An American in Serbia: From a Writer’s Notebook
There’s never a dull moment in my life here in Belgrade. I never know what will happen next. I seem to traverse the paths from mundane to sublime and back almost every time I leave home. And sometimes even when I am in my flat. Someone comes for a visit and we are off to the races.
I love that thrill of the unexpected. It inspires and elevates the soul. Things like that rarely happen to me in Arizona. Or even when I lived in Hawaii. Except in my communing with nature there. Nature is always changing, always surprising.
Here in Belgrade, however, I relish both constant human interactions as well as spiritual experiences. They seem to be intertwined, just like life used to be in the old days on this planet.
Take my maternal Bogdanovic ancestors’ grave, for example. One can hardly expect a cemetery to generate excitement in life, right?
FINDING MY ANCESTORS’ GRAVESITE WITH EYES CLOSED
I have had some amazing experiences at the Belgrade Cemetery (Novo Groblje), starting with my first visit there in over 50 years. I was a only a youngster when my grandmother was buried there. So I had no idea where this Bogdanovic gravesite was. My older sister tried her best to help, but in the end, her guidance also let me to a dead end. Here’s what happened next (an excerpt from DAY 10, FINDING MY BOGDANOVIC GRANDPARENTS’ GRAVESITE, RESEARCHING LINE OF SUCCESSION TO IT, May 21, 2018).
I paced up and down and around that area for about 10 minutes before calling my sister for help again. She basically repeated what she had told me earlier. Which means I was no further ahead.
PLANNING THE PLANTING OF FLOWERS
I have since taken over the maintenance of the gravesite, and paid the past due fees for the last 5 years, plus the weekly cleaning for the next 12 months. But ever since I first saw the grace back in May, I had a vision of pretty flowers and small shrubs planted in that central circle.
So yesterday, my landlady, who has a good taste in decorating and knows about flowers, and I went to the cemetery and met with the young woman horticulturalist who is in charge of such service at the cemetery.
Even though I had planted over 300 years and countless bushes and flowers at my Hawaiian property, I have no idea about the names and characteristic of the Serbian vegetation. So the advice I received from these two ladies was invaluable.
GOING TO MARKET TO GET HONEY, RETURNING WITH FLOWES
I had pretty much put this project out of my mind until Monday when the stores open. But it weaseled its way into my life today anyway.
This morning, I went to the Palilula market to get some honey and Kleenex. I returned with flowers and a new shopping bag. Go figure… 🙂
As I was walking through the market, I saw an old man selling potted plants. He was the only one with such products. We talked and he told me about the qualities of Kameleon (Houttuynia Cordata), which is green in the shade and red in full sunlights. And about “Viseći Prkos” (Portulaca), which droops down like a rainbow waterfall when placed high up, such as a pedestal at the Bogdanovic gravesite.
I did not have anything to put the flowers in, so I asked the old man if he would be back tomorrow?
“No,” he said. “This is my last day. I have to go for a medical procedure tomorrow.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said, genuinely feeling that way for the sweet old guy.
“I’l be okay,” he said. “It’s not that bad.”
Well, once I got started, I did some more research on the web about the Serbian flowers and shrubs. And I found the plant my landlady and I liked yesterday – “Čuvarkuća” (Sempervivum tectorum). And then I designed the future look of my family gravesite using my Mac and Photoshop (above).
VISIT TO BAJLONI MARKET
Next thing you know, I trodded off with my new pink shopping cart 🙂 (the only color they had with a detachable bag), to the much bigger Bajloni market.
This time, I went there to get some more flowers or shrubs. But I returned home with honey, a quince “slatko” (a sweet not translatable to English), and a plum jam – all my favorites, especially the quince. Which is hard to find as hen’s teeth. 🙂
And music found me again. As I was heading back from the flower stand, I heard the sound of a violin. This time, it was a young girl, probably just in her early teens, entertaining shoppers and passers by. Take a look. Once again, I suggest you click on CC for subtitles I have created to override the ambient noise,
YOUNG VIOLINIST AT BAJLONI MARKET – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – July 22, 2018
And that’s all she wrote on this day, Sunday, July 22.
Ciao! (Ћао!) from Belgrade.
UPDATE JULY 24, 2018
FLOWERS, NEW VASE AT THE CEMETERY
This morning, I took the flowers to the cemetery. They will be planted tomorrow. I also bought a new white marble case and a new bouquet of flowers for it.
UPDATE JULY 25, 2018
KALENIĆ MARKET DELIVERS EXERCISE, MUSIC, SERENDIPITY…
TWO BEAUTIFUL YOUNG LADIES PROVIDE FINAL TOUCH TO MY ANCESTORS’ GRAVE
Mission accomplished! My heart is now full.
It took 5 weeks, but now all plants and flowers are in the ground at my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ grave. Two wonderful young ladies – Stana and Andjela, both with horticulture architecture degree – who did all the landscaping work this morning. With a lot of love and care.
Four beautiful giant Cedars (Tuja in Serbian) were already there, standing guard over my ancestors’ grave for decades, maybe even close to a century (this gravesite was purchased in 1923, my grandfather was buried there in 1933).
MUSIC, SERENDIPITY AND SYNCHRONICITY
When I headed from my home on foot to the Kalenić Market this morning (about a 2km, 11/4 miles), I had no idea that today would be the culmination of my five-week effort to restore my ancestors’ last home to its former beauty. I intended this walk as part-exercise and part-exploratory visit to Belgrade’s largest farmer’s market (pijaca). A longtime friend has been telling me about Kalenić market, and since I still needed to get a centerpiece-bush/shrub for my ancestors’ grave, I thought I’d see what I might find there.
As usual, the beautiful Dwarf Cypress (Chamaecyparis), from the Zlatar mountain in southwest Serbia I ended up buying, pretty much found me. As did music. This was the first sight that welcomed me to Kalenić – another violinist:
I asked the violinist during a break if he comes here every day. He said he did.
“Even if it rains?” I persisted.
“Even if it rains,” he said.
He thanked me for the donation and for shooting this video clip.
OLD UNIVERSITY BUILDING, FORMER BOGDANOVIĆ STREET
On my way to the market, I had also passed by my old university building and walked down the street which was once named after one of my Bogdanović ancestors.
Dušan Bogdanović, my great uncle, was part of the resistance against the Nazis in Belgrade during WW II. In 1944, he and my aunt, Milica (Seja), also a resistance collaborator, were arrested by the Germans and taken to the notorious Banjica prison. They were tortured by Gestapo.
When that became fruitless (they would not betray any of their comrades), they were condemned to be shot. Due to an administrative mixup, my aunt was put on a train to a concentration camp in Germany. She survived the war there and returned to Belgrade in 1945. My uncle did not. He was executed in Banjica before Belgrade was liberated in October 1944.
That why this street was named after him at the time I lived in Belgrade. Now I see the name was changed to one of Serbian Orthodox patriarch. So it goes…
BACK TO MY NEW DWARF CYPRESS
Тhey look great, don’t they?
bought that beautiful Dwarf Cypress (left) at the Kalenić market for the center piece, plus two Lavender plants (for a nice scent). When I called Stana to see if we could meet at the gravesite, she said she and Andjela were already there, actually planting the flowers I had brought to them yesterday.
“Wow,” I said to myself. “Another amazing case of serendipity and synchronicity.”
Or “coincidence,” as those who do not know that there is no such thing might call something like this.
I thanked my spirit guides and teachers, and took my new purchases right away (by taxi) to the cemetery. I found Stana and Andjela preparing the ground for the planting of the other flowers.
ANOTHER MUSIC CONNECTION
“Do you mind us playing music?” Stana asked me while we were chatting.
“Mind?” I said. “I love it. One of these days, I will be lying here and I hope you continued to play music for me.”
I then explained that I am a musician among other things. Turns out so is Stana. She said she attended a Music School in New Belgrade before going to the university to become a forestry engineer, with horticulture as her specialty.
“Another thing we have in common,” I remarked. Besides the love of plants – something we talked about yesterday when I told her and Andjela about the hundreds of trees and plants and planted and cared for on my property in Maui, Hawaii.
Then I left and let them continue with their work.
An hour and a half later, I got a text from Stana showing me the finished job. And enclosing this photo.
I told her they did a great job and offered to praise their work to her boss, Bojana. But Stana showed another wonderful trait – being considerate – when she replied that Bojana is a mother of three and thus very busy.
“I will pass on to her your praise,” Stana said.
ZLATAR MOUNTAIN CONNECTION
“Where are you from?” I asked the man at the Kalenić market who had sold me that beautiful Dwarf Cypress and Lavender plants (which he called “Lopta (Ball) Nana” – Nana in Serbian derived from Nanus in Latin, meaning Dwarf).
“Nova Varoš on Zlatar Mountain,” he replied.
“I have heard from some of my relatives that it is very beautiful there,” I added.
When I got back home, I decided to look it up. And now I can share the beauty of Zlatar (Goldsmith in Serbian) with you, too.
Zlatar is a long way from Belgrade – about a 4.5 hour-drive, probably even longer now at the height of vacation season, But it is fairly close to the Djurdjevića Tara and Mountain, our family’s ancestral home between roughly 1389 and 1690 (see Djurdjevdan – Saint Goerge’s Day).