Getting reacquainted with Belgrade has been lovely, to say the least. Despite my joy last July to find myself in such a large city after two weeks in Sarajevo I did not leave Belgrade thinking I would return- at least not anytime in the near future. And yet, as the first month of 2017 reaches its halfway point, I’ve found myself back in Serbia.
Having only been back for a whopping total of one week the number of stories I already have to share seems somewhat ridiculous.
From muddling our way through Belgrade’s public transportation to our enthusiastic, yet poor attempts to learn some basic Serbian, this week has been an adventure. Still, my roommates and I have managed to survive our first seven days in Belgrade unscathed and with many questions.
Our first Sunday in the city was spent mainly at a café/restaurant/cigar bar that looked relatively normal from the street, but actually encompassed one of the most aesthetically pleasing, if odd, dining spaces I’ve seen in a long time.
Smoke rose up and wrapped itself around me like a blanket as I followed the waiter to our table. While waiting for him to track down an English menu there was nothing to do but take in our surroundings; it felt as if I had somehow left Belgrade and been transported into Pulp Fiction, sat right next to John Travolta as he laments the price of a five dollar shake. Various classics hummed in my ears, guiding me through at least three decades worth of musical icons. The roof was composed of red and green glass, letting in only enough light for you to remember that it was still daytime. Neon signs and stage lights surrounded the compressed and unattended bar in the far corner of the room. The Pulp Fiction comparison was a consensus among the three of us; it was somewhat surreal.
Ambiance aside we had a lovely meal and were able to use the wifi to let the rest of the world know we had survived our separate journeys. A week later and none of us can remember the name of the place so we just refer to it as the Quentin Tarantino restaurant. So it goes.
On a separate note, I have never felt more removed from American life than I did yesterday during the Presidential inauguration. Other than a brief mention by a colleague at my office, it did not come up in conversation or appear in any Serbian news coverage that I came across. It was strange, to be on the outside looking in on my own home country as I watched a livestream of news coverage via facebook during my commute; my perspective had been reversed so instead of being in the States and paying attention to international political happenings, I was in Serbia, watching a historic transition of power while surrounded by people who couldn’t care less about what was happening.
It was somewhat surprising, but also reassuring, as it put the American political system in perspective. In America, especially in my field, America’s position as a global leader is a constant topic of discussion, as is the importance of our politics to the rest of the world. While these statements are not without a level of truth, it was refreshing to see that on a day when America was so divided, life continued as normal for everyone else.
This feeling of separation from the US is part of why it still amazes me that I am here, doing this. I’m writing this post from the kitchen table in my apartment in Belgrade at noon on a Saturday; my friends and family back in the states aren’t even awake yet and I’ll have to track down wifi at a café somewhere if I want to catch up with them this afternoon.
Today will be spent wandering the parts of Belgrade we haven’t gotten to revisit yet and hopefully practicing the (few) Serbian words we’ve learned. Without fail, we have been asked questions about the train route every day this week. It always happens the same way: one of us gives up our seat for an older woman on the train and she then proceeds to ask us a question, presumable about the train, in Serbian. As we are all useless in this matter we say something along the lines of “Sorry, American”, after which she then turns to another one of us and repeats the question to the same response. At this point an actual Serb usually jumps in to put us our of our misery. My personal goal is to be able to understand and respond to these questions before I leave Belgrade this spring.
I’ve been using a Serbian language guide ebook published by the Eton Institute that has been remarkably helpful in picking up the basic phrases. This version, along with other languages such as Albanian, Greek, and Latin are available free on iBooks and I would definitely recommend them for the sporadic traveler.