Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for October, 2011

Happy (Srpski) Halloween!

Today is my first full day back in the United States, and the celebration of Halloween in the U.S. and Canada. I’ve always thought of Halloween as a very American Holiday (sorry, Cannucks) and this one does not disappoint. My “barista” was dressed as a cat with a cape, I saw one woman in a suit wearing Minnie Mouse ears, and another 60-something year-old woman wearing fairy wings. America is known as the land of reinvention; it only seems right that people here should celebrate becoming someone else, if only for one day.


As a brand-new American citizen, Miloš decided to get into the Halloween spirit. He didn’t want to abandon his ex-Yugolavia roots though, and a costume was born.

Miloš is wearing the Yugoslavian Pioneer uniform. The pioneers were developed under Tito in 1942, though socialist and communist countries around the world had similar programs. The pioneers had a pledge, uniform (see above) and attended a camp at certain points in their Pionirski career. It’s a bit like the Scouts, with a political twist.

Technically Miloš should be wearing a white shirt and navy pants, but I hope you’ll give me a little lattitude. Have you ever tried to put a hat on a dog? It’s not easy. Still, I like to think Miloš would have fit in perfectly with this batch of youngsters.

Image source HERE.

Happy halloween, Serbian and American readers!


That’s what you think, Serbia

I prefer videmo se.

RHOB has a Facebook page! (And yes, I know it’s not 2007.)

It’s ironic that I’ve written a blog for over a year. Previously, I thought blogs, twitter and Facebook were for people with superior technology skills or way too much free time. Actually, I still think that. (I fall into the latter category.)

Now that I’m leaving Serbia, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the blog. It seems better to end it on a certain date than to have inconsistent posts. But readers, it’s hard to quit you. You’ve provided great insight and humor, and I’d love to keep the conversation going even if I don’t have time to share my deep thoughts on dogs and alcohol and food.

With that in mind, I’ve made a Facebook page.  I figured it’s fitting for Belgrade, since 41% of Serbians have a Facebook page, and I estimate 65% of Beogradjani have one. It’s practically empty, and the next two weeks are crazy in RHOB land, but I’ll be sure to post photos, etc, soon. Stay tuned for my adventures finding domaca kafa in the States and explaining the name Milos to lots of Americans…

Tomorrow is packing day, so no post unless I go positively insane and need to rant.

Happy anniversary to me

Should I have set out on this long journey? I went almost unthinkingly, without any special desire or need, for the sake of another. And perhaps I’d gain from seeing this strange Frankish world. I say perhaps, because I didn’t believe it. Apart from merchants, traveling was only for those disturbed people unable to remain alone with themselves, who chased after the new sights that an unknown world offered to their eyes while their hearts remained empty. 

-Meša Selimović, The Fortress.

I’ve always loved this quote, but I find it especially fitting today. I arrived in Belgrade one year ago. When we landed I was tired, confused, and practically ignorant about this part of the world. I moved here for the sake of another, but also because I hoped to gain a greater understanding about the world and even my own country. But let’s be honest, too–I also hoped to see new sights.

I’ve accomplished some of these goals, but the “must-see, must-do, must-read” list goes on and on. Maybe that’s the way it should be. Or maybe I’m one of the “disturbed” people Selimovic talks about. That’s ok. I’ve been called worse. Should I have set out on this long journey? Sigorno. With certainty.

Check out the works of Selimović and other Balkan (and Portugese) authors this year at the Belgrade Book Fair–it continues until Sunday.

The Rapper’s Guide to Learning Serbian

What does hip hop and Serbian have in common? More than you might think. Throughout my struggles learning the langauge, I’ve recalled the wisdom (or at least the lyrics) of rappers to remember key words. Here’s a three word guide to the RHOB/Rapper’s Way to Srpski-speak.

Lesson one: hvala (thank you). This is one of the first words visitors ask to learn. It’s not easy for Americans to pronounce an H and a V next to each other, or to semi-slur the remaining letters together. Luckily, Missy Elliott gets us most of the way there. Just listen to her Holla! and merge a “v” after the H. Hvala indeed, Missy.

Lesson two: čeka (wait). Useful when you have a fast-walking Muz, a dog that pulls at his leash, or a ringing phone that you can’t locate. Thanks to DMX, it’s as simple as remembering a microphone…checka. Forward to the 12 second mark to see what I mean.

Lesson three: omiljen (favorite). This word eluded me for months. I would struggle to remember it, stick a d or a z in there somewhere, and utterly confuse the people I was trying to compliment. (Think, Oh, krempita! My favorzheutz…hud.) I needed to remember one little trick: more accurately, one Lil’ Wayne. Omiljen sounds almost exactly like the background chant to “A Millie.” Especially if you misheard it as “uh million” for years. The first ten seconds should suffice. Then you’ll either go crazy or start dancing, depending on your musical taste.

Thanks for the tips, rappers! Maybe Kanye and Jay-Z will come out with a version of The Mountain Wreath and take my Serbian to the next level. A domaćica can dream…

Ya feel me?

Final Churches, Turbes and Monasteries on Sunday

A peek of Crkva Ruzica

Churches, turbes, and monasteries–I’m overpacking today’s post like a family of eight in a Budva-destined Lada. Yet I must. After 52 Sundays of writing about churches, I am officially retiring CoS posts. Next Sunday I will be flying back to the U.S. and it seems fitting to end my Sunday posts where they began: in Belgrade.

I wanted to write about Kalemedgan’s Sveta Petka and Ružica Churches, but could not get  permission to photograph their interiors. These churches are jewels of Belgrade–precious, tiny, and historic–but you’ll have to take my word for it. Alternatively, you can check out this video highlighting Petka church, but beware of bad angles and the need for a tripod.

The doors of Crkve Ružica.

Sveti Petka







Instead, I’ll focus on the former Dervish Monastery in Belgrade. It’s part of the scant evidence of 500 years of Ottoman rule in Belgrade. After Serbian independence, people either destroyed the mosques and buildings of their Ottoman oppressors or left the structures to rot. However, two turbes (Islamic mausoleums) testify to the time of fezzes, carpets, and apple tea.

Just past Studenski Park lies the turbe of Sheik Mustafa. It was built in 1784 in the center of a Dervish Monastery. The monastery is long gone, but the turbe still stands. People still tie twine to the eye-shaped window; perhaps it’s a sign that what is gone is not forgotten.

The second turbe stands in the middle of Kalemegdan on the west side of the Military museum. It’s dedicated to Damad Ali Pasha, the “Great Vizier of Sultan Ahmed III.” (I just love titles from this era.) This turbe appears to have less dedicated visitors, but it’s an impressive sight in an already impressive fortress. I’ve read that turbes often stand near mosques or monasteries, but I don’t have evidence of a monastery here. However, Turks lived in the fortress during their reign, and it would make sense that there was a mosque there at one time.

Belgrade’s long and colorful history is reflected everywhere: buildings, streets, and even first names testify to a history of Slavic/Roman/Austrian/Ottoman/Serbian rule. Balkan churches are no different; they offer as much history as any museum. Many thanks to the priests, imams, rabbis, readers and others who have recommended and explained places of worship over the past year. I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much about this region without you.

The time I talk about the thing I’m not sure how to talk about

“Odakle Ste?” Where are you from?

“Ja sam iz America.” I’m from America.

It’s a conversation I have on a daily basis. This time I was on Skadarljia, negotiating a bulk price for copper votives on behalf of our latest guests. My accent is decent, but I don’t sound Serbian. The question wasn’t surprising. His response was.

I have…a problem with Americans.”

He said it apologetically, almost conspiratorially. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t want to upset me or if he was thinking about the sale. After missing a beat, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Razumem.” I understand, ok.

During almost a full year here, I haven’t personally encountered anti-Americanism. However, a cab driver once cheerfully noted, “these are the buildings you bombed,” as we drove down Kneza Milosa. These buildings—crumbling, weedy, and imposing—are the remnants of the Building of Internal Affairs bombed by NATO on April 2, 1999.  It stands there in tatters: a faded, handwritten letter that’s difficult to decipher. Who is it for? What does it mean?

Image source HERE.


People don’t always like American policy, but they tend to like Americans. I once joined a group of Serbians as a woman started ranting about American presidents and politics in Serbian. I fidgeted in silence until someone said, “You know, RHOB is from America.” She said “I know—I like RHOB. I just don’t like Bill Clinton!” She smiled and moved on. I knew her well enough—but I didn’t know the votive seller, and he didn’t know me.

He turned his attention back toward the votives. “This is Studenica Monastery,” he began to explain. “I’ve been there!” I replied. We spoke about various churches, their history, and my travels. As friends selected their votives, he showed me another one and said, “This is Gračanica Monastery.”

I nodded, feeling a bit solemn. Gračanica is one of the most historically important Serbian Orthodox monasteries. It’s located outside of Pristina, Kosovo. I would love to see it, but it’s not a safe passage at this time. Gračanica is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Danger, partly due to its politically precarious location. He wasn’t just showing me a votive; he was telling me his own history. As we looked at it, he said quietly, “My grandfather is buried near there. We had a house there. Now…I cannot even visit.”

I didn’t know what to say. I hear stories, from all sides, about heartbreak, loss, anger, violence. My response is simply to listen. War is difficult for me to comprehend, let alone discuss. What I do know for certain is that makes me very, very fortunate.

My friends chose their votives and he placed them in the flimsy red plastic bags I will always associate with Belgrade. “Something for you?” he asked, and when I shook my head, he plucked the Gračanica one from the display. “I give this to you,” he said, and pressed it into my hand before I could say no.

A conversation doesn’t change the world. It doesn’t mean that a stranger will suddenly like Americans, American policy, or decide that the shell of a building is an icon of a former era. But learning, and above all, listening—can change so much.


This may be a contentious post to some people. I seem to have a some new readers—hello!—and I welcome comments. I only ask that you read some of my other posts before you comment, to get an idea of who I am and where this sentiment comes from.  Hvala.