BE CAREFUL OF BELGRADE
My lover is coming to visit me in Belgrade for the very first time. As I cannot meet him upon arrival, his initial encounters are out of my control in a way that feels like a sexual release – anticipatory, anxiety-inducing and orgasmically exciting.
Be careful of Belgrade, his mamma had said. As he arrived at the Central Station, a wall of cold and erratic noise hit him hard. The internet was bad – data roaming from Europe has lost its connection to this place. And the station is a grim sight. At the Bristol Hotel, he waited for a taxi. In the Sava Mahala neighbourhood nearby, during the 20th century, pigs were brought and sold at market. Someone once told me that merchants would force the pigs to swim upstream from Kladovo to Belgrade and Budapest. While I’m trying to reach him via SkyNet, I’m thinking of swimming pigs, and what his first impression of Belgrade would be. Left alone with my thoughts, I imagine the vortex of the city as I live it. In my mind, Belgrade is glamorous soirées in the capital of decadent consumption and indulgence, an oasis of sin. It is an Orient Express route remake of Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). It is a place where thin, vivacious and alluring personalities roam. Come nightfall, they attend clubs where, in hot, dark corners, death-cold fingers trace the zips of leather pants and cropped lace shirts, finding the flesh hidden within.
He missed a taxi and then another, before deciding to climb up to Gavrila Principa and Kamenicka. Ashamed, I was hoping he wouldn’t be judging the street vendors towering over makeshift tar stalls surrounded by petty thieves, smugglers and a flowing river of wage workers coming off their shifts. There was no time to tell him the story of the sex queens who once reigned on these streets, nor to re-enact the voyeuristic pleasures of Ljubomir Šimunic, a director who religiously followed their endless walks into the Belgrade night. Nor was there an opportunity to mention the infamous adult movie cinema Partizan, its plush seats undoubtedly drenched in body fluids, which he indifferently passed by. Quietly, I waited at home, hoping that, as he walked, he wouldn’t be hearing the echo of all the warnings he’d been given. Repeatedly, I recall the news covering stories of violence, the brutal murder with a mason’s hammer happened in the night between … Shivers go down my spine when I imagine confused world-travellers who dream of seeing Balkan passion, who are restless and eager to enjoy exotic sights and sounds, cheap and exclusive at the same time. Yet, behind its mask, Belgrade’s true face is both fantasy and cold reality, beguiling beauty and heart-stopping danger.