Belgrade


The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht

I’ve read this book in its original language, English even though it has been published in (in Tea’s own words) “the most important of all translations”, Serbian. Because I love reading work in its original language whenever I can. And it was strange experience because I did recognize my own folklore but in the same time was thinking how there’s no way that anyone unfamiliar of that folklore would recognize it and more importantly, understand it.

OK we know Tea is from Serbia (or if you wish ex Yugoslavia) and that is what I believe was the starting point for many foreign (!) reviewers to place its plot here in Balkan region. I being from the region could find connections with it even though she (Obrecht) clearly put an effort not to make it obvious: the only two places mentioned in the book that actually exists in reality are Vienna and Istanbul. All other names are fictional and majority of them sounds quite impossible. The pretty much the same goes with the names of characters (and I’m not sure why she decided to do that). There are only few names that are names in reality. Moreover some of the names (for example Gavran which means “raven” or Dure or Darisa) are words you cannot associate with the person. Maybe those sounds interesting, exotic, or … for English speaking world (which is of course legitimate reason). So I asked myself how would you (if at all) know the plot is in ex-Yugoslavia? Yes there are hints like “we” are celebrating Christmas in January (ok so it is settled in the region where Orthodox Christians live); Muslims don’t have it, Catholics don’t have it but “they” do (meaning tree religions live in the same region); after the war Nobel Prize writer became theirs and we named our airport after that crazy scientist (writer is Ivo Andric but we consider him as ours and scientist is Nikola Tesla, airport is in Belgrade); numerous words she used in their native form (vila, mora, hajduk, gusle, ajvar, … and about that it’s strange the English edition didn’t offer translations or explanation), some names, some last names… etc. So based on those things I would be able to conclude that the plot is settled in my region indeed BUT would I made the same conclusion without knowing these things? If I’m not from here? Well I doubt. But nevertheless it was interesting how everyone (I’m quite sure) without knowing those things, understanding the non-English words or recognizing the customs have placed the book here.

Saying all this I’m not sure can I give one objective review because there are so many things that I’m familiar with and this especially when she was describing air raids in an unnamed city. Of course it was all too obvious she’s speaking about NATO bombing of Serbia 1999 and yes those few pages where she describes those first days, weeks of bombing in real life were exactly how she described: disbelief at first and then people fled into shelters and they came out of the shelters deciding to be in the open, on the bridges, cafes, restaurants refusing to give up of those few scrapes of normal life they had. What a flashback that was! The story about the zoo during the bombing however was fiction.

The story is interesting enough. Really good actually if you consider it’s a debut novel so thumbs up. I did like drops of surrealism combined with a Slavic folklore but what I really loved is a painting of a mentality in a small isolated village and how they are facing fear of the unknown.
In the end it was fast and interesting read.

OK so it happened. I’m pretty much puzzled what to think about this concert. You don’t have to be Madonna’s fan to know this is something you shouldn’t miss. Beside I liked her in my youth very much actually. I remember her concerts at the beginning of 1990-es  (“Blond Ambition World Tour” and “The Girlie Show World Tour”) and thinking if I’ll ever see something like this … oh well I didn’t.

I was hoping to go on her concert last year when she was in Montenegro because no one believed she’ll come back in the region. Well she did but it seems that vast majority of people from Serbia who were at the concert in Montenegro decided to stay home last night. Namely there were only 40000 people which is of course far less than what was expected. On the other hand, reviews from that last year’s concert weren’t bright whatsoever. Anyway I didn’t manage to be in Montenegro and when I heard she’s coming in Belgrade I knew it’s now or never (luckily my brother thought the same and gave me this for birthday). As I said that’s something you just don’t miss no mater if you’re not her fan. There are only few artists who are living legends who fits in this category (sadly Michael Jackson is not anymore one of them so I’ll definitively not see him live). I’ve already seen “Rolling Stones” and now after Madonna I really don’t know who could be added in this group? Who is such an institution on the global scale?

Concert itself was true spectacle. Light, laser, computer, dancers, 8 huge mobile LED screens … all effects were absolutely perfect. Of course she is inhumanly fit considering her age. She danced like 10-20 years ago… But then, she wasn’t the same Madonna as she was 10-20 years ago. Her music has evolved and I’m not sure if I like direction she took. She is (and will probably remain) the biggest pop icon ever but the music she’s making now is hardly pop; or if it is it has so many techno spices that it makes special subgenre.

Concert (after exactly an hour delay. That was very surprising. I’m not even sure if she was aware that she’s late) started with “Candy Shop” and really, as much as you were pissed cause you’re standing an hour like an idiot in that moment every negative emotion just vanishes. I mean, the moment when you’re ACTUALLY looking at Madonna only few (tens of) meters from you really shocks you. It does have an impact: at first you are paralyzed like and then you just go wild.

Concert was divided in four parts: First part “Pimp” was homage to art-deco of 1920-ies. After introducing animation she appears sitting on the “M”-shaped throne. The peak of this part is “Vogue” in new design mixed with tones from “4 minutes”.

Second part “Old School” reminding us on her beginnings 1980-ies. I LOVED her “Get Into the Groove” with fantastic paints of Keith Haring (whom I like as well and whose reproduction I even have on my wall). I think this was my favourite part. You know here she was real Madonna, true pop queen.

Third “Gypsy” part was filled with Latino rhythm. There was a Ukrainian Gypsy band who played “La Isla Bonita” mixed with some traditional gypsy songs. It was interesting but I’m afraid that the change of one of her greatest hits ever was so drastic that it became different song. I’m not sure did I like that too much. Later, Gypsies had their solo performance which I’m sure was absolutely stunning in Western Europe, North America or Australia but she came in the part of the world where world’s best gypsy music is producing and I really doubt that anyone was fascinated with that part. I mean common gypsy band in some tavern in Serbian (or Romanian or Bulgarian) province would put more fire and heart in their songs. So the folks here really are used to really go wild with gypsy music so I’m afraid Ukrainians didn’t even produce a sparkle in the audience but hey we are tolerant so we waited Madonna to take microphone. But then when she took she sung “You Must Love Me” from “Evita” which was really slow and didn’t stimulate the mass.

Final part “Rave” was a mix of Far East choreography and visual effects and electronic music and it was OK. It ended with “Give It To Me” which was absolutely fascinating and the very peak of the concert. her commuication with audience was phenomenal during that song, she was giving microphone to the peoples in first raw and whole mass was dancing like crazy. Too bad that climax meant also the end.

There were few very special moments such is tribute to Michael Jackson (this video is not from last night’s show but from London but it was exactly the same so I’m putting it). Indeed, “Long live The King!”

There were no too many shocking things (after all elections in US are over) but since she’s known for her political and ecological activism there were one segment dedicated to this. Namely during video break and song “Get Stupid” which has had the theme global warming, ecological disasters, craziness of consumer society, political dictatorships… there were scenes with Hitler, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iranian religious leaders, scenes from political rallies after presidential elections in Iran few months ago including the death of  ‘Neda’ video.
Then there was images of destruction and comes one very curious part. Namely on the big screen along with scenes of destruction and bombing appears US flag. Now, without any euphemisms we are not very fond of American foreign politics in last 15 years (we’ve been bombed, US opinion about Kosovo is completely opposite of ours, those are two issues among many other bead ones) so I was curious to see reaction of the audience but (surprisingly!) there was no any. And then image of Barack Obama appeared and the audience reacted with ovations! I so didn’t expect that and I must say I was thrilled with it. I don’t know if he’ll bring some big changes that will have some positive influence on our lives but I’m so glad to see that change has happened in our minds and that we do have faith in American peoples’ choice.

All in all this was good concert but I did have highest expectations. There were not enough big hits (there were beside the ones I mentioned) “Like a Prayer”, “Music”, “Frozen”, “Holiday”, “4 Minutes”. So the set list wasn’t the happiest one; it was more warm/cold when the crowd sunk into delirium after some hit goes something that calms atmosphere down and so on. Too many average songs spiced with cruel, cold professionalism. Communication with the audience was solid but for our standards not nearly enough (just for the record Mick Jagger talked with us IN SERBIAN!).

Now when I’ve mentioned again concert Rolling Stones had I knew they’ve made standard that (I honestly believe) no one will be able to achieve but I didn’t expect that difference between that one and last night’s, Madonna’s, the grates pop icon EVER will be so enormous!

It was a good concert indeed, it was amazing spectacle and I would regret horribly if I have missed it. But that wasn’t nearly the concerts I watched 15 years ago fantasizing to be there.

"The Castle in the Pyrenees" in Serbian

Few weeks ago Mr. Jostein Gaarder, famous Norwegian writer was a guest of Belgrade. He was promoting his latest novel “The Castle in the Pyrenees” published last year in Norway and whose first translation in any foreign language appeared precisely in Serbian by my favourite publishing house Geopoetika. Somehow I think that’s quite fair, that we translated this novel first and to have him here among us. Namely Mr. Gaarder is one of the most popular authors here in Serbia, certainly one of the most popular foreign authors.

My experience with Gaarder’s books is of course related with Sophie’s World, novel which completely changed (or should I say “created”) the way I see philosophy. That book has taught me more about philosophy than entire course in my high school. Therefore that certainly was one of the most important books I’ve read during my education. After that I’ve read The Solitaire Mystery and I must say I wasn’t thrilled that much (although many of my friends were). And I believe that’s all I’ve read from him but nevertheless I’m sort of looking at him as if there’s no need to write anything else after “Sophie’s World”.

Anyway when I saw that his coming in Belgrade, of course I just couldn’t miss that.

That was the day when Joseph (“for friends Joe”) Biden, US vice president was in Belgrade as well and that meant trouble. Namely we didn’t want that anything unpredictable happens to Mr. Joseph Biden so entire town was blocked. The route I would drive for 10 minutes I had to walk for more than hour. I had to circulate around the city center and if you happened to live there and weren’t at home police wouldn’t let you in forbidden zone. The fact that you live there was irrelevant. No when I think folks who stayed in their homes have been whole day in quarantine, they couldn’t get outside and the blinds had to be closed (I’d prefer be outside the “zone”).

I reached Pavilion Cvijeta where I’ve found zillion people who managed to come in spite collapse in the city.

It was really lovely evening. Mr. Gaarder was in the very cheerful mood; he never expected how many Serbs are learning Norwegian (he talked the same day at the Department for Scandinavian Languages at the Faculty of Philology) and indeed it’s one of the most popular foreign language at the University. (Surprisingly) I DON’T speak Norwegian 😉

Mr. Gaarder and me (sadly someone called him in last moment so he turned his head)

Me with Mr. Gaarder (sadly someone called him in the last moment so he turned his head from the camera). May 20th 2009. Belgrade

He talked about his new novel of course (hopefully he didn’t say too much spoilers although I believe I’ve heard some things that I’d prefer not to know prior reading) but also about his other novels, process of writing, some things from his personal life, his views about current geopolitical situation in the world, Norwegian society … etc. It was very interesting indeed. Sadly I was at the balcony and out of his attention’ reach. Namely I was constantly raising my hand to ask a question but he never raised his head so he didn’t noticed me. When signing my book I told him that indeed he is such a rationalist (he said that when answering question about religion) but I never expected that he never raise his head towards the sky, otherwise he would see me there frenetically waving to as a question. Speaking about rationalism I liked how he described process of creating one of the characters in his latest book. Namely there is a clash of two ways of understanding the world: one of the characters is rationalist and explains everything thru the science which is close to his [Mr. Gaarder’s] way of thinking so there were no problems with that character. But in order to create persuasive, real character who represent the other way of understanding the world and existence in spiritual way he had to give her strong arguments. And since that wasn’t the way he represents he had to read books to try to understand better that ‘other side’. So the final result is that now, in comparison with the moment before he started to write this book, he is much more close to those spiritual, big secrets. But still he is more rationalists type. In one interview he said that recently he spoke with one famous neurologist who told him “We know nothing! It’s completely a mystery! And not only that we don’t understand the world, but we never will!”. And those were the words of one neurologist! (here is that interview. It’s in Serbian)

As I said he spoke about his fears and problems and he reminded me on something I used to say years ago: “If I could be born again I would SO love to be Norwegian!” I mean his preoccupation and fears are world poverty, global warming etc. Wouldn’t you love to be a Norwegian as well? At least for a day? Or two? Or few months? Maybe years?

Personally my favourite moment of the evening was one anecdote he said when answering about the question whether the children more intelligent than elders because kids are often very important characters in his books (or something like that, I don’t remember well). He said of course there are kids who are more intelligent than other kids. There’s no generalization and then he said what he heard from one American reader few years ago. He wasn’t sure was it during Clinton’s or Bush’ administration (but you’ll see it doesn’t matter. It could easily be Obama’s as well):

After listening President’s speech on the TV her daughter asked her:
– Mom why President always say in the end “God bless America”? and mother was confused so the girl explained:
– Why doesn’t he say “God bless the world?”

This is one very intelligent kid indeed!

Guy next to me on the balcony was recording the evening so for those who are interested here it is. (Gaarder spoke in English)

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I can’t believe the concert has been cancelled! Dave Gahan has been transferred to the hospital minutes before their show in Athens (May 12). I really hoped he’ll be fine until May 20th when the show in Belgrade has been scheduled.

However, yesterday the group announced they have been forced to cancel a further four shows on their Sounds of the Universe tour due to further complications from Dave Gahan’s severe bout of gastroenteritis.  One of those four concerts is Belgrade 😦

Gosh I was so thrilled when last year it has been announced that DM will FINALLY have concert in Belgrade. Now I’m looking at my ticket hoping it will be used someday soon that the tour will be rescheduled and we’ll get new date.

9th May is Day of Victory over fascism and also Day of Europe and as such is celebrated including in Serbia. When I say celebrated I mean that all European embassies participate in some projects mostly cultural. So in the main pedestrian zone here in Belgrade each of European embassies has had its stand where citizens might get known closer culture of certain country. Cynical as Serbs became toward Europe in last few years the comments were more like “I rather see and feel personally your culture than to look brochures” and I agree. Truth I traveled most than vast majority of my compatriots but still I’m finding all this embassy-activities kind of hypocritical.

Anyway mostly everything we were hearing, getting and associating with Europe and “European values” (as if we here live according to some Martian values) have some bitter taste of insincerity that’s why I wasn’t interested whatsoever to go and see what’s happening in pedestrian zone in last Saturday. But I was preparing to go on something different the same day in the evening. It’s European and is very welcomed!

Like many, I’ve heard about Leningrad Cowboys for the first time thanks to amazing Aki Kaurismäki and his movies “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”, “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses” and the “Total Balalaika Show”. That only because I’m huge Kaurismäki fan. And then on my last year’s trip to the north (Finland) we were watching “Total Balalaika Show” in the bus. They were fantastic. It’s one of those concerts that if I would have to pick one to see most probably I’d pick that one. They were performing along with Russian Alexander ensemble (160 members) in Helsinki with 70000 spectators. It was absolute craziness!

They are Finnish band whose members look … well I have no idea what word to use here. Just observe the photo. Their hairstyle, costumes, stage… and their repertoire is from Russian folk songs (which I adore!) to rock and roll performing immortal hits of The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin … etc. It’s such an original approach and condemned to produce fantastic experience!

Needles to say that I was utterly thrilled when I heard they are coming in Belgrade! And LOL on the entrance I saw almost entire crew from the trip. People who I haven’t see, nor hear for months! “We couldn’t miss this!” everyone said.

Sadly, sadly, sadly the promoting campaign before concert wasn’t nearly as it should’ve been! “Leningrad Cowboys” are completely unknown for Serbian audience. My friends who were at the concert with me would never go unless I didn’t talk about it. Therefore there were not as many people as I was hoping to see. And the hall organizers picked was such a bad choice: It’s huge and with seats!!! Why on earth seats??? So of course the very first sentence Tipe Johnson said was: “Get your butts off those seats! No one is sitting where we are coming from!” and we were obedient! and then they started: “Back In the USSR”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Whiskey In a Jar”, “Perfect Day”, “Easy Livin”, “Smoke On the Water”

Communication with the audience was fantastic (which is very important for us. I don’t know if that’s the case everywhere but we generally have some impression that something was lacking if the concert was phenomenal but communication with audience poor). Anyway Johnson spent good part of the concert among us in the audience, was calling one kid on the stage to play special tractor-like guitar, was giving microphone to see our vocal abilities…

For the end as an icing on the cake was Tom Johns’ “Delilah” and then “Those Were the Days”. Then they left the stage but we refused to go so they came back with “Eloise” and David Bowie’s “Starman”.

Tipe Jonson said: ”I don’t know do you know but we know that we are for the first time here in Belgrade! And we are very glad to be here and you will be glad as well for being here tonight because you’ll say one day to your grandchildren that you saw “Leningrad Cowboys” when they played in Serbia for the first time!”

Not sure about grandchildren but I surely do have what to talk about!

agnus dei

 

I’ve loaned this title from Svetlana of Byzantine Sacred Art Blog because precisely the same gradation was on my mind after reading headlines of the world news agencies about yesterday’s riot in Belgrade against Kosovo independence.

Linking USA policy with hypocrisy is nothing new but statement of the US ambassador in UN Mr. Khalilzad how he is “outraged by the mob attack against US embassy in Belgrade as a sovereign US territory. The government of Serbia has a responsibility under international law to protect diplomatic facilities, particularly embassies.” as a shamelessly clear expression of the politics of double standards really makes you wonder is there any boundary? Your embassy is sovereign US territory and its protection is guaranteed by international law but 15% of territory of the sovereign country, its cultural, historical, spiritual heart is somehow not enough sovereign so that the same international law and its guaranties can be applied to?

Precisely that kind of US politic towards Serbian nation in last almost 15 years has led to this explosion of anger. Indeed few hundreds of Serbian rioters have yesterday night attacked and torched US embassy in Belgrade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy because of that and to be honest I’m not happy because it’s my town (not because it’s US territory). But again don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand why they have attacked it. We have reminders on that just across the street for almost a decade. In the same street where is US embassy are few enormous buildings in ruins, destroyed by US and their NATO allies during aggression against Serbia.

And if we were thought that all those sufferings were over after the aggression we were so wrong. US government continued to reassures us every day, and we continued to pay the price. We are the only country who extradited its (ex) president (I’m not talking about his moral qualifications now) to express our dedication to democracy and justice and international law but that wasn’t enough. We lost our prime minister who has been assassinated precisely because his dedication toward those same values but again that wasn’t enough. You are taking Kosovo and Metohija from us expecting that we’ll accept that calmly like all those previous payments; that we’ll be silent like a lamb before slaughtering?

Mr. Khalilzad said he will “ask the 15-member Security Council to issue a unanimous statement expressing its outrage, condemning the attack and also reminding Serb government of its responsibility.” And Security Council has precisely done that. The SAME Council that US has avoid to start NATO aggression against Serbia supporting terrorist organization the KLA, turning lives of dozen million into a nightmare, destroying infrastructure, killing so many people! The SAME Council that has been avoided just yesterday in the process of recognizing Kosovo independence, while precisely the Council is the only legitimate institution who has right to do that!

Mr. Khalilzad is mentioning protection of the international law. Which one Mr. Khalilzad? Because apparently there are few international laws depending who’s a judge and who’s sitting in the dock.
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”
, right Mr. Khalilzad?

Kosovo is Serbia 21st Feb 2008

 

Sadly we, the other 500.000 (according to BBC reporters) people on the demonstrations and later on the moleban (Christian liturgy for Kosovo salvation) were not enough interesting news. You can’t expect from us to shut and bear all insults and injustice for years. There is a limit and you have reached it. But then as someone said yesterday:
“We Serbs know how to forgive, if we have whom to forgive”

Thursday Thirteen

1. I spoke recently with one of my Spanish professors and she said that one of the strangest thing she saw on the streets of Belgrade is popcorn! Whole world is eating popcorns on the street. 2. When I asked her what’s so strange there, aren’t popcorns common in Spain as well? She said yes people are eating popcorns but not on the streets but in their homes.

3. This evening while I was going back from my class I was observing what people are eating/can buy for eat in the main pedestrian zone in Belgrade and indeed number one are popcorns. On every 100 m there you can buy popcorns!

Chestnuts4. Since it’s winter and quite cold number 2 is roasted chestnuts. Unlike popcorns I LOVE chestnuts. People are roasting it on the street and when you buy it they are so hot but that is the charm: peeling hot, hot chestnuts and then let them melting in your mouth. Beautiful indeed and so winterish. 5. You know couples are often buy two big cartridges of roasted chestnuts and then sit on the bench on the old fort above two big rivers Danube and Sava and feed one another. (6. you can add full moon and stuff like that if you like).

7. Then there is roasted corn. I love that one as well but it leaves traits after eationg so it’s quite handy to care dental floss with yourself. You think that’s crazy (OK I’m crazy but I have dental floss always with me).djevrek
8. Ok there is also boiled corn but now it’s not its season.

9. Then there is ђеврек or đevrek it’s round dough with sesame and … I’m not sure but is beautiful! I love it whan it crisp in my mouth.

10. Of course pizza. Is tehre any place where you can’t buy pizza? But difference with us here is (Italians are horrified with that) wa are putting ketchup on pizza! And there are so many variations. During the cold evenings I prefer one with chili peppers.

Gibanica11. You can’t skip burek. Something we took from Turks and modified it so now there are burkes with meat, cheese, mushrooms, etc. I love it! Or traditionally Serbian Gibanica (Serbian phyllo pastry dish, usually made with Serbian white cheese, less common with other cheeses)

12. And since it’s time of Lent there are fast food adequate for the people who are respecting it. I ate this evening, small breads stuffed with leek for instance. It’s healthy and delicious.

13. So this is the food you can buy on the street and food you will normally eat while walking and chatting with friends or while taking your dog in walk (and share few bites).

P.S.
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