The magic of discovery…

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I spent a good deal of last night writing a blog entry about magic, it’s intangible and inexplicable air of possibility, and how I have spent the past three and a half years trying to understand the particular brand I find of it here in the Balkans. Looking over my words I have yet again not been able to capture it, yet I continue to jump across magical moments here as though they were stepping stones. I’ve built bridges between places and people but also enjoyed settling for long periods of time in this town of Kotor that I have singled out so particularly. I move around within its stone walls as if it were my home and I wasn’t some strange Australian girl who had weasled her way in and disrupted their lives repeatedly.

I keep collecting intangible moments here, wondering if it’s possible to continue sampling this place indefinitely or if my luck will eventually run out, but as I look around at these smiling faces, hearing their hearty laughter, I know the memories of their magic will last within me. I know this because I have been back here only a few nights and it feels like a fortunate lifetime.

If there is one paragraph I can rescue from my scrapped blog post from last night it is this one: Can I take these people with me? As I watch them all I love them even more and no photo or video could capture them as they are in this moment, in this place, at this very point in time. Their magic is in the faces they pull at each other in jest, their booming voices, and the way they somehow let me be part of all this in a way that seems like an exception to the rule. I am a foreigner but somehow I also belong to their family. They call me an honorary Montenegrin, although I will never know how I earned this title.

The music is always better when Vlado plays it. The company is always better with my Montenegrin girl gang around. The night is always better when a song, a person, or a passing hug in an empty street reminds you of why it is you keep coming back. Travellers all ponder whether to extend their stay here without being able to put their finger on why, but I know why. This place is something to be felt, not abstractly described. These people are to be enjoyed, not analysed.

That point applies to every aspect of this entire country though. I spent an entire day on 360 Monte Travel Agency’s Great Montenegro Tour just two days ago and I have been trying and failing to capture its essence in words. Though I have wonderful photos (as you can see), the truth is they don’t demonstrate the feeling that this didn’t really feel like a tour to me rather than a day out with friends. Slavko was a wonderful host, leading us around this beautiful country and making us laugh. It was a social day as much as it was informative and interesting, and while we were all tired by the end noone seemed to be in a rush to get back to town either as we enjoyed one final stop for coffee and cake.

I know I have to start planning my exit strategy, but I am glad I can take my time doing it at a snail’s pace, and as I do so I will soak it all in. This town. These people. While I know I will be once again overwhelmed when it is time to leave I will never take the unique magic of this place for granted. It may be a long time until I feel its embrace again, because I don’t know what the universe has in store for me from here, but as always I hope this is just one more incredible window in time and not the last.

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Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

Rating books simplified.

Letters to a Young Poet

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

I realised something today: I need to write a post directing readers on how they can help author’s by rating and reviewing books online. For many the words book review conjures up those feelings of angst you remember having in school when you were forced to write a book review on a novel you were made to read in English class. In reality, for the modern reader with an internet connection, it is vastly different, and not everyone necessarily knows how to take part in the process, or how easy it is!

To begin with, while writing lengthy and detailed reviews is of course a lovely idea and many authors will appreciate the extended time and attention given to their work, it isn’t the only way for readers to interact and vouch for the books they have read. After all, you made the effort to read the book, so why not tell someone about it? Ratings and reviews are crucial for an author to get future book sales (yes, sorry for mentioning the “S” word) and they don’t have to be difficult and time-consuming.

It is surprisingly simple and easy to give feedback and express your experiences with a book that is helpful to both author’s and readers. You are not getting graded on this interaction, and the best part is that more and more authors are accessible online. It can be very validating to express your opinions and get a response from the source. It is definitely of mutual benefit when it comes to indie writers. Let us explore a few extremely simple ways in which you can do this…

1. Comments on social media (this includes either comments on the writer’s account directly, or even just sharing your experience with your own followers and friends).

2. Ratings on sites like Goodreads and Nothing Binding (you can take this to any level you want, but it is free and very easy to create an account and give a star rating).

3. Rating and reviewing through the site you purchased (perfect way to give simplified feedback in a crucial setting where other readers will be directly influenced).

4. Comments via the author’s website (either commenting on their blog entries, in a guest book, or even using a feedback form or email for a more private interaction).

5. Word of mouth (this never goes out of style, and is one of the most powerful forms whether it be verbal or through correspondence like sending out an email to a friend).

The best part is that you are reviewing books that you actually want to read. It is not subscribed reading (unless you are part of a book club, but if that’s the case you are likely already an avid reader who enjoys talking about random books within a group). Saying that, just because you picked the book doesn’t always mean you are going to like it, and authors expect that book reviews and ratings will reflect different tastes and opinions. Just keep them honest, and always be sure to respect the writer and their attempts.

Remember that writing a book is hard. An author gives up a lot to put their brain down into a wad of paper bound together by a layer of cardboard, or alternatively smoosh it into digital formats for it to display so nicely on your beloved eReader or tablet. It is likely that their personal profits will be surprisingly minimal, so if you really love a book, it is a real kindness to share that love and acknowledge it in some way. Your words are powerful, so use them well.

 

Letters to a Young Poet

Photo by Erika Kochanski.