An American in Serbia: From a Writer’s Notebook
JULY 28, 2018
WALK TO THE DANUBE YIELDS SURPRISING DISCOVERIES
With my stem cells in the right knee starting to do their thing, I have been gradually extending my walking range. And the diversity of views and experiences in my native city.
Yesterday, for example, I headed down toward the Danube without a plan or a map. I found myself in a neighborhood I have never been in before. I was partly industrial and commercial, partly high rise residential.
PORT OF BELGRADE
My initial plan was thwarted when I got the Belgrade Port. Two security guards stopped me at the gate.
“Excuse me, Mister,” one of them yelled in English. “Can I help you?”
“Hm.. wonder how he knew I was an American?” I thought but did not say anything. “Maybe it was the small backpack that gave me away? Or the sports clothes and hiking boots?”
“You can speak to me in Serbian,” I said out loud – in Serbian.
A look of relief crossed his face, followed by a smile.
“Where are you going?,” he asked.
“I want to get to the Danube,” I pointed toward Europe’s longest river.
“I am sorry, but you can’t get there through here. This is a part. And it’s a customs zone.”
“So how am I supposed to get there then?”
“You have to go to the’25 May’ sports center. There is a nice quay there.”
Well, I knew that from my earlier hike and bike ride. But I didn’t want to walk that far. So I thought I would take this shortcut.
“Okay,” I said to the guard. “I understand.”
“Looks like I am going to have to hoof it there anyway, only taking a different (and probably longer) route,” I thought to myself.
VISIT TO SIXT CAR RENTAL PLACE
I headed in that general direction via Dunavska Street. It was a car dealers alley. Like that in North Scottsdale near the Freeway 101 and my home there.
“So this is where the Belgraders come to buy their cards,” I thought.
Or rent. I noticed a SixT car rental place. On a spur-of-the-moment I decided to walk in. Two young ladies sat behind the counter. It was late Friday afternoon and clearly no business was being transacted.
I smiled. They smiled back.
“Is SixT an Austrian company?” I asked. “I had rented cars from them in Vienna, which is why I am asking,” I added.
“No, it’s German,” one of them replied.
We continued chatting amiably about the car rental business in Belgrade. One of the ladies went to the back office to get something. I asked the other one how much it would cost to rent a small car for the weekend. A worried look showed up on her face.
“Hm… I am afraid we don’t have any cars,” she said.
“You don’t have any cars?” I repeated looking at the parking lot full of them.
She read my mind. “They are all spoken for. We don’t have any available until Aug 4. It’s a high holiday season, you know,” she added.
“Not till Aug 4?,” I said in mock surprise. “So what are you two ladies doing here? Why don’t you just go home and come back on Aug 3?”
They both laughed. Eventually, I got the rental price and walked on.
AT END OF DANUBE QUAY
I had to be creative to find my way to the Danube on foot. I knew where I wanted to go – directionally – but not how. Eventually, I meandered through some backyards of highrise apartment buildings, down an underpass, and through more apartment building parking lots. And voila!
I could sense the mighty river by the scent and the trees before I was able to see it.
As it turns out, it was the only way to walk from Dunavska Street to the end of the Danube Quay. Which is where I was hoping to get to. I took some pictures and contined to walk along the quay toward that “25 May” sports center (which out of my line of vision until just before I got there).
Looking in the westerly direction toward Zemun, a Belgrade suburb on the other side of the river Sava, I could see the rain showers that were headed our way.
So when I got to the “25 May” center, I took a taxi. One had just arrived and was dropping off passengers.
“Perfect,” I thought. “I have walked enough anyway.”
Indeed, later in the evening we were deluged by several downpours.
Here are now some panorama shots of the river and its shipping traffic, one of Europe’s busiest waterways.
JULY 26, 2018
VISIT TO STUDENT SQUARE EVOKES CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
It was a beautiful summer night and I decided to go for a short walk. I had been working all day on my 1968 student uprising memoirs (see 1968: THE SUMMER OF LOVE AND WAR), and thought I might get into the courtyard of the Philosophy Faculty building that figured so prominently in that story.
Alas, it was locked. Summer vacation season, I suppose. So I crossed the street and ended at in the little park at Student Square. This brought back different kinds of memories from my childhood.
One of my Bogdanovic uncles lived at Studentski Trg 8. So when we would come to visit him and his family, I would go down and play in that park.
The park was not nearly as nice back then as it is now. I remember a large sandbox in which I mucked about. I also remember getting a whipping from my father after I hit my 9-years older sister with a brick on the face or the head, I can’t be sure.
Luckily, there were no sandboxes with bricks this evening in this pretty little park.
PS: FAULTY MEMORY
Here’s great example of how fickle our memory can be.
I called my sister today to double check my above story and found out that, while indeed I did hit her with a brick in the face and caught holy hell from our father as a result, that did not happen here at the Student Square park. That incident took place when I was barely 3, and we lived in Beli Manastir in Croatia.
No wonder responsible media always require two sources before running a story. Now I can see firsthand why.