AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA
Four years ago, I arrived in Serbia. The idea was to see what living in my native city for about six months would be like after spending over half a century in America. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Three months after my arrival, a temporary living arrangement became a permanent wedlock. I married my landlady. I grew a beard. I still wear it. I lost some weight. I put some of it back. So it goes… The food is great here.
The rest… well, it was a culture shock. So much rudeness. So much senseless bureaucracy. So much unnecessary regulation. So much intolerance. So much disregard for the welfare of pedestrians and bicycle riders.
Now we are back in Belgrade for a fifth summer in a row. And we are learning to find the good within the bad.
A CITY ON TWO MIGHTY RIVERS SPARKLES AT NIGHT FROM KALEMEGDAN FORTRESS
It has been years since I walked along the walls of the Kalemegdan fortress. This Turkish structure built on the walls of the Roman city (Singidunum) has always symbolized the indestructibility and resilience of the Serbian nation. After a 500-year darkness under the Turkish sultans and pashas, the Serbs threw off the Ottoman yoke in early 19th century and created their own kingdom.
The Kalemegdan fortress remained at the junction of two mighty European rivers, the Danube and the Sava, as a reminder of both oppression and liberation. For nearly half a millennium the Belgrade pasha ruled nearly all of Serbia out of Kalemegdan. For the Serbs, this Kale (fortress in Turkish) Meydan (square in Turkish) built on a 400-ft cliff (125m) was a forbidden city. The Serbs entered it either to be imprisoned or executed. Often both.
When in 1914 the Austrian empire attacked Serbia, it was thoroughly defeated in a series of battles in northern Serbia. But when the German army joined the Austrians a year later, Kalemegdan was the bastion at which the Serbian army defended its capital city. The Austrian and German armies eventually took the city. But three years later, the Serbian army stormed back and drove them not just out of Belgrade but way out to the Alps.
So Kalemegdan became a symbol of Serbian victories over three mighty empires – the Ottoman, the Austrian and the German. In 1928, on the 10th anniversary of that victory, a huge monument was unveiled. Dubbed the Victor, the Serbian warrior is holding a hawk in his left hand, symbolizing vigilance and watchful eye pointed toward the former Austrian empire, and a sword in the right hand, ready to defend again his country if necessary.
I thought about all this history as I walked along the fortress walls last night looking at the Victor still guarding his country.
I caught him from three different angles. In the left shot, he peers between two large trees while a river cruise ship leaves the Sava harbor on its way to the Danube. In the middle shot, the Victor is alone facing the west (the former Austrian empire). In the right shot, I caught him with the moon over his head as if helping him stand guard at night.
The Kalemegdan fortress is now the biggest tourist attraction in Belgrade. Last night, thousands of residents and visitors sought refuge in this 130-acre park (53 ha) from the sweltering 37C (99F) humid heat during the day. Take a look at a pedestrian crossing from Knez Mihailova street to the park.
Was there anybody left at home in Belgrade last night? 🙂 This looks more like Tokyo or Beijing than Belgrade.
And now, here is the rest of my photo-report from the Kalemegdan walk.
A BEAUTIFUL DANUBE SUNSET
On Wed Aug 3, we went for a walk along the Danube just as the sun was setting. Take a look at this beautiful sunset…
STARBUCKS EDUCATION: HOW TO GET FREE DRINKS WITHOUT TRYING
This year, a new Starbucks store opened near our apartment in Belgrade. It’s right across the street from the National Parliament and the Main Belgrade Post Office.
On Wednesday night, Oli and I went there to cool off a bit during our walk. The store was not crowded. The three “baristas” were busy doing something on the back shelves while I waited to place an order at the cash register.
And waited. And waited. None of them paid any attention to me. Finally, after about 3-4 minutes a young man came over (they are all young at Starbucks, but unlike in the US, here they don’t look like they are any color of the LGBQT flag).
“Can I help you?” the young man said in Serbian (in the States, they always say, “what can I get started for you?”).
“Actually, you could have 4-5 minute ago,” I replied in English.
“Never mind,” I said, getting ready to just place the order rather than educate these Starbucks employees about how to treat a customer.
“No, no, I would like to know what you meant,” the young man said in English. “I am the manager here.” I noticed that his name tag read Ivan.
So then I explained to him that whatever the three of them were doing on the back shelves can never be more important than helping a customer place an order. Because that’s the beginning and the end of every business.
“And I am sure if your superiors in the US had seen what happened here, they would not have been happy,” I summed it up.
“You’re quite right,” Ivan said. “It’s just that I was busy with a delivery problem, and the other two were making drinks for it.”
“Whatever,” I said and continued to place my order.
When I pulled out my credit card, Ivan said, “no, no… you don’t have to pay.”
“Well, thank you,” I said. “That is the way to treat a customer who you would like to come back.”
So they are learning. Which is a good thing. By contrast to many other stores in Belgrade where the grim staff treat you like an enemy.
Till the next time. Bye from Belgrade.