Sunday, 15 June 2008

Šekspirova Part 2

Šekspirova Part 2
The sky had been like a thick and dusty screen for hours, as I walked along Maksime Gorkog, which could also be called jasmine street, for its whole length is planted with scented trees, which give off little bursts of perfume, scented alleyways. Then Vojvode Mišica was like entering a dark tunnel. Both sides were planted with these enormous slender trees, reaching high above the tower blocks. They had no low branches so it was difficult to see the leaves clearly, but their arrangements were a little like acacia, only they were much bigger and more the shape of beech, only smoother. The walls of the buildings were painted light brown, so already they had a quality of darkness to them, but the combination of these giant slender trees, whose branches, like poplars, seemed intent on reaching up rather than spreading out, and the thick grey almost chewy sky, gave an impression of a sombre kind of joy.

Just beyond the balcony,
the poplar trees are shivering – there’s a gust of cool wind blowing in. the sun has dropped behind the buildings, but there are shafts of light spearing upwards, catching the rough edges of the cloud and snagging it with terse flecks of pink and golden light.I walked over the Varadinski Most across the Danube and on the other side there was a street that had a dark and slightly worn aspect, as if its history debated with the endless stream of traffic. It looked misplaced in time. You could imagine its importance in the days when people crossed the bridge on horseback, stopped to talk and trade, bring news from other places, listen to the winding histories of small events and large ones, rippling in from courts and monasteries and distant cities. All the stories that the Danube brought with it, all its cargo of gold and treasure, muddied with the dross of circumstance. All the secrets it refused to share. Stories come downriver and there are those who follow its broad course, and those who put their ears close to the water, to hear news of those who’ve left, whispers of adventure, omens of their return. Time flowed differently it seems when the river’s cargo travelled slowly. When the water carried currents of emotion with it, time stretched out on all sides and included bird flights and their disappearances, and storms that broke and storms that stayed intact and travelled to some other destination. Time was fibrous with a net of feelings that crossed the unknown with a sense of confidence or daring, with anticipation or with dread, with a filigree of hopes or expectations, with knots of joy, relief or disappointment, like wakes or weirs or underwater currents.

The street of shops and houses belong to that kind of time. The shop doorways are made of old and solid wood. I glimpse the large tiled floors of interiors, thick wooden counters, dim lights, and the outside walls are stained with what looks like centuries of grime, even though the dust is superficial. The traffic speeds past quickly and it never stops to talk. These buildings have turned sour it seems with the neglect of the rituals and the feelings and the human exchange that trade brings.
The cars hurtle over the new bridge and this street of strange dark buildings shoulder their neglect with a grimy resistance that may look like pragmatic acceptance, but feels more like something warm and living that has curdled from indifference. There is a sense of something that has tried so many times and finally, has given up all hope. Ignored by the stream of traffic, it has a feeling of profound abandonment. The cars will always pass through here, ot reach the bridge. It has turned into a tunnel. No flowers or trees can grow here. The buildings are still there, for they were built to last. But it feels as if their spirit has been crushed.

[ Streten
told me yesterday that there are plans to build another bridge, where the old one used to be before it was destroyed in WWII. This means that the traffic will no longer pass through this street, and it will have a chance to regenerate, to become slow and dreamy and full of life again.]


Life on Shakespeare Street, Novi Sad

I'm living on Šekspirova, close to Balzakova, Tolstojeva, Lermontova, Danila Kiša and Antona Čehova. Yes, the literary quarter. And to demonstrate it, the towerblock next to mine is liberally danbed with graffiti, which of course I cannot understand, but it has artistic flair, at least in the layout.

But as far as towerblocks go, these are in the superior range, clean and neat, with lots of trees in front, behind and separating each block. I have a huge poplar tree which rustles protectively just outside my balcony.

On the other side of the main boulevard at the end of Šekspirova is a large park and beyond that, is the Strand, an enormous green park with cafes and play areas for children, and its edge is literally a strand - a sandy beach on the Danube shore. People lie and sunbathe here and paddle in the slightlz brownish water. The Danube is immense, like a lake on the move. In Dora d'Istria's essay on the Serbs, which I'm going to translate here, she says "Your Western rivers are like mere streams compared to this huge waterway which begins at the German border and flows thruogh many countries with a lengh of 2200 kilometers, before dividing into five and emptying into the Black Sea."

A couple of days ago I traveled here from Ohrid, Macedonia, a journey which took 16 hours with an hour's wait at Skopje and half an hour at Niš and three quarters of an hour at Belgrade. When I asked Emilije how long it would take form Skopje to Belgrade she thought perhaps five or six hours. But actually, it was eight. This was partly because the roads from Skopje to Niš were one lane and wound through various small towns and partly because of the delay at the border. As we left Macedonia all passports were collected by the bus driver and taken away to be scrutinized. Once this was completed, the driver came back, shouted out people's names and returned the passports. Among all the Blaskovitches, Ivanovitches and Sudarovaskas, I wondered how he'd cope with mine. In the past, I haven't recognized the Smeet that bus drivers or immigration officers have called out and its taken several Smeets before I realise its me they're referring to. But when it came to mine, he called out Morella, so that was easy.