11.2.11

Belgrade is...

(Written by Momo Kapor translated from Serbian by me.)

Belgrade is not entirely in Belgrade. Much larger part is in yearning for Belgrade, which makes it more beautiful than it really is.

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 Belgrade* is in Belgrade-like caffes all around the world, where our people still gather...Skadarlija in Richwod, NY. Balkan in Sydney, Australia. Cetiri breze in Brussels. La coza in Karakas. Beograd in Munich. King Petar in Washington DC...

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Belgrade is the cherry on the bottom of a Manhattan cocktail that is just now being slowly sipped by a happily married, lonely Belgrade woman who is recapping her life in Kafe Greko in Rome. Was all that really worth so much effort? Would her life have been better if she married Miki and stayed in Vozdovac*?

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Belgrade was also in a Brussels restaurant called Stara Srbija (close to the Grand market) when the owner Dobrila, former “black lady of Serbian poetry”, asked us whatever happened to the poet by the name of Branko Miljkovic, and we told her he has transformed into a monument on Kalemegdan*! She was stunned! What do you mean “a monument”? She used to repair his socks and cook bean stew for him when he was still entirely anonymous?

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Belgrade is in Hamilton, Canada too, when an old equestrian soldier from the Royal army asks “Does kosava* still blow for three, seven or twenty one days?” and we have no heart to tell him that kosava abandoned us years ago... She got bored, it seems, of trying to blow us away from this hill, so she squeals and complains of her failure now, somewhere in the steppes of Russia.

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Belgrade is also in the houses of the people who were forced to leave, but they took a tiny part of it with them - a pressed flower in a herbarium, a book, a recipe for blue aubergine moussaka, nicknames of long-gone heartbreakers, graduation photo from Third Boy’s Grammar School (the class of 1956-57), sleek Belgrade accent that isn't spoilt even by years of speaking English.

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Not even the old Knez Mihajlova*, with it’s peeling down facades and broken pavements, is in Knez Mihajlova anymore. It is on the soles of feet of elderly walkers who couldn’t “catch a line” on any of the world-famous sidewalks.

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Belgrade is in the old photos of mothers and fathers, grandparents, who during their lifetime never travelled further than Zemun but are now looking upon New York lofts filled with people mingling in seven different languages.

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Belgrade is where we pickle just one head of cabbage in a bathroom sink, and with it we make sarma* so we can impress the Australians or Argentinians with “our” food.

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Belgrade is in the way that Belgrade people receive guests around the world; it is in the religious icons of St Nikola and St Jovan - the most common ones to be seen at Belgrade slavas* - and the ones that most often travel all the way to Canada or even New Zealand...

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Belgrade is...Belgrade isn’t in Belgrade. Belgrade is in all those Belgrade people who still can’t or are not allowed to come back.

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Even I am no longer here, I'm somewhere else, desperately trying to return to myself. Belgrade is not in Belgrade because Belgrade is not really a city - it’s a metaphor, way of life, a way of looking at things.


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Belgrade is in the idea that enriches the world wherever it’s spirit is felt. It is in a joke, accidental gesture, inborn casualness with which one accepts triumphs and failures; Belgrade is where the unit of style is - charm.

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Belgrade is in the names of the little Swiss, French, Germans and Americans, whose mothers are form Belgrade. Belgrade is in our index fingers when we dial 011*.

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Belgrade is in the saying “bezveze!”*  regardless of the continent it is heard on. It is scattered throughout four sides of the world, and I yearn for all these Belgrade people to one day come together again...

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Glossary:

Belgrade - the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city lies at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Panonian Plane meets the Balkans. With a population of around 2.5 million it is one of the largest cities in SouthEast Europe. Its name in Serbian translates to White city. Belgrade's wider city area was the birthplace of the largest prehistoric culture of Europe, the Vinča culture as early as the 6th millennium BC, and since those times it has uniterrupted urban history.

Voždovac - one of the oldest, central areas of Belgrade City.

Kalemegdan - a fortress, a park and the core of the oldest section of urban area of Belgrade. It is situated at the end of Knez Mihajlova Street, and together with it makes the most loved urban relaxation spot, much like Hyde Park or Central Park (only smaller).

Košava - an extremely strong wind that usually visits Belgrade in winter and sometimes in summer. It is cold, can blow you almost off your feet, often comes together with cold rain and even though everyone complains about it, Belgrade is not the same without it.

Knez Mihajlova - the most famous promenade and a pedestrian zone in the heart of Old Belgrade City.

Sarma - a delicious cabbage roll filled with a mixture of ground pork, spices, rice and onion, slowly cooked in light tomato broth, traditionally served in winter and major holidays and celebrations.

Slava - a Serbian Orthodox custom of celebrating the family saint and protector according to the religious calendar. Each family inherits this day from the “patriarch” and continues the tradition of baking the “slava bread” and entertaining the friends and family with food, wine and music. Traditionally the priest gets called into the house for a blessing, but in more liberal families, this celebration has less of a religious and more of a social connotation.

011 - a dialling code for Belgrade

“Bezveze!” - a common Belgrade saying to express disagreement with something, it sort of means “doesn’t make any sense”.

(The photos in this post are from Google and used purely for information and entertainment. Please let us know if you are the author, and if you want it removed we will be sad but will oblige.)


18 comments:

  1. I've read all Kapor books I could ever find because of that "quest for Belgrade". I agree with every single thing he's ever written about it. I also haven't ever been more painfully in love with any other city. That's why it makes me sad to think I'll probably never live there. On the other hand, I know chances are it would fill me with the same discomfort as Ljubljana in the long run. I see things differently as a foreigner and all my Belgrade friends whose hopes and dreams are similar to mine want to leave Serbia. However, I'm certain I'll be returning to Belgrade all my life, because some things in life you just cannot escape.

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  2. Thank you for that wonderful comment Eva! You know, honestly, I believe that what Belgrade has become in this last war is only transient.
    I lived in Belgrade for many years, and I was literally torn away from it because of the war. Then, not in my wildest dreams did I feel like I wanted to live anywhere else. I adored it, everyone I know felt the same. Belgrade is indeed an amazing place that just now is spoilt with pain and suffering, much like the rest of the Balkans. But it is an old thing, ancient in fact, and these 20 or 50 or 100 years are nothing, really.
    All the people who are now desperate to leave feel this way because of the current situation. If we can return to it in about 50 or 100 years, I am sure all will be well, as it always is when there is no war in the Balkans.
    It's sad really... And most of what Kapor wrote, he did so when Belgrade was the way it should be, and I can only imagine how the last 20 years broke his heart. I know they broke mine.
    :hugs:

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  3. I started going to Belgrade at least once a year in 2007. The last time I was there, in October last year, I noticed that (compared to my previous visits) the general atmosphere changed for the worse. Nobody smiled in the streets (I used to love that about Belgrade so much) and almost everyone I spoke to was tense. Of course, this is a subjective experience.
    Belgrade has such an incredible character, but it's not enough to fight the situation you described.
    I'm very curious to see what happens in 20 or 50 years. I think the entire world will be much different then, not only Belgrade.

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  4. gosh that is so true! even before then, I didn't go between '92 and 2002, but when I went back, I hardly recognised it. in front of my old apartment building, an old man was walking his dog and as I came to pet the dog, the man said that he hasn't seen an honest and happy smile like mine in years. that made both of us cry.
    you are right, a lot will change in 20 or 50 years, and i hope for the better.

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  5. one of my favorite :) i love absolutely everything about that city, megalike...of course there is other side of everything but i haven't met ugly side of belgrade yet, and i hope i will not...

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  6. Wow, this is really something. I truly enjoyed in reading this. I never heard for this writer, and of course I never read anything what he wrote, but that's about to change :)

    Anyway it's now a really old wish - to visit Belgrade. And this is one more reason to go.

    I think that every bigger city here on Balkans have some kind of special spirit, not because of buildings, but because of people who live here. Because in this little part of the world people are different, friendly and that's why I really love living here. I know, it's difficult sometimes, and way of thinking is also special, but you get use to it :)

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  7. @Joanna: that's so wonderful to hear :)) say hello to Belgrade for me, next time you go :hugs:

    @Seramida: Momo Kapopr is one of the best known contemporary Serbian writes and he is best known for writing about Belgrade. Start with a book called "Dnevnik jedne Ane", and also, if you can find it, the book called "Beogradske price" is incidentally that piece of Belgrade I took with me when I left, it is a great little book, I think you'll really love his style. It's funny and emotional, excellent writing really, and to meet Belgrade through his writing - you can't go wrong :D
    that's very true about the Balkans. no matter how many years I am away, how many other places I visit or live in, nothing quite replaces the Balkans in my heart. :hugs:

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  8. Thanks for recommendations, I'll start with those books, if I don't find it, I'll order them, I just love buying books :)

    The thing is that contemporary writers from ex-Yu countries are rather neglected here, and although I really want to read sth from them, I don't know what is worth reading. So I'm very glad to hear about him, and as soon as I finish with studying I'll search for this books :)

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  9. I know, in the '90s there was a lot of persecution of anything perceived to have to do with yugoslavia, it was really a sad thing...
    but another guy I really liked is called Milorad Pavic, get the book called "Hazarski recnik" read that one first, and then "Predeo slikan cajem". another one you will not regret reading, it is excellent :))
    since then I also lost track completely, so maybe others can recommend some more writers and books to both of us :D

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  10. hej, ja sam u Herceg Novom dobio tu knjigu u ruku i kupio ju samo da me prodavač u knjižnici pusti na miru i sad i ja imam Hazarski recnik, a onda vrijedi valjda da ga proočitam :)

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  11. hehe, znam kako se osjecao prodavac, ko je procitao Hazarski recnik nerijetko postaje evangelical about it :D definitivno procitaj, vrlo zanimljiva i neobicna knjiga

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  12. apropo, Beograd mije tiha patnja, kad sam bio u Makedoniji najbliže što sam bio jest na zaobilaznici..

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  13. u Beograd trebas ici kod nekoga ko tamo zivi, da te provede i odvede jer je grad ogroman i lako se je izgubiti. u najgorem slucaju, moj travel advice je definitivno out of date, ali ako ides javi pa cu ti dati listu mjesta za obici, sigurna sam da ce ti se svidjeti :))

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  14. Ovakvu pitu kakvu onaj momak na slici drzi videla sam juce u nekoj emisiji o Beogradu i srpskoj kuhinji. :-) htela bih da nam kazes kako se pravi ako znas. Jesi li ti iz Srbije? Pratila sam kako kuvar pravi koru mada nisu nam rekli sastojke. Napunili su sirom ili mesom. Obozavam Beograd! :-) i jedva cekam da posetim Skadarliju.

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    1. Ah, to ti je slavni 'srpski burek' tzv. prazan burek nastao u Nišu, preuzet od Turaka. Inace, u ex-Yu postoji mnogo teorija sta je pita, sta je burek, ali u Srbiji mi sve to zovemo burek (sa sirom mesom, zeljem, spanaćem itd).

      Ja sam iz ex-Yu, živela sam od Pule do Beograda, ali sam srpkinja tj. jugoslovenka po ubedjenju :) A ti? Jel oduvek zivis u Grckoj? I ja obožavam Beograd, ali živim u Engleskoj vec dugo i retko imam priliku da idem. Ja obožavam Grčku, i do sad nisam imala prilike da je posetim, ali jedva čekam! Volim jako i Grčku hranu, svake godine uzmem neku svetsku kuhinju pa eksperimentišem i ove godine je na redu grčka kuhinja, tako sam i otkrila tvoj blog :) Odlično pričaš srpski!

      Htela sam da ti odgovorim na sva pitanja i komentar je narastao mnogo, pa su sad u narednih par dana napraviti jedan post o bureku (piti, gibanici, imaju par imena) i stavicu par recepata mojih omiljenih. Kore ne umem sama da pravim ali imam recept. Lep pozdrav :)

      ps. Skadarlija je predivna, posebno leti :)

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  15. Suuuperrrr:-) da, burek sam i ja cula na emisiji ali posto on je sve ostalo rekao pogresno -haha- nisam smela da kazem tebi. :-). Da, ja sam 100% Grkinja, od pelena zivim u Grckoj:-) obozavam srpski jezik. Jedva cekam videti burek u tvoj blog a sto se tice grcku kuhinju puno ti hvala ali ako objavis recept cekaj moj komentar:-) cao!

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    1. Slobodno reci, ja nisam purista sto se tice bureka, neka se zove kako hoce, sve dok mogu da ga jedem :D Uvek me impresioniraju ljudi koji nauce srpski bez da im je to materinji jezik, i bas mi je drago! Super, javim se kad stavim recepte. Cao!

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    2. Haha, dobro:-) ej maja ja sam te nesto pitala u moj blog, da li ovo 'bacu' znaci 'probacu'? Hvala unapred

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