humour

Personal Space in Belgrade! A British woman's musings about Serbia's vibrant capital

My husband, Dragan, who is a native Serb, our 10 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.

A bit of a Squish with the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

Harry Potter film music played by the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra [2]

Harry Potter film music played by the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra [2]

Serbia is a very musical country - people love singing here. Just turn on the TV and you're bound to find a programme with live music, often with singers crooning beautiful Serbian songs. or perhaps a recital, or a wedding band playing 'Kolo' [1] music. The 'Kolo' is a traditional Serbian dance and at a 'svadba' (wedding), everybody joins hands to form a circle/line that threads all round the dancefloor and between the tables. The steps are simple, but delicate and stylish and it looks very beautiful as the dancers move around the room. The music is instrumental, usually with accordions, violins, keyboards and drums and it is lively, rhythmic and exciting.

So, we were lucky enough to see the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Aleksandar Kojić, at the weekend. The orchestra gave a free children's concert at 'Kolarac' concert hall [3]. The idea behind the concert was to give the audience a guide to the orchestra through John Williams' Harry Potter film music. Narrated by Branislava Podrumac, (who was dressed as Harry Potter), the orchestra played excerpts from the score to highlight various sections of the orchestra, including the harp, the celeste and guest recorder players. (Williams cleverly included a typical school instrument, the recorder, in his music)

We got there early, but not early enough, as the auditorium was completely full, and kids were also sitting on extra chairs, sitting on the floor and on parent's laps. And still people kept arriving... We were about to give up, when we found a small space to stand and a kind mum offered Aleks a seat. Don't even ask about fire exits or health and safety!

It was a wonderful concert, despite being squashed and Aleks loved it. Talking about getting squashed...

My take on personal space in Belgrade

Not sure the notion of personal space exists in Belgrade, well not my British version anyway. If two people in Britain bump into each other, then they usually both apologise. We even keep a reasonable distance in our famous queues and the skill with which people in Britain keep their personal space on a crowded underground train in London is breathtaking. I have discovered that if I go out in Belgrade and am already in a grumpy mood, the amount of people that will bump my bag, nudge we out of the way, push past me and generally ignore my notion of personal space will send me nearly over the edge! I have come to realise that this is normal and quite acceptable - how else is anyone going to get anywhere? So, I no longer feel aggrieved, and I had no need to feel that way anyway. Serbs are extremely polite, but they don't waste time on unnecessary apologies. It also saves energy I believe. I have even become more cunning when queuing at the supermarket checkout, I have been known to push past someone who is a little slow on their way to the queue. My apologies if it's seen as rude! (can't help apologising!)

What do I do when I'm not blogging?

Over the last week, I have been busy getting some artwork ready as I am going printing soon at a print workshop called Centar Za Grafika (Printmaking Centre) [4] in Belgrade. I have designed some small images of Belgrade, including some traditional Serbian folk dancers performing the 'kolo' and here is a video of me cutting the design out on a lino plate. At the print workshop, I plan to ink up the lino plate and run it through the press with posh paper. The design will then be transferred to the paper. The end result will appear in my next blog-post!

Ali's artwork can also be found at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS

How's your Serbian?

I promised one of my readers a new Serbian word to learn each blog-post. So here goes, the next Serbian word, well phrase actually, is 'kako si?', meaning 'how are you?' 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolo_(dance) 

[2] http://www.bgf.rs/en/

[3] http://www.kolarac.rs/?lang=en

[4] http://www.fluc.org/en/index.php?str=radionica

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/