Thursday, August 31, 2006


Guca is upon us once again. I do not intend to go. The sweaty public drunkenness and the cacophony of trumpets are really not my cup of tea (bottle of brandy).
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Guca, as such. Let people party in whatever way they see fit, but labeling this a supreme cultural event or saying that there is something uniquely and authentically Serbian in getting drunk and losing control is just wrong. “It’s a Serbian brand, it’s a Serbian brand”, desperate voices cry out to defend the festival from its critics. Sure it’s a brand. It is a big tourist attraction, an important event in the Serbian calendar, a moneymaking machine, but by no means does this guarantee quality or the “cultural” and “ethnic” aspect of the whole spectacle. People rarely think of the actual trumpeters’ competition. It is merely an excuse.
Some website in the UK has allegedly voted Guca and Exit as the top two festivals or carnivals in the world, even ahead of Rio. I have my doubts that this is probably a website frequented by Serbian diaspora, but there is another thing preventing me from jumping with joy at the fact that I live in the certified epicenter of world entertainment.
Within Serbia there is an evident disproportion in treating these two “world famous” brands. I don’t claim one event is better than the other (I certainly prefer Exit), as it is a matter of taste, but they are deliberately and forcefully confronted.
Guca is seen as traditionally Serbian and Exit as something foreign, even anti-Serbian.
The government and the media proudly promote Guca as Balkan joie de vivre whereas Exit is always marred by criticism of drug abuse and incidents.
Neither event is certainly free from corruption, accidents and illegal substances, the death toll of Guca drunk driving car accidents is not insignificant, but that is part of life and these ugly things do not make them less important or less Serbian.
Another thing that bugs me is the approach to organizing Guca. It is graciously funded by the state and still they have the audacity to postpone the event with only a month to go, potentially ruining plans of thousands of badly needed tourists, just because someone remembered that it was time for fasting!? And here I thought we live in a secular state.
Silly me, everyone knows that any good Christian believer has to be done with al that nasty fasting business before stuffing him/herself with fatty pork and liter upon liter of brandy and beer. After the fast, it’s perfectly all right. After the fast, you can indulge in as many pagan rituals as you want. The church can even rent its frond yard to accommodate this orgy of lard and alcohol, as it gladly does. The church, naturally sees nothing wrong with its flock indulging in large scale gluttony at is very doorstep, but it does have a problem with street theatre performances labeling them satanic, and getting the police to intervene.
Here I go again, but like with every other aspect of life in Serbia lately there is a terrible trend of primitive and shallow celebration of “nationhood”, “faith”, “tradition”. Will we ever learn that faith is something deeply personal, that nations do evolve, that new traditions are bourn and that national identity can encompass so many new things that only make it stronger?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Not Dead

Finally! After first being too busy and then sick (from being too busy) and than too busy again, I can finally get back to the simple pleasures in life. Like… sleeping, or eating, or writing my blog.
But I can’t think of a thing to write about. Working around the clock and stomach flu tend to leave a person uninspired. The constant rain isn’t a lot of help either.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cosmic Proportions

Things change. They actually do. I’ve been following what I consider is some of the biggest news in years, and I’m very excited about the prospect that even what we consider hard facts can change in a day. How many planets are there in our Solar System? someone asks. Um, Nine? one would say. Nope. Wrong. Twelve… that is if you count the “plutons”, would be the new answer.

Off course conspiracy theorists (no shortage of those) could argue this latest change was funded by an international lobby of printers, already rubbing their hands and licking their lips thinking about the profits from printing new textbooks, dictionaries and encyclopedias, but I think there is nothing sinister about it.

It just proves that science is alive and kicking, thank you very much. And it can still change our world.

Sure, the Solar System hasn’t actually changed. Apart from the regular movements of its comets, asteroids and planets it is exactly where it was a few days ago. We cannot change the laws of nature, but we can and do change what we know and how we interpret it. We do change our perception. And that’s the wonderful thing. It shows us that no system created by man is everlasting and impervious to change no matter how used to it we’ve become. Sooner or later we learn something new, circumstances change, reality kicks in, and we have to accept it and move on.

This change of cosmic proportions will hopefully trickle down through space, carried by solar winds, and our gravity will pull it down to a global, continental, regional or local level. Nothing lasts forever. Isn’t it a relief? Whether it’s religious dogma or American foreign policy or the Serbian government or international borders. And still life goes on.

This latest Solar System enlargement has given a chance to some new heavenly bodies to have their time in the spotlight. And there are more candidate planets hoping to meet the criteria for admission. Our ever changing neighborhood gives hope even to those of us living in the Kuiper belt of Europe that our time might come.

Another thing we can learn is the power of compromise. Pluto got its final status, and it’s, well, less than a classical planet more than an asteroid. Some things you lose, some thing you win, it lost its moon but gained a twin planet and got to be the reference point for other planets. And I’m sure the Plutonians don’t mind.

For a serious text on the subject: BBC

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fast Food, or Gone Quickly

This is my appeal for the state to subsidize out-of-the-ordinary fast food. At least until eating habits of the Serbian people have changed and it becomes profitable.

The only falafel place in Belgrade has closed. The other day I went there for the first time in a while only to discover that it has been turned into yet another grill. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Serb, I love grilled meats of all kinds, and pizza, and all sorts of yummy pastries from bakeries, but sometimes one just wants to eat something else on a short lunch break. And there isn’t anything.

Is it possible that in a land with such good food and such a love of food, there is no room for something with more spice, or rice? I guess the problem is that we see these types of food as something that will bring a little variety, something that we can eat every once in a while. And that’s obviously not enough. There are not enough people who see this food as their daily bread, or hamburger, or burek.

So basically, this is also my appeal to all people of good will from the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, South-east Asia and the Far East, Africa and Latin America to come and settle in Belgrade in large numbers, building communities, bringing with them a breath of fresh air and a little variety. Maybe if we sit down and eat each other’s food, this will be a better place.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Myopia is fun

I’ve been home alone these last few days.
Last night, lying in bed without my lenses I looked out the open door of the bedroom and the red lamp at the far end of the living room seemed to be a ball of blood-orange light, like one of those summer sunsets over New Belgrade which paint the sky purple.
You rarely think about it, but Myopia sure can bring a different perspective.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

... there are some ugly buildings

Another thing I thought about this morning is that the new (not really new, but recently completed) National Bank building on Slavija is one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. It looks as if it didn’t even have an architect but that someone just pieced together every geometric shape imaginable.
So I thought I’d try something. And I’d like some involvement. I don’t know if I can pull this off, as only a few people actually comment on this blog, but here goes:
What, in your opinion, is the ugliest building in Belgrade? And Why?
I know that among the people who come here regularly there are some Belgraders, temporary, permanent or former, so I’m sure you won’t be short of opinions.
As for the criteria: Let’s not talk about houses or residential buildings, unless they’re unavoidably terrible. They get torn down and replaced. Also I’m not thinking of buildings which are in poor condition, gray, dirty and crooked. That can be fixed.
I’m thinking big. I’m thinking landmarks, buildings which have left their permanent mark on this city, one that will haunt us for a long time. So think government buildings, hotels, hospitals, museums, theaters, sport arenas, churches…
Also, to balance it out, if you want, say which ones you like, but try and avoid the usual favorites, like the Parliament or something

Belgrade is beautiful, but...

The overnight train from Vienna arrives at 6:27. I got up at five as I had to pick someone up at the train station. I decided to walk. I don’t even know how public transport works at this time of day.

I like being out very early in the morning. Everything is so peaceful and you’re the only one disturbing the peace. I like how I can hear the echo of my footsteps. I like how you can hear rumbling long before you even see a car. I like to look at the city without people and traffic, fresh and clean. It’s so unreal and out of context.

This was the first time that I walked from Slavija to the train station since Nemanjina street got a facelift. Think it looks great.

I got to the station on time. The train was naturally late. The station is filthy and stinks, so I decided to wait outside. The plato in front of the station actually looks great. Disregard the parked cars, the filth, pollution and construction work and it will make a nice square some day. It’s a pity that Korunovic’s post office building didn’t survive.

The train arrives and hundreds of young backpackers pour out of the train. I started thinking about first impressions. It’s a disgrace that people arriving to a European capital of nearly 2 million people by bus or train have to see what they see and smell what they smell. I know construction of the new train station is restarting and the bus station will be moved to New Belgrade, but this will take years and something needs to be done urgently. Maybe that’s why so many visitors like Belgrade, because after the first impression it can only get better.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I was trying to find a reason why being back from vacation is a good thing.
At my local market which happens to be the most expensive in Belgrade most fruit and vegetables cost 30 to 50 Dinars (35-60 Euro Cents) per kg, while in Montenegro the same products are 1.5 Euros. What causes this huge difference is beyond me.
At least now I can munch on as much melon and blackberries as I want looking out the window at the gray sky and wet streets.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Heading Home

I feel uncontrollably attracted to this rocky terrain. Maybe it’s an ancestral connection, but I really think there is nothing like the nature in Montenegro. The mountains are mighty and unbelievably beautiful.
For reasons beyond my control, my vacation lasted longer than planned (not that I’m complaining) so on Thursday morning we left Boka Kotorska. Once again we chose a less conventional route and started to ascend up the winding road leading to the cloud covered mountain tops. We passed this same road at dusk on our way to the sea, but now in daylight it’s even more impressive. The air was fresh from the rain which fell during the night.
Instead of turning west into Bosnia, we headed east to Niksic. The plan was to go through Zabljak and the world heritage Durmitor national park. Curiously, in all these years it is another place that I’ve never visited. And soon I realized how much I’ve missed.

Just before Niksic we passed wonderful lakes with lots of tiny islands. The city itself, as most cities in inland Montenegro is ugly and, to me at least, looks unlivable. But the nature is unreal, and the closer we got to Zabljak, the more my jaw dropped at the Windows desktop theme surroundings

The open spaces, the mountains and the huge sky reminded me of Brokeback Mountain. My suggestion to listen to the soundtrack was dismissed, unfortunately.

We had a picnic on the shore of the Black Lake. You have to pay to enter the national park. I’m not really sure if that is common practice, but it’s absolutely worth it.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. We passed the border into Serbia without even being looked at. We struggled our way through intensive construction work on Zlatibor and soon got into traffic jams stretching to Belgrade.

I’ve had a wonderful vacation and I feel energized and relaxed. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Party Town

Budva is a big city which caters to all needs – on the main promenade stalls offer everything from fish-themed temperature-measuring refrigerator magnets and inflatable marine animals to henna tattoos and hand-crafted jewelry. There are rollercoasters and hair salons, internet cafés and shoe shops, clubs and bars. The usual Montenegrin menu of fish, pizza or pancakes, expands to anything from Greek or Chinese to McDonald’s.
The old town is beautiful and completely restored with lots of attention to details.
A wonderful discovery is a place called Hot Moon with a great choice of tasty smoothies and delicious fusion food of Mexican, Indian and Montenegrin origin.
Although the ability to endure a day at the beach with tens of thousands of other people is something I’ll never develop, I see why the off-beach content attracts so many. It’s fun. In September, it’s perfect.

The Quest Continues

The quest for the perfect beach continued yesterday. We decided to go to a place called Perazica Do where my sister and I went a couple of times when we were kids. I remember the cute houses nestled at the bottom of a steep cliff , and a pebbled beach with turquoise water. I also remember a luxury hotel carved into the cliff on one end of the beach, its terraces and swimming pools. I’ve heard in the meantime that the hotel had closed and fell into disrepair, but we did not expect to find what we found. The hotel has been demolished as if a huge bite has been taken from the mountain. A crane towered above ghostly concrete remains and bulldozers were plowing what was once the hotel beach with its pools. The whole place was transformed into a huge construction site and debris and sand have covered the beach and muddied the water. Disappointed, we left. We’ll be back when the new hotel is built.
But, we were left with a dilemma - how to spend a pleasant day at the beach on the Budva Riviera the most crowded part of the coast? If you want peace, look for luxury. We thought of checking out the beach at Sveti Stefan but the 10 Euro price tag just for the parking was a bit too much. So we headed on to Milocer, where parking is only three Euros, but the beautiful Queen’s beach with its former royal residence is closed for the public so that the president can take a swim.
It was already noon, very hot and the traffic was terrible. Skipping Becici with its new fancy hotels on a very unappealing beach and Budva, we moved on determined not to compromise and to find just the righ balance of tourism and wilderness. Therefore one by one the ant colonies of Jaz, Trsteno and Ploce were eliminated. Even at the risk of being boiled alive, the five of us in a small car decided to take the back roads over the hills in the blistering sun and go to Bigovo. On the way the only life we saw were snakes and some sheep under an olive tree.
But it was worth it. Bigovo is a fishing village in a small bay, far from any important naval or terrestrial routes. It isn’t much to look at, but it is pleasant and laid back. Outside the village there is a nice beach. The water is very clean and there is a lot of fish and shells something I haven’t seen in Boka in many years. In fact on the town pier we find dried remains of some quite scary sea creatures. I hope the water is not that clean.

Trip "Abroad"

Although Montenegro is now independent, the visit to Ulcinj was the only time that I ever felt as if I were in a different country. I’ve spend every summer of every year of my life in Montenegro, but this was my first trip to the south end of the coast.

The stretch from Ulcinj to the confluence of the Bojana River and the Albanian border is an enormous beautiful sandy beach, which for most of its 15 or so kilometers is divided into lots where different owners have created almost identical forests of umbrellas surrounding beach bars and crisscrossed by wooden walkways to keep people safe from the burning sand. The beaches have names like Copacabana or Malibu and outside on giant parking lots are seas of cars with mostly Kosovan plates (I didn’t immediately get what KS means so I was surprised by the number of tourists from Kazachstan)

After some wandering and instructions from a friendly guard of the nudist colony we managed to find a “wild” piece of beach near the confluence of the river which is home to the occasional bather, kite surfers and a shabby bar with a Brazilian flag. I’m used to the typical Montenegrin stony beaches but I did enjoy walking in the sand and there is nothing more comfortable for lying all day in the sun. The sea is shallow for more than you can walk without getting bored and a bit murky from the sand lifted by huge waves. We spend a lovely lazy day, and I’ll definitely come again.

As the sun started to set we went into town. The old town in Ulcinj sits on cliff above the sea, but is nowhere near as impressive as Budva or Kotor. I expected hammams and mosques. It is well kept and clean but there is no impressive architecture. It also seems a bit deserted.

Downhill, however, on the promenade by the sea everything is teaming with life. You can barely walk through the crowded streets. It is noisy, sweaty and smells of all sorts of food.
As I’m a huge fan we get some dönner kebabs with the help of an interpreter. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as tasty as in Germany.
Everything is familiar, but somehow strange, more oriental. Everyone speaks a different language, people even look different. Whole families, all generations from grand parents to crying babies, out on their evening walk, snake tamers, naked children lying on the sidewalk, begging. Incredibly loud Albanian music blasts from terraces of clubs. Crowds wait outside - apparently some huge Albanian star has a concert. Funnily enough, most young man look as if they just came out of a Turkish gay club, in garish, supposedly trendy outfits. The only uniting factor of all nationalities in former Yugoslavia seems to be Ceca who found her place even hear, “thundering” away from a café. Another thing that surprised me was the number of internet cafés. Elsewhere on the cost they are small and few, but here there are so many with hundreds of computers, and they are all full.
Ulcinj was really a unique experience, a different setting, naturally and culturally. I’m really glad we made the trip.

Real Estate

One of the interesting phenomena which have come to light with Montenegro’s independence is the real estate boom. In old Kotor town agencies have sprung up catering to pockets of all depths, preferably very deep. All along the coast demand exceeds the offer. Everything goes from fully furbished villas to empty shells of long-deserted stone houses engulfed by roots of fig trees. Similar to Croatia from a couple of years ago, foreigners with some cash to spare buy, invest, sell. First came the Russians, now it’s the English. Hollywood seems to be interested as well. Friends tell me Michael Douglass and Katherine Zeta Jones were looking at a house in Perast the other day. Houses change hands and their prices go up and up. I guess now is the time to invest before the realtors move along into Albania. Hear the coast is amazing there. There’s already talk of the next big thing.

View from Perast. Skolje Islands: St. George and Lady of the Reef

Perfect Day

The Montenegrin coast, once isolated, was a peaceful haven where connoisseurs and us „locals“ could easily find a secluded place to enjoy the sea and the sun far from tourism, beach bars, rentable umbrellas and screaming children. But it seams more and more people are enjoying this type of refuge, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a piece of rock and water for yourself. Too often I find cars parked along the winding road through the bay at my favorite „secret” spots, where hidden tracks lead through the shrubs to immaculate beaches which I always thought were mine alone.
The car imposes itself as a necessary instrument in going further off the beaten track. A boat, naturally, is another good solution.

We decided to spend a day at Miriste a small cove at the very entrance to Boka Kotorska looking beyond the fortresses that guard the bay onto the open sea. The road by land is narrow and winds through olive groves – the Mediterranean as it once was, excuse my copyright infringement. Although boats come here regularly from Herceg Novi it is not as crowded as Zanjic with its camp site, just a short walk away. It is not absolute isolation, as there is a restaurant, café, showers and all other modern facilities but the number and profile of visitors makes it very relaxing and pleasant.
The water is crystal clear and tropically blue, and the view is spectacular. Nearby on a rocky peninsula is the Arza fort, another nice place to swim and dive, where a couple of years ago after a long journey over rough roads I finally arrived only to hear Vivaldi echoing through the empty halls and find out that during the summer the fort is home to some other refuge seekers. On the far side of the bay you can see the forts in Croatia and in the middle the mighty Mamula fortress on an island with weird vegetation.
Just off Miriste beach is another small island with a monastery.

As we were a group of 10 people, we easily managed to charter a boat just for ourselves and set off to explore the Blue Cave just outside the bay. The huge sea cave is a great place to dive in the predictably very blue water. Our skipper also offered to take us to the nearby Black Cave, which I’ve never even heard of on my numerous visits to its well known cousin.

It’s absolutely fantastic! As you swim inside (the entrance is to low for boats of any kind to pass) the only light is coming from under the water so bodies of people in front of you have a fluorescent glow. Swimming further your companions start to disappear in total darkness. Through the black, holding hands, you reach the end of the cave where you can stand on rocks in the water. The water gets quite cold and you shiver looking back at the sliver of light from which you came as you listen to strange sounds of water splashing and what I imagine can only be bats in the darkness above you. Very exciting and eerie. Then you swim out into the warm Adriatic.
On our way back to Miriste we stopped at Mamula, to swim and explore the wonderful fortress and its alien plant life. Stories of turning it into a casino are still there but I like it just as it is.
Back at Miriste we spent the rest of the day playing games on the beach and after the beautiful sunset we went to Rose, a lovely fishing village nearby for a great sea food dinner. We made our way back on the winding roads listening to a Mozart cd which accidentally made its way into the car. But it sure made for a wonderful ride.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Back in Belgrade

After a prolonged 20 day vacation I’m back in Belgrade, and back at work. I’ve only managed to post once from Montenegro, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, just that every time I went to Kotor, the only internet café was either too crowded or didn’t have electricity, but it did have a wonderful fruit tart to help me forget why I came. I’ll organize my notes and photos today and share my adventures and impressions. Stay tuned...