This evening we sat sipping bottles of too-sharp local porter called Kabinet in an intentionally industrial-decorated self-proclaimed pre-club bar that could have just as well been located in Portland, OR. From the raw paper used on the brewery bottles to the industrial grey drip-painted walls covered with posters for local bands and upcoming open mics to the narrow wooden tables made of recycled office doors to the exposed pipes in the ceiling, to the risqué-clique name (Prohabicja), unisex bathroom of light wood hues and Scandinavian straight lines, and the single bartender in an understated black shirt – the corner bar could have an exact replica in the assumed cultural capital of the Pacific Northwest.
As could have, in fact, almost the entire street (with a few twerks): unwashed homeless people scrounging amongst the dumpsters (though undoubtably fewer meth addicts here in the Balkans), a mix of paint shops and art galleries, boutique hotels and abandoned buildings turned into all-night clubs and mixed purpose public performance venues with stands of colorful handcraft goods in the front and swinging lights above cost patios out back (nix the outdoor seating in Portland), a cool and cloudy evening along the river, bells on a passing streetcar and the uncertainty as you pass a dark alley, an ancient apartment building half converted into a hip and organic cafe (half still full of stray cats and unconvinced old residents), street corner stores that sell soda and chips along with goats milk and museli, a friendly and easygoing local population that nevertheless still snaps at the occasionally irksome foreign population (the Californians who place nuclear latte orders in Portland, the Syrians from the tent city in the park who try to buy hard alcohol after ten pm here), a collection of coffee shops and gyro stands, small brands predominating over big box stores, the occasional barge going by, the Eco-oriented honey-growers expo we stumble across in the park, leafy green trees shaking the recent rain onto pedestrians everywhere, college students babbling with arms full of books as they stand smoking on the corners, a businessman in a black suit and a grandmother walking her pekinese, a great green park occupying the point, and compact cars that actually stop at the crosswalks.
And yet I’m not sure where Belgrade stands: Europe or east, Pacific Northwest or post-Soviet. It’s certainly closer to Portland than Bishkek in immediate city landscape and character, though undoubtably a more complex place once the laid-back layers are bent back.