eastern europe

Traditions in Belgrade's fascinating Cemetery & snowy Landscapes

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 11 year old son, Aleks and I have embarked on an adventure, by moving to Belgrade from England for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Overlooking the Cemetery

Our flat in Belgrade overlooks one of the most important cemeteries in Belgrade, 'Novo Groblje' (the New Cemetery) [1], where many famous people from Serbia are buried. Not actually that new, the cemetery dates back to the 1860s. Over the last few months, some well-known people have been buried there, including Oliver Ivanović, the Serbian politician who was assassinated in Kosovo. A famous actor, who died relatively young, had his funeral there recently too. I said to my 'Kuma' (my Serbian godmother) [2], that I have never spent so much time in a graveyard as I do in Serbia. She laughed. But it is such a beautiful place.

London's Highgate Cemetery

Last summer, the three of us visited Highgate Cemetery [3] in London, England, and were amazed to see so many interesting gravestones and epitaphs. At Highgate Cemetery, Aleks was fascinated to hear our guide tell us about tombs with giant spiders, to see Karl Marx's monument and to also see Douglas Adams' gravestone, with a pot of pens beside it. Novo Groblje (the New Cemetery) is also very important and is a member of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe [4]. If you get a chance to travel to Belgrade, I would recommend a visit here.

'Zadušnice' (the day of prayers for the souls)

'Zadušnice' (the day of prayers for the souls) occurs four times a year in Serbia. It is customary for Serbs to visit their loved ones’ graves, light a candle and say a prayer. One of our relatives is buried in Novo Groblje, so we decided to pay our respects. Dragan gave me the heads up about an unusual custom before we walked through Novo Groblje to visit the grave. So, I wasn’t surprised to see a couple sitting on the marble slab of their relative’s grave having a light meal. This is not that common these days, but the wake for the funeral also used to happen at the grave of the deceased. A table cloth was placed on the gravestone and ručak (lunch) was laid out! Our daughter, Mila, told me later that this was also quite common in Victorian Britain. I was brought up to not walk on a grave, never mind have my lunch on one! Joking apart, this tradition is actually very respectful to the deceased.

Army Gun Salute

On the way to the cemetery (I was due to meet Dragan and Aleks there), I was waiting to cross the road behind a small troupe of soldiers in camouflage gear carrying rifles. They were also waiting to cross the road. I could have reached out and touched one of the guns. It’s not common in Exeter to be waiting at a pedestrian crossing with a group of armed soldiers. Half the company were women, and a rather brave middle-aged man decided to try and have a chat with the female soldiers. They ignored him of course. I only wish I could have understood what he was saying! Later when we were lighting the candle at our relative's grave, we heard the shots of the gun salute, as an important person from the army was being buried that day.

Ali's Print of the Cemetery

'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg', metal plate lithograph by Ali Savić

'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg', metal plate lithograph by Ali Savić

'Falling Snow, Pada Sneg'* was editioned by one of the Master Printmakers at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (Printmaking Centre) [5] in Belgrade. It is a drawing I made from a photograph taken in November. Two people pass each other outside the walls of 'Novo Groblje' in Belgrade. Shovelled snow is piled up in the foreground and some gravestones can be seen behind the wall.

'Novo Groblje', New Cemetery, Belgrade

'Novo Groblje', New Cemetery, Belgrade

More Prints of Belgrade, Made in Belgrade

'Belgrade Impressions' is a trio of linocuts I printed depicting some Serbian folk dancers with the Saborna Church's spire and the dome of the Orthodox patriarch's palace behind. The river Sava flows below. 'Most na Adi', the new bridge, spans the left and middle prints and Avala Communications Tower sits in the middle. To the right, is a depiction of Tašmajdan Park, with a tram, St Mark's Church and a woman wrapped up for the cold. The abstract geometric shapes hint at the 1960s Yugoslav concrete high-rise and mosaics, typical of Belgrade. I completed these prints at the 'Centar za Grafiku' in Belgrade.

'Belgrade Impressions' linocut triptych by Ali Savic

'Belgrade Impressions' linocut triptych by Ali Savic

A Myriad of Delicious Reasons to go to Serbian Slava (Saint Day Celebration)

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and I have moved from England to Belgrade for 8 months. These are excerpts from my weekly diary.

Patron Saint Day Offerings

Slavski Kolač (Slava Bread), ours is the tall one at the back! The 'Žito' has a candle in it.

Slavski Kolač (Slava Bread), ours is the tall one at the back! The 'Žito' has a candle in it.

In preparation for our ‘Slava’ (saint day celebration), we all went to the ‘Crkva’ (church) to have our ‘Slavski Kolač’ (Slava bread) and ’Žito’ (wheat dessert) blessed by the priest. Several families were present with their bread etc.. and Dragan noted that our bread was the tallest! The priest cut a cross in the bottom of the bread with a knife and poured some red wine into the cross. The bread is then kissed by the family and turned three times.

Aleks & Daniela Making the ‘Slavski Kolač’ (Slava bread)

Click on the images below to see the finished bread.

It turns out I am a ‘Snajka’… read on….

It should be said here that Dragan, Aleks and Daniela made the ’Slavski Kolač’, complete with braided dough, a little bird and an Orthodox Christian stamp. I wasn’t helping much as I was in the middle of a ‘Snajka’ crisis! I am a ‘Snajka’ (pronounced sniker), because I am the daughter-in-law and it is accepted that the ‘Snajka’ will be the perfect hostess. For some, ‘Snajka’ appears to be a sweet and pleasant term, for others it is less comfortable. I still haven’t got to the bottom of this! Anyway my crisis was pre Slava as an ‘Engleskinja’ (English woman). Luckily my husband loves cooking Serbian food from scratch and all the cooking was left up to him.

More Serbian Fayre cooked by Dragan

Dragan made ‘prebranac’ (Serbian baked beans), ‘pita’ (pie) with cabbage and mushrooms and we ordered some (dimljeni šaran) smoked carp. I insisted that we have lemon with the fish, but Dragan wasn’t convinced people would want it. So, having sent Dragan out to get some, I carefully sliced some lemon and arranged it daintily on the fish. Not one person took the lemon and it was neatly pushed to the side of the serving dish. Not to be thwarted, I rearranged the fish and placed the lemon engagingly on top of the fish. Didn’t work. I had to admit defeat, lemon was not required!! I think I was trying to exert my power as ‘snajka’! Ha ha!

Dragan making mushroom pie

Dragan making mushroom pie

Chocolate covered plums filled with walnuts!

Chocolate covered plums filled with walnuts!

'Prebranac' (pronounced prebrarnats), Serbian baked beans being laid in layers

'Prebranac' (pronounced prebrarnats), Serbian baked beans being laid in layers

Slava isn’t Slava without Home-Distilled Rakija! (plum brandy)

The family joined us on the Tuesday, bringing a whole host of goodies, including artisan cheese from a relative’s farm and home-distilled 'rakija' (plum brandy). By the way, distilling brandy at home is still legal in Serbia [2]. Wednesday was lovely too, with friends who all seemed to really enjoy the food.

This is the first time Dragan and I have hosted Slava in Serbia, although we do it regularly in Exeter. Our English friends love prebranac!

We bought the Slava candle from Vrdnik Monastery

We bought the Slava candle from Vrdnik Monastery

Folk Dancing is Mainstream in Serbia & I can see why…

A friend is a coach of a ‘Folklore’ (National Folk Dance) group called ‘Despot Stefan’ [1] and this week we were invited to a concert at a local cultural centre. The dancers were from about the age of 8 to 20 and the groups wore different costumes depending on where the dance was from, e.g. Eastern Serbia, Southern Serbia, etc… It was a real pleasure to watch, with high jinks and complicated footwork. 'Folklore'comes well recommended. (The link is from a previous concert in 2015)

Me & Vesna Goldsworthy — a Professor at the University of Exeter & a Serbian Writer who Publishes in Serbian & English

All was back to normal on Thursday and after my Serbian lesson, I met a friend, who had found a non-smoking restaurant for us to have a meal. (She guessed that the place was full of foreigners like me trying to avoid cigarette smoke!). Next stop, the Cultural Centre of Belgrade [3], for a book launch of ‘Gospodin Ka’ (Monsieur Ka) by the author Vesna Goldsworthy. She is a Serbian writer and poet [4], who has recently been appointed Professor at the University of Exeter. I really enjoyed her book ‘Gorski’, but will have to wait until ‘Monsieur Ka’ is published in English, unless I learn Serbian really quickly over the next few months!

Vesna Goldsworthy is a great representative of Serbian culture in British society (like Novak Djoković in sport). Although I am not a native Serb, I like creating artworks that show the unique architecture and landscape of Serbia.

St Sava Orthodox Church in Belgrade, Linocut by Ali Savic [5]

St Sava Orthodox Church in Belgrade, Linocut by Ali Savic [5]

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/