Crvena Zvezda.

Crvena Zvezda

Crvena Zvezda. Red Star. Belgrade.

Smoke. Fire. Flares. A ring of light, blazing around the stadium. Flares. Falling at our feet. Smoke. Choking the lungs. Fire. Cracking, snapping, edging closer.

The 71st minute. 71 years. A befitting birthday, thrown at the Marakana.

A deserved celebration. Victory. 3-1 over Jagodina. Goal Luiz Ibáñez. Response Aleksandar Jevtić. Both unseen, erased by billowing smoke. Goal Aleksandar Katai. Goal Hugo Viera. 17 on the season.

22 wins straight. 29 points clear. Top of the table, top of the league.

Most important: 35 points above Partizan.

The other. The enemy. The rival, just up the road. The stadium is nearly visible, from here.

Last year’s champions. European play. Bragging rights matter. This season, they are Red Star’s.

Zvezda boasts. Zvezda commands.

26 national titles. 24 domestic cups. Most popular club in Serbia. In 1991, European champions.

Once again, the honors go to Red Star. The crno-beli, the black-and-whites, appropriately in the shadows. Last year matters little. Last year is forgotten.

Red Star rightfully dominates. The stars. The Zvezda. Glowing. Burning. Exploding.

Yet somehow, always, anticipating an implosion.

 

Grad.

Grad. Beograd.

Grad. A city.

As opposed to “selo”. A village.

Rarely beautiful. Communism took its toll. Eroding. Fading. Crumbling.

Beograd. The white city. Little is white. Most is dingy, dull, grey. The buildings, the streets, the people. They all seem to blend.

But there’s life. There’s always life.

The streets of Belgrade typically teem. Little old ladies toting bags stuffed with peppers. Little old men pausing to greet a friend. Shouting to a second floor window. Shopkeepers, a quick gossip and a smoke outside. Crowded cafes. Bustling bakeries. Even sidewalks seem to shuffle.

Grad. Large, cramped, ebbing, flowing. Blending, yet not faceless. Greetings from the fruit vendor. See you soons from the bartender. Hellos, goodbyes, how-is-your-days. How is your family. How is your friend.

Direction. Toward the city.

Seeking excitement. Seeking reward. Seeking opportunity.

Direction. Away. A choice. A chance. Escape. Away from the grind. Away from the dirt. Away from the hustle, bustle, movement.

For some, fortune is opting out. Often, fortune is opting in.

The city remains at center.

Human rights issues still plague the Balkans

Human rights - Auschwitz sculpture

Human Rights Watch released their 2016 report earlier this week, a 600+ page tome examining human rights issues from around the globe. Around half the world’s countries are given their own chapter in the report. In the Balkans, Bosnia and Serbia/Kosovo were singled out, while Croatia received condemnation for its treatment of refugees.

Even simply skimming the report makes it clear that Balkan countries face many of the same human rights issues: Failing to treat the”other” – whether that’s a refugee or a minority – with full respect. Difficulties providing the proper resources for an independent judiciary. The inability to fully relinquish power over the media. If other states from the region had been given more attention, similar problems would likely have been highlighted.

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What is burek?

"Zeljanica (7185484943)" by Francisco Antunes from London, United Kingdom - ZeljanicaUploaded by Smooth_O. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zeljanica_(7185484943).jpg#/media/File:Zeljanica_(7185484943).jpg

I’d heard tale of the mythical burek before I’d even purchased my first plane ticket to the Balkans. As a group of us sat discussing another mouthwatering regional dish, cevapi, and bemoaning its absence in our lives, a friend rolled her eyes. Everyone always talks about those little sausages, she pointed out, rather dismissively. No, what we were really lacking was easy access to burek.

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Take me, then, to a Venice evening

Venice Grand Canal small

The sound of the water edging against the boat, lapping against the side of the canal, should be barely audible, yet it seems to bounce along the walls of this narrow street. I’m grateful, though, for this auditory intrusion: it reminds me the pavement does in fact end. Considering that in Venice, one solitary glass of wine goes straight to my head, this reminder was certainly welcome.

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Balkan Explorer Best of 2015

kolaz

#BestNineIn2015 is quite the popular hashtag over on Instagram, revealing users’ most liked photos of the year. In the spirit of the tag, I put together Balkan Explorer’s own “Best of 2015,” highlighting nine of reasons I choose to live where I do. May this clear up some of the mystery and confusion and head-scratching that inevitably occurs when I say I voluntarily reside in Belgrade, Serbia.

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Walking to Coffee in America

coffee

Coffee and walking. Two things that are incredibly difficult in America. At least, they’re incredibly difficult in the suburban environs of the Pacific Northwest.

At home in Belgrade, it takes me four minutes to walk to my favorite coffee shop. It’s snug and cozy in bad weather, filled with people chatting, while in the summer it’s difficult to find a seat on the spacious patio. But if I were in dire need of caffeine, there are at least two other cafes within a two-minute walk. This is not just a big-city thing; you’re going to find cafes on nearly every street in any town.

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Defining the Balkans

Montenegro Landscape

The Balkans, as a region, is not easily defined. Throughout the course of history the countries have expanded and retracted, with contemporary states falling under one empire or another, and every once in awhile managing to gain a few brief years of independence. These days, though, that independence also seems to include a new sense of identity, with many rushing to disassociate themselves with a regional label that often implies backwardness at best and bloodthirstiness at worst.

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Book Of Belgrade: Mamma’s Biscuit House

mammas2

Mamma’s Biscuit House looks at first to be just one of the dozens of identical cafes serving the upmarket Belgrade neighborhood of Dorćol. There are white wicker tables and chairs on the pavement outside, signs advertising free WiFi, and even USB charging stations. But a closer look reveals the artfully arranged windows displaying the cafe’s aspirations: to be the bakery of choice for Belgrade’s celebrations. Beautifully decorated cakes only hint at what might be inside.

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