A Serbian Diversion
On occasion, Tom our GPS leads us astray. This doesn’t happen in Western
Meeting Nicoli and Rosa was the result of Tom’s foray into the sparsely mapped countryside of Serbia. We had crossed the border from Romania late on a warm, sunny afternoon in May, and had driven south of the city of Novi Sad where the scenery changed dramatically from the flat and uninspiring plains of the north to pretty rolling hills. It was time to stop for the day. We asked Tom for a camping spot and he shouted back his usual rhetoric. In 200
We came to a halt on a grassy hillside in front of a centuries-old tidy traditional Serbian farmhouse. It was long and low, and sagging slightly under the weight of years. All manner of tools and knickknacks hung on the outer walls. A wagon, the sort that hooks up to a horse, was piled with hay and stood just behind the house. A little old Serbian man peered out from the house curiously.
Campsite? I stated my question slowly. I waved my arms to the land surrounding his home and then pointed back at our blue van. I hoped Tom had miscalculated, and there might be somewhere for us to set up camp just over a nearby hill. The old man's eyes lit up and he started making follow-me gestures. He danced past the wagon and rounded the trunk of a fruit tree, stopping beside a whitewashed shed and pointed his finger to the ground. Campsite! He was inviting us to camp in his yard! He then pointed his two thumbs at his chest. Nicoli! He stated. We made our own introductions and he flitted off back toward the house.
We rolled up the tent and pulled the table and chairs from the back of the van, and I sat back to enjoy the beautiful setting. Nicoli reappeared every few minutes bearing gifts; strawberries from his garden, followed by a small carafe of slivovitz, homemade plum brandy, with two tiny crockery cups. Next, he came around the corner carrying a basin of warm water heated on his corn-fed stove, and finally, he brought a platter of fresh warm golden-fried flat bread. Each time he
Arthur pulled out his cello to play a bit in the warmth of the afternoon sun, and Nicoli chattered away in Serbian with animated exuberance between mouthfuls of sausage. I could pick out words like Tito, the
The frying pan was empty and Nicoli sprung up once more and dashed off toward home. Two minutes later, he returned walking a bicycle on his left, and a woman on his right. Mama Rosa! He announced. Rosa had heard the cello music and came to ask for Brahms.
I held Rosa’s two hands in mine. Thank-you! I said, taking the cue from Nicoli that perhaps my enthusiasm could convey my message despite the language barrier. Everything was such a treat, but especially the bread! Rosa beamed, Ahhh! Good! Good! And then somehow she helped me to understand that on Wednesday and Friday the Serbian Orthodox make a meal of bread "shleb” because on these two days, they don't eat meat... I turned to Nicoli and raised my eyebrows at him conspiratorially. At this, Nicoli leapt up and onto his bicycle with a sparkle in his eye and peddled across the field to get milk from his cousin's cow. He disappeared over the hill leaving Rosa watching
Hover over the pictures (or choose landscape on mobile) for more on my Serbian diversion.