It now feels like winter is coming. Over the past weeks, the leaves have
fallen from the trees. At school, the custodians no longer are seen shaking
trees or holding up a leaf blower to get off leaves. Only the stubborn
leaves remain. I now can see neighborsı homes and backyards. Yesterday,
light flurries danced in the grey morning sky. The temperature for the first
time this season has dipped into the single (plus and minus) digits Celsius.
Today I went with Pat (an American married to a Serbian) to a matinee movie.
It was the first one I went to that was in Serbian. (Next weekend I will see
the new Harry Potter movie, which will be in English with Serbian
subtitles.) After paying the 200 dinar ticket fee (about $2.75), we found a
seat. There was no overpriced popcorn, candy, or soda to tempt us. If you
wanted to, you could buy popcorn, roasted chestnuts, or soda on the street
and bring it in. I was glad that there was no smoking inside. As we entered
the theater door, I noticed a sign forbidding the use of cell phones,
cameras, and camcorders. The latter ban is particularly appropriate, as
there still is a high incidence of movie bootlegging and taping of movies,
including in theatres.
Pat had heard that the movie would be enjoyable, even if I couldnıt
understand any of the words. It was about a man and his familyıs slava, a
3-day religious festivity in which the family and its guests celebrate the
familyıs patron saint. Despite the familyıs careful preparations, the slava
quickly changed when, to the fatherıs chagrin, five male guests decided to
stay, eating partying straight even past the three days. The movie, set in
the late 1800ıs, was visually rich in the costumes, hairstyles, and everyday
life of people in the south of Serbia. Although I could get the gist of
things through careful observation and listening to the voice inflections
and the expressive music, once in a while I leaned over and asked Pat for
clarification. The lighthearted movie provided quite a few laughs and
Celebrating a slava is a distinctly Serbian Orthodox practice. The practice
began in the 13th century when, in attempt to convert Serbs to Christianity,
families were assigned patron saints that replaced the pagan gods previously
worshiped by the family. The slava has been practice since then, but
underwent periods of suppression and secrecy during the times of Turkish
occupation and Communism. The family celebrates the fatherıs patron saint.
St. George, St. Marko, and St. Nicholas are three of such saints. Many of
the slavas occur in the winter months, including the one for St. Nicholas.
Just as in years past, a great deal of food is made, accommodating guests
that may appear over the three days. The priest comes and blesses the house,
performs a small ceremony with incense, and cuts a special bread called
slavski kolac. Guests come and go during these three days, but it is
expected that if you are invited, you show up, even if it is for a short
time. When it is your slava, you are expected to reciprocate. The slava
takes place at the elder fatherıs house, unless he and his wife are too
elderly to undertake such a large event, at which time it passes to the son.
Traditional slavas are a religious, formal event, but in recent years the
attire has become less formal and music is sometimes included. A familyıs
slava typically is much more important than oneıs birthday. However, gifts
typically are not included, apart from a bottle of wine or a bouquet of
flowers. If you want to find out more about slavas, visit the website
article by Pat: http://www.expat.org.yu/culture/slava.php
After a hot chocolate at the McDonaldıs right next to the movie theater, we
parted ways and I headed towards my tram stop. Most of the stores were
closed, but an increasing number are staying open on Sundays. A few
storefronts had their Christmas displays set up. Others were beginning to
hang up outdoor Christmas lights. People were out on the pedestrian street,
but walked with a brisker pace due to the cold. At Trg Republike (Republic
Square), a small booth was set up by supporters of Slobodan Milosevic (the
former president now at The Hague for war crimes). You could buy buttons,
posters or next yearıs calendar with his photo. For a country that suffered
so much during his presidency (sanctions, NATO bombings, etc.), there are
some that still seem to cling to Milosevicıs nationalistic fervor.
For our Thanksgiving break, I will be going with Olja (a Serbian teacher
from school) to Sokobana, a town in southern Serbia that has thermal spas
and excellent hiking opportunities. I will try to write more when I return.