I returned to Belgrade for the first time since moving out this week and was pleased to find the city almost just as I’d left it.
I wandered through my old neighborhood, shopped the market behind my apartment and had a picnic by Saint Sava. I even wandered through Novi Beograd for a morning (brutalism in the summer really is something special). Friends indulged my nostalgia and treated me to some of my favorite meals (Sesir Moj and Zavicaj, of course).
But I felt right back at home before I’d had time to do any of these things. In fact, becoming settled is perhaps the first thing I did.
There’s a man who plays the guitar in Knez Mihaila, Belgrade’s most famous pedestrian street. He’s older, a little rough around the edges, his skin worn down by living but with still-bright eyes which glint unmistakably when you smile at him. He was here when I first met Belgrade in the summer of 2016, mindlessly strumming a steel string, giving a transience to the night. Though I didn’t capture him that summer he was burned into my memory.
When I returned in 2017 I recall seeing him as early on as February— there was a particularly warm day and as I adventured through my new home I heard his ambling melodies echoing down the street. From this moment on he became the soundtrack to my Belgrade.
I finally took his photograph in June, on perhaps my last walk down Knez Mihaila that year. I like to think I captured him well, or at least who he is to me.
I returned this week in 2018 having aged much more than the short year I’ve been gone and, after dropping my things in my home for the night, raced to the fortress to take it all in. As I meandered my way back toward my hotel some time later a familiar twang hit my ears.
My heart soared to find him almost exactly as I’d left him— gritty, warm and with eyes that could read you the world but instead only want to let you know you are welcome. And I was. I am.
It took me endless attempts to write on leaving Belgrade last year, partly because I didn’t know when I’d be returning.
I can say now, though, that it’s heartwarming to know that Belgrade truly will still be here to welcome me home, no matter how long or far I stray.