I was around fifteen when I went to Russia to spend the summer with my dad. He worked on setting up a huge tannery in a little village called Raskazovo, near Tambov. It was a strange place for a fifteen-year old. I was the youngest among the Serbs temporarily living there, I was bored, I had no friends or acquaintances and – even though I was happy to be there as I left a very jealous boyfriend at home – I was somewhat bored.
Not looking for entertainment, just looking for new experiences, new things to do. Something to remain in the memory. Raskazovo is the place where I first drove a car on my own. It was a large black Volga, weighing a couple of tons and guzzling fuel like mad. I learned how to move that thing and I was quite proud of myself, ploughing the dirt roads with the heavy wheels of this black monstrosity – when I was able to steal the keys and run away with the car.
On one of those trips I encountered a group of gypsies. They were poor, cheap labour for the construction site of the factory, now engaged in cleaning the site and packing away all the debris from construction, planting flowers and grass and other menial jobs. They were heading home after work and I followed them from a slight distance, very discretely, as you can otherwise do peeping over the steering wheel of a huge black Volga.
They led me to their den, a valley on the outskirts of the village, full of improvised tents and horse-carts. I looked around for the horses, knowing clearly that the Volga love had instantly faded and is replaced by this new adventure. It was getting late and I made myself a promise to go back the following day, on foot, to see what the gypsies have for me.
Summer in Russia is a whole day, every day affair. The Sun sets at ten, eleven and it rises at three in the morning. It is a perpetual day, with just a bit of semi-darkness between the sunset and the sunrise. My mind was occupied by the prospect of seeing the gypsy horses and I hardly slept. I was eager to sneak out, at the break of the dawn, run to the edge of the village and start scouting for the familiar shapes and movements in the tall grass of the gypsy valley.
And so I did. And so I found them. Grazing to the backdrop of the most magnificent fiery sky, painted the colours of orange I can not explain in words, I had failed to reproduce in paintings and most certainly failed to photograph all my life.
Gypsy-orange colours of life. Simple, uncomplicated, basic and straightforward life. I stole a horse promptly and rode off, prompting the village spy assigned to follow me around to run after me until he was out of breath. I had other horses follow me, catching up with my steed and surrounding us, making the ground shake with the thunderous noise of hooves, neighing and heavy breathing.
I never felt so surrounded by pure energy before. The dust, the steam coming from the nostrils, whipping of tails and closeness, speed of movement, group coordination, like being inside a very powerful cloud that races across the sky with no particular aim other than demonstrating its beauty and raw, immense power.
That gypsy-orange colour was now forever alive in me.
That memory of glowing morning sky is what I look for in every sunrise and sunset, and I see it. Coordinates don’t matter. It is the moment in time when your mind becomes one with everything you love and the fire lights up the sky and your mind simultaneously, fills you with the energy that has no explanation other than pure love for what you are, for what your world is, for everyone and everything in it.
There were the days of sunset when we sat together at the balustrade in front of house No. 29, our feet dangling and our hands touching, waiting for the sky to fill up with that gypsy-orange colour somewhere above Makerere Hill. It must have been a very awkward sight because – what’s a soldier doing there, daydreaming with a girl… The preciousness of those days embedded itself painfully onto my mind, like a burning brand on the horse’s skin. It is a scar that radiates gypsy-orange colour inside my soul, reminding me of the painful finiteness of death and even more, of the ever-lasting presence of the energy of love.
Once you love someone or something, it is yours. It can not change, it can not go away unless taken by brute force of destruction, disappointment, betrayal. Death never ends anything. It is the way of preserving things at status-quo, giving you the ability to question and find answers on your own, answers you want for the situation. Death preserves everything as it was in your mind. Years later, nothing changes. The emotion is still right there, wrapped in that gypsy-orange tone. And you see it everywhere.
Heart and mind are infinite in their ability to add more love and more experiences into your life. Except the love becomes more universal and less specific as the time goes by. More about giving as opposed to give and take of the young days. More free and more encompassing. Like a door, ajar. No bolts, no locks, no burglar bars. Anyone and anything walks in and out, taking what they can carry, leaving what they are able to give. It is a gypsy-orange coloured space that brightens up every morning and dims every night, radiating light just like a guiding star in the sky of my universe.