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March 2016

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.