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.


The Long and Short of Belgrade Hair Salons

I spotted this salon while walking by Belgrade Fair. It takes a lot of confidence to name your business after your customer’s worst nightmare. Then again, there’s not too much to fear from a haircut in Belgrade. Prices are low compared to U.S. salons and stylists are quite competent. If you don’t like your local salon, there’s no need to fret: Belgrade requires a hair salon for every 50 residents. Well, not really, but one might think it. There’s a salon on almost every block downtown.

Despite the large supply of hairdressers, one should always make an appointment. It doesn’t matter whether the salon has customers or not; walk-ins are considered strange. Even if no other clients are expected, don’t be surprised if a hairdresser asks you to come back in 10-15 minutes for your “appointment.” In other words, Hair Cuttery is non-existent here. I can’t say I’m depressed about that.

Most Serbian women have straight or wavy hair, so if you’ve got very curly or African-American hair you’ll need to research salons. I’d also recommend checking out one of Belgrade’s “India” shops for hair care products for especially thick or kinky hair.

The only caveat to getting your hair done in Belgrade is color. I’m told that the hair dye here is not the same quality one might find in the EU or US. Asking for hair glaze, gloss, or other fancy terms will earn you seriously puzzled looks. As a result some people buy boxes of their favorite over-the-counter dye on trips abroad. Fortunately, Belgrade’s best hair care product is free: low humidity. I might be steamy in the summer sun, but at least my hair looks cool.

Have any tips or good stories about getting hair done in Belgrade (or beyond)? Leave ’em in the comments. Off to wash my hair…

No Pain, No Gain: Eastern Shoe Philosophy

Victor Hugo wrote, “If suffer we must, let’s suffer on the heights.”

Someone in Budapest seems to agree.

Ok, maybe this isn’t exactly what Hugo meant. But it is a general shoe philosophy around Budapest, and even more so around Belgrade. Though flats and sneakers are common sights during the day so are 3-5 inch heels. And don’t forget–people walk everywhere here. Heels reach new heights at night, when ladies delicately trot on cobblestones around Knez Mihailova and Skadarlija, or navigate the pavement on Strahicna Bana (aka “Silicon Alley”). After all, this is a city that held a footrace in heels.

Walking on cobblestones is child’s play.

I confess I haven’t gotten used to wearing stilettos around town. I’m still in training wheels, otherwise known as wedges. So the woman in the first picture put me to shame: a bandaged foot wearing a pointy-toe stiletto in the afternoon? Sister, I thought it whispered to me, you have a lot to learn. No pain, no gain.  

Detective RHOB and the Secret of the Slim Serbians

It all started with an innocent walk on Knez Mihailova with Muz and our guest Prvi. As we strolled, my skillful powers of observation noted that Belgrade women are tall, pretty and very lean. Prvi concurred, declaring that “their bodies are smoking.” Muz was far too smart to chime in.

The boys were content to enjoy the view, but I knew I had the beginning of a new case on my hands: how did women stay thin in Belgrade, the land of fresh bread and kajmak? (And pastries, and chocolates, and cevap…) I formulated several theories: good genes, constant smoking, and sporadic eating were my top contenders. One thing was certain—Belgrade women weren’t running off the pounds.

Would the Shadow know?

As the winter months continued, the secret of slim Serbians became more mysterious. From November to April, Serbian families may celebrate two Christmases, two New Years’ celebrations, and at least two Slavas. After April, weddings (hours of courses, drinks and desserts) begin. I knew Belgrade women had a secret weapon to enjoy life here and fit into minidresses. What was it?

The answer was as murky as the Potomac—until I was walking home on a dark, cold night. Snow had melted during the day, and the sidewalks were covered with large patches of ice. As I struggled to keep my balance, Serbian women daintily trotted by in heels. Of course! I thought. Icy streets are the Beogradjani “winter workout.” No wonder the women seem to have abs of steel and figure skater’s physiques. Staying upright on the sidewalk requires more core work than a pilates class.

The winter workout also offers a bonus session: jumping out of the way of ice sheets tumbling off of roofs.

This is strictly optional, though: conscientious property managers often hang homemade signs to warn passerby.

Better than nothing, amirite?

That’s right, women of Belgrade: Detective RHOB is on to your tricks. I can’t smoke or deny myself sarma, but I can use all my strength to make it home without falling down. Summer minidresses, watch out. RHOB is getting her fitness on. One cautious step at a time.

They’re European, you know.

Regarding my post yesterday, a friend emailed to tell me that the name of my beloved hair dryer sounded like something one would find in an erotica shop. First, please do not talk smack about my hair dryer. Second, that fact didn’t even register with me because after only a week here, I’m not paying attention to such innuendo.

Why? Because the female form is celebrated everywhere and anywhere here. There are half naked women in the newspapers and Playboy is sold without fanfare in the corner grocery stores. We went to a winery this weekend (more on that later) and the film they showed us featured long, bare legs slowly moving through the grapes.  I was pretty impressed by that one, actually.

What makes this even more odd is that the women in Belgrade dress pretty modestly. Of course, it’s fall here and the weather is cooler, but we’ve had a bit of a warm streak and I haven’t seen so much as a bare leg. I’ve seen more women wearing pantyhose than I have since 1998. There are a lot of leggings under miniskirts, but that’s not new. And I haven’t seen super tight clothing either. Of course, when you’re as tall and good-looking as most of the women here, I don’t think you need to adverstise the goods, if you know what I mean.

One week in Belgrade and my puritanical streak is already gone…who knows what the next year will bring.

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.