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JOHN TRAVOLTA IN SERBIA

Socialising in Belgrade in 1978

BELGRADE:  Kalmegdan Fortress  path

BELGRADE: Kalmegdan Fortress path

The film “Saturday Night Fever”, starring John Travolta, was released at the end of 1977. It reached the UK in 1978, the year that I first spent a lengthy holiday in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia. In this excerpt from my book “Scrabble with Slivovitz”, which is about Yugoslavia before its dismemberment in the 1990’s, I recalled some aspects of socialising in Belgrade.

We spent every evening eating out in restaurants such as Vuk, Doboj, and Mornar, as well as visiting Mira’s friends. Her father was a diplomat, and many of her acquaintances were the children of members of the upper echelons of Yugoslav society. Almost all of them lived in spacious apartments, which made many middle-class British homes seem modest in comparison. My knowledge of the Serbo-Croatian language was almost non-existent during this first visit to Belgrade. Most of the people to whom I was introduced spoke English with varying degrees of competence; many of them were almost fluent. Naturally, most of the conversation was in their mother tongue. I listened quietly, imbibed the (often smoky) atmosphere, and sipped numerous glasses of almost neat vodka, which was my favourite alcoholic drink at that time.

BELGRADE: Terazije

BELGRADE: Terazije

We used to return to Strahinjića Bana late at night or in the early hours of the morning. We often encountered the workers who were hosing clean the main streets long after most people had gone to bed. Sometimes, in jest, they aimed their powerful jets of water at our feet and made us dart out of their reach. Once or twice, I remember waking up the morning after an evening of particularly heavy vodka consumption and noticing that the surface of the skin of my limbs and digits were slightly numb. I know now that temporary paraesthesia of the skin is a common after-effect of this particular drink and is the cause of many deaths in Russia. When someone ‘sozzled’ with vodka lies down in the snow, they are unable to feel its coldness because of this anaesthetic effect of the drink, and they are literally chilled to death.

BELGRADE:  7 Juli Street

BELGRADE: 7 Juli Street

Just before setting off for my first stay in Belgrade, I accompanied one of my numerous cousins to the cinema in London in order to watch the recently released film “Saturday Night Fever”. It was not a film that I would have chosen to see. In those days I preferred intellectual arty films, many of which were screened at the now long since demolished Academy Cinemas in Oxford Street. However, to my surprise, I enjoyed it. In Belgrade, Mira asked me whether I minded seeing “Saturday Night Fever”. Her cousin Ana, who was much younger than mine in London, wanted to see it, and she was taking her with Peter. Out of politeness, I did not say that I had already seen it in London; I agreed to join them. The cinema was of a design that I had not seen before. The seats were not raked, but the screen was placed high enough so that no one sitting in a seat behind another would have his or her view blocked. I saw the film again, but this time with Serbo-Croatian subtitles. It was not dubbed. Had it been, it might have been an even more amusing experience.

BELGRADE:  View into a yard

BELGRADE: View into a yard

Once when visiting friends in Budapest in Hungary many years later, I watched a Benny Hill show dubbed into Hungarian, which greatly improved its entertainment value.

Entry stamps: Yugoslavia and Greece, 1978

Entry stamps: Yugoslavia and Greece, 1978

After my first visit to Belgrade, I joined my parents in Greece for a driving holiday around the Peloponnese peninsula. Wherever we stopped, music from “Saturday Night Fever” was being played in the background. It was all the rage that summer. During our journey we stayed at a hotel in the southern town of Gytheion. The hotel’s restaurant had a gramophone, which was playing a rather slow, slightly mournful tune. Soon, I realised that it was a number from Saturday Night Fever. It was being played at the wrong speed, 33 rpm instead of 45! Nowadays, the film not only brings back happy memories of a trip to the Balkans …

All photos by Adam Yamey. Taken in Belgrade in the late 1970s or early 1980s


"Scrabble with Slivovitz" by Adam Yamey is available on Kindle, and as a paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, lulu.com, and Bookdepository.com

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 04:26 Archived in Serbia Tagged greece yugoslavia belgrade disco vodka beograd jugoslavija john_travolta Comments (2)

Surviving history: Počitelj

Počitelj before the Bosnian War of 1993

In 1975, when there was still a country called 'Yugoslavia', I visited the small town of Počitelj, which rests on the slopes of the valley of the River Neretva. Much of interest was then in ruins. I have written this blog to show what the place was like when it was still part of the former Yugoslavia.

POCITELJ 1975:   Dome, minaret, and castle

POCITELJ 1975: Dome, minaret, and castle

During the 16th to 18th centuries, the town developed and flourished as an Ottoman stronghold. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire 'swallowed up' Bosnia/Herzogovina in 1878 (following the Treaty of Berlin), Počitelj began to decline.

By the time I visited just under 100 years later in 1975, it was apicturesque series of runed buildings that one could explore freely. For me, one of the highlights of the place was a minaret, which could be ascended. I climbed up it, and recorded some wonderful views with my camera.

POCITELJ 1975 View from the top  of a minaret

POCITELJ 1975 View from the top of a minaret

It is lucky that I was trigger happy with my camera because during the 1993 Bosnian War, many of the historic buildings were badly damaged by Croatian forces.

POCITELJ 1975: Neretva River and castle ruins

POCITELJ 1975: Neretva River and castle ruins

I believe that it is still worth visiting Počitelj, because according to recent photos that I have seen, it is not looking too unhealthy!

A pomegranate at Pocitelj (in 1975)

A pomegranate at Pocitelj (in 1975)

POCITELJ 1975: View of the Neretva

POCITELJ 1975: View of the Neretva

HERE is an extract about the place from my book "SCRABBLE WITH SLIVOVITZ" (by Adam Yamey, available at Amazon, bookdepository.com, and lulu.com):

POCITELJ 1975: View from castle

POCITELJ 1975: View from castle

Whilst I was staying in Mostar, I made an excursion by bus to Počitelj.
It perches on the slopes of the left bank the Neretva Valley about 40
Km downstream from Mostar. When the Ottomans ruled Bosnia, this
was an important fortified town. After the establishment of Austro-
Hungarian rule in the area in the 1878, it lost its strategic importance
and began to deteriorate. By the time that I visited in the 1970s it was a
picturesque collection of ruins: castle walls, mosques, and many other
types of buildings. I wandered around the site that spread up along the
steep slope of the valley. It was both peaceful and attractive, with fine
views of the river far below. There was a deserted mosque with an
intact minaret. I was thrilled to discover that the narrow spiral staircase
ascending its interior was undamaged, and that I was able to fulfil one
of my many ambitions: to climb a minaret. I ascended to the high
balcony from which the faithful used to be called to prayer, and
enjoyed the view."

POCITELJ 75 Looking down a minaret

POCITELJ 75 Looking down a minaret

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 09:54 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged yugoslavia bosnia jugoslavija herzogovina .počitelj Comments (0)

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