linocut printing

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

Bach & Japanese Bark! Music, Art (& Food) in Belgrade

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.

'New Trinity Baroque' Ensemble play Bach in Belgrade

This was our third trip to 'Kolarac' Concert Hall [1] in Belgrade and once again the three of us had a wonderful time. 'New Trinity Baroque,' [2] an ensemble, who play on Baroque instruments [3], gave a beautiful performance of JS Bach's works, including the A minor violin concerto, which is coming up in Aleks' violin tutor book soon!

During the 'pausa' (interval), I was pontificating to Aleks about baroque violins and how the violin strings were made from cat gut. Aleks looked horrified and asked me if the guts are taken out when the cat is still alive! I must admit I wasn't really expecting that reaction. (in fact 'cat gut' is usually sheep or goat intestine taken from dead animals!).

Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade City Centre

Kolarac Concert Hall, Belgrade City Centre

Roasted Pies on Hot Coals

After the concert, Aleks was 'starving,' but luckily we had some 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) [4] in the boot of the car. Earlier that day we had been to the hand-made pie shop in Vidikovac Pijac (green market). I love watching the pies being roasted on hot coals. To make the pies, sour cherries are placed in a strip on a sheet of filo pastry and then rolled into a long sausage shape. The pastry roll is then coiled into the round metal pan and placed on the hot coals to bake. The filo is deliciously crunchy and the sour cherry filling oozes out. Icing sugar is often sprinkled onto the hot pie before serving.

Lifting the lid on how to roast 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) on hot coals!

Lifting the lid on how to roast 'pita sa višnjama' (sour cherry pie) on hot coals!

Japanese Printing Paper made from Mulberry Tree Bark

Since living in Serbia, I have been printmaking at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (printmaking centre) in Belgrade to make linocut prints. One of the printmakers at the centre recently showed me how to print on Japanese paper with just a dessert spoon. I inked up my lino plate, placed the Japanese paper on the plate and started burnishing the paper with the back of the spoon. To reduce the static electricity created by the burnishing and prevent the paper from lifting, I had to touch my hair with the spoon every now and again!

Japanese Printmaking Paper is made from tree bark. The long fibres make the paper strong.

Linocut print (left) based on a drawing made in 'Spomen Park Oslobodiocima', Belgrade, by Ali Savic

City Slickers need some Fresh Air from Time to Time!

Some fresh air was needed, so we all walked up to the 'vidikovac' (viewpoint) in 'Zvezdarska Šuma (Zvezdara Forest). We had a pit-stop for a game of 'Fliper' (pin-ball, a first for Aleks) and a coffee in the rough & ready forester's bar. Very photogenic and atmospheric, plus quite a lot of lunchtime rakija going down! You'll notice the tinsel on the window, it seems, most establishments still have Christmas decorations in February!

Aleks and Ali looking out over the Dunav (Danube) river from the 'vidikovac' (viewpoint) and having a coffee in the forester's bar! 

A Useful Word, if you Plan to Visit Serbia!

To finish off, here's a useful Serbian word that is often heard in shops and restaurants, 'izvolite' (pronounced 'izvolitay'), meaning, 'can I help you?' or 'come in'.