Although classes are held in the faculty of media and communications building of the Singidunum University in Belgrade (Belgrade means white city), a short walk from the center of old city, I'm living across the river Sava in New Belgrade. It's only a few minutes by tram, but crossing from old to New Belgrade is still a bit of a shock to me. The old city was built (and rebuilt) over a long period of time, someone mentioned that Belgrade was destroyed 13 times--and the buildings show that history. Next to an Austro-Hungarian (Belgrade was on the border between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires) will be a building rebuilt in the 1950's--after WWII, or again in the 2000s, after the 1999 bombing. Although, unlike Sarajevo, Belgrade to me at least doesn't have a feel of really having been in the middle of a war. It's fascinating to walk through, with each turn it feels like I've jumped through a few centuries. 10 minutes or so (traveling along the banks of the Sava towards the Danube) from our campus is the Roman/Ottoman fortress of Kalemegdan, right at the convergence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Walking out to Kalemegdan, there's a sense of peace, a bit of removed-ness from the bustle of the city. Much welcome, especially after such peaceful times in Sighnaghi. Although that's probably also influenced by the cold these days which keeps most people (including sometimes me) inside.
We spent our first days in Belgrade staying together at a Hostel just around the corner from our faculty, which I loved because we were encouraged in organized or unorganized manners to explore the city (some of our first classes were basically scavenger hunts in the city). Irregardless, I still feel like my grasp of the city is quite small--which kind of makes the city feel small, just because so much is unknown.
New Belgrade. New Belgrade. I'm living in an apartment block (23, for your information). The blok has over 57 entrances (I'm not quite sure how many, except I know that my entrance is #57). Looking out on it--I'll post pictures later--kind of feels like the entire state of Vermont could be contained in just a few bloks. and the buildings are mostly gray, and especially without green leaves on the trees, the entire city has a kind of gray hue. Along the Sava and Danube on the New Belgrade side is a large park, with biking paths stretching for miles, but in the cold I haven't had much chance to explore those.
My host family is really nice, my host mother is an english teacher/tutor which means that my Serbian has improved minimally in the past few days, because when she speaks Serbian either with her daughter or husband they speak so quickly, I have virtually no idea what is happening. But it also allows us to have deeper debates/discussions about life. Today over breakfast we were discussing if will and ambition is genetic or not. Certainly a conversation I wouldn't be able to have in Serbian at this point (or at any point in the near future). Marica (c makes the ts sound in these parts) teaches english on the first floor of our apartment building, is in her 50's, and has blond hair. She's really nice, and always says "but don't worry"--I can't tell if this is a filler phrase, or if she really thinks that I am worried (about finding the tram, about what is for dinner, about the weather or safety...). Dragan, my host father, used to work in construction, but recently that has dried up so now he works in deconstruction--heading a team. Other than that I'm not quite sure what he does. He speaks less English than Marica--which means that we have some interesting conversations--for example he lent me a book about the interwar period (between WWI and WWII--just to clarify which wars) and then said he had another book written from a different perspective--but I couldn't quite figure out just how different those perspectives would be--nor could I figure out how to effectively communicate that to him.
Dejana--my host sister--is great. I'm really thankful to have another young person (she's 28) around--seeing how her parents interact with her I have a better understanding of how I can interact with them. Not that she is defiant or anything, but it just helps me get a better sense of how they treat their children. She's also just really nice, and really nice to talk to. But she's terribly busy right now, she's working on her PhD in Biology---food sciences--so she works in a lab in the morning and attends classes in the afternoon. But I'm hoping we'll get to explore the city together. I also met her boyfriend Uros(h)--who's in a metal band, which will be an interesting side of Belgrade to get to see. Dejana took me to see a Roma settlement. It was really startling, and I'm not quite sure how to write about that just yet.
Classes have begun. Although I think we're all still settling into this notion of work and class and work and class again. but I think it'll be good.
cao for now,