Thursday, November 10, 2005

Student Q&A

I have more new classes starting soon, and in preparation I’ve been meeting a lot of Serbian college kids.  Here are a few of the questions they’ve asked me – this should give you some sense of what first interests them when they meet me.  I’m going to bypass some of the basics like “Why did you come here?” because I’ve dealt with them elsewhere, and move on to:

Have you been to any bars or clubs?

Yes, I’ve been to a few places.  I went to one bar that’s in the basement of a shopping mall, and a place called Caffe Club Casino that has a loud, dark, glittery, Jagermeistery Eurotrash feel to it, and a club called Vremeplov, or “Time Machine,” where they play techno versions of Serbian folk music and college kids get trashed.  My favorite kind of place, though, is a kafana or konoba with live music, good wine, and maybe a fireplace.  Meaghan wrote about one such place we visited in Novi Sad, and last week Andreja took us to Pevac, which is a few minutes’ drive out of Kragujevac.  I had a great time, drank about a whole bottle of wine, and pooped out at 2 AM while the rest of our party was still going strong.  I was in class at 8:30 the next morning, wondering if my students could guess why my voice sounded a little weak.

What do you think of our buses?

When I get this question, the asker usually looks as if they’re flinching in advance of violent criticism.  They’re inevitably surprised to hear that I find the buses comfortable and convenient.  I can get to Belgrade in two hours, the first buses run before 7 AM, and there are about twenty every day, so I just catch a ride to the station and buy a ticket on the spot.  A one-way ticket is about 400 dinars, or $6 US, very cheap by American standards.  (I don’t know if this is affordable for average Serbs, but I’m thinking of the four-hour ride from Boston to New York, which costs anywhere from $20 on the Fung Wah Chinatown express to $100 on Amtrak at peak times.  That’s 7000 dinars.)

My only problem on the bus is that a lot of the drivers play those techno versions of Serbian folk songs for everyone to hear over the radio.  This style of music, which is called “turbo-folk,” has a strong association to the Milosevic era: its lyrics deal exclusively with cheesy love stories, and the dictator supported it because it was so Serbian and so non-political.  Apparently, he didn’t mind that it sucks.  The techno beats are so intense that I’ll start unconsciously nodding my head in time to the music, and not realize it for ten minutes or more.

Have you traveled around the country at all?  What city do you prefer?

Yes, I’ve traveled out of Kragujevac to Belgrade and Novi Sad.  I thought Novi Sad was a great place to relax.  It has a long, wide pedestrian street with beautiful old buildings, where I could happily spend a day sitting and drinking coffee.  Belgrade is exciting, so busy and full of people.  Kragujevac, on the other hand, is where I live and where I can see the people I know, and my experiences with Serbian people have been great.  When I get to know people here, I feel that they really care about me.

(I was very proud of this most diplomatic answer.  Don’t worry – it’s all true.  It would be too hard to choose one city as my favorite.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system

On Sunday morning, we were awakened by a guy driving around the neighborhood announcing something over a loudspeaker. Obviously, we had no idea what it was, although the thought occurred to us that it might be someone running for office. We assumed that we would have heard from the US Embassy if it was anything dangerous, so we rolled over and went back to sleep. Sunday was also the end of daylight saving time in Serbia, as in the US. We didn't know if it would change on the same day, but when we got up we checked our clocks against the TV, and they were off by one hour. Our guess is that the loudspeaker was a public service announcement to remind everyone to set their clocks back. I wonder who offers such a service. Given that we're living in a former Communist country, it's almost certain to be a government employee, but that doesn't stop us speculating. My favorite theory is that there's some guy in the neighborhood who always forgets to change his clock, and that the man with the loudspeaker was his boss. "Please be aware that daylight saving time is over, and you should set your clocks back an hour. Boris Jovanovic, this means you."