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Talking Location With author Olja Knežević – MONTENEGRO

26th September 2020

#TalkingLocationWith… Olja Knežević, author of Catherine The Great and The Small, set in MONTENEGRO.

Olja Knežević

The author in Montenegro

My home-country, Montenegro, has been spinning slowly like a hologram before my eyes ever since I left it more than twenty years ago. I’ve seen all of her shadows and faces, with that added advantage of observing her from afar, and not always longingly, but, at times coldly, angrily; defensively, too, and with bias, with disappointment… but most of all with nostalgia.

And yet I could never recommend anything in Montenegro to the many people I’ve met in different cities and countries. And they did ask. “I heard your coastline is beautiful,” they’d say. “Where would you recommend, I stay?”

How would I know? I have only stayed in friends’ rooms, often smuggled in late at night, Or, I’d go to the beach for a day, then drive back to Podgorica, to sleep in my bed.

There was a waiter in a restaurant in Kotor (yes, that is a  Bay you should visit, and also see from above the nauseous road shaped like the letter M, which, people say, was King Nikola’s homage to his wife, Milena), and that waiter was asked by some hungry tourists, who couldn’t make heads or tails of the oversized menu, if he could recommend something to them.

“Yes, I can,” the waiter replied. “I can recommend some other restaurant.” I’m like that waiter. I can recommend some other country.

Olja Knežević

Bay of Kotor

I can tell you about Montenegro through stories. Growing up, I knew I was one day going to use the craziness that surrounded me to write a book. My people thought they were normal, just like any other people, anywhere in the world. And maybe they were. It’s just that Montenegro is so small, Montenegrins so loud and outdoorsy, that even a child could see all humanity played out in front of her eyes, with all its vulnerability unskilfully masked as anything else – power, courage, integrity, extreme-masculinity or femininity etc. I say ‘unskilfully masked’ because Montenegro is reminiscent of an ancient Greek theatre, where everyone is both actor and audience, taking part in cathartic theatre performances. Everyone is a naturshchik, type-casted together with his or her shadow, of which everyone else is aware, because, as I’ve hinted at, the country is so small that we know everything about each other. You can read all about this phenomena through the characters depicted in my novel, Catherine the Great and the Small (Istros Books, 2020).

Podgorica

The country’s size, its dramatic, crashing encounter between the sea and the high mountain tops, also mean that a visitor can have all her ideas about what a holiday should be realised in a day or two. One can have breakfast by the sea, and swim and sunbathe in the morning on a beautiful sandy beach, then, when it gets too hot, eat lunch in Ivanova Korita, visit and learn about country’s history in Cetinje and Lovćen, go back for a beach sunset and cocktails in Dukley Gardens or Pržno or any other of the hundreds of stunning locations, then drive up towards the mountains to sleep and wake up somewhere fresh, and start a completely different kind of stay on the next day. Day two, and he/she wakes up in the mountains, by the Black Lake, or the enchanting Tara river, eat a portion of rich delicious kačamak for breakfast, then a sharp, breath-taking hike, or a spirit-lifting, team-building river rafting excursion, followed by lunch in Virpazar, where one can try some krap (English speakers will be dismayed by this unfortunately named local smoked fish!); go for that sunset on the beach again. There’ll be plenty of five-star resorts still around in 2021, they say, so take your pick, dear visitor…

Olja Knežević

Kotor Old Town

Olja as a child in Montenegro

But, I digress into recommending, just after I’ve boasted that I’m a story-teller, not a tourist guide. So, let me add that service in Montenegro can either be stellar or verging on a nervous breakdown, meaning it’s fickle, like we humans would all be if we had no filters, which my people don’t care much about. Your service people would love you to know their whole life story, too, not just this submissive role they have to play while taking your luggage to your room or placing an enormous sea-food plater in front of you. They want to show you how they really are this interesting, powerful, omniscient person, who works here as a favour to a friend or something. They will run and fetch the photos of their grandchildren, whom they miss so much that they’ll end up crying their salty tears into your sweet watermelon.

Would you mind?

Olja Knežević

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Hurry, hurry! Our 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition entries close on 15th November...

750 - 3000 words with strong 'sense of place' theme

Short story, travelogue, or memoir

Top judges to decide the winners

Cash prizes totalling £500 / $600 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 15th November 2020