Serbia

Marshall Tito, the Yugoslav Museum & Art in Belgrade

Ali & Marshall Tito

Ali & Marshall Tito

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved from England to Belgrade for 8 months. Here is week eight of our stay.

Paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo

Paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo

On the Tuesday, I discovered a small art gallery called ‘Kuća Đure Jakšića’ (House of Đura Jakšić) [1] in ‘Skadarlija’, the Bohemian district of Belgrade. Đura Jakšić was a 19th century Serbian Romantic poet and painter who lived a Bohemian life in Skadarlija and his house is now an art gallery, which has an extensive programme of events. The interior of the building is charming, with dark wooden features and I just happened upon a wonderful exhibition of figure and landscape paintings by Svetlana Pavlović Džindo.

Kuća Đure Jakšića, with Svetlana Pavlović Džindo's paintings

Kuća Đure Jakšića, with Svetlana Pavlović Džindo's paintings

Later on that evening I decided to pop into a Print Workshop opposite Kalemegdan [2]. The workshop was buzzing with printmaking activity and there was a contemporary exhibition of abstract paintings in the gallery. I have visited before and received a warm welcome. I hope to print at the workshop in January!

On Friday, (bearing in mind I write this in December) I decided to go Christmas shopping. We’re heading back to England soon and I needed presents to celebrate Western Christmas (25th December). Božić, Serbian Christmas, is celebrated on the 7th January. So, I have to say, it was the most relaxed Christmas shopping experience I have ever had. There were very few people shopping and the Christmas decorations etc… were pretty low key. Not many gifts are exchanged at Božić and any way that’s next month!

On Saturday we visited ‘Muzej Jugoslavije’ (Museum of Yugoslavia) [3]. First stop a photo with a commanding, larger than life sculpture of Marshall Josip Broz Tito. After passing through the sculpture garden we entered the old museum, which is full of fascinating documents, posters, art and treasures from Yugoslavia from the last 100 years or so. I particularly liked the gifts to Tito from world leaders and royals from around the world. Haile Selassie and Prince Charles both gave signed photos as did Richard Nixon amongst others.

From left to right, Yugoslav national costume, One billion dinar notes, Nixon's gift of a photo and an artist's portrait made in the Nazi concentration camp in Belgrade.

There is an interesting link between the University of Exeter (in my home town) and Muzej Jugoslavije. Academics from both institutions have curated an exhibition of photos of Tito’s visits to Africa. It is currently on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England until the 8th April 2018. [4]

Aleks was taken with the beautiful ceremonial batons that were given as gifts to Tito during his birthday celebrations. Relays were run by different youth groups who passed the batons on. The batons eventually ended up at a stadium where thousands gathered for Tito’s birthday parade and he was presented with each baton. It was apparently, a huge honour for the participants.

Tito's batons

Tito's batons

I was excited to see some beautiful original prints, drawings and posters displayed. Many of them were created by artists in various prisons and Nazi concentration camps during and leading up to WW2. Here is a small selection.

We then visited the ‘Kuća Cveća’ (House of Flowers), Tito’s Mausoleum [5], which is on the same site. Tito died in 1980 and his wife, Jovanka, who died later, is also buried here.

Tito's grave.jpg

Preparations are beginning for our ‘Slava’, St Nikolas, [6] on the 19th & 20th of December. Dragan and our Kum and Kuma keep appearing with interesting ingredients to make various dishes for the big event. Daniela has popped in with a bread making machine, some homemade chocolate sweets and all manner of things. Dragan is in charge and is happy to cook the bread, pies, beans and desserts. More about that in my next blog.

[1] http://www.kucadjurejaksica.rs/?lang=en (apologies this link is only in Serbian)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalemegdan_Park

[3] https://www.muzej-jugoslavije.org/

[4] https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/exhibitions-and-case-displays 

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Flowers_(mausoleum) 

[6] http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/serbia/

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade Day 34 & 35

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved to Belgrade from England for 8 months. We have been here for over a month now.

Marshall Tito's Cadillac in Belgrade's Car Museum

Marshall Tito's Cadillac in Belgrade's Car Museum

 DAY 34

Blimey these early school starts (8am) are a killer, but Aleks is actually getting used to it. Well, finally winter is kicking in and hats were essential today. I popped to a lovely little corner shop this morning, which would be described as a deli in England. It specialises in cheese, dairy products and smoked meats and also a few everyday items. I asked for ‘dve lepinje, molim vas’ and the lady serving was very impressed with my Serbian; I got my endings right and I knew the word for 'lepinje'. Lepinje are round flattish bread rolls.

Aleks had a folk tune to practise on his violin today and it is very pretty ‘Ah, kad tebe ljubit ne smem’  (Ah, when I'm not allowed to love you). Of course Dragan knows all the words and gave us a rendition! Aleks was inspired and had a go at recording himself playing the violin and uploading it to YouTube.

Dragan returned from the University and we all walked to the ‘Muzej Automobila Beograd’, Belgrade Car Museum [1] near the city centre. Definitely comes recommended, housed in Belgrade’s first garage building, there are some cracking cars here, including my favourite, Tito’s Cadillac. I asked Dragan if he had seen the Cadillac in his youth in Yugoslavia and he remembers having to wave to Tito as the cavalcade passed by, probably in the same Cadillac!

'Moj Kiosk' (My Kiosk), Belgrade

'Moj Kiosk' (My Kiosk), Belgrade

On the walk home we passed a 'Kiosk', these are little newsagents that are dotted all around Belgrade. You can top up your phone, top up your bus pass and buy papers, sweets ect.... It was time to head home. Dragan and I got a bit cold on the way back – I had an ice-cream headache which lasted for the rest of the evening. The winter is definitely coming.

DAY 35

Today is the first day of the Orthodox Christian fast before 'Božić' (Christmas), which in Serbia is celebrated on 7th January. If you observe the fast then you are required to cut out all meat, dairy and eggs, but you can eat fish. In a country where meat is eaten so often and in such huge quantities, it is interesting that there are lots of vegan foods available. Known as ‘posna hrana’ (fasting food), it is completely vegan and very tasty. This would be the time for vegans to visit the country!

I have a routine now and stop to buy a takeaway coffee on my way to my Serbian class. We are working on our first ‘case’ – Locative. When you ask a question about where (Gde?) something is located then the nouns will need a particular ending. In this case 'u'.

Gde je Dragan?’ ‘Dragan je na fakultetu’ (Where is Dragan? He is at the University).

This evening we went to an amateur Serbian Folk Dance practise, with a view to joining as beginners. Known as ‘Folklore,’ [2 - this is a professional troupe] it is practised all over the country and every region has its own style, songs and subtle differences in traditional dress. We watched as the dancers whirled around with delicate footwork, often forming lines and circles. Much to Aleks’ embarrassment, Dragan and I had a go. Some steps were familiar, I’ve tried to dance the lovely circle dance called the ‘Kolo’ at Serbian weddings. Other steps got us in a muddle, but it was fun and we were made to feel very welcome. We will be back!

[1] http://www.automuseumbgd.com/en/ 

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WLxMsnQv-g&list=RD2LDCUxgrHwI&index=5

 

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade DAY 5 & 6

DAY 5

'čvarci' pork scratchings and 'sir' cheese

'čvarci' pork scratchings and 'sir' cheese

So, more shopping today. We went to Tempo, the big supermarket near Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade’s Lake, and did a big shop! On the way to Dragan’s mum’s place, we stopped at her local ‘pijac’ (open air market) called Vidikovac and bought yet more delicious food.

Baka Dana (Grandma Dana), Dragan’s mum, loves ‘čvarci’ (homemade pork scratchings) so we bought a huge bag for her. Dragan loves them too, but they’re not my cup of tea. He was relieved, there’s more for the two of them. We also bought some ‘pita sa višnjama’ (sour cherry pie with filo pastry), which was cooked in a round metal pan on hot coals. I took a photo of the pies cooking on the coals, which surprised the people working there.

There is also a tiled indoor section of the pijac, which has stalls selling cheese, ’kajmak’ (fermented milk butter), smoked meat and pastry. Filo pastry is a speciality here and still made by hand by some people. We bought fresh filo pastry and plan to make ’pita sa jabukama’ (apple pie). The lady selling the filo had a large photo of Putin on the wall and said we can only buy from her if we like Russia! Her son is living and working in Siberia.

Dragan has a relative who has a farm 40 miles away in a village where his father was born, who brings cheese and kajmak to sell at the pijac every Sunday. I have fond memories of a visit to that village when Aleks was a baby and Dragan’s parents used to spend summers on a small plot of land there. That particular summer was hot and I wandered off and started picking peppers from the veg patch on the plot. I only knew the toungue twister but had never picked a ’peck of peppers’ in my life. The peppers were big, deep red and lush. When I snapped them from their stalks it was a great feeling. I couldn’t stop! Dragan found me and said ’um darling, they’re not our peppers! A cousin is growing them here.’ For a split second I thought I could try and stick them all back on again, I didn’t want to upset my new parents-in-law! It all turned out fine and we ate some with BBQd meat later on.

Going back to Dragan’s relative, she sells cheese at the pijac at weekends (she’s 72). She kissed all 3 of us on the cheek 3 times and said ’oh lutko’ (which means ’doll’) to Aleks and gave him a cuddle. The cheese is all artisan, known as mladi (literally young - meaning mild) or stari (literally old – meaning mature). She tried to give Dragan some cheese to take home and for his mother, but he managed to evade her – this time. Dragan is very fond of her and promised to go and visit the family in the village. No more pepper picking though!

We bought a mountain of smoked beef and pork, which is deeply smokey, salty and dark. Wonderful for breakfast with ’paradajz’ (tomato) and olive oil from the Dalmatian Coast.

It’s very refreshing being the only tourist in Vidikovac Pijac. But to keep the prices down, I keep stum when we are buying goods from the stalls, because my English accent would invite higher prices.

DAY 6

A big day in Aleks’s life – today he went to school for the first time in Serbia. It was an early start 7.50am and his teacher met all 3 of us at the main entrance. She is very sweet and phoned us at 7.30am to say that she had been thinking about Aleks all weekend and how best to help him settle in. Dragan and I were very impressed with this. She only speaks a little bit of English and used Google translate to prepare some maths questions for Aleks.

In the foyer there is a large painting of Sveti Sava, the patron saint of education, by the stairs watching over the children. Children were arriving with their coats and backpacks, but they don’t have to wear uniform, which Aleks definitely approves of.

The school has an unusual name by British standards – ‘The School of the Defenders of Belgrade’. OK so we need to go carefully here, this does not mean that the school kids are the defenders of Belgrade! The school is right next to a park, which commemorates the fallen Serbian and Russian soldiers who liberated Belgrade toward the end of WW2. It is merely its location next to the park and cemetery of fallen liberators, which gives the school its name. With the propaganda that we were fed about Eastern Bloc countries by the West, this School’s name sounds strange to the Western ear.

Aleks had 4 lessons; PE, Maths, Serbian and ‘čuvari prirode’ (nature studies). Each class is 45 minutes long and there is a 5 minute break between classes. Halfway through the morning, there is a 25 minute break when Aleks had a sandwich and played football with his new friends.

Dragan and I picked him up at 12.30 and the class were with their teacher in the playground, playing a version of ‘stuck in the mud’ called ‘Jurke’. Aleks really enjoyed his first day at school and coped really well. He was chuffed to make some friends too.

Whilst Aleks was at school, Dragan and I stole some time together and went for a walk through the city. It was cold, windy and sunny. The air is dry, unlike Exeter, which is usually murky and grey.

So, Dragan and I walked to Palilulska Pijaca (permanent farmer’s market, one of many in the city) near our flat, had a little mosey and then wondered past St Marks Church and its small neighbour, the Russian Church. I was chatting to Dragan in English as a tall young man in jeans and a leather jacket turned to talk to me. He said, ‘where are you from?’ with a Serbian accent and I said ‘England’. He said ‘this is the Russian Church’ and I said ‘oh yes I know my husband is from Belgrade’. He instantly dropped into Serbian and apologised. Dragan reassured him and then said to him, ‘I know you from somewhere, are you an actor?’

It out turned he was Miloš Biković, one of the main actors in the Serbian film Montevideo. Naturally I ended up having my photo taken with him!

Milos Biković & Ali

Milos Biković & Ali

On a tragic note, in that area, are the remains of the Serbian TV station that was bombed in 1999 by Nato. I took a few photos, the whole of one side of the building was blown off and a sink is still attached forlornly to the wall. 16 people were killed when the building was bombed.

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Diary of a British Woman in Belgrade - Day 1

My husband, Dragan, our 10 year old son and I have set off from England, to spend 8 months in Dragan’s home city, Belgrade.

Early start, our flight was at 6.30am from Bristol. Three suit cases, two violins, three rucksacks full of tech and devices, a handbag and three big warm coats. Oh, and me, Dragan and Aleks! The first leg was from Bristol to Munich in a lovely little Embraer jet. It flew quite low and being an uneasy flyer, I felt happy in a small plane — it was more like sailing. The descent into the airport is over a flat plain with villages dotted over a network of black soil fields and copses of trees. We spied the Alps cutting the horizon like a set of jagged teeth. Munich airport is very clean with little cabins to sleep in, but we just munched our way through loads of Pringles, whilst we spotted other Serbs arriving at the gate. We then boarded our flight to Belgrade. Bigger plane, so I was less happy, but to make up for it we were nearly rubbing shoulders with the Partisan basketball team on the flight. The Partisan team is one of the best teams in Serbia. Can’t be fun flying, when you’re a basketball player — tall folk! They had played a match against Bilbao the previous night.

We hired a car at Belgrade airport — so simple, quick and cheap. Dragan drove to our new flat in the centre of the city. Dragan says switching from the left to the right is easy and his driving style switches with amazing ease too! (More about that soon). He naturally doesn’t agree with that.

The flat is spacious, with parquet flooring and an open plan kitchen/living room. The ceilings are high, which is very relaxing and the walls are at least a foot thick. We have a wonderful view of a beautiful park called Spomen Park Oslobodiocima Beograda (Remembrance Park of the Liberators of Belgrade), which is next to the graveyard where the WW2 Serbian and Russian soldiers who liberated Belgrade are buried. Aleks has chatted to his friends on WhatsApp and they think it’s very cool that he lives next to a graveyard!

We met our ‘Kum’ and ‘Kuma’. Kum means godfather and much more[3] in Serbian, and Kuma means godmother. Our Kum is Ljuba and our Kuma is Daniela, his wife. They helped us settle in, something they would happily see as their duty as Kum & Kuma.

In the evening we went to visit some friends. They’re a lovely family with three children, so Aleks had some playmates. Our Kum, Ljuba, is also Kum to our host, the dad. It was a birthday party for the middle child. Kids often have two birthday parties in Serbia, one for the kids and one for the adults. No party food here as it was the adult party, it was good old fashioned delicious Serbian fayre. Prazan Burek (layered pastry pie), potato salad with onion and French dressing, Sarmica od zelja (meat pie layered with spinach, no pastry) and pickles and cold meats. Some of the food was vegan or fasting food (‘posna hrana’), as the birthday fell on a Wednesday (which is one of the two fasting days in a normal week, Friday being the other) [4]. The house is in the typical Serbian design, with a courtyard sheltered by a grapevine. The front room had a long table set for all the guests and relatives, with a huge wooden mirror propped against the wall and a cabinet full of Serbian china and ornaments. Our host is often involved in projects as an architect and structural engineer for local churches and his house has many interesting drawings and paintings adorning the walls. It might be described as ‘shabby chic’, but that would do it a disservice.

The kids played Monopoly, the Belgrade version! All in Cyrillic.

That night we all slept well!

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[1] https://alisavicprints.com

[2] www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS

[3] https://www.slavorum.org/the-godfather-probably-the-most-respected-person-in-slavic-culture/

[4] https://www.crkvenikalendar.com/post/post-rules.php

Belgrade Skyline Mixed media image.jpg