My River!

I was born on an ancient river in a country which no longer exists. The country, then Yugoslavia, split into many parts, including my home, Serbia. The river was the Danube, an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools.

And I love both the river and my home country with a passion and a longing that is part of my very being.

This come to mind now because of a wonderful video,

The Danube in Serbia: 588 ImpressionsDanube in Serbia photo

(Link to video at end)

I was told stories about the Danube when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river. The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were.

The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace  – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tan.

When my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in. By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in superstitious awe of it. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx.

We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

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The above was excerpted from an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.

You can watch the whole wonderful video at YouTube HERE

Comments welcome HERE

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How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

When inspiration strikes, a work of fictional brilliance can be produced in a matter of days. Others take a bit longer.

From ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ which the author, John Boyne, claims to have written in 2 ½ days, to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien which took 16 years to complete, printerinks.com has collated 30 of the world’s most famous books to compare how long they took to create.

One of my longest novels, The Secrets of Jin-shei, was written in less than four months; another took …mumbleyears.
How long did it take? infograpicRead more at printerinks.com HERE

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Books, not Pokemon

Inspired by the success of Pokemon Go, a Belgian headmaster has developed an online game for people to search for books instead. Aveline Gregoire’s version is played through a Facebook group called “Chasseurs de livres” (“Book hunters”).

Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they “release” it back into the wild.

Searching for books: Reuters story HERE

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