Welcome to Belgrade

November 2, 2011

Gracious Living Day by DayThe summer of 1977, the summer after my high school graduation, I traveled from New York to Yugoslavia.

Greetings from Belgrade - an old postcard (pre WWII, I believe)

Greetings from Belgrade - an old postcard (pre WWII, I believe)

After a few days in Belgrade, I spent most of the summer with my two sets of grandparents in small villages in Northern Serbia.

I had a glorious time.

I enjoyed the company of my relatives, helping my grandfather prune his orchards and graft his vines, learning new lace patters from my grandmother and her friends, going pheasant hunting with my uncles, reading Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, swimming in the Danube, going to dances with my cousins.

The hot, dusty summer days went on forever, spilling beyond ordinary time constraints. Lulled by the slow, sleepy and repetitious rhythms of country life, I forgot about the frantic tempo of a big city routine.

But by late August, the time had come to travel back to Belgrade and spend a few weeks there with my aunt Angelica and her family before returning to the US.

After saying good bye to everyone, after all the kisses, hugs and tears, Angelica gave me some Dramamine (I am not sure how much!) so I wouldn’t get sick on the bus ride to Belgrade. I was notorious for my motion sickness.

I had a window seat and I looked outside at the sparkling Danube as the bus meandered along the narrow road. Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” was playing on the radio. My aunt sat next to me.

I got very sleepy, closed my eyes, and seemed to enter a different reality. I could hear what was going on around me, but kept drifting in and out of consciousness, never sure what was real, and what I imagined to be real.

I felt wonderfully serene.

I could hear my aunt conversing with an old woman on the other side of the aisle.

Angelica told the old lady about me; how I lived in New York and was about to start college; what a pleasant, well behaved and agreeable young lady I was, how I caused my family no trouble.

I wanted to protest and say that I was a lot more interesting and adventurous than that, but I couldn’t move. I just lay there with my eyes closed, seemingly asleep.

The old lady told my aunt about her grandson in Belgrade who should be meeting her at the bus station. His name was Slavko. Slavko, too, sounded like a remarkably good and well behaved young man who never caused grief to his family. He was a medical student in Belgrade and his grandma was going to visit and bring him all kinds of good things from the countryside.

The ladies talked and talked as I went in and out of sleep, catching snatches of conversation – my aunt praising my accomplishments and Slavko’s grandma praising his.

Just as the bus entered Belgrade, I started coming back to life. I opened my eyes and stretched while the two ladies looked at me and smiled. “What a sleepy girl you are!” Angelica said.

We entered the bus station and Angelica pushed me into the isle so I could exit first.

Relaxed, lighthearted and elated by the intoxicating activity of a big city after a slow summer, I looked around me in wonder. As I stepped off the bus, a boy selling drinks placed a glass of icy lemonade in my hand. How kind the world seemed.

I took a sip and looking up, I noticed a tall, dark haired, almond eyed young man standing on the side.

Slavko!

I felt that he and I knew each other well. In fact, I felt that we were best friends.

I gave him a big, friendly, delighted smile.

He looked puzzled for a second, but then smiled back at me openly and unabashedly.

And as his grandma, and my aunt behind her, descended the bus steps, Slavko walked up to me, took my chin into his hand and gave me an enthusiastic kiss.

Time froze.

But it unfroze in a hurry as the two ladies, absolutely scandalized, started shrieking and hitting Slavko with their purses.

Slavko’s grandma grabbed his arm, and without saying good bye to us, pulled him in one direction. Angelica, huffy and indignant, grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction.

I turned back.

Slavko, looking sheepish and confused, was grinning widely and waving good buy with his one free hand.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna November 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I found this post through http://www.ambassador-serbia.com/2011/11/03/welcome-to-belgrade-1977/ and just wanted to let you know I loved it! What a great read- the ending truly made me smile ear to ear. Now we need a part 2 where you find Slavko. 🙂

Reply

Liliana November 3, 2011 at 7:05 am

Thank you, Joanna, for your kind words.

There is no part 2. The best thing about this story is that it stayed perfectly frozen in time.

Reply

karl Haudbourg November 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Fantastic story. Thanks Liliana for sharing it with us.

Reply

Liliana November 3, 2011 at 6:56 am

Thank you, Karl, for featuring my story on your blog. Best to you!

Reply

Jeff November 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I’m jealous.

Reply

Liliana November 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Good! That’s the way it should be. Hugs.

Reply

John November 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

What a wonderful story!

Did you and Slavko ever meet again?

Reply

Liliana November 2, 2011 at 8:41 am

No, we never have. I have always been happy about that. The memory was never diluted by real life.

But my aunt Angelica and I have talked about this incident many times – and laughed every time!

Reply

Jelena November 2, 2011 at 8:06 am

Great story! Reminds me of the scene in “Room with a View” when Lucy struggles up the hill during the picnic to see a “view” and is greeted by a big kiss from George Emerson, much to the dismay of everyone. Ha!

Reply

Liliana November 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

My goodness, I love that movie and have seen it many times (a number of times with you) but have never connected the dots.

Isn’t it funny how the mind works?
Thanks for pointing it out.

Reply

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