Friday, November 11, 2011

Hello From the Center of the World!

The Galvez, arriving to her
destination, with makeshift
rack appropriately tied into place.
     These days the sun is waking me up a little bit later every morning as it rises over the bluffs out of my east facing window here in Pavlovci, Serbia. There is nothing better than the sun in the morning to remind me of the limitless possibilities the new day presents. And here in Pavlovci, I can truly say that everything is possible. It may be a small village of 300 people but possibilities are in no way quantifiable. Coming out of university in the states it was a common statement by many career seeking friends and teachers that my bachelor level degree in international studies didn't matter as much as who I knew. But fortunately for me my upbringing unknowingly prepared me for this. A smile and the eagerness to share and listen to those around prepared me more than I could have ever foreseen. So with this attitude in mind, I find myself ready for any possibility life chooses to throw at me, and these days as the day light gets shorter and air gets chillier I find myself taking advantage of the last rays of sun like I took advantage of every mango I passed last spring in Burkina Faso.  
My Dad and Sanya' serbian home under
the light of a beautiful full moon.
          The pace of life in Pavlovci, works very well with this. Ramon, my Spanish ally and I,  are currently repairing the Galvez, the 1986 Mercedes Benz van that carried us 2500 km from Spain along the Mediterranean though France, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia until our destination country of Serbia. With only 4 gears and a maximum speed of 80 km per hour, our van knows how to avoid problems more than most of humanity. Without rush, performance can be maximized, and attention is payed to all the details along the way. This is not only better for our relentless motor, but for the spirits of its passengers. However our arrival couldn't have come at a better time, we pulled into the house of my Serbian living family just in time for our front left tire to deflate overnight; a clear signal that it was time to look under the hood and payback the tender loving care that our car had given us. However like the Galvez taught us, nothing is meant to be done in a rush.                    
Salash. Land in the name of Sanya's family, waiting to be redistributed.
For the past 13 months my father and his partner Sanya have been renting a small house with a big yard and a few fruit trees here in Pavlovci, an agriculture village about 75 km northwest of the capital city of Belgrade. Sonya’s great grandfather used to have a large piece of land on the opposite side of town overlooking the Fruska Gora Mountains to the north, where he gained a reputation as an honest man by his employees and is still well remembered by the members of the community he employed. 
The village well. Rumor has it, if you drink from it, you will stay FOREVERRRR.
Despite its success the land was taken from the family by the communistic government of Tito in 1946. To this day most of the land has been rented to local farmers for cash crops and the original buildings known in Serbian as “Salash”, have become overgrown and weathered in time by the courses of nature. With pressure from the European Union in admitting Serbia into its empire in future years, the current government is now officially in the process of returning land to its original owners. However, knowing that things tend to move “polacko”, one of the first Serbian words I picked up due to its popularity, meaning slowly or easy, they have spent their time living in favor of their personal well being, renovating their rental, putting in gardens, and planting and harvesting the first of their chemical free crops.   
A seeding rake, for Boshko's mother.
As a carpenter and general home repair man in Minnesota my father always had an endless list of clients as well as friends. One job was never accomplished without sparking a commonality between at first strangers, and one client tended to lead him to the next. It took over 3 months for his tools as well as furniture for the house to arrive via a shipping crate across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Danube River, but its arrival carried familiar comforts of home and the ability to continue his trade on foreign land. My and Ramon’s first days in town were spent meeting neighbors and friends over Turkish coffee, boiled fine ground beans and variations of Rikea, distilled fruit liquors most commonly made of plum but ranging to apricot and quince. Each of the neighbors had a proud piece of furniture or yard tool to show off, and I remain surprised each time another payment arrives in the form of fruit, kolachis, suckeling pig and even a freshly plucked chickens. 
Suckeling pig and potatoes, roasted in Lard.
Serbian specialty. One of many diners traded for carpentry work.
We even shared a meal of freshly caught carp, fished from the local reserve with neighbors who had recently received Peter’s help in hauling their harvest of plums with his trailer. Needless to say though commonalities are more frequently expressed through a laugh over one of many customary breaks every 20 minutes for coffee and treats, the world is really not that different, and here in Pavlovci one job not only leads you to the next client but a bottomless pantry.
Stana stirring her Hunters Salad.
Ramon and I happened to arrive just in time for the tomato and red pepper harvest. After their personal harvest and preparation of over 100 liters of pure tomato juice, our 72 year old neighbor Stana and her husband George happened to be sitting on over 5 full wheelbarrows of unused and unwanted product. We spent a few days under the late summer’s sun picking, hauling, washing, and sorting, cutting, cooking, filtering, and eventually simmering tomatoes into tomato juice over a 50 liter outdoor wood fired cauldron. Before our finished product of 48 liters of bottled tomato juice even had a chance to cool 40 kilos of red peppers found their way to our mass food production station and the previously mentioned process was again put to the test. This time in the preparation of hunter salad; red peppers cooked in tomato juice, vinegar and sun flour oil, jazzed up with garlic and spiced with chili and parsley, again over a 50 liter wood burning cauldron. The result is a thick sauce that pairs itself nicely with just about every Serbian staple, from pork to ibinitza (feta cheese and eggs cooked in filo dough), and as I just recently discovered even to pizza. Stana’s cooking lessons were translated from Serbian to English and then to Spanish in order for all to partake, and through the oddities, absurdities and overall newness of preparing such large amounts of food on such a large scale, we continue to enjoy the benefits of our labor every time we crack another jar open.
Boshko and his Rikea machine. Fermented fruit is churned over coals and
vaporizers through the piping above. It then passes through a coiling
system where it cools and condenses leaving you with the first distillation. 
          One of our first visits to the local store which doubles as the social club here in the village, conveniently introduced us to all the men in the village one afternoon after work. With our great fortune and to the entertainment value of the growing group of men there happened to be a Romanian ex French art conssosior present and we were able to put our recently picked up West African French into practice. We became the hit of the afternoon and in the time of 2 beers we were known by the entire village. Turns out it was the right move as the following weekend we were invited by Caki (harsh Tz sound), who was sitting on the outside of the group, for a 40 km hike through the Fruska Gora mountains. As a confident English learner who doesn’t hesitate to throw in the Serbian word when he lacks that of English in order to express himself, we had a great time identifying fauna through a Serbian/Spanish/ English mix, and breaking over fresh tomato juice, wine we carried with us from France, and rikea. We sparked the beginning of an amazing friendship that has since lead us to many of the unquantifiable possibilities we have at 
our disposal here in the center of the world.