Only in Belgrade: Anecdotes
A Sunday morning on the Belgrade side of Palilula. It was 10am at an anonymous kafic (café bar) on Takovska Street. I was sipping strong black ‘Turkish’ coffee in the smoggy sunshine and talking to our lass, when one of the regulars arrived.
“Stigli su jagnjici” (the lambs have arrived), said Kiza.
I looked towards the dusty car that was pulling into the equally grey car park. It was another regular. He was waving enthusiastically and beeping his horn. The locals grew restless. They jumped to their feet (an act unheard of at 10am on a Sunday at this kafic) and approached the now parked car.
The gang of regular patrons crowded around the back end of the car, and the boot was ceremoniously opened to reveal the cause of all the excited commotion: ten raw, skinned, whole lambs (heads’n’all)!!
‘Only in Belgrade’, I though immediately.
Ziko, who had obviously ordered a lamb and was anxious to get to work on the beast, grabbed his order (which, for a lamb, was pretty damn big!) strapped it to his back with his sports’ bag strap and shot off across town on his moped – presumably so his wife could get to work on gutting the bleater.
I headed off to Karaburma, still shell-shocked, to eat mid-morning kajmak (sort of like milk curd) and prsut (Balkan proscuito) with my Karaburmci “family” (ex-bird’s family).
Drinking another strong black coffee, this time accompanied by a short, sharp hit of rakija (fruit brandy), I was surprised to see a strange little man in traditional Serbian attire meandering his way down the garden path.
He appeared to have been transported directly from 18th century Serbia (ornamental Victorian-esque moustache, curly-toed leather ‘opanci’ shoes, ‘sajkaca’ hat and woollen waistcoat) and was carrying a basket of fresh soft cheese under his arm.
“The cheese man’s here,” said Granddad Rade, rushing over to greet the visitor and offer him a rakija.
The family, which is actually three parts of an extended family living in one house divided into three flats, duly bought masses of cheese, bid the grinning house-to-house dairy trader good day, and went back to their respective quarters…
I presume the cheese man went straight back to his time machine.
‘Only in Belgrade’, I thought.
Later that same morning, whilst driving through the Danube-side industrial area of Dunavska, my attention was caught by the playing of live gypsy music somewhere in the vicinity. ‘Must be a wedding,’ I thought.
Still smiling to myself about the two previous unique happenings of the day, I drove towards the source of the fast-paced, trumpet fuelled music.
Turning a deserted corner beside two abandoned factories, I suddenly came across a local four-piece gypsy (or Roma if you prefer) band, playing their hearts out for an audience that comprised two car-chasing mongrels and a flock of overweight pigeons. Again, I was aghast.
Who were they playing for? What was the point? Were they waiting for Ziko to arrive on his moped with the skinned lamb he intended to serenade?
I couldn’t be sure. But what I was sure of was that this could happen ‘only in Belgrade’.
Text by Mark Pullen
Travel to Serbia
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