Read, Write, Run, Roam


Bizarre Budapest: the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree

I’m currently in Budapest, where a walk with Milos led me to the…Michael Jackson Memorial tree in Erzsébet tér.

This is a labor of love. Photos, letters, and candles decorate a tree across from the Kempinski, Michael Jackson’s hotel of choice during his three visits to Budapest. While Jackson was staying at the hotel, fans gathered around this tree to get a glimpse of the man waving from his window in the Presidential Suite. The day of his death, fans established a memorial around this tree to honor his memory. The tree is still maintained to this day. The white paper on the tree states: “Michael was accomodated in hotel Kempinski Next to his [sic] tree in 1996 September. He had concert in stadion [sic] part of History World Tour. So Hungarian fans established his memorial place”. The M.J. love doesn’t stop there. Every year on August 29th, fans gather to flashmob/re-enact a Michael Jackson dance scene. This August was an homage to Black or White. 

Personally, I would have chosen Thriller, the most recognized choreography in the world. Regardless it’s amazing to think of how one singer affected people all over the world for so long. I suppose that’s why the tree is there; to remind people of a flawed, doomed, and incredible human being. Or maybe it’s just there to make dogwalkers to a double-take at the bizarre side of Budapest.


Around the Balkans in 10 hours…

Today we’re driving from Corfu to Belgrade. (Wait…I’m in Greece? I know! I never tell you anything!) It’s going to be a loooong day, so you’ll have to make do with this short post/cool graphic I found on, HERE. It’s practically a map of my last two weeks, except yes, I know that Greece isn’t in the Balkans.

Check out other illustrated maps here, and swoon.

(Kinda) Church on Sunday: Center Court, Wimbledon

You can bet your life that most Serbians were deep in prayer this Sunday–in front of the television, watching Novak Djokovic BEAT (!) Rafael Nadal for the Wimbledon men’s final.

I had grand plans to watch the match near the big tennis center by Sky Fitness, but we got caught in the awful mess that is the summertime Hungarian-Serbian border. I got back just in time to see sweet victory handed to a number-one Serbian son.

It’s hard to express how happy I am about this result. Not only is it well-deserved in my totally biased opinion, it means good things for Serbia. As Chelsea Handler’s recent comments attest, there is a fundamental and deep ignorance about this country. Whether it’s the lack of attention given to Eastern Europe in textbooks, the myopic viewpoint of the West (not just the U.S.), most people associate Serbia with war. I don’t think people should forget about the Balkan wars; it just shouldn’t be the only thing they know about the region. Now, when I tell people I live in Serbia, instead of the somber, “what’s it like?” I might be asked, “how’s your tennis game?”

Not as good as his. Or Ivanovic, Tipsarević, or most elementary school team players. But I digress.

A hearty congratulations to Serbia and Djokovic. Ladies, he’s single, so feel free to come to Serbia and get to know the man and the country. As far as I can tell, his only flaw is that he has a poodle instead of a French Bulldog. I guess no one’s perfect.

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.

Ubistvo, She Wrote.

There are several ways to learn Serbian: books, private lessons, eavesdropping in cafes. And then there’s the RHOB way: Fox Crime.


Fox Crime is a channel that airs American crime and mystery shows in English, with Serbian subtitles. Some of them are good (like Numbers) and others are just plain awful, like Early Edition. It’s a show about a man whose cat brings him a newspaper from the future every day. Seriously.

Was there a second season?

I like mysteries, so I watch Fox Crime all the time. The subtitles are a bit repetitive but that helped me learn vocabulary. Using that vocabulary has been a bit of a challenge, though. I tried incorporating it into our Serbian lessons with mixed results:

  1. Volim da vidim Ubistvo, napisala (I like to watch Murder, She Wrote) made my teacher laugh.
  2. Dole, imam oruzje (get down, I have a weapon) was met with raised eyebrows.
  3. Zašto je DNA kaze DNK u Srbski? (Why is DNA called DNK in Serbian?) was answered with a puzzled ne znam (I don’t know), and an implicit “why do you care?”

I’ve stopped trying to use my Fox Crime words in class, but I can’t help wondering if they’ll come in handy one day. Will I become the Miss Marple of Belgrade? Will the Serbian FBI need my special insight to solve crimes? I’m not sure what a ukelele-playing, American housewife/blogger can offer them, but hey, uhvatiti loši muškarac-let’s catch the bad guys. As long as I don’t have to work with a psychic cat.

I'm talking to you, buddy.

Balkan Weather

A common question I get about Belgrade is, “What’s the weather like?” From what I gather it’s pretty mild compared to the mid-Atlantic. Summers are not as hot, winters are not as cold. I can only presume that this makes people ambivalent about the weather, and weather reporting.

So what do television stations do to attract weather viewers? In Bosnia, it’s simple: they take a beautiful woman, remove most of her clothing, and have her deliver the weather report while gyrating before the cameras.  If only I were kidding. On the other hand, it seems like children’s Halloween costumes are in ready supply! Who knew?

On a semi-related note, this reminds me that someone who had been to Belgrade told me, “don’t get me wrong, you are attractive, but you will feel like a dog in Belgrade.” Good times ahead.

Serbian Shower Heads?

People have really been trying to connect with our move to Serbia, with unexpected results. Thanks to friends and family who have memorized the Wikipedia page about the country, I am really looking forward to raspberry season. Someone also reminded me to look into the shower head situation there, a la Seinfeld. If you don’t remember the episode, you can check out this clip. Note: I am a law-abiding citizen and will not be exporting illegal shower heads for anyone. Even Seinfeld.