Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cultural Blunder #1: Folk is not the Folk you think it is

Well, it probably isn't my first cultural blunder (I tried to leave the apartment with wet hair, and even didn't wear socks with my slippers around the house. Both serious offenses), but certainly this one takes the cake thus far.
I introduced myself to a group of students at the Singidunum University (the private university in whose building we have our classrooms) as being interested in "folk" music. Not realizing that "folk" music means something completely different in this context. I later found out from my host sister Dejana that folk music means modern turbo-folk: about as far away from the kind of music I had in mind as I can get. Folk music here, she informed me, is called ethno or old national music. I certainly got some strange looks from the students--turbo-folk isn't considered high-brow from what I've gathered and is popular among certain sectors of society (and subsequently not popular among others)--especially when I explained how Mary Cay had been here in the 70's studying "folk" music. One student commented, but folk music in the 70's is different than folk music now. I guess I didn't really register how differently the traditions are labeled. whoops. oh well.

So now I know.
Dejana then spent almost an hour illustrating the difference between folk and village music with me--and, well, I think I've got it now. But now I feel like I've inadvertently presented myself to these students as something entirely different from what I am. oh well. Some clarification will be necessary. This probably also helps explain why I've had such a hard time finding the music I was looking for.
Mary Cay has also put me on the track of finding some folk dance--something I was having difficulty finding on my own.

I'm also finding that my village music background has equipped me with quite a strange vocabulary--do I know how to say "where is this bus going?'--well not really. but can I say "my sweet fawn, where are you" or "two quinces" (what the hell is a quince anyways?)--actually yes. perhaps not exactly the most practical vocabulary, but it's vocabulary none-the-less.

Aside from this, things have been going really well.
This week was our first full week of classes, next week we are heading out to Vukovar, and I think this will really start to make some of the things we're learning about clear(er). It's been a lot of theoretical discussion about identity, memory, nationalism. Yugoslav history. We're starting to get into discussing how we should start conceptualizing our Independent Study Project (from here on out the ISP). Thinking about the ISP is getting really exciting because there's a plethora of things I would love to study while I'm here.

We visited the Museum of Yugoslav History, which, oddly enough, doesn't really have anything to do with Yugoslav history (or at least not yet, they're still trying to define themselves as an institution, and more importantly add to their collections). The fame of the museum is that they house the House of Flowers--formerly part of Tito's compound where he met with his mistresses and where he is buried. They also have his entire collection of gifts, from both domestic and international communities. The workmanship on the gifts was remarkable, and to me, spoke of the degree to which Tito was revered by people within Yugoslavia. It was also really interesting to me that Yugoslav history--or at least where the museum is right now--really revolves around Tito. He is the history. I hadn't quite understood the scale of Tito before visiting the museum, and now it's starting to make sense. Or at least I'm getting it better. One of my first nights, my host sister pulled out a book ("It was honest to live with Tito"), and told me it was my host mother's graduation present when she (my host mother, not my sister) graduated. And Marica added, but it was so honest to live with Tito.

 Our entrance
 there's a school in the middle of the Block: it's set up in a rectangle, you can see the gymnasium in white, directly in front of our building.

Sorry for the bulky inclusion of pictures: this is my neighborhood: Block 23. The first picture is of my entrance, but as you can see, it really could be anywhere in this complex. A few days ago, I thought, for just a moment, that I might have entered the wrong entrance--I was in a hurry and someone was going out as I was coming in so I didn't have to unlock the front door--and as I was walking up the stairs I was trying to figure out-do I recognize this place? It turns out it was my building, but for a moment I wasn't so sure. 

I'm hoping to meet up with the OTPOR folks--(check out this news story from Foreign Policy if you're interested, I'm feeling really busy here--but not active. if that makes sense. We have class basically all day (although I think the schedule is still being settled into), and while the classes are really interesting, I don't quite yet feel productive. just absorbing life here. I know that'll change once we start moving--and the fact that we travel so much might make volunteering somewhere difficult, but I guess I'm just not used to not being so involved in goings on around me. and I'd like that to change.
Well, cao for now,

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