Across the Danube from the sandy shoreline of the Štrand, gracing the town of Sremska Kamenica (Сремска Каменица), spreads the largest recreation area of Fruška Gora, and Novi Sad's most expansive park--Kamenički, a choice setting for hosting May Day festivities, the Yugoslavian equivalent of a Labor Day or International Workers' Day.
Today was not May Day. It was an ordinary day. A Thursday.
The shops would remain open. Barbecues and picnics smattered sparsely across the grassy knolls, gazebos and riverbank. A silver-haired man in a fitted vest and suit coat was poised, with his typewriter, pouring his soul into perhaps the world's greatest novel between drags of his cigarette. He glanced up at me as I ran by. It felt good to be seen by this man. He reminded me of my husband in 30 years--effortlessly cool, classy, calm, composed, composing, ever-watchful, a man for and from another time.
Kamenički Park was designed to serve as the Marcibanji-Karačonji Castle gardens. The classicist castle, built in the 1800s, with its simple lines and restrained emotion, required a large green courtyard to be modeled after English landscape gardens, a promenade along the bank of the Danube, equestrian trails, five artificial lakes connected by a stream, wellsprings, rock benches, imported flora from across the globe, and several statues, of which the sculptures remain of the five heads, the Pompeiian column, sphynx, Amor and the Nymph.
Two oak trees planted in 1805 are rooted on the grounds where two of the original five lakes remain. There is a winding path leading from the tunnels and forks into two smaller trails, one of which leads up to the Dečije Selo orphanage.
A small hill-lookout in the center of the park -The Hill of Roses hosts five statues resembling Roman soldiers or perhaps the faces of the Karačonji family, as it is rumored.
I sprinted up this hilltop to see what I could see. Not a rose in sight. Summiting, I noticed the form of a man amongst the pillars blazing through a series of diamond push-ups. He noticed me too, and terminated his flow.
He greeted me: "Добро јутро," and asked how I was. We exchanged pleasantries.
We'll call him "Bogdan" (A Serbian name, meaning "Godsent"). This designation will make sense later.
Bogdan was a bored banker of sorts who mistakenly believed I was a model. I waved my hand to swat away the compliment before it landed, as one does, and elucidated my lack of enthusiasm for the profession. Bogdan held up his hands in surrender: "Not a model, then," he said.
I told him I was a psychotherapist; quite naturally, he then asked for my opinion on a personal matter between he and his wife of 17 years. Why not?
Over the span of an hour's time, I learned Bogdan's wife has a degenerative disease without the faintest sliver of hope of her condition improving. He’s been faithful to her throughout the deterioration of her faculties, but expressed a deep sense of melancholia for the lack of intimacy and impotency to change her condition. Many questions were asked. Vignettes were shared. More questions were asked. More layers peeled back. Eyes became dewey. So it goes.
He apologized for taking up my time.
"You've taken no time from me which was not freely given," I said, along with an offering of a few perspectives and variables to consider.
"Meeting you here in this way today, it's a Celestine Prophecy, if you know it. This was not chance. It's important for me to have met you; I feel that," he said, placing his hand with great conviction across his heart.
I examined him with curiosity and gifted him a smirk.
"If I've managed to give you anything of value, I am all the more happy for it," I said, thanking him for his brave self-disclosures and flattering trust in me, a not-a-model-psychotherapist stranger.
He fist-bumped me (we were living in a time of a great global pandemic, after all), gave a slight bow of his head and proceeded to walk down the side of this roseless Hill of Roses.