My great chagrin about Western European cities is that they have no cats. Well, they do, they must have some, but their cats are not fully fledged members of the polis, they do not wander around in that self assured way of a feline basking in the knowledge that she owns- the house, the garden, the street, whatever place she might find herself in. The Mediterranean has such cats- small Greek villages greet you with scrawny furry ears peaking out from behind whitewashed walls, in Istanbul’s backstreet stores you randomly find a sleeping cat-dragon ensconced in the basket you were about to buy and in Rome’s Piazza Argentina they perform the superhuman and superfeline task of outnumbering Asian tourists.
Western cities on the other hand have dogs aplenty. Small dogs looking like evil alien species from a distant Star Trek world tucked into minute Swarowski crystal bedecked bags, pugs on the border of asphyxia, giant drooly things peering sadly into the nowhere, angry poodles about to bite unsuspecting ankles, Yorkshire terriers on the edge of paralysis through hysteria waiting outside corner shops, hipster hounds inhaling the fumes of specialty coffee.
Enter the city which has both- and it’s Belgrade, obviously, always on the verge of escaping definition, always at a confluence. At first glance, you’d say it’s a dog city akin to Budapest, with early mornings punctuated by the comings and goings of dog owners taking the mutt out for some fresh air, usually looking a little worse for wear and in need of a cup of something to shake them into definite wakefulness. (In case you wondered, this can apply to both dog and owner.) But stay a little longer, and you’ll start meeting the cats of Belgrade. There’s definitely less of them than more to the south, but this makes them that more dignified, even the decidedly stray ones are well fed and comfortable with their bit of the circus of life. There’s coffeehouse cats, and beer bar cats, and black cats casually crossing the street just because they can.
There are also beasts of an altogether different kind roaming the streets of Belgrade: old cars, often proud products of a forward looking communist economy, sometimes in top shape, with shiny bonnets and carefully re-upholstered seats, sometimes looking like they’ve taken one to one thousand trips too many on bumpy country roads.
The sight of a Dacia 1310, especially one which has been lovingly maintained, is becoming a rarity in Romania, where nostalgia about the ’golden era’ of communism is much more ambiguous. In Serbia, however, the state of Yugoslavia and of being in Yugoslavia is often regarded as something positive, a better time before the 90s, a period of new found stability for other countries in the region, took a tragic toll on the country, or what was left of it.