Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's in Belgrade

New Year's Eve
My trip to Prague over, I was back in Belgrade for New Year's. Although I was perfectly content to stay at home (New Year's is not a big deal for me), a friend invited me to her apartment for a small celebration with a few others. Stemming back to Communist times when religious holidays were downplayed, New Year's remains a larger event for Belgrade residents than Christmas.

When I arrived to her apartment, I was served hot rakija. This drink, made from plum brandy (the national drink of Serbia), is common for New Year's. On the table was more food than those gathered could possibly ever eat - very typical for Serbian hosts.

Although it was a few hours to midnight, the TV was turned on. Conversations still occurred over the sound of the TV, mostly in Serbian. When the station began its live New Year's show, conversations quieted down when the music started. Soon the apartment was filled with the joyous sound of people singing along with the traditional national songs. Various singer "greats" performed the songs that made them famous. One of the singers was a parent of two of the children at our school. Even though these songs were quite old, all generations in the apartment enjoyed them equally. Most of the songs were accompanied by accordions and various instruments such as the clarinet, violin, percussion, and saxophone. Soon the apartment members got up and performed kolo dance moves to the lively songs. They even made me join in and learn some of the basic footwork.

At countdown time, fireworks began to fill the sky, most of which were set off by locals. A few gunshots could also be heard. Although the sound of fireworks could be heard for weeks, it definitely was much larger.

Well past midnight, the group was still eating, drinking, and enjoying each other's company. We were given some rakija made from walnuts - it was quite good, but strong. On the TV, the show still continued. Flipping through the channels, we watched for a few minutes a folk singer who lives in my apartment building. Not used to staying up so late, I thanked my gracious host and friends for a fun evening and headed home.

New Year's Day
The next morning, I went for a walk in newly fallen snow. Except for a solitary set of footprints, no one must have traveled on this "main" road yet this morning. All businesses and kiosks looked closed, except for one small grocery store. A national holiday, everyone had off. Gosh, it was quiet. Back in my cozy apartment, I watched the snow continue to fall and gently swirl around on my apartment rooftop. No movement below. No horses at the hippodrome either.

January 2
Needing to go to the post office to pick up a package, I bundled up and headed out. I was very careful to stay within the narrow tire track, as the snow around it was nearly as high as my boots. On the side streets where I normally traveled to get down to the Senjak "business" area, no tire tracks were found, so I had to blaze my own path. No sidewalks were shoveled and these small streets just don't get plowed. Back on a main street, I and the few other pedestrians walked further onto the road, as that area was at least plowed. With few cars on the road, it was much easier walking than on the sidewalks (which were full of parked cars anyway). The snow was quite light, but not the "snowman" type. Everything from potted plants to cars seemed to have heads of mushrooms, having "grown" at least six fluffy inches in height. Even the peaks of picket fences had accumulated some snow. Too bad I didn't have my camera.

With the post office in sight, I was dismayed to see the security gate pulled over its doors. Although no sign was posted for holiday hours, it was definitely closed. Not only do Serbians have off on New Year's, they also have off the next day as well....
Drat! I would have to make the trip all over tomorrow. This time I'll bring my camera.

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