Tag Archives: culture

Updating Belgrade

The bombed buildings of Belgrade: first stop on every bus tour of the city.
Eerie skeletons of former Yugoslavia, bearing the scars of the ‘NATO aggressors.’
Fascinating historical landmarks with big gaping holes through which one could see crumbling staircases, wiring stripped bare, and yes, the odd tree branch growing through the rubble.
Tony Blair called them a health hazard and insisted they be torn down.

The former Yugoslav Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal affairs, situated on a busy main street, and a staple view of my daily bus route to work.

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These buildings were bombed by NATO in 1999 and left, untouched, ever since. They serve as…a reminder? A statement perhaps? Or maybe there just wasn’t enough money or bureaucratic motivation to ever do anything about them. Anyway you put it; these buildings are one of the highlights of any trip to the Serbian capital. Grim, dark, morbid, and utterly unique.

Today, as I rode the bus home, sweating through my teacher-appropriate blouse and inwardly grumbling about the lack of personal space in Serbian culture I looked up to find that one of these dubious cultural institutions had been covered foundation-to-roof by an enormous advertisement. The broken bones and gut-rot of Serbian victimhood had finally been hidden away, and, judging by the newly landscaped front lawn, soon to be replaced by an updated space for a city that desperately needs updating.

I suppose even in the the Balkans one can’t hold on to the past forever.

Brief Musings on the Island of the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities is a curious place. It is filled with culture. Not the kind of culture of a collective ethos, look, or specific type of food in which we specialize, but culture that of art, plays and music. While we certainly have the midwest comfort food built on hot dish and potato-based everything and there is always something to do or see, which can be equally tantalizing and easy to ignore. There may be a show you want to see tonight, but you can always talk yourself out of it to go to the show tomorrow. The Twin Cities are second only to New York for most exhilitable art per capita. Whatever the hell that means. I gather that essentially, we have a lot of places to look at art and see actors or musicians perform. It had to happen, really. Or rather, it was bound to.

The Cities, as it is more colloquially referred to by anyone in a smaller Minnesotan town, is an island. Every other single metropolis has a back-up city nearby, an escape plan. That, or the city in question is simply big enough not to warrant the need and it is the back-up plan. The coasts are riddled with options for day trips to another burg, some less than an hour. Each of which are unique opportunities for the traveller. Even other parts of the Midwest have their options: Denver to Boulder, Omaha to Kansas City, St. Louis to Indianapolis, Detroit to Columbus etc. We may have expansive scenic vantage points and more shoreline than the entire state of California, but not a single damnable city within less than a 5 hour drive. Not here. Not in The Cities. Minneapolis has St. Paul and St. Paul has Minneapolis. Most won’t even cross the Mississippi to venture to it’s sibling city anyhow. Milwaukee is our only viable option with that five-hour journey to boot. At that point why not go to Chicago? At that rate, why not make a bigger trip out of it? Why not stay a while? This can be daunting and it may be easier to stay in, which most do.

Because of this metropolitan island in which we live, art was bound to grow. A cultural scene must be developed and curated. This is why we have so much exhibitable art. Which perhaps means anyone with a loft in Northeast Minneapolis has to have it double as a makeshift art studio or you get ostracized and evicted. Why, what would happen on the the bi-annual art crawl if you just lived in your living space? Or the Art-A-Whirl? Or Art Crank? Or what ever momentary art movement is going on? We’ll never know. We cling to it. We need it. We are the penguins of our beloved tundra clinging together for warmth and camaraderie.

Everyone is an artist, was an artist, friends with an artist, is related to an artist, dated or is dating an artist. (I’ve lost count of my art-based relationships.) It’s just that no one buys the art. It’s just a place to be seen at the scene. We go to all of these yearly, mostly with friends to see friends. We are a part of the problem and yet part of the preservation of exhibitable art without buying more than $25 print here and there. No one gets famous; you get known. “You are known in The Cities for…” You are only anointed true fame. Fame, by which you get by earning your chops in another city that we can’t get to, so you have to truly leave. But they all come back to show the scene just how big their britches have gotten. And good for them, truly. No cynicism. It’s good for the Twin Cities. We need it in this island. 

I love the Twin Cities. I love Minneapolis. I love Saint Paul. I enjoy the solitude of forests and the expansive calm of the lakes provided. I bike everywhere and we are noted worldwide for this very enthusiasm. I have now become that guy that bikes in the all winter. I soak up all the art shows I can, every open street, every farmer’s market, go to a lake twice a week in the summer, I camp, I canoe, I go to the state fair multiple times a year, and I smile at folks when I walk by them like The Cities’ legend implies. With all this, I still wish for a sister city that we weren’t touching. One with a noticeably different vibe. If not for anything else, those living here to be able to say with true affirmation that they’ve chosen this place rather than those outside feeling that we are merely stuck on this island. We’re all penguins in this together.