serbia

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

Christmas in January? It's all about calendars!

We burned our 'Badnjak' (Yule Log) outside the Church of St Sava on Christmas Eve (6th January)

We burned our 'Badnjak' (Yule Log) outside the Church of St Sava on Christmas Eve (6th January)

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.

Srećan Božić (Happy Christmas)

If you thought Christmas was all wrapped up until next year, then read on! We are lucky enough to have two Christmases in our family, one of the benefits of coming from two different cultures, English and Serbian.

When we returned to Exeter for two weeks in December, Aleks had the whole Western Christmas thing on the 25th December, with a stocking full of presents, more presents under the Christmas tree, roast turkey and then yet more presents. But Serbs rarely exchange presents on 'Božić' (Christmas) [1], although children sometimes receive a small gift. Presents are more likely to be exchanged on New Year's Eve. Božić is celebrated on the 7th January in Serbia, because the Serbian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar for its religious festivals. In the West, the Gregorian calendar is used. 

Burning of the 'Badnjak' (Yule Tide Log)

So, we are back in Serbia, where Aleks has now experienced a whole new set of Christmas traditions, starting on the 6th January (Orthodox Christmas Eve), with the burning of the ‘badnjaks’ (pronounced badnyaks) [2]! Christmas Eve is known as 'Badnji Dan' and after sunset, 'Badnje Veče'.

We attended the local Church service on Christmas Eve, where a large pile of ready prepared 'badnjaks' were blessed with holy water by the priest. The rush to grab a 'badnjak' by the congregation at the end of the service was a bit of a squish, but Aleks ducked down and rescued a fine sprig! 

Instead of a log, the city 'badnjak' is a bundle of oak sprigs, replete with dried oak leaves, often arranged in a flat fan shape and is a symbol of renewal. Wheat, straw and a small packet of corn and nuts in a hessian bag are attached with ribbon. 

'Badnjak' seller. The green shoots in decorated pots are wheat, symbolising new growth.

'Badnjak' seller. The green shoots in decorated pots are wheat, symbolising new growth.

Sharing 'Česnica' (Christmas Loaf)

There was a jolly and playful atmosphere, especially after the service, when the priest broke the 'česnica' (Christmas bread) with the congregation and the children grabbed a piece. He said 'watch your teeth', because one lucky person would find a coin in their chunk of bread. (Just like a sixpence in Christmas pudding!). In the old times, this used to be a gold coin, but that night the priest exchanged a simple coin for a 20 Euro note!

Later on we walked to St Sava Church, where 'badnjaks' are burned on a bonfire outside the church. Aleks enjoyed throwing his into the flames.

Our very own Special Person

After church on 'Božić' (Christmas Day), we visited our Kum and Kuma. Aleks entered their flat first and thus became the special person for the day. He was prepped to say 'Hristos se Rodi!' (Christ is born!) and our Kum replied with the traditional response, 'Vaistinu se Rodi!' (Born Indeed!). Aleks received a gift, then we had a coffee and chatted with our Kum's parents. Dragan's brother had arranged a delicious Christmas lunch of spit-roasted pork which was provided by a relative. This was served with soup, pickles and salads.

When we sat at the table I noticed something crunchy underfoot? A 'badnjak' was laid neatly under the table, I haven't worked out yet if this is a tradition or it had ended up there by accident!? I must ask my brother-in-law.

'Belgrade in Winter', photo-etching by Ali Savic [4]

'Belgrade in Winter', photo-etching by Ali Savic [4]

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]

Diary of a British woman in Belgrade Day 11 & 12

DAY 11

My husband, who is a native Serb, our 10 year old son and me have all moved to Belgrade, Serbia’s lively capital for 8 months. This is day 11 of our big adventure.

Belgrade Waterfront with Brankov Most in the distance

Belgrade Waterfront with Brankov Most in the distance

In the morning we went to visit friends, who live in the city centre, near Zeleni Venac, which is surprise, surprise yet another pijac (green market). However, you’ll be relieved to know that I am not going to write more about the pijac today. After a chat and a coffee, we strolled down to Belgrade’s new waterfront area on the Sava River. On the way there we passed by the old bus station, half of it was demolished. It looked like a bomb site! Dodging the cars and buses we managed to get to Belgrade Waterfront [2]. Two enormous luxury apartment blocks are being built and are quite controversial, because very little is known about them and who is funding the project. But, the path by the river is lovely. There are small cafes and kids play areas dotted along the way.

We then walked inland towards the city and crossed a railway line near ‘Brankov Most’ (a bridge that connects old Belgrade with New Belgrade) [3]. I was shocked that there were no warning signs, no barriers on the railway. It made me nervous, but our friends reassured us that the trains are very infrequent and slow. I took a photo of Dragan standing on the tracks, but felt very uneasy about that!

Dragan on the railway line!

Dragan on the railway line!

This part of town is fairly derelict, but is in the process of being developed. We passed by a hostel for refugees; lots of Syrians came to Belgrade, as Serbia didn’t close its borders to them. Many refugees used to sleep in the park opposite the bus station before they could be accommodated or they moved on. We also passed a centre where refugees could get a meal and medical attention.

We stopped for lunch at a typical Serbian restaurant – very rustic in design, with red & white gingham tablecloths and terracotta dishes. The walls were decorated with 19th century style paintings of the countryside and the food was, as always, delicious and plentiful. I had ‘teleća čorba’ (veal soup) and a ’mala pljeskavica’ (small burger). It was however enormous, but good. To my surprise Aleks ordered ‘kupus salata’ (cabbage salad) with his chicken kebab. He is becoming naturalised. He never eats cabbage in England!

Waiters and waitresses in Serbia have a career, not a job. They are extremely professional, discreet and nothing is too difficult. They are able to carry a heavy tray full of drinks whilst opening, pouring and serving the drinks with one hand, usually with a flourish and with style. The service in Serbian restaurants is excellent. Dragan tells me in the time when he was young, the waiters were earning more from tips than from their salary. In fact some of them would gladly work for free, relying completely on tips. Tipping is still expected for good service in Serbia at a rate of about 10%.

Here’s a new word for you. ‘Ručak’, pronounced ‘roo-tchak’, meaning lunch. Lunch is normally eaten later than in England, often between 2pm and 4pm.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrade_Waterfront

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branko%27s_Bridge

DAY 12

Today we visited Dragan’s mum and bought her loads of ready cooked ‘sarma’ at the supermarket. Lots of places now produce delicious hot homemade food. ‘Sarma’ [1] is pickled cabbage rolls stuffed with mincemeat, rice and spices including paprika. It’s good. Dragan’s mum seems to be partial to it at the moment! We had lunch at Grandma’s including my absolute favourite, ‘boranija’ (yellow string bean stew).

National Assembly, Belgrade

National Assembly, Belgrade

On the way back to our flat it was twilight and the Christmas Decorations throughout the centre were lit up. ‘Skupština’ (Parliament or The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia), building looked beautiful [2].

Christmas Decorations in Kneza Miloša

Christmas Decorations in Kneza Miloša

In the other direction on the same road, a police car was escorting a protest march of about 100 people. The protesters were carrying banners, Christian crosses and religious images. Aleks said it looks like they are protesting about a Church being demolished. Dragan said you are not far off, that protest is something to do with me and my engineering colleagues! Many years ago a dam was constructed near the city of Valjevo [3]. Dragan worked on the design as a young engineer about 30 years ago, but the construction started in the late 1990s. The Dam is now complete and being filled. The protesters object to the flooding of a Church although a new one has been built above the flood-line and the Serbian Orthodox Church actually agreed to it being submerged. To my surprise the protest was on a busy road at dusk and even though it had a police escort the vehicles were still passing very close to the protesters walking on the road!

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Diary of a British woman in Belgrade - Day 2

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.

So today we went shopping with our Kuma, Daniela. We loved the ‘Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane’ (health food shop), with lots of nuts, dried fruit and goodies in square glass compartments, which is sold by weight. Aleks had some red, blue & purple jelly sweets (not very healthy!).

Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane

Prodavnica Zdrave Hrane

The most important event was a visit to Aleks’ Serbian school. We were all pretty nervous, maybe the parents more than the pupil, but were very impressed in the end. Aleks’ teacher (učiteljica) is very sweet and gentle. We liked her very much. We also met the School secretary, who was friendly and said to Dragan that Serbian school is so different now from when he was a schoolboy in Yugoslavia, much more child centred and gentle. Dragan said that he certainly hoped so, because his schooling in the 1960s & 70s was pretty strict. He also says that living with a former teacher (me) brings back traumatic memories! The school has a resident psychologist who is responsible for the children’s well-being. We also met the English teacher and the headteacher, both of whom were very welcoming. In fact the room was packed with people chatting to us. Dragan and I were offered ‘domaća kafa’[1] (Serbian coffee), which was served with a glass of water by one of the house keeping staff. The coffee has coffee grounds at the bottom, is generally drunk without milk and always comes with a glass of water, so you don’t have to order it separately. I really like Serbian coffee, but only in the morning! The school building was boiling hot; interiors in Serbia in winter-time are always very toastie.

The school itself is very typical for Serbia, with stone floors and wooden desks. The outside area is pretty big with some trees, grass and playground areas for football and basketball. Aleks was very impressed with the small kiosk on the ground floor of the school, where the kids can buy pastries, drinks and hot chocolate!

We watched a PE lesson in the gym where the kids were playing dodgeball and chatted to some of the kids who were keen to speak English with us.

Aleks is looking forward with trepidation to next Monday morning when he starts his new school at 8am sharp. As am I.

As a finisher I thought I would give you a new Serbian word 'Prodavnica' (pronounced Prodavnitsa) meaning 'Shop'.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINTS

[1] http://www.serbiatouristguide.com/live/Food_and_drink/Drinks/Coffee

[2] https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/221956799/belgrade-in-winter-fine-art-photo?ref=ss_listing

Belgrade in Winter, Photo etching by Ali Savic [2]

Belgrade in Winter, Photo etching by Ali Savic [2]

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!

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AliSavicPRINT

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