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

Print, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.... in Belgrade

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.

Printmaking in Belgrade

Linocut prints & inking up the lino by Ali Savic at the 'Centar za Grafiku' (Printmaking Centre) in Belgrade.

As a friend put it, 'now begins the printmaking [1] part of my journey in Serbia'. I've been printmaking for about seven years now at the Double Elephant Print Workshop [2] in England, and am really excited to have started printing at the 'Centar za Grafiku' [3] (Printmaking Centre) at the The Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. The Academy, which overlooks Kalemegdan Park, also has two galleries and a framing shop.

How did I make the Prints?

The prints above are linocut relief prints, printed on gorgeous Fabriano paper. I made some simple sketches of my impressions of Belgrade, a tram, a woman wrapped up for the cold, some folk dancers and the wonderful 20th century concrete high-rise. The sketches were just a guide and I enjoyed adding elements when I was cutting out the design from the lino. After an initial proof and a bit more cutting I started reeling them off! There were lots of tricky issues, as I was using an intaglio press (rolling) instead of a relief press (stamping), but one of the master printmakers at the centre set me straight. (There are a lot of facilities at the centre, but no relief presses.)

Visiting a family Farm

This weekend was 'Sveti Jovan' (Saint John's saint day) in Serbia, so yup, you guessed it, another 'Slava'! (saint day celebration) [4]. In fact we went to FOUR family 'Slavas' over the two days. 'Sveti Jovan' Slava is one of the three most celebrated Slavas in Serbia, along with 'Sveti Arandjel Mihailo' and 'Sveti Nikola'. One of Dragan's cousins has a small farm in a village near the capital and so the obligatory pig was roasted on the spit in situ for 'Sveti Jovan'. Here's some pictures of the farm, the hut where meat is smoked and a tray of lovely little homemade cakes called 'Kolači' served at 'Slava'. (If you'd like to read more about 'Slava', then scroll down to my earlier blogposts). Needless to say our car struggled back to Belgrade, with us three, full to the brim with delicious food and bags of roast meat, 'kolači' and farm eggs in the boot.

The hay barn on Dragan's cousin's farm

The hay barn on Dragan's cousin's farm

'Dimljeno meso' (smoked meat) on the farm

'Dimljeno meso' (smoked meat) on the farm

'Domaći Kolači'! (little homemade cakes, a bit like petit fours) 

'Domaći Kolači'! (little homemade cakes, a bit like petit fours) 

Fabulous Frescoes

Back in Belgrade, I visited the must-see, 'Crkva Cvetog Aleksandra Nevskog' [5] (Church of St. Alexander Nevsky). The architect, Jelisaveta Načić, [6] was the first woman to graduate as an architect in Belgrade and in the whole of Serbia. The Church, completed in 1929, has the most exquisite frescoes, but appears to be unfinished, I noticed scaffolding, possibly for the fresco painters. It is a gorgeous haven in a busy part of town.

Aleksandar Nevski Church belgrade blog.jpg
Aleksandar Nevski Church 1 belgrade blog.jpg
The marble iconostasis

The marble iconostasis

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

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?' 





Three Days to Go

I think I have nearly done everything to prepare for our extended stay in Belgrade, Serbia which starts next Wednesday. Our 10 year old is about to embark on a challenging adventure, he'll be going to school there, which is a world away from his school experience in the UK. Half the children in the school attend in the morning and half in the afternoon! It's an 8 o'clock start for the first week and then a 1pm start for the second and repeat...!

So, TWO different starting times AND TWO different alphabets, Latin (mostly the same as English) and Serbian Cyrillic (hardly like English at all!) You'd think TWO alphabets might be ok, but each alphabet has its own hand-written form too!

So as not to feel left out, I'll be going to language school to learn Serbian when I'm there too. I was hoping by now, (11 lovely years of marriage to a Serbian guy) that I'd be fluent! But am I 'eck as like.

The most important things are packed, the contents of my online art shop, all packed into an A3 portfolio, a sketch book, my camera, some lino and some lino cutting tools. 

Once we’ve settled, first stop Grafika Kolectiv, a lovely Gallery for Printmakers in Belgrade est. 1949. Next stop Serbian Coffee & 'Torta' (Serbian cake) in the Hotel Moskva....

OK as a finisher, I thought I would give you a new Serbian word on each blogpost.... here goes....

'Zdravo' - an informal hello!

Belgrade Landmarks #3 image.jpg

Print, Drink Tea or Worry about the Environment

Or all three…. So, I’m a printmaker and a stay at home mum. Both jobs are wonderful but switching heads can be challenging (aka nightmare, a term used during my less calm moments) and the mum bit mostly comes first. Here’s a typical day…

School run, could be scooter, bike or car. I have been known to scooter Aleks’ scooter back but was ticked off by a very elderly gentleman, who waved his stick and shouted ‘You’re too old for that!’

Ignored that.

Housework, washing in/out and very reluctant ironing. Which is more ecologically friendly ironing or tumbling?

Walk, bus or car to the print workshop, where I can use the amazing relief or intaglio presses. Good arty company there. Paper, ink and the other printmaking goodies are all available to buy.

Warming up, this takes far too long and usually involves a cuppa, a chat with fellow printmakers, a faff and fuss about measurements/paper/press adjustment.

Printing, so after about an hour I am usually quite inky, but my mind is totally focussed on the colour mixing, the detail and the best bit, revealing the print after it has been through the press.

Lunch at home, with an eye on the garden for butterflies. I have just signed up to be a garden butterfly recorder with Butterfly Conservation.

‘Headspace’ meditation, fab online app to guide you through daily meditations. BRILLIANT.

School run, with a quick go on Duolingo whilst I’m waiting. I’m learning Spanish! Should be Serbian, as we are going to spend 8 months there from November 2017. The Spanish is an avoidance tactic, Serbian is very difficult. Turns out I am not much better at Spanish!

Taking Aleks to Footie, I try to run when he’s training. I mean I try to GO running. I can run like a lot of people, but the drinking tea option shouts very loudly.



Card close up.jpg