Scalini Fedeli (
an Italian restaurant in Tribeca serving rustic Tuscan food with a French twist); however, the first two years of our marriage were spent mostly apart from one another. Even during our short dating phase, which started in Washington, DC at the very end of our graduate studies in international relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS, distance made things complicated
. Soon after graduation Katheryn started her career at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, while I took on a temporary research job at the Kenan Institute in DC. Most of my savings at the time went into bus and train rides back and forth to New York to spend time with Katheryn.
When my contract with the Kenan Institute came to an end in February 2006, it didn't take long before I moved into Katheryn's old place in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Since the heart wants what the heart wants, we decided to get married quickly. Our life would be on the smooth sailing thereafter, so we thought, but fate decided otherwise. Shortly after we tied the knot on September 16th, 2006, during an intimate civil ceremony at my inlaws' home in Pittsburgh, I was offered a two year position at the World Bank in DC. I had not been looking for jobs in DC at all, so the offer really took us by surprise. At the time, the World Bank was launching a series of investment projects in the Western Balkans to help prepare their agricultural sector for future EU membership. My first reaction to the offer was, "what on earth I could bring to the table in agriculture?" I was born in De Kempen, a fairly rural region stretching accross the Northern parts of the Antwerp and Limburg Provinces in Belgium, but my upbringing was suburban middle-class. This basically meant that I had never set foot on a farm. (I would be painfully reminded of this by the shock I could read off the face of a Bosnian chicken farmer when, in order to perform a quick economic analysis of a micro-loan he had received with the support of a World Bank project, I asked "how many eggs a day do your chickens lay?" (*)). However, considering my background in EU studies and my bachelor thesis on EU enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe, the World Bank thought I would be a good fit for the different project teams that were being put together
. The fact that I had graduated from SAIS, which historically has been a preffered supplier to the World Bank, definitely helped as well. After a week of agonizing about the offer and its implications, we decided it was too interesting a career opportunity for me to pass up. However, it also meant that I would be moving back to DC and that we were heading for another two years of long-distancing.
Thankfully, the two year stint at the World Bank was challenging and overall quite rewarding, the inevitable frustrations that come with working for a bureaucratic behemoth notwithstanding. Despite being completely out of touch with the hardships of rural life and the biological cycles of farm animals, I felt I was able to make myself reasonably useful to the institutional reform aspects of the projects in which I was involved. The many visits I paid to the Western Balkans were by far the most interesting part of the job. The ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, lethargy of government bureaucrats in Montenegro, and corruption as a way of life in Albania, were all elements that made work more difficult than it needed to be (the smoke-filled offices in dusty government buildings didn't help either). But I certainly retain far more positive memories of the places I visited. (Only Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia, proved to be such an utterly dull place that I'm in no hurry to return, if ever)
. In particular, I enjoyed the warm and generous welcomes while visiting family farms and villages in the region; the long strolls around history-laden places such as Sarajevo and Mostar; the energy and vibrant nightlife of Tirana; the spectacular natural beauty of Southern Herzegovina; and the mountainous north of Montenegro. I also discovered the true flavors of farm fresh vegetables, grass-fed beef, wild trout, and honey, and experienced, on numerous occassion, serious food comma after devouring local comfort foods such as cevapcici
(small kebab sausages served with oven fresh Turkish bread, raw onions, and a creamy spread called kajmak
) and schniztel Karadjordjeva
(a schnitzel roll stuffed with ham and kajmak
) mostly in combination with some local brews (Sarajevsko
among my favourites) or brandies (such as the pear-based Viljamovka
, the plum-based Sliwowitz
, and the grape-based Rakija)
. Oh yes, there was an unforgettably random free concert by DJ Punjabi MC in Tirana. I don't know how a visit to Albania ended up on his tour program, but my best guess is that some really scary Albanian mob figure pushed a few buttons... Professionally, these two years of shuttling between Brooklyn, Washington DC, and the Western Balkans were definitly worth it, but they were not particularly conducive to a healthy work-life balance, to put it mildly. To those of you who might be remotely appealed to a similar postmodern marital arrangement I can say loud and clear: it sucks.
In February 2008, my contract with the World Bank had come to an end and I moved back to Brooklyn just in time to help nurse Katheryn back to health after a nasty slip and fall left her with a broken elbow
. It was time for us to finally start living together as a "normal" married couple. As soon as I had completed the Green Card process (**), I started working as an independent consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which collaborates closely with the World Bank on agricultural development projects around the world. My travel schedule remained intense, with a lot of of my time spent in Morocco, and Katheryn's work schedule expanded at the hands of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, sharing a primary residence allowed us to start having a life together outside our jobs. The Clinton Hill/Ft Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn provided a perfect platform for us. This historical area is still in full transition with a number of new restaurants (check out Roman's
and the pork belly at Umi Nom
people!), bars (Brooklyn Public House,
a neighborhood pub with a laid back ambiance), and coffee shops (Nero Doro
aka my home office, great cappuccinos) opening recently. The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) located in the area is an important cultural center offering an impressively diverse program of film, theater, music, and dance. Both Ft Greene Park and Prospect Park provide some green relief from the city's buzz when you need it. There are certainly still some rough edges to the neighborhood, but its diversity, historical feel, emerging food scene, cultural offer, and relatively easy access to Manhattan make it stimulating and comfortable environment to live in.
We will miss all of it during our trip, but we'll be back. Now it is time to catch up on a lot of quality time we missed out on over the past 5 years...
First stop: Pittsburgh!
(*) For my fellow ignorant suburbanites, the answer is unequivocally 1 egg per day
(**) For the successful process, I owe a big thank you to my dear brother-in-law, Robert, who gave me as a wedding present the very insightful movie "Green Card" starring Gerard Depardieux and Andie MacDowell
It was around 5.30pm when - with a mixture of relief, excitement, and nostalgia - we finally closed the door of our empty apartment at 242 Greene Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The day had been hectic with the pick-up of our rental car, closing of our cable account, breakfast in midtown with our cousins Jorge, Cintia, Chiara, and Francesco visiting from Brazil, lunch with our friends Nanda and Reshma in Noho, an extra trip to our storage room in Brooklyn, and a final cleaning of the apartment. The past two years living there were probably the happiest of our lives so far, mainly because we had finally managed to live together under one roof. We celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary together just last Thursday with a fantastic dinner at