Of course, Serbia wasn't Russia. It was Serbia, silly.
One thing I noticed about Serbia was that - in addition to tough guys - there were lots of thin, back-muscle-less guys with scrawny necks and dark hair. They reminded me of former Yugoslavian basketball star, Vlade Divac.
Another observation was that many young boys and girls, and sporting adults, played tennis. The children played on plaza's and on basketball courts, without nets. Belgrade had just hosted its first important tennis tournament - which a Serbian player won - and maybe that was making the country tennis-crazy.
And, another Serbian thing I got to watch was a show of traditional dances and music, put on by University of Belgrade students.
Each dance was danced by about fifteen boys and fifteen girls. In the first dance, the guys wore glittering blue vests over white long-sleeved shirts, baggy black pants with rainbow-colored belts around their waists, and cloth shoes with curly points that resembled clogs. Girls wore glittering red-orange aprons, baggy white pants, bright-orange hair shawls, and the same shoes. Everyone wore smiles. Even shaven-headed "tough guys" wore the costumes, and intensely happy smiles.
They didn't dance as couples. Instead, neighbors held neighbors by the belts, or placed arms on each other's shoulders. In all-male or all-female lines, and sometimes in girl-guy-girl lines, the dancers kicked their feet in patterns and stepped around to the music. A crazy accordian, melancholy violin, Jewish-sounding fiddle, Balkan horns, and a stand-up bass that was plucked repetatively as if accompanying a car chase, sped up as the songs went on. It was a jolly spectacle.
In other dances, guys wore white beneath royal, red vests and princely, red hats; white, fluffy hats that made them resemble albino seal pups; brown, cone-shaped hats like bears; and white shirts beneath forest-dark pants and boots and unbuttoned vests, which made them look like wood-cabin dwellers or tree-axers. Girls wore rectangular, navy aprons that made them look like dominoes; and yellow head scarves with long frills that resembled blond braids.
Nearly all of the dances were similar to the first. Sometimes, the girls ands guys sang and serenaded as they quickly danced, which was moving.
But, in one very different dance, a "tough guy" pounded on a heavy drum that hung from his shoulders, while a girl twirled around him holding a fan, Arabic-style. To each side, guys wearing black sashes and puffy, white shirts danced. They stood erect ansd held their arms at chest level in front of them, in circles, as if they balanced on unicycles on tight-ropes. They swung their forearms powerfully from side-to-side. They jumped and twirled like ribbons. They dropped to one knee and pointed their powerful fists towards the dancing girl. When they saw her do something seductively, they slapped the floor in agony. I wanted to start incorporating some of their dance moves in my routine.
Also, there was singing. A guy sang a solo, with a voice low but expressive, as if singing from a mountain to a valley with some villages in it. The voices of a female septet, in one song, made me like a dove flying over cropland in the countryside, free and harmonious. Their slow and emotional second song made me want to slow-dance alone. We spectators, and the performers, smiled throughout most of the show.
A fourth thing I happily noticed about Serbia was that it was very revolution-minded. Many Serbians didn't want to conform to a Western system in which the poor served the rich, and the rich got richer. Around Belgrade, someone had put up stickers in which "EU"* was crossed out, and the words "Ne, hvala" (No, thanks) were written below. There was anti-NATO graffiti; and posters said, "Serbia is the World: The World Against NATO", and showed Serbia's flag alongside Russia's and China's and Libya's and Brazil's, etc.
* - European Union
Serbians, like South Americans, were the unfortunate, and believed a greater evil was responsible. They spoke about conspiracies, and I always loved a good conspiracy theory. People spoke about the "masons", saying former dictator Tito had been one. Someone said they thought all Canadians and Americans had traceable microchips inside them, from the government. A girl named Biljana worried that all the new diseases that had been popping up lately were being made by a power that might one day want to eliminate whole populations.
Biljana and her roommate let me take a shower in their dorm room, one evening. Biljana wore a black skirt and sleeve-less, orange blouse. Her skin wasn't light. She was thicker than most Serbs. She and her long hair were especially cute when she was passionate. And she was primarily passionate about making fun of the U.S.A.
She was fun at other times, too. I showed her, a student of languages, how I wrote in my journal in Farsi every day. She said, "That's good. I always say, you should learn something new every day." I said, "Ahh. So, you learn something new every day?" She: "No. I just say that. I don't do it. I like sleeping too much." She liked laughing a lot, too.
I'd told her I often thought ambition made people unhappy. So, if she slept all the time, it explained why she was so happy.
And when I was leaving, she and her quieter roommate said, "We're happy. We're happy because we met a good person from America!" which was cute. I didn't know how they could tell I was a good person after only two hours, though. Heck, even I didn't know if I was a good person!
Two days after my shower, I went to the center of Belgrade to search for a fun night out. Deep down, I figured Serbian people were like Russians. I figured the sexy Serbian women, like Russians, loved love.
The city cener was foul-smelling in parts, fashion-obsessed in other parts, and hectic with pedestrians everywhere. It took me a while to gain control of the situation. I'd obtained a "nightlife guidebook" from the unversity's ticket office. I got maps from the tourist information center. I paid a few dinars so I could take a pee. I identified my whereabouts. And I was off!
There was no life to speak of, in the first night spots I visited. And then, I strolled through a city park.
On many benches in the dark, couples sat, making out. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe THIS was the place to meet people?
The brown eyes of a girl on the last bench opened wide as I passed. It was a strange glance. Upon returning to the bench, to ask the translation of the name of a band scheduled to play nearby, I found out the glance had come from a strange woman.
In English, the girl and her friend made obscure American movie quotes and laughed. They said they were excited about going to my tent, teasing me. They pretended they wanted me to spend money on them, which probably wasn't true. They told me they were too strange for most guys. But, once they woke up my hybernating sense of humor, we started laughing a lot together.
They said they'd show me Belgrade. We boarded a trolley without paying.
We went to St. Mixaela, the main pedestrian shopping street. As we watched a funny juggler, I put my arm around the waist of brown-eyed, brown-haired Ivana, in her sleeve-less turquoise shirt.
We went to Kalimegdan, which I called "Karmageddon", a Medieval fort and courtyard overlooking the Sava and Danube Rivers. Ivana wanted me to ask a guy for a cigarette for her, which I didn't really want to do. She wouldn't agree to a kiss in exchange for the favor. So, we went to see a display of photo's from Serbia.
Meanwhile, Ivana's friend, Kacha, wore a silky turquoise blouse whose left sleeve kept exposing her shoulder. She had a light-blond ponytail, light eyes, and light lips that were smiling all night, with a baby's lack of worry. Maybe I should've made my move on HER? It was assumed that there should be romantic tension between Ivana and me, and this could've put pressure on Ivana to act conservatively. But, Kacha - on whom there was no pressure, but who was enjoying our company very much; who'd asked "Where's your hair?" while feeling my thin, unwashed strands - may've felt free enough to have no worries standing in the way of the initial excitement of the thought of a kiss.
I remembered my two girlfriends in Russia. It had seemed all along that Nadezda liked me; but, Nadezda was worried what Elina would think if Nadezda kissed me too soon; and then, unexpectedly, Elina kissed me first!
Ivana and Kacha were great, twenty-year-old girls. After three hours of talking, I was too tired to go with them to see the aforementioned rock band. Kacha's cheek-kiss good-night was softer than Ivana's. We made plans to meet the next day. But, I was a bit late, or else they just didn't come. It was pretty disappointing.
- Modern O.