For those of you who are curious what I have been up to since returning to Belgrade, here is a quick update.
After midnight on Thursday, I took the Jat flight out of Tel Aviv to Belgrade with an hour or so stop in Cyprus. I landed at Nikola Tesla Airport on the outskirts of Belgrade at about 4:00 am. Customs here is pretty relaxed (or lax depending on who you ask) so entering the country was really no hassle at all. The custom agent did not give me a word or even glace. She just scanned my passport and let me through.
After picking up my luggage at baggage claim, I caught a cab into the city. After some haggling, the driver agreed to a fare of 2000 RSD or about 20 euro. A really good price from the airport to the city is 1500 RSD, and given that it was 4:30 in the morning, I was happy to take what I could get. The cab took me directly to the intersection of Reskavska and Kralija Alexandra in the city center to Manga Hostel. I lodged here for most of my stay in Belgrade in 2009 and am confident in saying that this is really the best backpacker hostel in the city. The hostel is clean, the facilities are modern, and the staff is beyond amazing: friendly, knowledgeable, hospitable, etc.
After squeezing in a nap, I hung out a bit with the staff, got caught up on current affairs, politics, and the latest friendly “gossip”. Next I called up a number of my old contacts here in Serbia and sent out a few prospective emails to set up meetings, did a bit of grocery shopping, and showed a few of the guests at the hostel some of the interesting sites in central Belgrade. In the late afternoon, I met up with another friend who has been helping me a bit with my research here and chatted about my schedule and plan forward while sipping some really tasty homemade rakija. I spent the evening at Manga hanging out with the hostel staff and the guests and had a relatively early evening.
Friday morning, I joined two other guests at the hostel for a free walking tour of the center of the city starting from Trg Republika. While I did not really see anything or learn anything new about Belgrade, it was nice to get reoriented to the city and spend some time speaking with the local guide. Afterward, I stopped in at the American Corner to speak with the staff there about several focus groups I am hoping to organize next week. They were very helpful and also lent me a pile of books about Serbian politics that I hope to get through in the next few days. Finally, I stopped in at the Institute of Contemporary History where a friend of a friend is working as a research fellow. He has been helping me translate the survey material and we talked about both the content of my research and the particular tone and message of the texts I have written.
In the evening, I went to Belgrade’s only synagogue for Shabbat evening davening and for dinner with the rabbi, Isak Asiel, and his family. I joined the them again this Saturday morning for davening and lunch. R’Asiel was incredibly helpful to me last time I was in Serbia, connecting me with the journalists with whom I traveled to Kosovo for Vidovdan and to visit the major Serbian Orthodox religious sites there. Again, on top of he and his family’s generous hospitality, he extended me another invitation I could not refuse.
Tomorrow morning I will be joining him in attending a memorial service at Jasenovac Concentration Camp which straddles the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. R’Asiel and leaders from the Serbian Orthodox and Gypsy community will be speaking as well as Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and perhaps Serbian President Boris Tadic. It should be a very interesting event and I will do my utmost to post details upon my return.
In all, I am happy to report that my research is off to a running start and it promises to be a very productive three weeks. As always, I will keep you, my readers, up to date as the work progresses. Shavua tov.