Dunja Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in 1989 and moved to Australia with her family as a baby. Dunja is one of the Founding Co-Editors-in-Chief of be:longing and enjoys interacting with others who feel similar connections to other places and cultures as she does.
The sun is bright this morning, the air crisp, and a delicate mist is shivering its way around the foothills of Mount Ainslie. I’m riding my scooter to work (an homage to the European side of my soul), and it’s a cold morning in Canberra – 1 or 2 degrees Celsius at most. If my bone-cold fingers, gripped tightly on the handlebars, aren’t enough of a sign, I know it’s cold from the way my breath fogs up my helmet whenever traffic slows down. It’s cold, and it’s been cold, and it’ll be cold for another couple of months. And yet, despite it, all I can think about is those hot mornings spent riding the tram to work in Belgrade, seven years ago.
Seven years ago was July and August 2011. I had just moved to Belgrade after spending six months in Milan. In the previous year, I had gone from university and work in Canberra, to just university in Milan, to six months off – truly off – in Belgrade. It had been a wonderful step-down-step-down of busyness in my life, and I relished the prospect of having nothing to do for a whole semester. Yet, arriving in the city in early July, simultaneously liberated from the stress of study and floundering in free time, my restless mind immediately started making me think about the future. When an opportunity came up to work in the Australian Embassy for a couple of months, it was no surprise to anyone that I jumped at it.
The job was fantastic. I was working with Australians, Serbian-Australians, and Serbians who miraculously understood Australian English, in a high-paced office environment that I’d only ever imagined was possible in my cross-cultural adolescent dreams. I must say, though – one of my favourite parts of those months was probably my tram ride to the Embassy each morning, on the 7L.
Waking with the sun at 6:30am, I’d get ready for work and set off outside, walking from my apartment on Cvijićeva street up to Vukov Spomenik. The sun would be high and bright and hot from 7am those days, so I would usually be wet with sweat by the time I summitted the hill to Ruzveltova street. By the time I arrived to wait for my tram by that wonderfully calm monument to the Serbs’ great literary visionary, Vuk Karadžić, I would laugh at how much of an odd couple we were. Vuk, still and stately, sitting tranquilly in his lovely dew-laced park, and me, Dunja, panting and sweaty and running for the 7L. (My tetka always told me, “never run for buses or men in this city”, but I never quite got the hang of that first part.)
Once on the tram, that’s where the magic started. By the time the 7L screeched and bobbed and crickle-crackled its way down Beogradska street and around the monster roundabout at Slavija (which rivals that at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe in terms of lane craziness), my urgent sense of “ahhh, so hot, must cool down now” would usually have abated somewhat, and I would be able to start appreciating the views while heading down Nemanjina. At the bottom of Nemanjina, the tram would curl around the train station and then head for the Stari Savski Most – a tram-tracked bridge that allowed us to journey from the old part of the city, across the Sava river, to the quotidian hustle and bustle of New Belgrade.
Stari Savski Most was where the views were best. The sun would stream in from behind the hills of old Belgrade and hit the water of the Sava, then sparkle up gloriously into the cabin of the 7L. Looking left, I’d see Gazela bridge as well as the new bridge (known logically by everyone as the “New Bridge” at the time) that enabled a link between the city and Ada Ciganlija (which is why it’s now logically called “Most na Adi”). Looking right, I’d see Brankov Most, Kalemegdan Fortress and the densely-forested Great War Island, and also catch a glimpse at the majestic Danube rushing along beyond. Straight ahead was Novi Beograd, in all its Yugoslavian architectural glory – tall apartment buildings housing thousands of families, the grand Intercontinental Hotel (still sitting proud despite its heyday in a bygone era – it’s just the “Continental” now, I think), and Sava Centar.
Gazing at New Belgrade, I’d see signs of the past and signs of the future. I knew I’d never truly experience either myself, except in short glances like those on the 7L and future postcard-length holidays, but the present was all that really mattered, no? The city, getting to work, and getting off at the right stop. And that glorious sun.
A few hundred metres later, I’d jump off the 7L on its last stop on Milentija Popovića and watch it crickle-crackle its way around onto Milutina Milankovića. When it bobbled out of sight around the corner, continuing its onward journey towards Blok 45, I’d set off on my own onward journey, towards the Embassy building, and that was that.
Why is it that I see that blazing summer sun of Belgrade in the midst of this cold winter sun of Canberra? What is it that makes this cold misty morning atmosphere, riding down the Monaro Highway past the engineered fields of Canturf, echo so loudly with my tram rides across the Stari Savski Most, traversing those engineered links between the two big, beautiful, crazy halves of Belgrade? The cities are strangers, the countries worlds apart, and the people who inhabit both places, while unique and wonderful in their own ways, very different from one another.
There’s just something about that light, I guess. That sun. That atmosphere. That glimmer and sparkle. And me, I guess – amongst it all.
© Dunja Cvjetićanin, 2018