Tell Me About It.

Long time ago I went to World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb. A lot of things had happened at that festival (for example, nearby war, proximity to sex and street renovating jack-hammering) but I’ll tell you about only one of them.
After the awards ceremony there was a party at a club. When I arrived it was in full swing and I had to have a drink (my film didn’t get an award and am a sour/drunk looser).
– Beer will be free, – the festival director had said, so I told bartender:
– One beer.
The bartender took my order, turned around and filled a tall glass with the ambery wonder-juice that formed a nice foamy head on top.

He put the salivating glass in front of me and said:
– Eight dinar.
– But the beer is free! – I tried to reason.
– Eight dinar, – the bartender repeated without a blink. He looked stern, tall and muscular (everybody in Zagreb is tall but not everybody is muscular). He had an air of authority, like a teacher who would hit you with a ruler if you didn’t know the right answer to 2+2-4.
Normally, I wouldn’t have had one dinar to cover my ass, but luckily I had sold one of the “The Book Of Tigers”, a rare 100 book edition that I had written and illustrated. Album, a small publishing company in Moscow, had published it for reasons not well defined (my Russian Ex was the head of that company). I had sold the book for 1000 dinar, one 1000 dinar banknote in my pocket, equivalent to maybe $30 USD that back in Latvia would last me a couple of months.

But now I had given the wrong impression to the bartender that I was not willing to pay for the beer I had ordered. I wanted to correct my wrong answer with the correct move, even if that took away a couple of good meals back in Latvia. Pride killed the cat, not curiosity.
– Here, – I said and pulled the banknote out of my purse.
The bartender silently took the 1000 dinar note and went to the cash register. He returned with the change and pushed it into my nervous hand.
It seemed a little too little, the change for the 1000 dinar, so I examined it. It was a change for 100 dinar.
– Wait, – I said, feeling my face flush with heat and color. My heart began to race.
– Next! – the bartender called out looking over me. There was a big thirsty crowd behind me, waiting their turn for the bartender’s faulty attention. 
– But I gave you 1000 dinar, – I mumbled. 
– It was hundred, – he cut me off.
– Thousand, – I said. All of sudden I was not so sure what I had given to him. He seemed so certain.
Me heart, when it races, produces a lot of sweat but it is the kind of sweat that comes out of my eyes.
My lips trembled, my cheeks twitched. I was about to burst into tears.
– Hundred, – the bartender said concluding the conversation.
I couldn’t say anything anymore. My throat was tight and burning. Humiliation is never sweet and never bitter – it burns. It had rendered me mute.
“Maybe I can live without 1000 dinar”, I thought. “I didn’t have them 5 hours before”.
I turned around and faced the party. Everybody was having a great time, dancing, drinking, laughing.
The misery I felt, the pain of loss and humiliation, separated me from the joyful humankind as if I was behind a bulletproof glass.
I walked out into the dark Zagreb street and went to the hotel.

In my room I collapsed into the bed, crying my eyes out. Only the death could stop the pain I felt. The pain was poking me everywhere – in the liver, brain, heart, throat, eyes, nose. No escape.
– God, please make me die! – I cried. Then my thoughts turned to my family who was waiting for me at home to bring them some good news.
– What will I tell my family? – I lamented. – We could have used the 1000 dinar so well!
But my family is a sucker for a good story, so in my head I started to compose the story I was going to tell them about the bartender robbing me, to compensate for the lost money. A good story is nothing without a little embellishment, so I made the bartender taller, his head closely shaved and with a tattoo on his neck. Like, I wasn’t going to argue with a person who might belong to Croatian Mafia.

More I embellished, more the pain subsided. Soon, there was a tiny little flicker of suffering, and a story bigger than life.
By telling the events and organizing them into a story I had removed myself from the pain I felt.
I stopped crying. 
– I think, I can live now, – I thought. – Where is that party? I think I can try to dance.
Presently, there was a knock on the door and Knight On White Horse (yes, that man who all of you girls dream about) walked in, bringing me the 1000 dinars I thought I had lost.

(Note, animators also work like Mafia – one of the animators at the party saw the bartender abuse me, told about it to another animator who was taller with stronger build and more handsome than the Croatian Mafia bartender and this handsomer animator demanded the justice from the bartender who without any argument or a blink of an eye returned 100 dinar on the spot. In some places intimidating physical masculinity still decides as a lot of cases)
That was the first time I realized that I need stories to detach from the pain of reality.
Now, you might say that’s a good thing. But everything (including alcohol and sex) is a good thing till it interferes with your normal life.
At the moment I have reached the stage 2 of that “telling the story” compulsion: I cannot bear the reality unless I tell a story while it is happening. 
Some things take a very long time to happen. Like, making an animated feature film. So, I am sitting at my desk every day, impatiently telling myself the story of “My suffering while making the film” but the suffering never ends. The next day is the same thing, and day after that and day after that.
I prefer to tell that I worked hard rather than work hard. 

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Depression. Personal Stories, Hazards of being an artist, The Work in Progress, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Tell Me About It.

  1. Jonas says:

    Hey princess, this is the Knight On the White Horse from back then… I like the way you picture me in retrospective (where did you get that photo of mine on that horse???)!
    It must have been one of our first international festivals. It was 1994. I remember having fallen in love with you days before. We had been dancing at the Zagreb Picnic out in the green, we had been watching films and learning weird croatian expressions like “jesem est” or so (let’s have some food, if I remember right). And then came the last night. The farewell party. In that bar. Exactly the way you described it.
    But all of a sudden, you were not there anymore. Your latvian escort (Rudite, wasn’t that her name?) told me you had been going back to the hotel, somewhat frustrated and sad.
    That is how I found you in your room. I thought to remember it was you who told me what had happened with that bartender. Anyway, I figured it was a good moment to demonstrate my affection, and so I returned to the bar on my horse. White horse. 6’3″. 1m90. Talked to the guy. Told him to give me the 1000 dinar. He didn’t want to understand any english. Asked him again. Tried to speak croatian (“jesem est”), it didn’t work.
    Instead of beating the guy up or leaving some other lasting impression on him, I bought a bottle of white wine and brought it back to your room. Pretended it was a gift from the bar, and handed it to you with 1000 dinar that I had found in my pocket.
    So does that ruin your story? I hope not. I think it adds something to our friendship that lasts ever since. We didn’t drink the wine that night in Zagreb, only years later in Annecy. We had promised to do so in the cab to the train station the next morning. And I kept it for all those years. The bottle. The promise. And my secret side of the story.
    If one day I have thousands of dinars, or dollars, or euros or whatever, I’ll pass by your studio – on my horse – and finance your next film. New promise. New story.
    Thank you, Signe.

    • Oh, Jonas, I never knew the truth of those 1000 dinar (or whatever the currency Croatia had at that time) !!!! There is more to this story than money, but when do we tell it and how?
      As to you financing my next film – be careful what you promise!! I might take you up on your word and then we both will have to suffer through insufferable pain of making an animated feature…
      : )

  2. Cecile says:

    WOW! What a story! And if ever we make a live version of The Golden Horse (animated movie, currently in production, based on a Baltic Fairy tale, not a Zagreb bartender tale), Jonas, you can be Antis, the handsome boy on the golden horse who saves the Princess.

    Signe! I’m in Riga and today for the first time I have met Xavier and I showed him the trailer to your movie and he thought it was brilliant and spoke fondly of the two weeks he spent at your family’s.

    You are a fabulous writer and your stories are driven and true, and don’t ever leap off the Brooklyn bridge because we want to read all your notes.

    With much love from Riga (and the story, that keeps getting better)

    • Cecile, I am jealous – you are in Riga! I wish I was there so that all of us (you, me, Xavier) could go to Tukums to visit my lively family who like fun and good stories above everything else (except Sauna, they like Sauna a lot too). I could show you where the palace once stood and where you can still hear Black Mother under ground counting the loot of the tears like golden coins. Oh well, next time maybe?

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