Fall for Belgrade
Belgrade fall comes in with a bang. Last Friday I wore a skirt and t-shirt; the next day I grumpily wore a wool coat. I’ve always resented fall weather. Spring is a time of hope. Summer is a time of ease. After long days of outdoor dining and tiny sandals, autumn arrives as an unwelcome guest. It shows up at the front door with a garbage bag of shorter, colder days. It brings the ghosts of back-to-school dismay and laughs when last year’s favorite sweater reveals a moth hole. It sleeps on the couch for a couple of weeks and leaves behind slushy streets and sore throats. It’s almost as bad as my freshman year roommate.
I truly resent fall now, since it also signifies the end of my time in Belgrade. Yet even a curmudgeon like me can’t deny that it’s a special time here. The leaves are changing in Kalemegdan, but everything still looks green and leafy. Cafes keep their outdoor tables but now offer blankets. Gangly school children show off their new sneakers. Mothers ignore the midday warmth and insist on down coats and thick scarves. There’s also a most unexpected delight: the smell of fall in Belgrade.
Some days I wake up to the smell of burning wood from a chimney or rakija still. I walk through the sweet, charcoal aroma of roga peppers roasting for ajvar. I savor Knez Mihailova’s bouquet of grilled corn, charred chestnuts, and fresh popcorn. When the rain stops, I catch a whiff of clean grass and barely rotting leaves. Fall may be an unwanted visitor, but at least he doesn’t stink.
Fall is better than the next guest, Old Man Winter. His bouquet will be sour. Before the municipal heat turns on, some people will burn refuse for warmth. The odor of melted wood varnish and tires will trudge into the city, float on air particulates, and tickle noses in the middle of the night. Fall might be a nuisance, but winter is simply rude. So I’ll enjoy the fall smells—and sights, and sounds—of Belgrade for as long as I can. I’ll miss this city more than all my strappy sandals combined.