Wedding Cabbage

September 2014
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The color green assaults my eyes, the mountains cut through the air, dense like butter, and a herd of low clouds rambles on all the way to Montenegro.

Two days had already passed since we’d left Belgrade in Jeremija’s jeep, zigzagging along the mountain roads of Western Serbia. Only Jeremija knew where we headed on these roads and narrow passes. Radomir Andrić knew where we would sleep and what we would eat. “In Prilipac,” Radomir said, “they are going to cook wedding cabbage for us.”

On the road map that I bought at the Prosveta bookstore, it was impossible to locate this Prilipac. I had plainly overlooked that it was a road map of Serbia and Montenegro and only the edges of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Even so, if I rented a car one day, for instance, to cross Serbia … frankly, this map would not help me because I have grown accustomed to GPS a long time ago.

The Hyundai jeep drove for kilometers over the mountain roads. At night, we arrived at some city or another—as it turned out, it was Požega. We checked into a hotel and had dinner, which we prolonged with wine and coffee.

Later, at the boarding house in the restaurant’s large, empty, cool hallway, we sat long after midnight with the former director of a publishing house in Belgrade and the city’s mayor. The director of the publishing house asked me if I knew what dunia was. “I don’t know,” I replied, although I assumed that it was some peculiar Serbian joke. What is this dunia? The director invited me to visit his summerhouse the next day, because he had been retired for a long time and there, among the mountains of Western Serbia, he had spent summers cultivating fruits and vegetables for rakia and grapes for wine. After a few glasses of red wine, the director of the publishing house, wiping his Turkish-style moustache, questioned me again, this time about Kyivan Rus and Orthodox Christianity. He confessed that he saw no difference between Ukrainians and Russians, and when I tried to impart what differences there were, he called me a Croat. I don’t know how Croats perceive the differences between Ukrainians and Russians, but it was evident that the wine had. For some reason, in this mountain restaurant we had to resolve all historical injustices and construct universal friendship among Slavs, presumably excluding the Croats.

We read poems and drank wine. The wife of the former publisher smoked, and Radomir like the knight Lazar of Serbia was vigilant, so that the director and I not resume our verbal bout. When the latter asked me about dunia, Radomir joyfully engaged in the conversation, starting off with three jokes, and we all decided to definitely go over to the director’s place the next day to see his tree with mysterious fruits.

The eighty-year-old local poet, who arrived to meet us, seemed to have been invited by Radomir. When the old man took out the manuscript of his latest collection and placed it before Radomir, the latter was left aghast. A new intrigue was playing out before our eyes: the old poet wanted to read his poems and so reached for manuscript. The audience was select: a waitress pouring us wine, the mayor sitting next to the former director of the publishing house, the wife of the former director smoking and talking with the owner of the boarding house, Radomir wearing a black suit and black hat, silent Jeremija, the son of the old poet, Svitlana, and myself.

I was in the most comfortable position because I understood only half of what the old poet was reading. The rest of our table understood everything and were drinking wine silently. When the old poet...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka