Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Inspiration from the Balkans

I just returned from an incredible vacation to Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. My husband Simo is Serbian, and though he’s been there several times before, we’ve been wanting to go together.

Most people don’t have a clue where Serbia is and couldn’t pinpoint it on a world map. In grade school I learned about a country called Yugoslavia – located directly across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, south of Hungary, and north of Greece. Over time Yugoslavia has been under communist rule, fascism, dictatorships, and even royal rule. It’s been the middle of over 100 wars, and is now cut up into various countries:  Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, and Macedonia. 

We went on this vacation with dear friends and we mapped out a “circle” that started and ended in Belgrade, Serbia. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been connected to the Serbian community for more than half of my life, beginning with a friend from grad school in the 1980’s. My wedding was pretty much the same as depicted in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – you could have simply substituted the word “Serbian” for “Greek”. When my parents arrived at our home in Brookhaven (a burb in Atlanta) before the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, my soon-to-be in-laws were roasting a pig in the backyard. I remember whispering to my parents:  they’re roasting a pig in the backyard, and you need to smile and pretend like we do this everyday”. My mother exclaimed “did you say pig?” one nanosecond before my then-fiance’s parents were kissing her 3 times (traditional greeting in Serbia). 

Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia were stunning – most of all for the hues and colors and contrast of textures. Think Vancouver meets Costa Rica meets Italy. As an artist my senses were reeling – the color combinations were wonderful. Silvery blues against warm greens with pink, fuschia with crimson reds, bright Kelly greens and deep turquoise, and terra cotta with anything else (too many to mention!).

The food, drink, music, and fashion were outrageous. Smoked meats with roasted potatoes and grilled peppers with garlic, freshly made breads with olive oil, paprika, and red pepper, homemade šljivovica (Serbian plum brandy), slatko (a spoonful of a sweet berry confection as a start to your meal), and rakija (Serbian brandy or hard liquor) with stomach bitters and honey at the end of your meal (after you’ve had bite-sized decadent cakes in neat small squares and rectangles, topped with berries and cream, and of course baklava everywhere). Groups of musicians on every corner in every restaurant playing traditional music from the region – violins, accordions, prim’s, guitar, cello, brač's. Women and men dressed in designer wear just to go to the market – dark-haired beauties with clingy dresses and sexy heeled sandals and men with tight dress pants and shirts and Italian shoes (which are actually made in South Serbia), all with perfect skin and exotic features. Beautiful countries filled with beautiful people eating beautiful food. 

We saw plenty of beauty but also plenty of heartache. Buildings and homes covered in bullet holes, buildings and bridges still in pieces from bombings, and areas trying to recover economically and not succeeding. Wars have a price. 
My husband got to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins, and even met some he hadn’t before! The trip was a huge success on that account. We also hooked up with friends in Montenegro and Belgrade.

If you decide to venture to this part of the world, most people there speak some English. I speak enough Serbian to get by (and I’m pleased to report I did very well!) and my husband and friends are fluent so we had no issues with communicating.

It’s good to be home:  I’m full of inspiration and am heading to the studio today to begin pouring it all out onto the canvas.