Archive for October 1st, 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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