Our second week in Belgrade was uneventful until Friday. On Friday morning, we began the day early with a 2-1/2 hour drive to Niš. Dan had been invited to a Plea Bargaining conference arranged by Partners Serbia at the Niš courthouse. I was just along for the ride, so for about 6 hot hours I was a person without a roof over my head. I wandered the pedestrian street and Niš Fortress until the conference ended.
Next, we were driven another 2-1/2 hours to Čačak (pronounced Chachak) in west central Serbia to attend a dinner sponsored by the regional bar association. We didn't get to see much of Čačak beyond the hotel and restaurant which is too bad because the area is known as the "Serbian Mount Athos." Beginning in the 14th century, eventually about 300 monasteries were built along the river gorge. Today, 12 monasteries survive.
We arrived at the restaurant about 9:00 pm. About 50 lawyers attended the dinner Friday night. Except for the musicians, I was probably the only non-lawyer. The president of the Serbian Bar Association was a guest as was the former president of the Macedonia Bar Association.
Drinks were poured, dinner was served, and musicians played. While the musicians played tragic love songs, the dinner guests sang. It was impressive that the entire group knew the words to all the songs. Songs from every part of former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, and Russia were sung. Dan and I left the gathering about 11:30 pm and the musicians and guests still had not taken a break.
The next morning we woke to rain and cool weather. Dan's informal polling found that many of the lawyers did not quit the party before 3:00 am. After breakfast at the hotel, the party resumed at 1:00 pm in the town of Guča (pronounced Gucha).
Guča is a town of about 2,000 people. The town is famous for the Guča Trumpet Festival held in August. Annually, more than 500,000 visitors (Serbian and international) make the pilgrimage to Guča for the three-day alcohol fueled trumpet festival and competition.
In the Orthodox tradition, even social and business organizations can have patron saints. The patron saint of this regional Serbian Bar Association is St. Justinian (the 6th century Byzantine emperor who made up a famous law code which is still the basis of the legal system in much of Europe). The celebration, a Slava, to honor St. Justinian was to begin with a blessing at a Guča church, but with 300 invited guests, the church came to the party.
The ceremonial table was set with a slavski kolač (the round of yeast bread) and zhito (boiled wheat with honey and walnuts), red wine, and a special beeswax candle. Each item on the table was symbolic: kolač represents Christ as the bread of life, zhito is symbolic of the crucifixion and commemorates departed family members, red wine is Christ's blood, and the candle proclaims Christ as the light of the world. The priest lit the candle and began the solemn ceremony.
Kolač (above) and Zhito (below)
A line formed and guests waited for their turn to take a spoonful of zhito (boiled wheat sweet), a piece of kolač, and receive the priest's blessing.
The feast had so many courses. First, aperitifs (plum brandy for us) and plates of local cheeses, kajmak, breads, and smoked meats. Next there was "wedding cabbage", multiple meat courses alternating with palate cleansing salad courses, and wine. One of the condiments served with the bread was a bowl of "tobacco" cracklings. It looked like threads of tobacco, but it is actually pork cracklings, drained of fat, cooked and fried until the remaining pork becomes thin, brown threads.
"Wedding cabbage" is cabbage, pork, and lamb layered into large terra cotta pots that are slow cooked for about 10 hours. The wedding cabbage pots had already been on the fire for hours when we arrived. None of the accumulated fat is removed prior to serving the wedding cabbage. It was a delicious fat soaked cabbage/meat dish served with corn muffins.
Another meat course was roasted pork and roasted lamb. The roasted pork with its crispy skin--a sinfully delicious taste sensation.
The final meat course was served sometime after 8:00 pm and at that point, we were so full we skipped it. The meat is pork scruff (think "scruff of the neck"). It was served with fat infused roasted potatoes. I did eat one of the delicious potatoes. When a potato soaks up that much pork fat, it has a completely different texture. I've never consumed so many varieties of pork fat in my life.
They seemed so excited about each song like they hadn't heard it in years. Sasha, our driver, said that the reason everyone knows the words is because every Serb attends at least two similar events (weddings, births, baptisms, Slavas) each month and the bands usually play the same 50 songs at each event. Also on tap was Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and some disco-era songs like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive".
Sasha and the two Anas from Partners Serbia
More than six hours into the Slava feast with brass instruments blaring and drums keeping up a body shaking rhythm, it was only a matter of time before someone was dancing on the tables. The woman in blue dancing on the table is Jasmina president of the regional bar association and host of the Slava celebration. She was great fun. Security took her off the table and no one else was allowed to stand on a chair or table.
While the trumpets were playing, guests danced the fast paced chain dance called the kolo. The throbbing chain snaked between chairs and tables until the band left the stage.
We were invited to stay another night, but Sasha and the two Anas needed to get back to Belgrade which was still 2-1/2 hours north. We left before the party was over, but we had fun. Serbian lawyers really know how to party!