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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.

Book Of Belgrade: Mamma’s Biscuit House

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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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Book Of Belgrade: Guli

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Guli has the best pizza in Belgrade. At least, that’s what I’d heard. However, I didn’t go rushing out to Skadarlija (despite its close proximity to my place) as soon as I learned about this fantastic pizza.

The problem with pizza in the Balkans is that it’s rarely good, never mind great. My years in Montenegro left me puzzled: how could this country exist within sight of Italy, yet be so incapable of making a decent pie? Let’s not even get into the fact that the most common topping around these parts is ketchup. Yes, ketchup — you choose, regular or spicy.

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Book of Belgrade: Excellent ice cream at Crna Ovca

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The majority of ice cream you’ll find in Belgrade is exactly the sort that discerning foodies would warn you off in Italy: heaps of gelato, much of it tinted bright pink or neon green. So when, on our way to find a nice little cafe, we passed by Crna Ovca, suddenly caffeine didn’t seem quite so necessary. It was far more important to find out what was under those silver lids.

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