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An American in Serbia: From a Writer’s Notebook

August 12, 2018

Compared to the frantic pace of my first five weeks in Belgrade, this past week has been rather serene. Still, there were a few “newsworthy” ripples.


But first, a musical treat for you for this Sunday morning. This is my orchestral interpretation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata which I recorded on my Clavinova in Hawaii, also on a Sunday, in February 2014.


I was reminded of that 4.5 year old recording when a friend from Chicago sent me a link to this video of two young sexy musicians performing the same piece on piano and cello. You may recall that in my interpretation of this sonata I also used piano and cello in the above Fen 2014 video, starting at about 3:30 min.


While on the subject of music, the week started with my finally getting around to the last of the Chopin waltzes that came to me in a dream in February of this year.  It was Waltz Op 70 #1 in G-flat. Four days later, I recorded this….


My “Chopin Year” (August-to-August) ends of auspicious date (Aug 11)

My first new Belgrade piano recording, Chopin Waltz in G-flat, part of Chopiniana



Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened last week was my unbelievable “luck” in securing a ticket to a performance of “Carmen” (opera) at the world famous Bregenz Music Festival.

What makes this festival unique is that the stage is on a lake. Lake Constance, which is share by three countries – Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Here are some Google Earth views of the site that I extracted the other day. You can even see my seat in one of the images. 🙂

What was so “lucky” about it?

Well, all “Carmen” performances have been sold out. When I contacted the Bregenz Festival staff the week before last to see if I could use a voucher I received as a birthday gift from my daughter in Vienna, they basically said that chances of that were slim to none. Still I persisted, and on Monday Aug 6 one seat became available for Friday Aug 17. I quickly snatched it.

The reason I put the word “luck” in quotes is that virtually the same thing happened last May when I tried to get a ticket to Wagner’s masterpiece “Götterdämmerung” at the Bolshoi theater in Moscow. I was stunned when I also got ticket for a sold out show. And an excellent one at that – the 8th row of the orchestra for less than half price of a regular ticket (see BELGRADE-MOSCOW FLIGHT, A MAGNIFICENT BOLSHOI NIGHT, May 23).

You can call such things “luck,” if you wish. Or magic. But I know it is Divine intervention. So I thanked my spirit guides for the Bregenz ticket as I had done for the Bolshoi one.


My good “luck” continued when I tried to make a hotel reservation in Switzerland. This is the peak of the high holiday season in Europe. And Lake Constance is a VERY popular tourist destination. Not to mention the crowds which the Bregenz Festival brings in. So nearly all hotels around the lake were sold out.

Yet I was able to book myself into a nice resort on the Swiss side of the lake about a 40-minute drive from Bregenz. Take a look.


Sure thing. I know better.

I leave for Zurich on Tuesday Aug 14 and return to Belgrade on Sat Aug 18.



Another piece of magic that unfolded this week happened on Thursday. The day before, I had breakfast with my landlady. And she told me wistfully a story about a globe which she inherited from her father which her daughter’s teenage friends had destroyed while she was away from home. It was a globe that opened up and also served as a mini bar.

I have never heard of or seen anything like it. But it was obviously something that was . very precious to her. So on a spur of the moment, I said, “I will buy you a globe.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected that I would find a globe that opens up into a minibar. Yet after compiling a list of antique dealers and calling them about it, I found one that actually advertised 18th and 19th century globes.

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 2.35.40 PM

The dealer’s website showed the globes you can see on the left. But when I got to the store, I also saw the one on the right.

“Does this one open?” I asked the dealer seeing a latch on the back of it. “And you can put bottles inside?”

“Yes, it does,” he replied.

“Please do it for me,” I said, fearful not to damage something that looked as ancient as that globe.

He did. And I could not believe my “luck.” I felt as if my spirit guides had placed it there next to all the other globes from the dealer’s website just for me. Or more accurately, for my landlady.

I took a closer look at the age-darkened globe surface. It looked like the language was Spanish or Italian with some Latin, too. And then I spotted the date: 1578.

I could not believe my eyes. A 16th century Spanish or Italian globe at a dealer’s shop in Belgrade!!!

Some 15 minutes later, I walked out of the store with the globe in my hands. I even bargained down the asking price by 20% even though the dealer had priced this one lower than those 18th and 19th century globes he also had on display.

Guess he grossly underestimate the treasure he had? Or maybe that was also the doing of my spirit guides?

Either way, I was very happy to find it and my landlady was thrilled beyond belief. You can see it above  now at my flat.



The same afternoon, I went to a longtime friend’s place and enjoyed a delicious barbecue he had prepared for about 10 people. I was the only “guest.” The rest were his staff and his wife – the only woman in the group.



After a dinner with a friend, I went on a short walk around the neighborhood. While in Tašmajdan Park, I came upon an outdoor movie. It was an American film with Serbian subtitles.

I have not seen anything like that in decades. Probably the last time I saw an outdoor movie show was in Western Australia circa 1999. It brought back fond memories of the drive-ins we once also had in America.

Here are some other shots I also took while strolling that evening through Tašmajdan Park.



After several weeks of waiting for the one and only glass maker for candle holders to return from his seemingly eternal vacation, I had almost given up on the idea of replacing the old decades-old candle holder at my Bogdanovic family gravesite. So when I got a call yesterday morning from the store that sells them, the first words out of my mouth were, “is it possible?”

“Today it is,” the merchant replied. He was now also on vacation but came back to the store so I can pick up the new candle holder.

When I came to the cemetery to place the new candle holder on a marble pedestal, I noticed that it had not been cleaned as promised, even though I had paid for a full year of such maintenance.

Worse, the new flowers and shrubs that I have so painstakingly assembles from three different Belgrade markets (pijaca), were dying. And one plant was actually completely dried out. The dirt looked like the Arizona desert. It had not been watered in weeks.

Again, the people who had planted them and were supposed to water them had also fallen down on the job.

So I got in touch immediately with the maintenance supervisor and the Stana, the horticulture engineer who had planted these flowers for me. It turns out it was a case of “when the cat’s away, mice play.” They were on vacation and their staff took advantage of it to do nothing. Both promised immediate remedial action when they come back to work on Monday.

But rather than wait till then, I also sprung into action. I only had a small bottle so it took probably about 20 trips and over an hour to the water fountain and back to water the flowers and shrubs. But at least now they have a chance for life.



A lady friend has been working on me to grow a beard – something I have not done in over six years. And she also found me these blue moccasins which I bought last week.

So with this “fashion statement” 🙂 I will say goodbye from Belgrade and probably pick up the action again in Switzerland next week.

UPDATE AUG 12, 2018 (PM)


This afternoon, I did it again. Went down to the Danube, rented a bike, and cruised along the Sava river to Ada Ciganlija and back.

It was hot and but the ride was better than the last one. Not nearly as crowded even though it was also a weekend,

You can see me here at the start, with the Danube behind me, and at the half-way point, with Ada Ciganlija and the bridge over the river Sava in the background.

And then something quite interesting happened which I had not discovered until I got home and looked at my pictures.


I had set up my camera on a ledge of a busy highway for a 10-second time-delay selfie. And then just as the camera took the HDR shot(s), two other rides rode through the scene. So I got a three-for-one shot, if you will. 🙂

As I was riding back, I was thinking I should get riding half-gloves and a padded pair of pants. The bike I rented was old and worn out and was hard both on my bum and by hands. And then as I entered the bike shot to return it, I saw that they actually did sell gloves, though not riding pants. So voila!


In this last shot, depicting the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube, with the War Island in the background, you can see the debris piled up against the bank. Only a few weeks ago, we had at times torrential rains and frequent thunderstorms. In August, the weather has turned hot and dry. So the water level had dropped off exposing the river banks.

The one thing you cannot “see” in this shot is the stench of rotting bodies. Let us hope they are some animals that had drowned rather than humans. When I was a child growing up on the banks of the river Sava, I remember that smell. And also later on when I would come across some animal carcass during my hikes in Western Australia, Arizona and Hawaii. You don’t forget a scent like that.




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