Monday, April 28, 2008

Chickens on Strike?

On Friday (Good Friday for Orthodox Serbs), I went to the local green market. Mass quantities of eggs were being sold, with a majority of the booths dedicating at least some space to the light brown-colored ja jas. Most of these eggs would be hard boiled and dyed with either brightly-colored commercial dyes or the traditional method using boiled onion skins for coloring and a leaf resist for a design. Not having my camera with me that day, I decided I would go and take some photos of the eggcellent sales the following day at the downtown market, Zeleni Venac. Alas, with the exception of a few eggs including these already dyed eggs nestled in between the flowers, the jajas were not to be found. Perhaps as in Chicken Run, the Serbian hens organized and decided enough is enough....

Go here and you risk your life!

This weekend I went for a walk through Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade. Although excavation and reconstruction continues on this fortress (dating back to Roman times with subsequent additions by the Turks, Serbs and Austro/Hungarians), some parts remain unexcavated and/or unsafe. For the first time, I saw this sign posted in a few areas. You could still walk around in these areas, but it was at your own risk. Do something stupid, and it's your own fault. Now if this were in the USA, there would be barriers around these areas and lawyers lurking, ready to file a lawsuit on behalf of those who injured themselves in the danger zones.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Easter Preparations in Serbia

This is Holy Week in Serbia, marking the lead-up to Serbian Orthodox Easter which is next Sunday. Over the weekend as I went for walks and did my weekly grocery shopping, I encountered vendors selling things for the occasion. On Saturday, bells strung around sashes of striped red, white and blue ribbons were being sold. These were worn around the necks of children, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Walking home from the green market, I heard church bells ringing for the special service.

At Kalenić market (the largest green market in Belgrade) both vendors and buyers were in the Easter mood. Large quantities of eggs were being sold, along with some special decorative egg holders on which a single egg would be displayed. Packets of egg dyes and stickers were being sold en masse, both by "regular" booth sellers and makeshift sellers walking around. A few places were selling decorative chicks covered in yellow fuzz or feathers. From a distance the chicks looked like Peeps. For the sweet tooth, chocolate bunnies, chicks and other Easter goodies could be found. I passed up all of these and bought some domestic strawberries - the first of the season.

On one end of the Kalenić market is the flower area. Spring flowers such as tulips, daffodils, calla lillies, and lilacs were in abundance. People were also busy buying up annuals to plant in their gardens and window boxes. Finding it impossible to pass up this area altogether, I did manage to restrain my purchases to only 2 plants- knowing that I'd only be able to enjoy them for less than 2 months. We'll see how long I'll be able to resist buying more....

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nature's Spring Perfume

As the days are now longer and the weather warmer, going for a walk after supper is something I look forward to. Right now is the lilac season, whose sweet scent and equally delicate flowers presents itself from the yards and paths in my neighborhood. The ones behind the walled front yards tend to look fuller, protected from the temptations of passersby who create a bouquet or simply break off a piece to smell as they go for a stroll. Some are sold by little grannies who wait patiently by the National Theatre or green markets, hoping to make a few dinars to offset their meager pensions.

Another purple pleasure is the wisteria. Its cascading flowers have an intoxicating but pleasant perfume which can be detected from quite a distance. Regrettably these don't bloom as long as lilacs, are not as prevalent, and sadly are typically located out of reach. Perhaps it's a good thing, as I would have picked a small piece to enjoy as I continued on my walk.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Mosaics of Oplenac

This weekend I revisited the beautiful St. George Church and mausoleum located in the historical region of Topola known as Oplenac. What it lacks for age (it was completed in 1930), it makes up for in its interior decoration. Built by King Peter I as his royal church and resting place of the Karađorđević family, the exterior is covered with the high-quality white marble from nearby Venčac Mountain. Above the main entryway is a mosaic of St. George killing the dragon, symbolizing the victory of Serbian people over its enemies. On top of that is a sculpted coat of arms of the old Karađorđević family.

Unlike the churches of old which were covered with frescoes, the interior of St. George is bejeweled with mosaics in 3,500 square meters of surface. Well crafted and very colorful, the sheer number (725 compositions and over 1,500 figures) makes it nearly impossible to focus anywhere without being distracted by a neighboring scene. Despite taking quite a few photos last time, I felt compelled once again to keep on shooting. Later I could go and zoom in on the photos, beginning to isolate the depicted scenes. In addition to the typical scenes of saints (Serbian and Biblical) and the life of Christ, other themes included the royalty of Serbia. Each king is depicted holding a model of his church in the palm of his hand. Some looked more like priests and others were dressed in more kingly garb.

Following the white marble columns to the top, light streamed through the rather small windows near the ceiling, revealing still more mosaics in the thick window frame. At the top of some columns was the double eagle symbol carved in marble. Looking up, one can't help but notice the huge Pantocrator figure of Christ in the central dome, a replica of the one in monastery at Gračanica. Nine meters in dimension, it's amazing to think that the nose is over 1.5 meters alone! The narrow windows encircling the Pantocrator help illuminate much of the church with soft light, including the splendid colored marble patterned floor. Hanging from the central dome is a huge chandelier made of bronze, weighing 1,500 kg. On the bottom of the chandelier is an upside-down crown, symbolizing the lost Serbian Empire in the battle of Kosovo in 1839.

Walking down the marble stairs, the temperature became even more cool. Mosaics followed me all the way down. The mausoleum was quite dark, illuminated by some chandeliers and hanging colorful ball-like light fixtures. One's eye couldn't help but be drawn to the brightly lit central arches. Christ again dominates the central position, framed by what looked like a double cross. Four multi-winged angles as described in the Book of Revelations surrounded Christ, tapering off where the arches met the columns. In the rather dimly lit nooks were six generations of the Karađorđević dynasty. In addition to two tombs in the main church, there are 20 tombs in the crypt. Despite the significance of the people buried here, I admit that I gave only a cursory glance to the simple marble burial slabs and spent the rest of the time admiring the mosaics and glowing lamps.

Truly a remarkable place that every person visiting Serbia should see.

See my first entry on Oplenac:

Monday, April 07, 2008

I Saw My Neighbor in the Dumpster

This evening I went for a walk, determined to enjoy the beautiful weather despite an onslaught of pollen allergy symptoms. I enjoy walking in my neighborhood in Senjak, an area of Belgrade that once was the home of the princes and other elite. Now it is a mixture of expats, embassies (or ambassador residences), wealthier Serbs, and a few residents from olden days. Homes range from the cute and simple white cottages with aging tile roofs to the turreted former palaces, to the tacky mafia-like structures that look totally out of place.

Right next to my apartment building (which is less than 5 years old) is a small brick shack. Its roof, damaged two winters ago in a fire (likely because the owner was trying to heat it using wood) now has a large large plastic sheet over the hole held down with bricks. The yard is full of items rescued from the dumpster, including broken baby strollers, chairs without backs, potted plant carcasses, clothing remnants, and much more. I like it when the trees green out, as I don't have to see the rubbish when look outside my window.

This evening as I walked past the Hungarian Embassy, I saw a short person standing on a wooden crate and trying to reach into the garbage dumpster. Suddenly he reached in further, his whole upper body now out of sight. Such "involvement" was a bit unusual, as I typically would see the dumpster "divers" simply picking through the top with their hands or a stick. Emerging with some "treasure," when the man turned around I recognized the man as my Roma neighbor - otherwise known as a "gypsy." Smiling politely and saying "dobar dan," I greeted him and moved on.

I wonder what treasure will be added to the yard next....