Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sunday Matinee and Slavas - Nov. 2005

November 20, 2005

It now feels like winter is coming. Over the past weeks, the leaves have fallen from the trees. At school, the custodians no longer are seen shaking trees or holding up a leaf blower to get off leaves. Only the stubborn leaves remain. I now can see neighbors’ homes and backyards. Yesterday, light flurries danced in the grey morning sky. The temperature for the first time this season has dipped into the single (plus and minus) digits Celsius.

Today I went with Pat (an American married to a Serbian) to a matinee movie. It was the first one I went to that was in Serbian. (Next weekend I will see the new Harry Potter movie, which will be in English with Serbian subtitles.) After paying the 200 dinar ticket fee (about $2.75), we found a seat. There was no overpriced popcorn, candy, or soda to tempt us. If you wanted to, you could buy popcorn, roasted chestnuts, or soda on the street and bring it in. I was glad that there was no smoking inside. As we entered the theater door, I noticed a sign forbidding the use of cell phones, cameras, and camcorders. The latter ban is particularly appropriate, as there still is a high incidence of movie bootlegging and taping of movies, including in theatres.

Pat had heard that the movie would be enjoyable, even if I couldn’t understand any of the words. It was about a man and his family’s slava, a 3-day religious festivity in which the family and its guests celebrate the family’s patron saint. Despite the family’s careful preparations, the slava quickly changed when, to the father’s chagrin, five male guests decided to stay, eating partying straight – even past the three days. The movie, set in the late 1800’s, was visually rich in the costumes, hairstyles, and everyday life of people in the south of Serbia. Although I could get the gist of things through careful observation and listening to the voice inflections and the expressive music, once in a while I leaned over and asked Pat for clarification. The lighthearted movie provided quite a few laughs and chuckles.

Celebrating a slava is a distinctly Serbian Orthodox practice. The practice began in the 13th century when, in attempt to convert Serbs to Christianity, families were assigned patron saints that replaced the pagan gods previously worshiped by the family. The slava has been practice since then, but underwent periods of suppression and secrecy during the times of Turkish occupation and Communism. The family celebrates the father’s patron saint. St. George, St. Marko, and St. Nicholas are three of such saints. Many of the slavas occur in the winter months, including the one for St. Nicholas. Just as in years past, a great deal of food is made, accommodating guests that may appear over the three days. The priest comes and blesses the house, performs a small ceremony with incense, and cuts a special bread called slavski kolac. Guests come and go during these three days, but it is expected that if you are invited, you show up, even if it is for a short time. When it is your slava, you are expected to reciprocate. The slava takes place at the elder father’s house, unless he and his wife are too elderly to undertake such a large event, at which time it passes to the son. Traditional slavas are a religious, formal event, but in recent years the attire has become less formal and music is sometimes included. A family’s slava typically is much more important than one’s birthday. However, gifts typically are not included, apart from a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers. If you want to find out more about slavas, visit the website article by Pat: http://www.expat.org.yu/culture/slava.php

After a hot chocolate at the McDonald’s right next to the movie theater, we parted ways and I headed towards my tram stop. Most of the stores were closed, but an increasing number are staying open on Sundays. A few storefronts had their Christmas displays set up. Others were beginning to hang up outdoor Christmas lights. People were out on the pedestrian street, but walked with a brisker pace due to the cold. At Trg Republike (Republic Square), a small booth was set up by supporters of Slobodan Milosevic (the former president now at The Hague for war crimes). You could buy buttons, posters or next year’s calendar with his photo. For a country that suffered so much during his presidency (sanctions, NATO bombings, etc.), there are some that still seem to cling to Milosevic’s nationalistic fervor.

For our Thanksgiving break, I will be going with Olja (a Serbian teacher from school) to Sokobana, a town in southern Serbia that has thermal spas and excellent hiking opportunities. I will try to write more when I return.

Until then,

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