Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for May, 2011

Who wants to marry a Jagodinci? Winning hearts (and 3,000 Euros) in Serbia

My kuma brought about 10 weeks’ worth of gossip magazines, so I could catch up on all the “important” news back home. America has a serious addition to reality shows/contests about dating. It all started with “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” and moved on to “Temptation Island,” “The Bachelor,” and my favorite, “Flavor of Love.” But little did my kuma know that Serbia has its own dating contest, right in the southeast municipality of Jagodina.

According to a Tanjug article that muz forwarded (and I can’t find online), Mayor of Jagodina Dragan Markovic “Palma” is recruiting 600 local women over 38 years old to go to an unnamed seaside resort to mingle with some of Jagodina’s 700 bachelors until September. If a couple with one partner over 38 years old gets married, they will receive 3,000 Euros.

Mayor Palma is noted for his efforts to increase the local birth rate. According to the article, this is “part of [his] action of fighting the white plague carried out by Jagodina.” I have no idea what the white plague is, but it doesn’t sound very good.

I don’t know much about Jagodina except that their flag is pretty adorable,

and that the name stems from the word strawberry. (It seems I can’t escape strawberries these days.) So if you’re over 38, Serbian, and looking for that special someone (or just a beach vacation), take a trip to Jagodina. And bring a camera: Hello! Serbia needs new material too…



Church on Sunday: The Heartbeat of Sveti Naum, Macedonia

image source:

If Family Feud featured a “Most important Macedonians” category (and I’m SURE they would), Sveti Naum would be in the top 6 answers. He and his contemporary, the better-known Saint Klementi, founded the country’s first important literary school and translated Greek Orthodox texts into the slavic language. Sveti Naum may not be as famous as Macedonian Michael Stoyanov (oldest brother on TV’s Blossom) but he’s pretty close.

remember him?

In 900, Sveti Naum built a monastery overlooking Lake Ohrid and the impossibly clear River Drin. The monastery became known as a treatment center for the mentally ill and a peaceful place for pilgrimages. It’s still quite peaceful, but now the monastic rooms for rent have turned into an upscale hotel, the river features waterside cafes, and peacocks roam the grounds. We were there to see a bit of history-and let’s face, it, peacocks. They’re pretty cool, for birds. Macedonians seem to think so too since they’re on the 10-denar note.

We wanted to see the real thing, so we made the pleasant 40 minute drive from the town of Ohrid. Sveti Naum can also be reached by boat, which might be more picturesque. When we parked by the car entrance, we met a dubious “parking attendant” and walked through a gauntlet of souvenir kiosks before reaching the outer grounds of the monastery. It was a disconcerting welcome to an ancient place of worship. Yet the sight of Sveti Naum makes it all worth it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The main church is quite small. Additional chambers were added over centuries, making it feel like a tiny labyrinth. The abbot was concluding a service when I arrived. I didn’t know if I could walk in or not, so I stood by the entrance to peer at his white and gold robes, listen to his chanting, and inhale the incense fumes drifting out of the church.

Image source here

Taking photos is forbidden. I was alone in the church for a short period of time but decided it was better to simply enjoy the experience than to furtively snap pictures. (Maybe I’m getting soft.)  The faded, dark frescoes have a spiritual quality that would have been hard to capture anyway. Many of the saints depicted were now blind, as their eyes were scratched out by the faithful who believed that the plaster could be used in potions to improve eyesight.

Sveti Naum is buried here, and his remains are in an antechamber filled with icons. It’s said that if you press your ear to his coffin, you can hear the muffled sounds of his still-thumping heart. The only sound I could hear was the odd mewing of peacocks outside; but I didn’t have to hear a thing to know that Sveti Naum was the heartbeat of Macedonia.

Survey says, it’s a Macedonian experience I’m glad we didn’t miss.


Housewifery during Serbian History: Mladic Arrested

Image source: Reuters

I avoid political discussions on this blog, but it feels ridiculous to ignore the biggest (non-sports) news story to come out of Serbia in a long time. If you have shunned all media before reading my blog, a hearty thanks and a thump on the head for not hearing that Ratko Mladic, Europe’s most-wanted suspected war criminal, was apprehended yesterday in a town outside of Belgrade. If you don’t know his accused crimes, click here.

I won’t try to improve on the numerous reports of the situation. Rather, I’ll let you know what I heard and felt. I was surprised, like everyone else I suppose, by reports that Mladic had been arrested. My first thought was that I’d have to stop joking that my “work plan” this year was to find Mladic and collect the 10 million euro, $5 million dollar reward for his capture. Speaking of which, I wonder who gets the big prize, and if that person would rather remain in silence than risk the wrath of Mladic supporters. But I digress…

Image source:

I knew that after Milosevic was arrested, there were protests in the streets and Americans were encouraged to stay
home. (The Milosevic arrest occurred close to a U.S.-imposed deadline to detain Milosevic or face economic hardship.) The Mladic arrest was under different circumstances, but there were calls for a protest in Trg Republike, not far from our home. We didn’t think that anything bad would happen, but protests can escalate quickly. I usually buy meat for dinner in the early evening hours, but I decided not to take any chances and stay at home. We ordered Chinese food, but it was terrible. At least I had some strawberries left…

I did go out earlier in the afternoon, and life seemed pretty normal on the streets. No one was honking (more than usual), shouting, or waving flags, though police presence had noticeably increased. I saw military forces by government buildings and along the main downtown street, Kneza Milosa. Yet this was not completely unusual; other government protests and major soccer games incur a similar increase in police presence.

We spent most of our evening online or watching the news. The CNN international reports were disappointing, to say the least. BBC was not much better; they certainly chose a bad time to leave the region. Al Jazeera is setting up here, but I don’t have that channel if there is one. So we watched the local news, trying to decipher as much as we could.

The protest in Trg Republike looked modest. Reports showed several dozen men glaring into the cameras. There was some shouting and chanting in the background, but the police force was large and seemed to have things under control. It didn’t seem menacing, but perhaps that’s because we were watching it from the comfort of our living room. Here’s BIRN TV-You Tube video of last night’s protests. According to Belgrade Insight, the chant is encouraging the current President to kill himself and save Serbia.

Larger protests in Novi Sad were suppressed as well. Surprisingly, I haven’t heard about any protests in southern Serbia, an area considered to be more nationalistic than Belgrade or Vojvodina. I’m sure there will be a few outbursts and a LOT more political graffiti to come out of this, but it seems that the worst reaction to the arrest (which wasn’t so bad) is over. So not to worry, RHOB friends and family, we feel very safe here and things are under control.

If you’re interested in an English timeline of events and reactions after the arrest, I suggest checking out the Belgrade Insight blog.

Traces of Tito on the 25th of May

Today’s earlier post was a fun placeholder since I couldn’t access the baton photos I took in December. Moving on…

I couldn’t let the 25th of May go by without letting readers know its importance in Belgrade/Yugoslav history. For many years, it was celebrated as Tito’s birthday and International Youth Day. His actual birthday was May 7th, but his official birth certificate stated the 25th. And you thought Obama was the only national leader with birth certificate issues…*

May 25th became a national holiday in Yugoslavia during Tito’s tenure. Every year, a unique birthday baton was created for a relay race. The relay usually started in Tito’s home town of Kumrovec, Croatia, and ended in Belgrade’s stadium, where the baton was received by the man himself.

The race continued for eight years after Tito’s death in 1980. Though there was only one “official” baton each year, organizations made special ones that are featured in the aptly titled 25 of May Museum. A small fraction of them cover a wall and fill several display cases.

If you think this is ancient history, um, how old are you that 1988 qualifies as ancient history? Last May 25th, over fifteen thousand people came to Tito’s grave to reflect on the man’s legacy. Last week, a memorial relay began in Umag, Croatia, with the goal of ending in Belgrade. I don’t think they made a baton, but I’m hoping they’ll leave the lead relay car, “a 30-year-old Mercedes decorated with pictures of Tito.”

Image source:

Tito remains a controversial figure more than thirty years after his death and 119 years after his birth. I imagine he-and his birthday-will continue to be remembered for several decades to come.

According to Wikipedia (consider the source), he celebrated his birthday on May 25 because he survived a Nazi attack on his life that day in 1944; the Nazis had documents that listed Tito’s birthday as May 25th, the same day of the attempted attack.

Back in my day…

You know those cranky old people who insist that fruit was much better back in their day, before it was flown halfway around the world/sprayed with pesticides/grown from bio-engineered seeds? No? Well, now you do.

Belgrade is fully in strawberry season, and it’s amazing. Seriously. Maybe it’s because I haven’t eaten one in 9 months, but these are some of the best strawberries I’ve tasted in a long time. The 1990s sanctions created a lot of strife here, but an odd silver lining is that most farmers couldn’t use pesticides or engineered seeds. The result is strawberries that taste as good as they look.

Anyway, I bought a ton of the fruit to make a strawberry tart, but then I wound up eating most of them. Besides, the recipe called for cornstarch and I have no idea how to get that here. And it’s healthier to eat strawberries whole, right? All this is to say that when my kuma comes tomorrow (YAY!), there will be no strawberry pie upon her arrival. And probably no strawberries left, either. Sorry.

Lessons Learned in The Terror House of Budapest

I travel to remind myself that I don’t know much about the world. Usually, this reminder consists of pleasant discoveries in new places. In Budapest, it was a sober lesson, courtesy of the Terror House.

The Terror House is a museum dedicated to the victims of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Fascist movement) and AVH (Soviet-supported secret police) regimes between 1944-1956. The museum is located on Andrássy út, a famous tree-lined street that is recognized as a World Heritage Site. The location is no accident: the museum building was the former headquarters of the Nazi and AVH secret police.

While the AVH may be well-known for annihilating the Jewish community, no one was immune to interrogation, detention, or execution for being an enemy of the state. Many of these activities took place in the building’s basement, a chamber of horrors that features photographs of the people who were held there. The aboveground floors contain powerful exhibits on the 1956 Revolution, the role of churches during this period, and labor camps. Powerful video testimonials (with English subtitles) offer glimpses of life during and after this period.

Faces of victims line the outer walls of the building

The words “Arrow Cross” echoed in my head, as a half-forgotten answer on a midterm exam. It was only as we ascended the floors of this museum that I realized how much I didn’t know about this period in Hungarian history. The museum presented information in a way that was more eye-opening than macabre. The exhibits were a beautiful, eerie reminder that what happened once, and then again, should never be repeated. Traveling and living in former Hapsburg territories made me think of Hungarians as more conqueror than victim. How wrong I was.

Soviet army tank and images of victims

I know this seems like a downer of a post, but it’s not meant to be. The museum was amazing, and anyone traveling through Budapest should see it for the gorgeous architecture, important history, and the reminder that there is so much more to learn about the world.

The surreal suburbia of Belgrade

I hesitated to post this photo because I feared that it would spread misconceptions about Belgrade being a backward city. But then I thought, it’s a goat herder…on a major road leading toward Zemun…this is nuts!

Within 15 minutes of taking this photo, we were in the heart of Zemun. I’ve come across goat herders in the southern plains of Serbia, but never so close to Belgrade.

This is one of the things that makes life so interesting here. Within five(ish) square miles of my home, Amy Winehouse will perform in a fortress and international ballet stars dance at the National Theater. Sunday morning, as Australian club kids were emerging from secret, smoke-filled techno parties, this guy was taking his goats on a sunrise stroll. All in Belgrade. Only in Belgrade.

It’s not exactly life in New York City, some might say. To which I would respond, exactly.