Read, Write, Run, Roam

Serbian sounds

Best. Souvenir. Ever.

Okay, what kind of weirdo blogger writes about her dog’s birthday?

This one.

Happy 2nd birthday to Milos, the best souvenir of our time in Serbia. I still catch myself yelling at him in Serbian, not that he listens in any language. However, he might listen to the Serbian happy birthday song (simply called Srecan Rodjendan). Serbia has a different birthday tune than you’re used to, and it’s catchier than I like to admit. Here’s a cheesy video of it for your listening pleasure.


The Serbian word that everyone knows

 Can you guess what it is?

Hint: its favorite fruit is a neck-tarine. Its favorite dog is a bloodhound. Its favorite game is bat-miton.

It’s a…vampire. (Technically, vampir)

Best. Soundtrack. Ever.

That’s right, Serbia is the home of the vampire legend! Transylvania gets all the credit, but the legend may be traced to Northern Serbia, when people like Petar Blagojevic and Arnold Paole died in the mid-18th Century, only to haunt local neighbors who died mysteriously a short time after.  Suspicious villagers dug both men up (in different towns) to find their corpses looking untouched. They were declared vampires, staked through the heart, and burned for good measure. Austrian officials who controlled parts of Serbia at the time reported this phenomenon to Vienna, and the vampire story was born.

Now there’s word that a famous Serbian bloodsucker may still be on the loose.  According to the Austrian Times, known (and more importantly, unslain) vampire Sava Savanovic has lost the mill that was his home. Now that the mill has collapsed, it’s believed that Savanovic is wandering around his hometown of Bajina Basta, just waiting to find Winona Ryder, I mean, victims.

The article claims that the Bajina Basta town council advised all villagers to put garlic on their doors and windows, which seems like an…unusual way for town officials to spend their time and energy. To be honest, I doubt these villagers are more concerned about vampires than they are concerned about the tourists who may stop coming to tour the old mill. Besides, Serbians are always buying lots of garlic. Try cooking a traditional meal without it.

Read more about the story here, if you dare. I’m pretty skeptic–though I might consider driving past Bajina Basta at night. I’m not worried about the vampires as much as I am worried about the garlic breath I’ll have after eating there.

Welcome to the Jungle: A Guns n’ Roses Tribute in Zemun

We recently hosted our last (and ninth!) group of American visitors last week, aka FK Milos. They saw the usual sights: Kalemegdan, Knez Mihailova, and… Jailbreak, a local Guns n’ Roses tribute band.

An FK Milos member spotted this poster on the right. After serious consideration (about ten seconds) we decided to see how Serbia did Slash, Axl, and the less memorable members of the band.

Jailbreak was playing at Klub Fest, a local music venue in Zemun. It would appear that Klub Fest is the equivalent of an American “18-and-over” club, which in Belgrade means “13 and over.” I felt like I was babysitting. In 1989. I haven’t seen that many GnR shirts since I was at the Jersey Shore in middle school.

Other than the tots, the Klub was a nice venue. It’s small, smoky, and even has reserved tables for those mysterious Beogradjani who schedule things in advance. We made ourselves comfortable by the bar and wondered when the band would come on stage.

Around midnight, the lights dimmed and the show went on. “Axl” had the requisite long red hair and lanky figure. “Slash” had a long curly wig and was, um, less lanky.

Okay, so maybe they didn’t exactly look like the real thing. But have you seen Axl lately? I think this is a major improvement.

The band started off with an acoustic set, then got the house rocking with an electric set after intermission. The acoustics of Klub Fest were decent, the beer was cold, and the crowd was awesome. Zemun may not be Paradise City, but it was close enough for our own band of Belgrade-loving, fist-pumping Americans. Rock on, Zemun.

Jailbreak plays clubs around Belgrade and throughout the Balkans. For the Klub Fest schedule, click HERE. Jailbreak’s Facebook page can be found HERE

Balkan beats banned from Macedonian buses

Okay, so it’s not Serbia, but I thought this article was too good to pass up. From the Associated Foreign Press:

SKOPJE — Public transport bus drivers in Macedonia’s capital have been asked to replace turbo folk melodies popular throughout the Balkans with classical tunes and easy listening music, officials said Friday.

After numerous passenger complaints, managers of Skopje’s public transport company JSP decided to equip new Chinese-made double-decker buses with about 400 song-playlists prepared by Macedonia’s prominent DJs.

“Our passengers complained demanding the music be changed. I know that we cannot satisfy everyone’s taste, but I believe most of them will be happy with the choice,” manager Miso Nikolov said.

No turbo folk? I can’t imagine this in Belgrade. Listening to turbo folk is a god-given right here, like smoking and nursing coffee for two hours. For those who don’t know what turbo folk is, it’s traditional Serbian (or Balkan) music set to a techno beat. There are tons of examples, but here’s one from Ceca, Belgrade’s arguably most famous turbofolk singer.

I don’t know whether I’m proud, embarrassed or indifferent that I (1) know this song and (2) no longer consider turbofolk a “change the station” moment. I’m pretty sure that we don’t have any music on Belgrade buses, but if we do, I’m very sure that there’s some turbofolk and that it’s here to stay.

You can read the full AFP article HERE.

Balkan Bacchanalia: The Guca Trumpet Festival

When we told Serbians we were going to the Guca (Goo-cha) trumpet festival last Saturday, they replied, “That’s great. Guca is so Serbian,” or “You’re going to Guca?!!? It’s a mess!” Either way, we figured it was a worthwhile trip.

The Guča trumpet festival is a weeklong celebration and competition of Balkan brass music. The festival started in 1960, when musicians gathered in the sleepy and picturesque town of Guča, Serbia for a friendly competition. Over the next 51 years the competition, visitors and the consumption of alcohol increased. This year it was estimated that Guča’s
population of 3,000 increased to 400,000 over the weeklong event.

Which explains why the water supply ran out on Saturday. Sigh.

Guča’s two hotels can’t contain the masses, so most visitors rent rooms in nearby houses or camp along the outskirts of town. Regular readers will know that this city girl/Housewife opted for a solid roof over her head and running trickling water. We rented bedrooms from wonderful people who promptly plied us with Turkish coffee and rakjia. It was a sign of things to come.

People come to Guča to hear music, dance wildly, and drink. A lot. Beer cans and rakija bottles littered the streets. Even when we couldn’t get a bottle of water, the liquor cases were fully stocked. Though it’s a little crazy, the only danger is turning deaf from hearing hordes of trumpets or falling off a table while dancing.

Guca isn’t just a trumpet festival; it’s a Serbian festival. The music is quintessentially Balkan: no “Misty” or jazz riffs here. (However,  “Hava Negila” has mysteriously become a local tune.) People walk around in traditional costume and Serbia shirts are worn with pride. There is a small nationalist contingent at Guča but overall it’s a place to celebrate Serbian music and culture.

The core of the festival is a music competition. However, we missed the finals on Saturday night. I thought the schedule was on “Serbian time,” but the musicians, unlike RHOB, were punctual. We consoled ourselves with carnival rides, eating svadbarski kupus (wedding cabbage), and watching the Miss Guča pageant.

As the night wore on, the music and people became a bit disheveled. We turned back around midnight and were woken at 6 am by children playing toy trumpets in the street. Muz and I walked downtown at 9 am. We thought Guča would look post-apocolyptic but the streets were full, the beer was flowing, and people were dancing. God may have rested on the seventh day, but the Serbians did not.

As hard as we try to adopt the Balkan way of life, we knew couldn’t hack another 24 hours of nonstop horns and bacchanalian dancing. Our friends were right about Guča: it was Serbian, it was a mess, and it was great.

Flashback Friday: This-will-get-stuck-in-your-head-edition

Behold, Belgrade’s 1986 promotion video to host the 1992 Olympics:

Fair warning: it’s kind of terrible in a great, 1980s way. Was dancing really that bad then? It’s not like Beogradjani lack rhythm.

Sadly, the all-star ensemble, Belgrade landmarks and Yugoexport sighting didn’t tip the scales for the White City. Barcelona eventually got the honors. But if they had shown rakija-drinking, Yugo-mania and Belgrade’s leggy beauties, who knows what would have happened?

A soleful perspective in Belgrade

I was walking through Kalemegdan with our latest guest when she spotted these adorable hand-knit slippers. That I now own.

It’s been wonderful to host people in Belgrade. (Six visits and counting!) Their perspectives give me a fresh take on the city, and I often see things I’ve missed over the past few months. Like the woman with handknit crafts at Kalemegdan Fortress. I’ve probably walked past her 50 times without seeing these. Now I’m planning to go back for a second pair.

It’s common (and common courtesy) to remove your shoes when entering a Serbian home. Guests often receive slippers in exchange for their shoes to keep their feet clean and toasty. It’s hard to imagine putting these on during our current heat wave, but I (and our future guests) will be glad to have them when 100-degree days are a distant memory.