It’s difficult for me to comprehend the fact that my time as a resident of Belgrade is slowly coming to an end.
Despite having marked my departure date on my calendar several weeks ago, it hardly feels real-- the thought of moving out of my Belgrade apartment feels much the same as moving out of dorms in high school and college, though this doesn’t add up to any rhyme or reason given that a) my name is on the lease here b) I’m in a foreign country and c) I’m not going directly home.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel final because I won’t be leaving by plane, or maybe it’s the fact that I have two weeks of travel before returning to New York. Either way, I’m struggling to find a feeling of finality as my last day approaches; I will likely not be returning to Belgrade in the foreseeable future, but know that it is a place I have loved, and will continue to love even when far away.
As I try to find the words to begin a goodbye, I am reminded of a quote from Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier which reads, “we leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
While I will most certainly leave something of myself to this city, it has given some of itself to me as well.
I arrived in Belgrade at the age of 19, completely terrified of the adventure I was about to embark on and with little to no concept of what the next few months of my life would look like.
Now, as I prepare to leave Belgrade at the age of 20, having rented my first apartment, seen four new countries and returned to two, and been entirely responsible for myself for the first time in my life, I am not at all afraid to move forward.
While I may leave many laughs, late nights, and memories in Belgrade, I’ve gained the same and more from this enigma of a city: I wrote in a previous post that Sarajevo was the first city where I had full autonomy. Well, Belgrade is the city that showed me how to use it-- not only have I grown immensely as an individual over the course of the last few months, but I’ve also become more confident.
There’s always been a dissonance in my mind that stems from my age: I’ve spent years as the youngest person in the room and from 15 onward was treated like a child yet expected to act like an adult. I grappled with this for years as, though harmless in many contexts, it made it difficult for me to identify my role within a group in a professional, academic, and sometimes even a personal environment.
In Belgrade, though, this dissonance never existed. Here, I am an individual valued for who I am in all contexts, regardless of my age-- I attribute this partly to cultural differences and partly to the lack of grade structure given that I have not been enrolled in classes. While this may not be unique to Belgrade, the quirks, traditions, and ridiculousness I spent the last several months immersed in certainly are.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate Belgrade’s particular idiosyncrasies before I leave the city, so instead, for now, I’ll leave you with a quote that sums up this city better than I ever could. Writer and artist Momo Kapor, who called Sarajevo, Belgrade, and New York home, as I do, wrote:
“The spirit of Belgrade is that feeling that you are at home, that you cannot be ruined because you are among your kind, that at any time you can borrow some change, love, a roof over your head and a necessary accomplice before dawn.
That spirit gives birth to bold verticals, new quarters arise, and old ones go to ruin, it bridges the rivers and clears the tangles of rusty tracks among whose thresholds you can see the grass sprouting, in order to give a clear view of rivers and the sky. It plays with architecture and urbanity laws.
Photographed from the air, this city will never attract a curious beauty collector, no matter how good the picture is. Because it is not photogenic! But it can do something totally different – it will give you almost physical pain from nostalgia, even to those who spent only a few days walking its streets, just like an old picture of a lover can torture us to death.
The plan of its streets is somewhat similar to topographic map of our heart. This city will enchant us with its charm, but will never give up the secret code of this mysterious love, for which the cause is unknown. We will stay its voluntary captives forever, who among countless master-piece cities chose Belgrade to live their only life in.”