Banana Wars

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Thursday, September 3, 2009

I have managed to smoke 22 packs of cigarettes this morning without even putting one in my mouth!  More on that feat later.  But first off, Belgrade is technically Beograd in the Serbian language and it means White City.  I looked and I looked but about the only white I could find here is the people.  Grey City would probably be more accurate since the buildings have built up a dark layer from exhaust and pollution fumes. 

Whatever its color, Beograd is definitely not going to place first in the local beauty pageant.  Actually I don't even think it would be a distant runner up.  But it is a fascinating place to watch life go by and I can say I have visited the epicenter of where all the violence of the 90s erupted.  In fact NATO bombed the place for 3 months in 1999 but I can't find any remaining evidence of it.

A sticky cloud of nicotine envelopes everything inside shops, restaurants, and even the grocery store.  I mean people smoke everywhere.  Even the streets aren't safe when you combine thick diesel exhaust with the cigarettes.  Nothing here is sacred and smoke just permeates daily life.

I managed to climb above the smoke after paying my 30 cents inside a nicotine enhanced ticket booth to take in a good view of suburban Beograd from a tower at the Kalemegdan Citadel which overlooks the Danube and Sava Rivers.  Save money on cigarettes...just take your time paying and inhale deeply.   In the distance I could make out miles of highrise apartment blocks that house most of the city's almost two million people.  Actually "warehouse" might be a better word since these buildings are nondescript, grey, and crumbling and presumably nicotine laced as well.  But you make do with what you have and all over the city I have seen people going about life with smiles on their faces.

After a great view from the tower, I was treated to an even better view in the park below.  A young mother had her milk engorged and completely swollen booby all flopped out for the world to see.  With no modesty or shame she attached her baby to it and started rocking and humming.  And yes, ladies and gentlemen, she lit up a cigarette to pass away the time.  I am pleased to see that the young are trained from early to survive in this smoky world.  You don't want to show up here like me late in life having never touched a cigarette. 

I was feeling a little hungry so I stopped inside the Mini Maxi Market to buy some fruit and water.  Did you know that the purchase of a banana could start WWIII at the checkout lane?  I did not know that after picking out the fruit there is a machine that weighs it and produces a price sticker.  The 21 year old Mouth of Beograd at the register took the banana, studied it, and then shook it at me.

He then began shouting in Serbian, which sounds a lot like Russian.  The lady behind me in line started shouting at Mouth and he waved the banana at her.  She put her hand on my back and made hand motions that everything was ok.   She yelled at Mouth and pointed to the fruit stand, and he got up, weighed my banana himself, and got mouthy again.  I looked at this scale machine and it was just a bunch of numbers and the signs for the fruit were vague so how the hell am I supposed to know what code to put in?  I got mouthy in English back at him and a man in line smiled with approval.  After money finally changed hands and I had my banana and bottled water, I took both and put them in my backpack.

The fun was not over.  He started waving a plastic bag at me.   Evidently you are supposed to take the bag and not be green with your own backpack.  The woman ripped the bag out of his hand, threw it back on the checkout stand, and she and the man apologized to me in Serbian.  I thoroughly enjoyed that water and banana under a haze of second hand smoke on a parkbench in Trg Republika (Republic Square).  So much drama for a ten cent banana and thirty cent bottle of water.  But it sure did add some much needed color to White City.

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