Sunday, 9 December 2018

We fell in love without speaking

We played music together for hours, creating new compositions without talking, write Faith and Ristic, sharing their experience in the Guardian. Read on: 

I’ll never forget the first moment I saw Branko. It was 2009 and I was 25, working as a musical director for a circus in the UK. I’d travelled alone from Gloucestershire to the village of Gornja Grabovica in Serbia, on a mission to learn Roma-style accordion. A week or so into my two-month trip, a friend called Dusan took me to meet his cousin Branko, who he said was one of the country’s best violinists.

When we arrived, Branko came out of the house he shared with his aunt and grandmother, wearing a white vest and jeans. I don’t remember thinking he was attractive, but for some reason I took a photo of him that I still have today.

We all sat around a table in the garden. I didn’t speak a word of Serbian and Branko knew no English, so Dusan struggled to translate. Branko was shy; it wasn’t every day an English woman turned up at his house. The following day I went back, and we played music together late into the night. We did this several more times, quickly developing a strong connection. It was totally platonic, however; nothing else entered my head, partly because he had a girlfriend.

 Faith and Branko Ristic: ‘It felt unreal, like magic.’ Photograph: Amit Lennon for the Guardian
After two months I returned to Britain. I was still determined to learn Roma accordion, but for the next couple of years I was busy touring with my work. Then, in July 2011, I had a few weeks off, and felt I was being called back to Serbia.

As soon as Branko heard I was back in Gornja Grabovica, he came straight to see me. With Dusan translating again, he told me he’d thought about me every day since I had left. He had broken up with his girlfriend months earlier. It felt unreal, like magic. It was exciting to acknowledge our connection, but unusual to feel something for each other without being able to communicate fully.

That night we went to an igranke, or dance. I just enjoyed being near Branko. His body language was so open, and he was so kind and loving. The next day we played music together for hours, creating new compositions. He still couldn’t say a word in English, and I’d only picked up basic things in Serbian, but it just felt right. We could usually work out what the other was trying to convey on an instinctual level, and if we couldn’t, we’d just laugh. It was so romantic. If I could rewind time, I’d go back to that moment.

I stayed at his house that night, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. I’d never felt so happy. Not being able to express the subtleties of my emotions made it more intense. It was a relief for me to be able to just feel and be, rather than constantly talking.

After three weeks, I had to leave for work in Britain. It was incredibly painful, and Branko worried I’d never come back. But I was desperate to go straight back out there. My mum was very supportive, advising me to do what felt right. From then, it became more real. I bought audio tapes to learn Serbian and booked a one-way flight. This time I stayed for three months.

The type of Serbian Roma culture Branko lived in was very different from the English culture I knew. There isn’t the same language to describe the process of starting a relationship; if you start spending time with someone, then you’re with them, and you immediately say, “I love you.”

Branko and I planned to go to Britain together for a while to earn money and introduce him to my life; but he had rarely travelled even in his own country, and his tourist visa was refused twice. It was difficult to go back alone. When I returned, we decided to get married, and in March 2012 we had a simple but chaotic wedding in Serbia. We built a house on the exact spot we first met in Branko’s grandmother’s garden.

We formed a band, Faith i Branko, and have spent the last three years touring Europe, Australia and New Zealand, playing festivals and releasing an album. Today my Serbian is pretty good, and while Branko still doesn’t speak fluent English, he understands a lot. They say music is the language of the soul. We took a leap to find out if that is true, and music has held us together ever since.

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