Budva. One entity, so full of meanings. Meanings that are mine only, colourful smudges splattered across my memories. One city, so full of stories interweaving to create the new ones, which are yet to happen. Because nothing stops in Budva.
Though I tried to go back in order to wrap things up and bring them to a full circle, Budva still resists being yet another place crossed off on the map. It still has lots to offer and promise, entrancing with its lavishness in spite of the authorities’ attempts to ruin it with their ridiculous surgical interventions.
The rich history of the Venetians, Illyrians and Romans is still hidden behind the chaotic hybrid of a fair and circus full of tackiness and wanton. The spectacular architecture of the old part of the city, the wilderness of the St Nikola Isle and the exotic boulders still create the unseen naturally made sculptures.
Despite my deeply sentimental reasons, Budva has some objective ones against its being forgotten and left in the hands of the new age of distastefulness trying to demoralise it. Whenever I see it these days in its cheap decorations, I struggle to recall what it had been before. Twenty long years ago when I’d seen it for the first time.
Before this sacrilege against it began. I’m trying to remember my first introduction to Budva and its warm air full of salty scents. Its innocence wrapped in simplicity and beauty, just as my mind was then.
I’m trying because those pure impressions imprinted on the tabula rasa that a child’s mind resembles before seeing all other seas and cities, are full of wonder and admiration which will later combine with other experiences and process and compare them to one another. And these comparisons always add and take something away. It’s also why Budva from 20 years ago cannot be this Budva before me, yet I crave to return to it and be young simple and pretty together.
The ink spilt in the night and millions of sparkles mirroring stars were glimmering in the silent moonlight for the first time. I felt excitement and some restlessness as always when I stand before something big, mysterious and unattainable.
I was just a child and the sounds of Budva in the night and its colours spilt over the sea surface seeped into me, changing who I was. Every time I hear that Bora Čorba’s song “The Eve Smells Not of Shells and Shrimps” I remember those nights when we would amble between Budva and Bečići taking in the scent of the sea without a care in the world.
That air, full of minerals made my lungs expand and I could feel every alveolar cell in my body, as if they had been brought to life for the first time. Even now, they still carry the sea within themselves, like some shell washed up on the shore full of the sound of waves from some other age, some other seas.
One shell holds in itself the secrets of all oceans from the time before the oceans even started to leak through the cracks of the proto-land, emerging from the Earth’s core to form these four tiny proto-ocean’s descendants. Every drop from that gigantic ocean runs through shells, singing the song of the sirens from it, as quietly as the alveolar cells in my lungs are translating those very same melodies into a language of their own, encoded by nature and beyond human understanding.
That scent became like a drug to me and I always remembered it during those sad sea-less years, like something essential and existential for me, like some small newly-discovered siren exiled from its watery heaven into some dry devoid areas in Serbia.
An everlasting decade of nothingness followed then – a decade of not coming to the seaside. A decade of being encaged in the monotonous humdrumness of the plains, dull and sensationless. We measured time in trips to the seaside during those years and competed to see who would go more often.
Some ten years later, a sudden trip to Budva, “out of the blue” so to speak, was as adventurous as in some movie. My best friend Bane got a job there and I started plotting straight away to run away to the seaside with him, find a job there and spend the whole summer over there and manage to convince someone else to come with me, because I knew Bane was too serious to jump headlong into my skilfully crafted misadventures. Owing to my manipulation skills I soon found a victim to follow me in these voyages and who soon turned out to be the crucial person in my further decisions and events in life. It was Ivana, just as quirky and perfect for projects of this kind, as I came to realise soon. I presented my plan to her as we skipped a class together.
It started out like this: “Ivana, wanna skip school with me today?”. She asked: ”But why? We don’t have any tests nor anything else to run from.”. “Precisely”, I said. Pleased with my argument, she joined me in my taciturn nonsense. “Indeed I will then”. I knew straight away she was the perfect candidate. We went for a coffee in the nearby shop and I laid out my strategy.
Just like any other strategy of mine, this was also not based on any tangible methods, but solely of some airy possibilities, which the power of will would bring into my life. Whenever I talked about these plans to anyone, they’d ask me bewildered: “And how do you intend to make that happen?”. I’m not making anything, I just imagine it, and the universe makes sure I get it.
I’ve always been fascinated by how the universe creates situations to appease me and I’m endlessly amused by its play with those sets of events we like to call circumstances. Of course, my universe (which is not completely the same as yours) often kicks me while I’m down or pulls pranks on me to create the sense that I might not get what I want – you know, so that I wouldn’t get spoiled and only to make it all the more wonderful once it finally comes true.
And so Budva didn’t come easily. We spent days roaming the city penniless, looking for work and accommodation singing that old EKV song:
It’s winter here, it’s cold here, it’s dark here
No work here nor peaceful nights
It’s winter here, it’s cold here, it’s dark here
And I have nowhere to spend the nights
Take me to the Adriatic sea
However, after a few agonising days we found both work and a flat. And the rest is history. I’d rather not amuse you with our adventures, because that would end up as a novel. It’s enough to say that this journey changed me from the core, or rather, that it didn’t change me, but brought me back to my true nature I had subconsciously been running from, all while feeling so confused and confined in my own skin. Running from myself, trying to change, I finally returned to who I was meant to be, realising that the biggest change I could have made happened when I decided not to change at all.
My transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly happened exactly there, in Budva, because I finally met some new and interesting people in whom I saw myself. One completely ordinary day, a red blotch appeared in the sky. As it approached us, its shape became clearer, it was a red paraglider. Out of all places on that beach, the paraglider had to rush towards us and it landed a few feet away. And then another one soon followed and we stood and watched amazed those strange creatures – parachuters – who had so suddenly walked, or rather landed in our lives.ž
They resembled some animals, rather than humans in their appearance. Grega was birdlike, with stern grey eyes and a soft manner, always in his thoughts and leaning in to hear where the wind is coming from. Jure was more down to earth. He appeared on our beach somewhat clumsily, full of cuts and bruises. He explained that these were the scars caused by his miscalculations and the fall he took. In a set of strange circumstances or destiny’s games, Jure fell on the same place where Ivana and I worked. When he returned to the place of his fall, I was there too. And so the story started unravelling…The two of them included us in their lives, creating some new activities for all of us to enjoy. Be it a picnic on the Skadar lake or the Rolling Stones concert on the Jaz beach, or even flying with ah parachute with Grega pointing at the narrow mountain track on the Lovcen mountain while Budva’s red roofs are peeking behind resembling the Monopoly game, or just having a beer at sunset on some beach, every moment we spent together was magical because the two of them had the air of peace about them, like some monks.
Once, while we were parachuting and watching the sea glimmering beneath us, like I was floating like foam in the air, a thought occurred to me – the very same Jure voiced later: “What I want the most in the world is fly around in the chute and then just untangle myself and jump into the sea”. I don’t know if he ever did it, but I didn’t. Jure had a knack for reading my thoughts and he used different means to do it – he stole pieces of paper where I wrote poetry and read them in secret. Evidently confused, he said that only an alien would understand me, and that I would find one soon.
Jure and Grega left our lives soon, but the month we spent together shaped us for life. I saw Grega couple more times after, and Jure- I never saw him again. I just found out one day that he had died and I realised that was the time I saw him again. Or, at least that he saw me.
Budva started changing colours and faces. I moved to Tivat and visited every now and then when I had time. It wasn’t the same old Budva. Everyone had left from there and I was alone. There were only ghosts wandering around. It became so different that even its name became foreign to me. Whenever people talked about it, I felt like they were referring to some other town on the Montenegro map, which had nothing to do with the town composed of my memories, images and songs. I gladly remembered Ivana and her (lack of) presence whenever I walked around the same places we used to visit. I would sometimes send her a silly text such as “Greetings from Budva” or some lyrics from Galija’s songs: “I cannot understand the Adriatic shore, as something like you and me is now there no more. Only two cracks, like two chasms deep, leading to the bottom of the sea.”. I knew she understood everything from that “Greetings from Budva” phrase and that the triviality of it carried enough poetry for those who understood that taciturn language.
And Budva started opening itself up to me in some new ways and I had a feeling it was only then that I truly got to know it. Stripped of all personal associations, I approached it like an explorer. I would walk around it completely alone, taking pictures of doors and windows and architectural details, chasing the waves and waiting for them to make some interesting moves, indiscernible to the human eye.
I finally had enough time to explore its streets, tread its stone pavements and think of all the tribes and civilisations who did the same centuries before me, imagining how they had carefully laid each stone, until Budva got its shape. I would travel 3000 years back in time, to where the first signs of founding the city appeared. I would go back and observe the Ancient Greeks start their colonies there, Illyrians trying to stop them from doing it and Sophocles writing it all down.
I would go back to the Venetians in the 15th century to see them build the walls of the old city. Then I would climb the Citadel and then towards the hidden beach under the Mogren fortress, only to climb the fortress after it. This walk always leaves me speechless, because the sea had shaped the rocks here in such a way that they look like panels laid one on another to resemble the stairs and lead to the sea. These rectangular stones serve as a reminder that water is stronger than any rock and that this gentle, seemingly subtle liquid can move anything in the world.
My visits to Budva weren’t always so melancholy. Although I felt that something had disappeared from there and that I was left alone there to be a memorial to some long-gone age, there was still a spark and a premonition that something new could begin there. Budva was like a stage for the movie of my life, and I always felt like a movie character in it rather than a real person. Because everything was so dramatic and theatrical in it. As if someone had planted a seed of madness in its ground, whenever I set my foot there I had a feeling something interesting was about to happen. And it did. But those stories would also end up as a novel.
And then, after almost ten years, Бane also returned to Budva and both of us found it strange that life should have brought us to that place. We went to the St Nicholas Isle and crawled up one cactus-filled rock on all fours. By the time we reached the top of it, I was covered in bruises. Yet, the imposing view from there was worth the effort. This island is the exemplary case of the Montenegrin wild beauty, which still boasts its purity although politicians and businessmen try their best to commercialise and exploit it.
And then Ivana showed up in Budva just as unexpectedly and I came from Tivat to meet her. We visited all the places we held dear and sacred, laughed and cried and finally realised with sadness that we had grown up.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but it was the last time I ever visited Budva. I mentioned to Ivana that I had met a new person in Tivat and she smelled the new possibilities straight away. I tried to demystify them with: “I dunno Ivana, he’s very strange, like an alien.” And at that moment I felt chills running down my spine because I remembered Jure’s words, my poems written on ice-cream wrappers he had stolen from me, the nights we spent in the moonlight and Arsen Dedić’s song:
It all led you to me
All that solitude yields
Little maritime places
All the same writers and fields.
I lost my heart-shaped wallet in Budva that night, but my heart had been lost long before. I returned to Tivat as if in a rush, as if I had been running away from something chasing me, realising suddenly that my life had taken a different course and that I was supposed to meet it.
When I returned to Tivat, the Alien was waiting for me, obviously upset and met me with the question: “Where have you been till now?”.
“In Budva”, I muttered.
And at that very moment I saw Budva shining like in that Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night, I saw its rocks diving into the sea wailing like in Džoni Štulić’s lyrics and the sea spilling like ink in Gibonny’s songs. I saw myself and Bane walking around when he first told me he was going to Budva, I saw Jure full of scars falling from his chute, Grega’s hand pointing at the mountain track, Ivana laughing and Mick Jagger dancing six feet from us on the Jaz beach. I saw all those faces mixing and melting before turning into only one – the one standing before me, the face of the Alien. And I realized that all those faces had been leading me towards that one, the one made for me in some strange cosmic mold.
I put my wallet-less bag on the ground. The heart-shaped wallet had stayed somewhere in the streets of Budva, and it stayed with it. I put the bag down and sat next to the Alien, looked him and wondered out loud: “Really, where have I been till now?”.
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