White City Blues

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event called A Taste of Serbia in London. The evening was arranged by the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia and we were all generously plied with tasty nibbles and a wide range of excellent wines from that country.

Of course, this being a press event the main emphasis was to promote all that Serbia has to offer British would-be travellers. To serve this purpose a promotional video was shown that featured a Belgrade DJ walking through the city’s streets whilst waxing lyrical about his hometown to chill-out music. The video showed a cool yet ecstatic crowd dancing in a Belgrade nightclub before cutting to our DJ hero walking through oddly unpeopled streets; then it swooped to Kalemegdan Park before cutting to the DJ encountering a dark-eyed beauty in an apparently deserted shopping mall. It told a story, certainly, but it seemed a strangely incomplete one.

I recognised Belgrade alright but the video did little to flatter the Serbian capital. OK, it may not be Prague but the city does have a certain maverick charm that had been sorely overlooked. Maybe it was trying attract a young, ‘cutting edge’ crowd but the promotional film made the ‘White City’ look grey and drab — just like the stereotype.  As someone remarked as we watched it: ‘There’s nothing in this video that makes me want to go there.’ I had to agree. Where was Skadarlija – the so-called Bohemian quarter? Where were the floating splav cafes and restaurants on the river? Where were all the quirky cafes and wacky restaurants? Why was Kalemegdan Park, that wonderful spot above the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, so devoid of people? Where was the Zemun waterfront? Where was the Danube? Ada Ciganlija island? The list goes on. Why didn’t the film crew wait for a spot of sunshine to brighten things up?

Anyway, Serbia has a lot more to it than just its capital city, wonderful as that may be. To me, it’s forested hills, hidden Orthodox monasteries, Roma men driving carts, cartoon-book haystacks in fields, old rusting Zastavas serving as corn stores, solitary men fishing in rivers, storks clattering  their bills on village roofs. It’s the smell of Turkish coffee, grilling meat, roasting peppers and lime blossom. It’s the taste of sljivovica (plum brandy) and kajmak (a sort of cream). It’s tall men and elegant women; sometimes even tall women and elegant men. It’s the sound of violins, accordians and shuffling feet.

Perhaps all these things that I hold dear are considered a bit too backward and Old Europe for the marketing people? Still, at least they noticed the dark-eyed beauties. They got that bit right.


5 Replies to “White City Blues”

  1. It also has a range of great music and some fascinating food. I liked the area by the cathedral and the Turkish house, too.

  2. Excellent point, well made. Too many of these promotional videos simply fail to capture the texture and detail of life in a country. I saw one on Oman in January, which was so truly awful that, had I not actually been in Oman when I saw it, would surely have deterred me from ever visiting. Fortunately real-Oman was much more appealling than promo-Oman, just as real-Belgrade knocks spots off promo-Belgrade. But, let’s face it, there’s a whole industry of consultants and film makers out there, ever anxious to sell a new brand and a slick promo video to everywhere east of Elveden.

  3. Thank you both for stopping by and posting your comments.

    Shadowfax, you are right about the music and food – I don’t think there was even so much as a sniff of pljeskavica or ajvar in the promo video.

    Hidden Europe. The question remains, who scripts these things? Why would anyone want to undersell the place they are supposedly promoting in such a way? Is it a sort of over-compensation that comes as a result of years of demonisation of Serbia by the West?

  4. Laurence. Well you know my opinion on the video – similar to yours – no view from Kalemegdan! No restaurant boats on the Danube! No Skadarlija! It’s the Old Europe which makes it such a great city….

    Hidden Europe. Re demonisation by the West – quite likely, imho.

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