Serbia I.

by angeliska on August 27, 2005

“Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy la qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage & raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son aage !”

-Joachim du Bellay

So begins the prologue to a book that served as my
guide to the country that was once called Jugoslavije..
Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, written by Dame Rebecca West
in 1940 holds more essential truths in it today then any
Lonely Planet. Not that any travel guides to this region are
very abundant- tourism having never been more than a trickle.
This weighty two-volume tome, and my severely outdated pocket dictionary
titled “Just Enough…Serbo-Croat!” were indispensible to me.
It is difficult for me to begin to tell the story of traveling there,
and how deeply it affected me- though I know it affected Mme. West
in a similar way, and so I will adopt her passage for my purposes:

“I saw the blue lake of Ochrid,
the mosques of Sarajevo, the walled town of Korchula,
and it appeared possible that I was unable to find words
for what I wanted to say because it was not true.
I am never sure of the reality of what I see, if I have seen it only once;
I know that until it has firmly established its objective existence
by impressing my senses and my memory,
I am capable of conscripting it into the service of a private dream.
In a panic I said, “I must go back to Yugoslavia,
this time next year, in the spring, for Easter.”

As soon as I had left it, I was struck with the same panic and longing-
I must get back there sometime soon. What can I do until then but try
to recount the details bit by bit, from end to beginning-
as circuitous and snakelike as the twisty mountain roads
that led us into Dragačevo..

Those dangerous byways took us from the absurdly luxurious hotel
hung with perplexingly beautiful artwork, where we dined on
paprikash soup, monkfish, and blueberry nectar
to the bombed-out governmental buildings in downtown Belgrade-
and finally to a truly idyllic village in the green mountains: GUČA!

We stayed with a wonderful family who lived (unfortunately)
on a hill up a dirt road. We arrived in the late afternoon rain,
which has turned that little road into to rutted drainage ditch-
making navigation in a wheelchair nearly impossible.
However, our hosts were so warm and lovely that we
felt very welcome, and in the morning things had dried up some.
The home of Dragic and Gordana, and their grown children
Dragana and Nikola was extremely cozy- and the garden!
An earthly paradise wound with grapevines and flowers..

Every morning, we woke to the sound of cows lowing, roosters crowing,
crows cawing and trumpets sawing. Gordana made a traditional breakfast
feast for all of her eight lodgers- with ‘kacamak’ and ‘kajmak’,
authentic Serbian ‘gibanica’ (breakfast pie), raspberries from the garden,
freshly baked bread, and kava, Turkish- style coffee. It was so wholesome,
I even found myself drinking tall glasses of milk- something I haven’t done for years.

Not all the food in the village was so appetizing-
I watched this gory spectacle of spit pig and lamb over and over,
transfixed in mute horror. As the mechanism turning the lamb round
spun, something came out of whack and made the dead beast rotate
with a jittery vibration and harsh squeals. The eye turned to silver,
then to stone mercury in the rising flames.

More soon, I’m afraid-
Now is nigh time to attempt a jet-lagged 40 winks.

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