I can tell right now, this is going the be the most difficult piece yet, in the entire local-patriotic series about my city.
Many other cities are usually – just what they seem to be, always. And that’s exactly the feeling you get when you spend time in them. Some cities have amazing secret lives that usually start at dusk, or they might be famous for a variety of extreme behaviors and practices…or, like Paris or gorgeous Florence, for queues outside museums.
I’m sure there is something special, something interesting in every big city in the world. Except of course, for the cities in Switzerland. I spent a couple of months there in 1994. and I’m still recovering.
Even this month’s week spent in the Twin Peaksy, absolutely gorgeous Slovenia, in all of it’s order and neatness, made me feel rather anxious and deeply disturbed. Luckily, walking out of the “Nikola Tesla” airport straight into an illegal taxi drivers mass fight helped reestablish my inner balance.
Belgrade, depending on the season (and other variables), is two different cities. To me, very different cities in every way. Unlike, for example, Amsterdam, where everything is always doll-house pretty and where people are equally happily cycling through the city on rare sunny days and in the middle of unbearably freezing rain storm, Belgrade changes completely as seasons change, adapting to it right away without much fussing.
And even the fussing is, to me, kinda like an old friend you don’t like very much but you’ve known them all your life. Like the mandatory immediate and full public transportation shut-down every time the first snow falls, completely out of the blue and unexpectedly, in January. That’s just one of those warm, familiar constants that mark the official beginning of each Real Winter. Just like we know the summer is half way done by the date when all of the many city’s open-air swimming pools open for public. It doesn’t matter if it was 25C since mid April, hitting 30C in May… rules are rules and the end of June is a perfectly good time to open all the pool gates for scorched folks of Belgrade.
Of course Belgrade adapts. In it’s own weird way. By now, adapting and surviving situations that were never supposed to happen to anyone, are probably embedded in our DNA. Dealing with weather, especially rough winters, even though we are more Southerners than anything else, is really a piece of cake.
But apart from it being (at least) two different cities in the summer and in the winter time, I feel that at night, my city can finally turn the big lights off, put some cool music on, relax and be itself. Maybe even have some fun. It sure deserved it.
Ok, sometimes “Belgrade relaxing at night” seems like it has dropped a couple of acids and washed down a mountain of coke with an ocean of whiskey.
And by “have some fun” I most definitely don’t mean the floating Zoos a.k.a. splavovi by the river, which for some bizarre reason became the best known “night entertainment” of the city. Splavovi and Silicone Valley a.k.a. Strahinjića Bana street with all the “hummers” blocking the traffic and all the dark brown white girls with way too many fake bits working hard on those selfies, squeezing the giga-breasts closer together between their upper arms while duck-facing the shit of themselves, with one hand holding the phone and other one pulling the G-string out of the ass. Their obligatory short, muscly, bold (sun shades on top of their heads) companions sitting by, frowning, chewing on little plastic espresso spoons, fiddling with their car keys or/and phones, as required in the instruction book for this particular street and that particular sort.
By the way, I didn’t make any of this up, it’s an accurate description of what I saw the last time I passed through.
Funnily enough, we live two blocks away from this epicenter of this Vulgar Shallowness Flaunting str.
Last week, a friend of mine asked me to DJ in his bar. He actually opened a bar in this very street, wanting to be different I suppose, to bring a touch of Rock’n’Roll to this pretty street that has such a bad rep. And I did DJ. With my good buddy Duda, I spent last Saturday playing loud guitar music in the “Mighty Heart” bar. I expected no one to come, except our friends and families. To my surprise, we actually had guests, paying customers, who even happily inquired with the waitress if there’s “always this kind of music in this bar…” Our subversive action worked like a charm, it appears. I might do it again next Saturday.
It is virtually impossible to show, using photographs alone, why I love Belgrade at night so much. Of course it’s much more about people and situations then it is about glorious arhitecture. It’s more about music. To me, almost always music. However, I can here share some of the scenes I love, some secret corners and cool angles. All of which, to me, is inseparable from certain audio backdrop. What I always hear walking through my city, in my headphones or just in my head, is rarely any Belgrade or Serbian band. Although, some stuff by my favorite Belgrade band Bromo (“Nitro” to give you a good, healthy pace and extra energy), or “Igračka Plačka” album by Kanda Kodža i Nebojša… also some songs – especially the new cover of “Istina” (originally by Machina) by Bjesovi… Straight Mickey and the Boys, Vasil Hadžimanov – for the jazzy fusion kinda moods and walks… Popečitelji for happy speed walking, Eyesburn for a pleasant, and as V. would say “chillaxing” yet engaged stroll… and I’m not even gonna start with the older bands now, out of sheer respect for your time, dear reader.
Lots of fantastic music to have the best shuffle and the best actual life experience, walking through the old parts of the city.
For many years now, one of the songs that is always on my iPod shuffle is “Sijaj” by Manu. A truly incredible, dramatic yet groovy, important song. Like Belgrade itself, it sounds completely different if you’re listening to it while trying not to fall on the icy pavement, struggling your way through the muddy brown snow no one bothered to clean ‘cos “it’ll just keep falling anyways” … or if you’re trying to rush somewhere, through the absolutely still 40C air, with your sun shades on, feeling the concrete sticking to your shoes like bubblegum, slowing you down.
Since last year, my shuffle has been enriched by Mravi and their spectacular song “Mlad Čovek” (as well as “Okovani”, “Polaroid” etc.).
I also discovered that, apart from them being simply perfect for the summer time, listening to some of my favorite California or Desert bands tends to warm one up considerably, during sometimes unavoidable long walks through the snow covered streets, in -4C temperatures. For those, any many other occasions, I wholeheartedly recommend basically anything by The Bellrays, Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Fu Manchu and now the latest “superband” – Sail and Sun Club, featuring both of my most favorite Scotts Reeders. And one fav Bob.
There are, of course, dozens of other awesome (I chose this word that I dislike carefully) bands who change things for me, but that will be the subject of a completely different story of mine.
Unless you are deeply and completely consumed by the music you’re listening to (which often happens to me and which turned out to be quite dangerous in the city where drivers perceive traffic signs and signalization as mere suggestions), maybe you will come to the same realization as I have.
It is – I am not exaggerating – pure magic, having JUST that perfect song in your head, as you stroll through the city. A magical portal, that changes everything. Firstly – you. How you feel, what kind of mood you’re in, even the body temperature and energy level. With all that, some new ideas are bound to come. And that is, my friends, the ultimate magic.
It changes how you see and perceive everything around you. It magically, with greatest of ease, changes you and the world you’re in.
So, why am I telling you all this now?
Because that is, together with the images, the integral part of my Belgrade pictures. They all go with their own track which can change, depending on all kinds of things.
I know I now didn’t get to mention many great bands and songs that make each solo walk of mine a special treat.
One important thing though (more like a friendly advice), mostly for my Belgrade buddies: Whatever you do, make sure you do NOT have Ministry, Rage Against the Machine, Slayer and such, cranked up in your headphones while going to the bank or the post office or to any other government money-sucking place with windows, long lines and pissed off, incompetent, rude, unhelpful people you have to deal with.
I will just say I made that mistake once and I will never do it again.
Another thing I love about my city is that it is full of many incredible secret places, that are not at all secret on purpose or with any effort. It’s just how Belgrade is. The best things are never first ones on display.
You can also take what’s offered to you and probably have a good time. Or you can, if interested, dig a bit deeper, try a bit harder, use the knowledge of your hosts if you’re visiting, and discover a whole universe of places you would never find on your own and then have the best time ever.
This is the Night Chapter of my Belgrade Diary. The beginning of it.
But, since I was very surprised and happy to realize the other day that – even though I started this blog less then 2 weeks ago – for some reason I had many readers all over the world, from Korea, Finland and Balkans, to South America and Africa, so for all of you who have never been to Belgrade but you’re here, reading this now ‘cos it seems interesting and you would like to visit one day…What can I say… If you truly enjoyed your visit to Switzerland and admired the organization and order of this country in all of it’s incredible aspects and on different levels, please do yourself a big favor, save your time and money, chances are – you will deeply hate it here.
If you are more into people then visiting museums, you’re in luck! We have some of the best people in the world and our main museums have been closed for years.
If you are not an unimaginative tourist paying for some “Weekend in the Balkans’ Sin City” travel package, but an eager adventurist starving for good food, even better drinks, discoveries of hidden treasures and guerrilla places… if you’re into art and cool music (especially if you are a musician yourself)… adrenaline sports (such as driving and cycling in the city)… cheap non GMO food (fruit and veg especially) that might not look huge and shiny but actually tastes delicious, if you can see beauty in small things and you’re genuinely interested in people, if you love the extreme uncertainty of every day life and Monty Python in general… Well then… Welcome, my friend! You will have the best time in Belgrade and most probably fall in love with an Belgrader and stay here forever. That’s just how it goes.
And to all of my friends, neighbors and complete strangers (extra kudos for all the foreigners who, of all the cities in the world, chose Belgrade for their home or even vacation) from Belgrade and Serbia, I hope you’ll hear that brilliant song that moves your soul or your hips (ideally, both) as you flip through these pictures.
Good night and sleep tight.
November 13. 2013.