a decade.  So that's all good then.  So we get to the hotel after driving through New Belgrade (eastern side of the Sava, terrifyingly industrial or hideous 80's architecture) and Old Belgrade (remnants of many previous centuries, plus hideous 60's, 70's, and 80's architecture).  Hotel Royal is pretty cool I guess.  After we compared notes later, we realize that no one has the same bathroom, AC unit, or even furnishings (Sarah got a fridge, the lucky dog) but at least Pierce and I got great working AC and a toilet that is easy to flush, even if we missed out on the shower curtains.  Then Matic decides that we aren't tired at all and will benefit from a two and a half hour walk before dinner, so we do THAT and take a bunch of pictures at Belgrade Fortress, which I sit on top of for a little bit, and we see a statue of a giant metal man who faces the river because his sculptor gave him giant metal junk as well as a sword and a hawk, and we wouldn't want to offend the ladies now would we, even if we did win the damn war.  So then, dinner, in which Vladimir taught us how to eat and tried to make us eat more, and then bed.

Day Three:
In which I eat Nutella pizza
I totally did, it was fucking delicious.  Kiwi and pineapple and black cherries, all deliciously moist and fruity (somewhat like a sugar-covered Jeff Goldblum in the mist) with Nutella on top, but not like covered and overpowering, just enough to be amazing and perfect.  So that is one of the best things I have ever eaten.  Other things that I did today:  Drank my first Jelen, which is sort of the Serb national beer, or at least the one everyone has and the posters all over are for and the delivery trucks you see have on the sides, and so forth.  It was alright, it reminded me of something American but I can't place it yet, more on that later.  Saw the Konak (residence) of Princess Ljubica, who was Prince Milos' wife.  Serbian royalty in the mid-nineteenth century.  It was interesting, half done up in Turkish fashion, which doesn't involve much furniture, and half in the Austro-Hungarian, which involves a ton.  Also we met with the press officer from the US Embassy to Serbia, which was very interesting and he told us about the foreign service and also answered questions that we had.  I was very drowsy for a bit at the end of his start-off spiel, and felt slightly bad, but was very alert and asked lots of intelligent questions after it became more of a discussion, so good for me.  Now we are back at the Royal.  We shall go out to a nice dinner and then the girls really wish to go out for wine, so I suppose that shall happen.

Alarm is set for Jack to get up and run in the park around Belgrade Fortress.  Will it happen?  Probably not.  Stay tuned!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Things I have Accomplished This Semester

Dear Readers!

This has been, in some ways, a very productive year.  Or at least, one would hope so what with the way I worked my ass off the last few weeks.  So, let's take a little retrospective and glance at my achievement list for the past four months.  We'll do school first!

1) I took a class on operating systems.  I now know more about how the inside of your computer works.  Is this going to help me in the future?  Maybe, but I really doubt that whatever job I get will be writing the next Mac OSX.  On the other hand, it was decently interesting.  And I totally beat some Plants vs. Zombies levels during the most boring lectures.

2) I took a class on modern algebra.  Is this going to help me ever in any way, shape, or form?  No.  But I can talk about obscure math-y things and possibly make you feel dumb.

3) I took a class about databases.  It was terribly taught and awful awful awful.  The only redeeming part was the project at the end, where we built our own multimedia Db and front end.  I learned lots there, and it will in fact be useful in Jobs and such, but the simple fact is, a three hour a night weeklong course just doing that project would have given me EXACTLY as much as I got out of the entire four months.  Thanks, Dr. Wang.  (Yes, that was his name.  This is not a penis joke.)

4) I took a class on distributed systems. In this, I learned python, which is fuckall awesome, and a smattering of other really cool and ambiguously useful stuff.  But seriously. PYTHON. Have you read XKCD ever? If not, you should. Especially the ones about python.

So that wraps up school nonsense. What else did I learn?  I learned:

  • Just now, how to make a bulleted list, which would have been SO USEFUL when doing that last post about Disney people
  • A lot of things about relationships, some of which suck but many of which are totally amazing, and none of which I'm going to share with You, dear reader, because I like privacy (Also, I pronounce that word like privv-a-see in my head, like I'm British. Weird... )
  • Things about breaking Jeeps
  • Serbian history (in preparation for going there)
  • That I like cooking more than ever and that I should do it way more often
  • That it is in fact possible for me to get a tan, and that I look better with one
The last thing that I learned is that I am growing up, for real now, and that I am sort of mostly an Adult now.  And the really scary part is, and this is just creepy: I like it.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Welcome! and a Note on the Dichotomy of Disney Male Heros

Well, here we go again.  This blog is mostly made because Laura made one, and as of this post, she consists of 100% of my readers.  Therefore I dedicate it to her.  Anyhow, very soon I will be flying to Serbia and assuming that I can find some sort of reliable interweb service there and manage to connect and feel like it with anything approaching regular frequency, this blog will serve as an outlet for me letting You, my dear reader(s?) know what is happening in the Balkans and what international incident I have failed to cause prevented on any given day!  Also, in the insanely optimistic worldview that I continue to use this after I get back, it may talk about things like: Hockey, the sordid state of Clemson's attempt to become a top-20 public university, hockey, life in the South and how much it sucks (no beer on Sunday), hockey, and probably computer and tech stuff.


A short dissertation (with evidence!) on how one cannot be a male Disney hero without either A) an incredibly spoiled and lavished upbringing or B) dead parents.  Let's take a look, shall we? First, let's look at classic princess movies:

-Sleeping Beauty - Male hero: Prince Phillip.  Status?: Prince
-Snow White - Male hero: The Prince (wow).  Status?: Prince
-Cinderella - Male hero: Prince Charming.  Status?: Prince
-The Little Mermaid - Make hero: Prince Eric.  Status?: Prince

"So what?" you say.  "They're princesses, of course they married princes."
Well.  Let's keep going, shall we?

-Beauty & The Beast - Male hero: Beast. Status?: Magically transfigured... Prince!
-Hercules - Male hero: Hercules. Status?: Prince, mostly. Son of Zeus should do it.
   And.. sort of orphaned. Hmm.
-Lion King - Male hero: Simba. Status?: Prince, albeit lion. Also: watched father 
   tragically die.  See where I'm going?
-Bambi - Male hero: Bambi. Status?: Orphan. Mother shot by hunters
-The Fox & the Hound - Male hero: Todd.  Status?: Orphan. Mother shot by hunters
-Peter Pan - Male hero: Peter Pan.  Status?: Orphan, although he doesn't really 
   seem to care
-Jungle Book - Male hero: Mowgli. Status?: Orphan, family killed by evil 
   jungle creatures
-Tarzan - Male hero: Tarzan. Status?: Orphan, family killed by evil jungle creatures
-Aladdin - Male hero: Aladdin. Status?: Orphan, viciously pursued by thugs daily
-The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Male hero: Quasimodo. Status?: Orphan, gypsy 
   parents killed by evil thugs
-Tangled - Male hero: Flynn Rider. Status?: Thief. And, oh yeah. Orphan.

So, yeah.  Basically, to be a Disney hero and be male, you gotta either be born in a palace, or have no parents (preferably, your parents were killed by the villains you will later face.)  

Anyway, there are counter examples.  Look at Pinocchio!  He's got a loving father, and.. what's that?  He isn't a real boy?  Oh.  Well, Dumbo then?  Ehh... okay, take that one.  Magical racist flying elephants can have some leeway, I guess.

So that's it.  Tune in later for more excitement!