Yesterday we bid a sad goodbye to Milos, who had to return to Dubai. And as my friend Fabian was arriving at the same airport just 2 hours later, we made a brief foray to a Serbian mall before returning to pick him up. All I can say about Serbian malls is that they look like malls anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception that a huge number of Serbian men seem to dress in sweatpants and trainer outfits. It was kind of shitty weather yesterday, raining a lot, so we came back to the apartment and hung out a bit before going out to a fancy Serbian restaurant called Madera for dinner. Even though it was quite fancy and delicious, as with all Serbian food, it consisted almost exclusively of meat, cheese and bread, with perhaps two or three small tomato pieces thrown in as a garnish. I am ever more determined and motivated to investigate the incidence of colon cancer here, it is becoming an obsession.
Since the weather is still not great I think we may take in the Nikola Tesla museum today, and walk around a bit in the city center if the rain lets up.
It just so happened that my trip to Belgrade coincided with gay pride week here. But this isn’t like gay pride in New York or other western capitals. The numbers attending events here are quite small, but it is heartening to see some activists take up the cause of equal rights, often at great personal danger to themselves. Serbia is a country with intense anti gay hatred. The gay pride march was supposed to happen today in the center of town, but the government canceled the event citing security issues. The last time a march was permitted was in 2010, and it was marred by intense clashes between quite well organized neo-nazi groups opposed to equality and the police. Serbia is attempting to join the EU, but it will need to respect the rights of LGBT citizens if it wants membership. It was widely expected to allow the march to go ahead and provide police protection, but at the last minute they caved. Fortunately, a smaller group of a few hundred quickly organized gay rights activists spontaneously marched instead last night, without incident.
Yesterday Boris’ boyfriend Milos arrived from Dubai (where he works) and we went to pick him up at the airport at around noon. With our limited time in the morning we went to an area called Ada and walked around the Sava lake there. There are lots of cafes around the lake and apparently the place is quite hopping in the summer. Since it was a weekday and just out of season, there really weren’t all that many people around and we had a pleasant, quiet walk around the perimeter. After picking up Milos we went to a local restaurant to have one of their favorite dishes, essentially a giant plate of meat (called Ćevapi I believe). From the food we have had over the past few days, I can only imagine that the incidence of bowel cancer and coronary disease to be quite high here. Except at the margins with a tiny bit of tomato or cucumber here or there, I have yet to find any hint of fiber in the local diet. But I have to admit it has all been pretty delicious.
Later in the evening, we went to a somewhat wild house party that we did not get home from til 5 am. It has been eons since I stayed out that late, but it was quite a good time and I am on vacation after all. On the way there we passed through an area my friend Boris described for me as like the West Village of Belgrade, and it did have more trees and a smaller scale and older architecture. I think we will head back there for a walk-around in the next few days.
Today started off a bit strange and sad, as I went with Boris to the gravesite of his friend who died a couple of days ago. The mother and father and a few family members and friends were there, and the whole thing was just heartbreaking to watch. He was clearly, deeply, loved by his family and friends, and his father in particular was inconsolable. For one thing, he was the only child. For another, he was so young, only 33. One of the other things that made it even more sad was that his boyfriend of two years was there, but to most of the family they just thought of him as a good friend. Only the mother and his friends knew he was gay, and in this part of the world it is the norm for the families to remain in the dark about it. So the boyfriend could not really be included in a way befitting the partner of someone who has just died. Everyone took turns lighting candles at the head of the grave, just behind the large tombstone. They sat around and shared remembrances (not speaking Serbian, that is what I assume anyway) and crying and consoling each other and arranging the massive pile of flowers on the grave, and after a while we left. I feel so bad for everyone involved, I had even met this friend of Boris’ when he came to New York a couple of years ago, it is such a tragedy to die so young and so suddenly.
After that, Boris and I went for a meal of heavy crepes, then walked around the old Belgrade Fortress, and then for a drink by the water.
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I have safely arrived in Belgrade, where I was picked up at the airport by Boris’ good friend Mihajlo because Boris had to very unfortunately attend the funeral of a good friend. We went out to eat at a place in one of the apparently chi chi-er neighborhoods of Belgrade, and I have to admit the food was pretty good (if heart attack inducing). I have also learned my first Serbian word: Хвала (which sounds like koala to my ear but with more of the ch sound from chutzpah at the beginning). It means, appropriately enough, “thanks”. Boris joined us later and I have to say it is wonderful to see him after all this time. I am now settled into his place while he pays some last respects to the family of his friend, and we will go out later for a brief drive around the city.
One other interesting thing I noticed in the toilet of the JAT (Serbian) airline plane I took here, was this specific message on the back of the toilet seat:
I have of course seen these signs many times before, but never with such material specificity. Glass, metal, and cloth, really? Who would even think to do such a thing? Although you just KNOW someone has before, or they probably would not have to have made the sign. Hm…
As one can no doubt tell from the date of my last blog post, it has been almost three months since I have written anything. There have been several reasons for this including an incredibly busy summer, a general malaise with blogging, and a redesign that I have spent far too much time waiting to complete.
The redesign you see before you. To tell the truth, I am not entirely happy with it and will probably change it again soon. Nevertheless, it does contain a few things I think are working well, and that I will incorporate in the final design. For one, I was looking for a way to highlight some of the literally thousands of photos I have taken on my travels over the past several years, in a way that invites greater exploration or curiosity. To that end, the photo at the top of every page is a random one that will change with every page load. Clicking on it will take you to that photo in my vast, picasaweb collection. Secondly, I have included mapping that will give greater context to my posts, since so many of them are written in so many various places around the globe. On a page of many posts, the map at the right will show the locations of all of the posts on that particular page. On a single blog post, it will show the location of that post. Of course this will require me going back through all of my old posts and adding such information to them. I have gone back several months in my posts and done just that. All future ones will be made with a location, and I will eventually get to all of the old ones. Lastly, the blog is now much more responsive when using a mobile device, and will resize appropriately. As I said above, I am not entirely happy with the new design despite having some elements I really like, but I was sick of letting it languish. Better to put it out there and see how it works, then tweak or change later.
Another reason to pick this all up again is that (you guessed it) I am embarking on another grand trip. I leave today for Belgrade (to see my dear friend Boris), then off to Paris, then Venice, then Hamburg, then Marrakech, then back to New York. The last two, Germany and Morocco, are work related (or work mixed with pleasure). Stay tuned for the photos and updates!