Archive for October, 2009

sunset on the salasch

“Salasch-hund,” my father used to grumble to himself about that lazy co-worker, slacker gas station attendant, and the occasional late-sleeping daughter.

I actually saw what he meant when Aleksandra, Alphild and I took our first look around Salas 137, one of the several Vojvodina “farm-estates” now more devoted to entertaining tourists than harvesting wheat and corn.


Salas 137 attempts to portray a type of existence that my family knew and loved for a century and a half, though it is lost to us now.  My father, along with his parents, grandparents, and everyone else in the Vojvodina village of Sekitsch (now Lovcenac), were expelled from their homes, dispossessed of their properties, and put into death- and work-camps at the end of 1944.   After nearly eight years of suffering, sickness, the experience of watching others tortured, killed, or die of starvation, my father, his sister, and their father were reunited with my grandmother (who had been working in a coal mine in a forced-labor camp in the Ukraine, near Luhansk).  Homeless and homeland-less, my Oma decided for them all: “America is the future.”  On the 17 of December 1955, they caught their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

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10 2009

Yugo, I follow.

Introducing Aleksandra Izgarjan:

prolific scholar, skilled Yugo driver, Serbian gourmand, and my dear friend.


You are meeting her as I did, when I first arrived from Belgrade weighed down by book-filled boxes and overstuffed suitcases.  With her cheery pink t-shirt and instant smile, Aleksandra presented me with a warm and gracious welcome to Novi Sad.  Somehow, through the muddle of newness and jetlag, I was gently guided into my new home, my office at the university, and a fabulous outdoor café in the heart of the city (Mediteraneo, on Isa Bajica).  And I listened with wonder and interest as my new colleague discussed her challenging teaching experiences and a startling number of recent publications.

I am pleased to say that my rather small library of Necessary Reading Material now includes Aleksandra’s Maksin Hong Kingston I Ejmi Ten: Ratnica I Samanka.  And I’d happily dig into the over-400 pages of analysis on Kingston and Amy Tam, if only my Serbian were, o, 10,000 times better.  Tiny Walt seems to have gotten much further. (more on Tiny Walt later.  As several of you predicted, he has really taken to Balkan folk dancing– and thanks to Aleksandra actually knows more about two of his most illustrious fans.  Whitman Ah Singh, indeed!).


As intellectual, industrious, and professional as she is, Aleksandra is also adventurous, funny, and—well, cute.  She shares these excellent qualities with her beloved 19-year old Yugo.  It may rattle your teeth, smell like petrol and allow any passerby access to whatever’s on the front seat, but the Yugo has character.  Like its owner, it’s got pluck, volition, get-up-and-go.  That is, when it’s not in the shop.


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10 2009

New York to New… Nork?


…it’s a helluva town!

Stari Grad’s up and the Limans are down,

The fortress on the hill has tunnels underground.

New York!  New Nork!  Both such hellsuva towns!

Liner notes:

“Nork”: a shopping center ‘for the people’ (and actually, there’s a huge “IDEA” supermarket—a relatively new concept here in Serbia—on the basement level of New Nork).

“Stari Grad”: old town.  Despite its name, Novi Sad has a quaint downtown lined with multicolored two-story structures that have a distinctly Viennese flavor.  This, for example, is Dunavska Street, which extends to the Danube River (or Dunav) behind the camera, and connects up ahead with Zmaj Jovina, Novi Sad’s café-lined pedestrian zone.

IMG_0025Most of these buildings were constructed while the city was under Austro-Hungarian rule in the eigthteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Established in 1694, obtaining its present name and status as a free royal city in 1748, Novi Sad soon became the cultural and economic center of the region. The first grammar school opened in 1791 (a good 30 years before Brooklyn’s P.S.1!),  the Serbian National Theatre was founded here in 1861; Matica Srpska (a time-honored cultural institution and the center for the study of Serbian language, literature, and philosophy) moved here in 1864.  Even after being attacked by everyone from the Turks to the Russians to Hungarian Fascists, even after NATO bombardment left Novi Sad without bridges, communication, and a water supply for months in 1999, the center city is charming, elegant, and welcoming.

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10 2009

добро дошли !

The first words I read upon landing in Belgrade  weren’t actually part of an exotic-looking Cyrillic greeting, nor were they the captions of the HSBC ad campaign that framed every other flight I’ve taken this year.  “Karen Karbiener” greeted me from a sign held up by smiling Dida Stojanovic, the American Embassy’s indispensable Cultural Affairs Assistant.  Dida had ensured a warm welcome for me well before this moment: her fact-filled, friendly emails and her assistance in rescuing a package from Serbian customs humanized complex and often mysterious processes.  We chatted like old friends on the way in to Belgrade, and I found her a great source for juicy tidbits about the city—like the location of its own Silicone Valley, a street well known for its plastic surgeons and parading patients.

After meeting Cultural Affairs Officer Susan Delja at the American Embassy, the three of us walked down Kneza Milosa to the Monument Café, a sleek restaurant with a shaded terrace humming with conversation and a scene-setting soundtrack (you’ll here piped-in music almost everywhere you walk in Serbian cities, from walking streets to public parks).  We were joined by Jeff Lash, the only other Fulbrighter to be sent to Serbia this year.   Susan recommended the cheesecake, and all of us—except you, Dida!—indulged as we were briefed on the Embassy’s cultural activities.  Though the American presence returned less than ten years ago after Milosevic fell, and Susan’s only been in her position for two years, she and her staff have been busy inviting American speakers and initiating new programs designed to build understanding and cooperation between the two countries.  “It’s a great time to be here,” Susan said, and I knew she meant it as she described the interesting challenges of raising daughters in central Belgrade.

–I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, this is a perfect place for a photo of Susan, Dida, Jeff and I.  But at this point I was still shaken from what happened when I tried to photograph the American Embassy earlier that afternoon.  The grand building at 50 Kneza Milosa was firebombed last year during the Kosovo crisis, and though the Embassy is still in full operation, they have kept the front windows boarded up and painted as white as the building itself.  It’s s ominously faceless— and a great photo opp.  You’ll have to believe me when I tell you that an Embassy guard asked me to show him the photos I had taken, and then watched as I erased them.  And to accept the fact that you’ll never know what the Embassy looks like (unless you google it, of course.  I see from what’s out there that I should have just crossed the street).

So, let me focus on a subject that’s much less camera-shy: the esteemed and energetic political geographer Jeff Lash.


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10 2009

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