It’s summer in Belgrade, and this is a very good thing.
I’ve always felt summer improves everything: moods, physiques, food. But perhaps a place has never been improved by sunshine and rising temperatures more than my beloved Belgrade. And trust me, I liked it well enough before—even in the deep doldrums of dreary February when I first arrived.
It’s in the winter you can really digest the landscape; it’s a hodgepodge of eras and architectures. For some reason I really took a liking to the newer, Communist style side of the city across the river from the old city center called Novi Beograd (New Belgrade).
It’s not that I’m yugo-nostalgic, but it could be my natural predilection for utilitarian type organization and predictable gridded street systems (no winding European-style streets here, although yes those are charming). Maybe my attraction to such (what some would say) characterless blocks of apartment buildings and monuments is perverse. Either way I’m quite attached to my tastes, thank you.
Then again, wherever you are in the world, everything looks a little more Communist in the winter. The season slows our pace for an interim, things look a little lifeless….but sometimes it’s still beautiful.
About the only thing the cold didn’t stop in Belgrade was the lovers (who insisted on walking about or sitting in frigid parks and the old city fortress despite the plummeting temperature) and the nightlife. And the pijacas (open air markets). Serbians have to love, they have to party, and they have to eat.
But it’s in the summer (and spring) when the kids come out to play in the parks, when the rose bushes bloom and the windowsills are full of flowers, when the moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas tootle around hand in hand, when the river splavs (floating clubs and cafes) open for business and shake the river banks all night with the DJ’s beat.
Everything just has a little bit more character in Belgrade; This is the place they call magija (magic)….magija beograda. I would attribute the magic to the river, which both divides and unites the city and its people.
It’s funny…this is my second time back in Belgrade, and I miss home much more this time, despite the magic. But this trip was a little more independent, a little more potent. I happened to pass through the city over the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide (some contest the use of the “G-word”, especially in Serbia. Is it genocide or just a grave crime?).
But Srebrenica is beside the point. What I mean to illustrate is how I so often find myself in such precarious situations as a guest in this region. I’m an American after all, a Westerner; my affiliations of nationality prove to be controversial one way or another wherever I go. And as I analyze and contemplate my daily experiences, like in those surrounding the days around this particular anniversary, it’s hard not to quantify everything based on what I know from back home and exclude the viewpoints right here around me.
Can it be helped? I remember what a colleague from the Balkanist spoke about once, she called it “helicoptering in.” You know, going some place and pointing out all the problems and issues, drumming up attention, etc. Especially in my chosen study program and possible career, journalism, I often think about it.
It’s one of the easiest tourist traps of all, I think, to be tempted to go around in an egocentric manner; a culture war. But I was never inclined to be just a tourist. So what am I doing here anyway; why did I come in the first place? It’s food for thought, I suppose.
And it’s so nice out I think I’ll take a break from all of this thinking and just go enjoy the sweet Balkan sun for a bit.
Summer has never looked better.