This is Skadarlija, Belgrade’s bohemian quarter, and I’m shuffling over large cobblestones, smooth from centuries of crowds and carriages passing through.
An old, scruffy man, enfolded tightly in a shabby grey coat, held together with a mismatched belt is sitting on wooden benches – summer outdoor furniture stacked by the wall out of season – and rolling tobacco.
Ah, a tourist, he calls over, catching a glimpse of my camera and the general wandering aura that I sometimes exude. No, no, I’m not a tourist, I chuckle, although I say that in all the places where I speak the local language. What are you looking for here, at this hour, more conversationally then out of curiosity, he inquires. I’m looking for a story, I reply, or maybe just an opportunity to create one.
Most stories in Skadarlija, he counters, happen much later in the night.
But to me it doesn’t so much matter when or how it happens, as long as it has substance.
His eyes are like deep pockets which hide vivid scenarios, collected on all the nights that just wouldn’t end, scenarios I can only imagine.
In that window, he points his tobacco-stained finger, an old man always hovered in the late evenings. For years, while I sang and played my accordion in these taverns around here, I would see him there on most nights. I would stumble out of pubs at dawn, always hoping that he won’t be there to see me so drunk and undone.
We never said hello, nor goodbye. And always just walked, each on our own side of midnight.
That was my father, he croaks in his old smoker’s voice. We had an argument so long ago, I barely remember what it was. It had gradually turned into a silent petulance. Years have passed but we each held onto our stubbornness.
People are like that around here. You won’t find your Hollywood scenario.
I say, I’m not looking for Hollywood, only the good ole’ Belgrade.
As San Telmo de Buenos Aires reminded me of Belgrade’s Dorchol at times, it’s only fair that it’s reciprocated now.
And it just so happens that a friend who was in BsAs in May turned up in Belgrade this evening, and we are meeting, ready to reminisce about vida porteña y el otoño sureño, the second autumn for both of us this year.
A hood over his head, hunched shoulders, hands deep in his pockets, as if he would rather tuck himself into them as well, unruly beard, and a pipe waiting to be lit, his relaxed smile is carrying him forward.
But he says he’s lost touch with this city, the city he used to call home for 9 years. Maybe you can max it out….
We are standing near a sign that points in different directions: towards the Montmartre in Paris, Plaka in Athens, the Old Arbat in Moscow, and one tipped directly upwards to the Moon.
Everything seems to have remained the same here, only we have all changed. We outgrew some people, or turned our attention elsewhere. We don’t remember the reasons we used to like spending time together, or our reasons have changed entirely. Our frequencies are no longer compatible. We have more responsibilities, or a harder time managing them.
And, at times, all these worldly places sometimes feel so near, familiar, and closer to heart than ‘home’. Even the moon..?
Only one heartbeat pounds in the silence that hangs at the end of those words, when a dog approaches the pole, lifts a leg and does his deed. Effectively validating this whole discourse in a not-so-subtle manner.
It is what it is.
And.. Cut! End scene.
That’s a wrap!
And a goodbye bonus