A Very Short Belgrade Dictionary- Part Two

Smoking. An American tourist walked into a bar: yes, I had to do this, but he really did, and then somewhat sheepishly asked the waiter whether he could smoke inside, to which the answer was of course you can, this is Belgrade, the capital of smoking. And indeed, in a landscape where even the last staunchly nicotine-loving bastions, such as Romania, are falling, a city where you can smoke inside becomes the quirky exception. Being asked whether you want a smoking or non-smoking table is slightly nostalgic too, at least for someone coming from the recently fallen bastion mentioned above. While you can of course argue that second hand smoking is unhealthy and your clothes will reek the next day, many places in Belgrade are well ventilated and the smoke will hardly bother you if its source does not reside at your table. 

Splavovi. The splav was once a humble barge that you might choose to park right by the shore to do a spot of fishing, perhaps accompanied by a beer and a chat. Later they evolved into small bars and restaurants dotting the shores of Belgrade’s two rivers, while these days they are part of the somewhat dubious phenomenon of Belgrade’s partying nightlife- Studio 54 moments are being mentioned in this context, though in all truth it’s more about Westerners discovering just how ridiculously cheap food and drinks can be in Serbia, and being offered a scenic bonus to go with it. The classical case of a curse disguised as a blessing then, but if you’re thorough enough you might still find some old school establishments that will serve great dishes and spare you the onslaught of silicone bits being shaken to Avicii meeting turbofolk. 

Street art. The ramshackle nature of the city makes it fertile ground for graffiti and murals, in a way reminiscent of certain corners of Berlin. But whereas in Berlin you get the definite feeling that some areas are okay for street art and others perhaps less, nothing is particularly holy in Belgrade. There’s also a rather rapid change in the displays: looking at my shots of the Dorćol neighbourhood from a year ago it is quite striking that only a few murals have remained unchanged- many more have been painted over, new ones were drawn, some (very few) were cleaned, possibly awaiting new interventions. The subject matters are varied and range from nationalistic mementos or celebrating questionable urban heroes to footballing feuds, pop icons and leftist rabble rousing. It’s basically a smorgasbord of ideas at everyone’s immediate disposal and quite fascinating as such. 

Trenerke. A few years ago, before the official squatting Slav frenzy had gone viral or the concept of athleisure was officially coined, I started noticing how people in Belgrade wear tracksuits as legitimate attire for generally everything, from running errands to attending parties to going to work or, Heaven forbid, actually working out. The epitome is the grey bottom, figure fitting around the backside and loosening downwards, with a possible football club logo for men and pink glitter for women, though the opposite can also be spotted on rare occasions. Initially, just as in the case of British chavs, such combos were frowned upon by the so-called cultural elites, but recently, with the advent of the above mentioned squatting Slav phenomenon many people have taken to wearing them on subversive purpose, especially since they are pretty comfortable once you let go of your prejudices. And last but not least certain long-limbed representatives of the populace don’t look half bad in them either. 

Unaligned sweets. Not being in the EU has the downsides of offensively expensive roaming charges (amongst other things), but it also brings about a laxness in areas where the EU loves silly regulations, which in turn leads to, for example, a large amount of local brands surviving in many areas. For a child growing up in everything deprived Romania Yugoslav sweets were the stuff of legends, and for the grown up that child became stashing up on Eurokrem is still a source of utmost happiness. Then there’s the amazing Plazma keks (basically shortbread biscuits, but Lord they taste magnificent), the divine Banini Rum Kasato, the poetically named Njamb wafers and Crvenka’s sublime Munchmallows and Jaffa cakes.(This is of course something not necessarily specific to Belgrade, but the entirety of Serbia, yet I will forever associate such sweet raids with a Belgrade supermarket).

Unfinished business. Belgrade is in a state of constant construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. Case in point, the temple of Saint Sava, which I have never seen in anything but a total state of disarray. Right when it seemed that they are on track I would return to find that they did something colossally silly and went back basically to square one. Even worse, they started pottering around Saint Mark cathedral too, not to mention the fact that for a complexity of reasons many buildings NATO bombed are still lying around in varying states of dereliction. This time around we reached some sort of peak mess- Slavija square with its singing fountain looks like the final refuge of humanity after the nuclear holocaust, with people dodging cars in all directions, while on Kosančićev Venac the cobblestones, guarded by grim construction workers, are a steeple race you’re sure to lose. The reason behind this is very Balkan and familiar to someone coming from Romania: they’re having elections in December and local authorities are trying to catch up with all those things they haven’t done in the last four years.

Ušće. There are many capitals lying on rivers, the Danube itself crosses four of them, but few can boast a view quite like the confluence of the Sava and the Danube, lying right at the foot of Belgrade’s fortress. Oddly enough, as the Danube is split by the Great War Island, the Sava looks almost like the bigger river, the size of the Danube becomes evident only further downstream, when its two branches converge again, now with the added flow of the Sava as well. 

Večiti derbi. Spain has the Clasico but a more modest Madrid derby, Italy has a variety of them, but the Roman one is in no way the most important, and London derbies are better left unmentioned. Belgrade, however, harbours the distilled essence of Serbian football in the modestly named Eternal derby, an ever-repeating battle of cosmic proportions between local sides Partizan and Red Star Belgrade. The quality of the game might have decreased in recent years, but passions, varying from the teasing to the outright criminal have not abated. The city goes in lock-down prior to the games and walls become battle grounds of slogans- completely understandably a friend mentioned that the first two words she deciphered in Cyrilic on the city’s walls were Grobari (for Partizan) and Delije (for Red Star), the traditional names of the two fanbases. In a surprising twist I also discovered that besides the football game itself, there is also a večiti derbi played out by the supporters at golf. Yes, golf. Some rivalries know no boundaries. 

PS: For the first part of the dictionary, bravely click here

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