Recorded here are the experiences of a somewhat lost 20-year-old at a trumpet festival in Serbia in the summer of 2014, so yeah, ziveli:


…. chanted the sun-tanned mid-aged lady on the bus. “You here alone? You come to party?” Ummm…. I came for Balkan Brass, for those trumpets which had impressed Miles Davis so strongly. Just the music, a goal so strict that Serbs would stare at me dumbstruck ‘You come to Serbia… only for trumpets??’ So I put on fake persona used for social interactions and lied through my teeth to fit in “Yes, party.”

“OPA!!” She danced round in round as the bus turned and turned, passed the bottle of rakija.

After setting camp, I wandered into the village in search of brass. Ah, they were playing wonderful wonderful tunes. I naively sat down (sat down!) at a restaurant to ‘appreciate it musicologically’. Big mistake: in Guča, the bands do not play for seated well-fed bourgeois. The gypsies and their music left just as I was ordering; their unrattled nomadism hitting the streets for new partiers, my lazy sedentism ticked with disappointment and a boring lonesome meal. So much for coming all the way to Serbia alone! I tread down back to the camp, annoyed at gypsy stands selling chinese junk and serbian men gaping at me. What a disaster.

Then camp: Danish dudes in leopard suits, Canadian girls in almost no suits. I gave in. Party it would be. Let me wear that giraffe costume and I’ll jump and jump to the scales that flowed up and down with no shame. The night was long: one Dane had his suit torn off by gypsy children, another woke up with a black eye in a stranger’s camp, greeted by friends he could not recall meeting. The next day felt like many days during which I lay on a table and just let beer and conversation cascade around me. English man lost his wallet and wanted to kill a gypsy child. Meh, stop complaining dude. Then went on to tell of his life as a cellist. Oh, that’s actually cool. His words turned darker, and he spoke of the tragic lives of musical virtuosi. The gravity of his voice said it all; the anecdotes of their lives merely portrayed it. Suffering. Music was a dangerous passion. Jaqueline du Pré, who played as though possessed, had a gift from God which was taken away from her because she gave too much: multiple sclerosis at 26; Rostrapovich’s performance for his life surveilled by KGB agents; János Starker’s obsession with his technique after the horror of learning that his colleague had lost his after he had merely attempted to analyze it. Music was the motivating force of life, a force which infused those born with it with utmost sublimity, a force which crazed them. From this voice, which enlivened the passion of each and every one of these tragic tales, I understood the man behind it had lived with intensity, in music and in love. Yet before I knew it, off he went to complain to the Serbian police about his wallet. Pffff, loser. Time for more gyspy music.

And so my days and nights succeeded one another in this fashion. Occasionally I dropped by the stadium where there were Serbian bands playing ‘straighter’ music, which was a nice change from the gypsy craze on the streets. A Berliner tried to swing dance with me, but I wasn’t raised a lady so I stepped on his feet over and over again: I was glad when he let me go and I could go back to jumping and jumping BELLA CIAO BELLLA CIAO CIAO CIAO! Why that song

was played so much at the festival remains a mystery to me. The Italians were pissed : ‘it’s just a folk song! Why do people sing it so much argh!’ I was elated.

There was the one night where the stadium was cramped with nationalists in military caps worshiping a singer who, as the rumor went, had been married to a mob boss. Apparently chants to war lords went on. In any case, I kept away and enjoyed my routine jumping and jumping to the Parisian brass band, who came all the way to Guča with their drunken tunes. Born to be wild, Miserlou, I was made for loving you, Carioca, crazed beats with sudden drops and sudden leaps, pauses for the band to sing and dance. Non-stop, danced my way with them and their music back to the camp, where we kept singing and drinking rakija til 5 am. When I headed to the bathroom by the pig pen one of the Frenchies (the one I was singing Beatles and Gainsbourg with) followed… and wanted to shag right by the pig pen. Mais quelle cochonerie!!!! Ran off to have some much-needed cherry rakija with the English cellist. It was time for his own tragedies to pour out: his niece’s illness, his song for her, written in a desperate moment alone and naked, his father on the death bed, his mother who would not call if anything happened. Such beautiful suffering eyes, I just wanted to hug him so bad… We retreated to his tent to finish off the cherry rakija.

The next day was spent in the shade of the car of a friend of the English cellist, a beautiful and kind Polish singer, listening to record she had recorded with a klezmer band. The music was… strange, with songs that started folk but finished with an electric guitar solo. The cellist finally turned up, and more stories poured out, of the horrors of the IRA, that drug and guns mafia, the desperation of a man who played cello during the siege of Sarajevo after witnessing destruction of the National Library. All very moving, but the Frenchies were playing their brass in the camp (how had they recovered so quickly…?) and I just had to go dance again. And so that day, and the day afterwards, alternated between interesting yet heart-breaking conversations and ecstatic dances. Found a crowd of Serbs who invited me into their circle-dance (and boy was that fast, right and left and left and right) – listened to the cellist relate his tales of loss – had tasty watermelon with Italian friends – looked deep into his eyes when he spoke of true, and I mean true, not the bullshit everyone says they have, depression. My mind was going through so many intellectual problems to reflect on, yet my body was constantly taking me elsewhere.

The last night: went on an insomniac trip. Left the cellist’s tent because I could swear I was hearing trumpet music from down the river (and because he snored), but once I got there I stopped hearing it. Raced to the other side, and nothing. It was a perfectly silent misty night, with the moonlight shining on the dark forested hills, an ideal meditation spot if only my ears weren’t hallucinating trumpets. I eventually fell asleep on top of the table (after drinking more rakija).

Those audial hallucinations did not stop at that. On the ride to Belgrade (hitchiked with my “adoptive parents”, the English cellist and the Polish singer), the lovely landscape of mountains, churches, farmers was frustrated by imaginary trumpet and trombone noises. That day in Belgrade the song Misirlou seemed to be looping on a scratched record. I thought I was really going crazy when I distinctly heard “Born to be wild” on the main pedestrian street—but wait, who plays that song in a brass band?—the Frenchies were there! I ran up to them, hugged them and started singing and dancing…. But what was this? Why were people around me so still? Something was missing. I could not fathom how

anyone could listen to this fucking awesome music and not go, well, wild! I missed the Guča craze, but it was over. Time to go ‘home’.

At my mother’s place, alone in an empty white room, I finally listened to Hope Elena, the piece composed by the cellist for his niece born with cancer. I put it on again. And again. And again. And fell asleep crying.

1 Comment

  1. This post makes me smile.

    However, you’re too harsh on the robbery victim. It’s hard to remain calm and rational when you’ve been victimized — especially if he lost not just money but also papers.


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