Tag Archives: Dorćol

Time Out’s cities: Astoria! and…Kypsele? No Pera propaganda, brother Turks of mine :( — and Belgrade…

29 Sep

Ok!

Time Out has come out with the fifty coolest neighborhoods in the world, and two — arguably three — of them are Greek; one in Athens, Kypsele, and another in the capital of the Greek diaspora, New York: Astoria.  (Yeah, Melbourne…ok…chill).  Now there are only what, 14 or 15 million of us in the whole world, and we corner 8th and 16th outta 50.  Not just not bad, but figures that make it clear there’s a connection between Greek-ness and urbanity — even Greek villages are really just tiny Greek cities — the polis and everything political life implies, that runs deep.

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What if you have no Greeks (or worse, no Jews).  Well, brother Turk, take a walk, or a nerve-wracking tourist shove, down what you’ve turned yourİstiklâl” into: its new garish, overlit, Gap-outlet, Gulfie, Saudi hideousness…  And weep.  That we left.

Oh, and what’s arguably the “third” Greek neighborhood…  Ok, I scrolled down the list, nervously expecting to find Pera (Beyoğlu) there, the formerly, largely Greek mahalla — the formerly Greek, Jewish and Armenian heart of the City actuallybecause Turkey’s American public relations firms deserve every dollar they get from the Turkey accounts and they manage to shove a fictitious Turkish tolerant multiculturalism in our face whenever they get the chance, and Pera has, for about the past 15 years, taken pride of place in this masquerade of Istanbul hipness and Turkish cosmopolitanism — quite an accomplishment since the Midnight Express days. (Too bad Turkey itself reverts back to Midnight a little bit more every day.)  And Pera wasn’t there, not on the list!

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The old Grande Rue — Pera

And…  Well, and…a few years back I wrote a post here called: Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013.  And perhaps the biggest stinger in the article was:

“All – I thought a lot about whether I should use “almost all” in this sentence and decided against it –because all the hippest, funkiest, most attractive, gentrified neighborhoods in the historic parts of İstanbul are neighborhoods that were significantly, if not largely, minority-inhabited until well into the twentieth century: not just Pera and Galata, but Cihangir and Tarlabaşı, and Kurtuluş — of course — and up and down the western shores of the Bosphorus and much of its eastern towns too, and central Kadiköy and Moda and the Islands.  (And if serious gentrifying ever begins in the old city it’ll be in Samatya and Kumkapı and Fener and Balat; I wouldn’t put any big money into Çarşamba just yet.)”

And so, happily, I didn’t find Pera being prostituted again by Turkey as a symbol of a multiculturalism that the Turkish Republic eradicated, exterminated, expelled and that no longer exists.  But I scrolled a bit further down…and there was Kadiköy and Moda, #42, also, until well into the 60s, heavily Greek and Armenian.  More sweet justification!

(I’ll take Egyptians on for the empty, dingy Alexandria they got stuck with after our good-bye party in another post.)

KadikoyKadiköy

Finally, came the sweetest of all, my beloved Dorćol in my beloved Belgrade.  50th on the list of 50.  You have to be pretty attuned to the Serbian soul to know what coming in 50th out of 50 means.  It doesn’t mean being last.  It means: “You think we’re cool?  Who asked you?”

img_0828.jpgThe Rakia Bar in Dorćol

Plus, Belgrade comes in in way first place over all of these cities in one important way: the guys.  No joke.

Some restaurant notes:

Don’t go to Çiya in Kadiköy.  Unfortunately, the food is spectacular, and I’m a sadist for posting this picture:

CiyaBut the unfortunate part is that Çiya is owned by a sociological type: the newly comfortable, if not rich, provincial, pious middle-class; that’s the AKP’s and Erdoğan‘s political power base.  What that means on the ground is that your great food is prepared by puritans who won’t serve you alcohol, so you can’t have a leisurely rakı or beer dinner, but have to scarf it all down and leave, paying with dough that might indirectly end up in the AK’s coffers or ballot boxes.  The same goes with the otherwise excellent Hayvore in Pera.  Amazing Black Sea dishes but no booze.  Go ahead if you want.  You can go to Saudi too if you want.  I refuse to.  Even if I didn’t want to drink: just on principle.  And they — Hayvore — make one of my absolute favorite dishes which I can’t find anywhere else: an anchovy pilav.  But I’ll live without.  Or make it myself.

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And then, a little less geopolitically charged, there’s the completely baffling phenomenon of Cyclades in Astoria.  I can’t argue with the fish.  And if fish is their mission statement then fine, because it’s always fresh and expertly cooked — even if the owners are Albanian and hadn’t seen the sea till they were sixteen.  But you do want to eat something along with the fish and everything else is awful.  The cacık and eggplant salad is made inedible by that crazed Greek overuse of raw garlic, so that all you have is the bitterness of the bulb and not even the taste or aroma.  The zucchini and eggplant are fried in old oil.  The raw oil served for greens or salad is horrible — cheap, and I’m not even sure it’s 100% olive.  And in a Greek fish meal, where almost everything is dressed with raw oil, it really needs to be the best quality or everything else is shot.  The bread — and one thing we do well, γαμώτομου, is bread — is nasty and old.  This place reminds me of food in tourist traps in the old days before the foodie revolution in Greece in the 00s.

And they commit one incomprehensible abomination.  They serve oven-baked potatoes — with lemon, fine… But. With. The. Fish.  These are potatoes, that according to the taxonomy and order of Greek food, if such a primitive cuisine can be said to have such order, are baked in the oven with meat in a composite dish or casserole.  It’s a sin of commission to serve them with fish, with which they haven’t even been cooked, unless you’re going for plaki which means tomatoes and a whole different palate.  And they taste as if they’ve been soaked overnight in lemon.  And I dunno, but the yellow color is so suspiciously bright that it looks like yellow dye #2.  Investigate them; I’m sure I’m right.  And, of course, everything comes garnished with piles of more lemon wedges, to satisfy that deep Greek urge to obliterate the taste of everything else on the table.

And people — Manhattan people — come out to Queens and wait, for over an hour, malaka, to get a table at this Soviet cafeteria (the lighting is awful; the music is deafening).  They’ll often go cross the street to wait to be called, to get a drink at Michael PsilakisMP Taverna, where the food is phenomenal.  It’s only slightly reinterpreted Greek — it’s deeply faithful to the roots but Psilakis — I dunno — freshens things, and combines traditional ingredients in ways that make you wonder why no one else had ever tried this.  It’s generally full and has a great and friendly bar that looks out on the bustle of Ditmars Boulevard.  But it should be a destination spot and it’s not.  And Cyclades is.  It makes me think that white people will eat bad food if they think it gives them woke and authenticity street cred.  And convince themselves it’s good.

He dicho.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Belgrade: Random notes from July 2014

7 Sep

beograd-1910Belgrade 1905 (click)

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“Post”-something. Not post-apocalyptic or Blade Runner-ish or all the nonsense that people used to write about the city in the nineties or after the war (when, maybe, I don’t know, it did feel like that), but definitely the sense that something is over and no one has any real idea of what this is now or what’s coming next. A certain optimism about the future though, which is probably just an inherent trait of its inhabitants, both leavened and sobered by the kind of biting black humor that’s not the only thing that reminds me of Russians.

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You’re already one foot out of, or may have already left the Balkans here. This was particularly striking to me after seeing so much of the southern Balkans just a month or so ago. Where I have come from, I mean, to compare to? Argyrocastro is an Ottoman jewel in stone; Ochrid a truly archontiko little city. The rest: Tirana, Podgorica, Tetovo, Skopje, the garish hideousness of Priština; were all obviously Ottoman wood-and-plaster hovels until the communist cement blocks went up.

Here you’re in Mitteleuropa already, in a city in that never was — except for temporary occupations — but could’ve been, a handsome Hapsburg town. It’s most beautiful from the opposite shores of the rivers that hem it in all around, with the city high on the bluffs overlooking its entire region. It reminded me of Kiev a little in this sense, though a much more recent city in terms of basic architectural stock and without Kiev’s glut of spectacular Baroque churches; in fact, until the first Serbian uprisings of the early nineteenth century, the population was predominantly Muslim. (Actually there’s hardly any religious architecture of any quality or beauty at all. There’s the small, pretty Baroque cathedral of the city just outside the walls, in what was probably the suburb where Christians were allowed to live in Ottoman times and that’s about it. All the city’s other churches that I saw are these genuinely grotesque Neo-Serbo-Mediaeval monstrosities of Orthodox nationalism; the kind they’re building all over Greece now too.)

Knez Mihailova and Kralja Petra Streets — the main pedestrianized drags — and the Cathedral spire at bottom.  (Click on all)

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But you understand a great deal about Serbian history just by standing up on the peak of the Kalemegdan fortress, the sprawling castle that covers the highest, northernmost peak of the peninsula and you realize that you’re standing on the last, frontline hill of Balkan rock, where the Danube meets a whole huge complex of river networks from north and south and that the expanse of green mixed with suburb spreading out in front of you is the beginning of the vast Pannonian plain that stretches out to the Carpathians in one direction and eventually the northern European flatlands that flow all the way to the Baltic in the other. (See map at top.) Apparently and according to Misha Glenny, the Ottomans called Belgrade the “darul-al-jihad,” the House of War (though why this wouldn’t apply to so many other places, I don’t know) and you can see how easily defensible but also temptingly assailabale the site is; it’s the one place you have to control to continue your drive either north or south.

Belgrade-Kalemegdan-at-dawnThe Kalemegdan (click)

Kalemegdan from across Sava(click)

You also realize just how far north – when you think that Stefan Dušan’s empire stretched as far south as the Gulf of Corinth and he often held court east of Salonica at Serres – the center of gravity of the Serbian nation has shifted over the centuries, to lands so completely different, even ecologically, the flora and fauna, that it becomes easier to isolate a glorious mediaeval past in some mythic compartment in the nation’s head – the two sides of the Aegean, in our case, for example, were never so different – and that that can have all sorts of psychological consequences. I’m, of course, thinking of Kosovo mostly, but more on that later…

DusanTerritory_14cStefan Dušan’s empire at its height (click)

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Lots of leafy attractive streets, at least in the neighborhoods that stretch immediately south and east of the Kalemegdan. Funky sidewalk cafes and bars. Only a couple of very late nineteenth-century neo-classical structures. Most of the city seems to be a twentieth-century creation: attractive Art Nouveau and Art Deco apartment houses; some later stuff that could kind of be described as late Bauhaus-y even, like some neighborhoods of Tel Aviv; more proof that Yugoslavia was far cooler than any other communist country and more reason to be pissed off that things ended they way they did. A certain shabbiness, that I thought only added to its charm, but that made me wonder what’s going on economically. There’s way too much high quality housing stock in potentially high quality neighborhoods sitting there looking empty and uncared for and under the right circumstances the whole place seems primed to launch into a massive gentrification and real estate boom. If I had any extra cash lying around I’d buy something now. In any event, for a city that’s been beaten up badly three times in less than a century – maybe not as bad the third time but in a manner just as morally reprehensible – it’s looking ok.

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IMG_0828The Rakia Bar, my favorite spot in all of Belgrade, delicious rakia made from anything imaginable, quince was my favorite, lugged three bottles of it with me, supposedly to share with friends in New York, but they all got swilled down in Russia.  The Rakia Bar is the site of the famous: …rakia with M., and what’s with me and all the Djoković… post from July.  (I think whether you say ‘rakia” or rakija” is a regional dialect difference, with the palatization that the “j” represents more common in “south-western” dialects: — western Bosnian, Herzegovinan, Montenegrin. — but not sure.  I know that “river” is “reka” in some regions and “rjeka” in others.)

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And some of the city’s few remaining Ottoman-era, or at least Ottoman-style, buildings.  The top being the residence of some saint or something — the bottom the royal residence of some Obrenović mistress I think.  Very uncharacteristically of me, I just wasn’t into too much historical research while there.  The city is just too much fun.

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The food is great; predictable but always competent and consistently delicious. A bodybuilder’s paradise: every plate comes piled so high with a mountain of grilled protein that no normal-sized person can be expected to pack it away, but appetites here, in every sense, are big. A vegetarian’s nightmare: and if you persist in your adherence to that silly creed, expect to eat a lot of very good tomatoes – in the summer at least – with huge grated piles of a great cheese they have that’s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between feta and brindza. If you’re a vegan…and/or have gluten issues too so you can’t eat the great bread either or even try the börek, then maybe arrange for sessions to be fed intravenously at a local hospital or just don’t come at all.

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On the sign and menu of an otherwise sedate, old-fashioned feeling Bosnian restaurant with great ćevapi, the ubiquitous little köfte, a homey cellar place that feels like an old Moscow traktir or something… If anyone can explain the symbolic intention behind it, they get my Umberto Eco semiotics award for 2014.  Really, can anyone tell whether this is supposed to be a joke or not?

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Much more in keeping with Serbs’ smart, cerebral, black humor: this t-shirt, marking the hundredth anniversary of the start of WWI, which I thought was priceless: “It’s a matter of Princip.” Fantastic…

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The language is – excuse my language – a total hard-on. I’ve already got my affinity for Slavic phonemes from my Russian days — though sometimes it seems they came out of the womb with me – and on top of it it’s tonal, too, with rising and falling stress and long and short vowels like classical Greek. The combination is magically sexy and something I could listen to for hours dumbly without understanding barely a word. It also makes it, unless you’ve dedicated some serious study to it phonetically, almost impossible to pronounce correctly. The street I lived on was called “Dobračina,” for example, in Dorćol (from the Turkish “dört yol” — “four roads.”)  And taking my cues from my Russian, which is really no great help since it has free stress and constantly surprises you also, I would say: “Do-bra-či-na.” But whenever it was repeated back to me it sounded like “Do-bra-či-na” or Do-bra-či-na” or even some combination of both, but never like what I had said; the lack of dynamic stress makes it sound like emphasis comes scattered in varying degrees of strength all over a word and not just on one syllable. Tempting to take it up. But I have to resist NikoBako tendencies to scatter my energies all over the place at once and never quite acquire full mastery of anything. Maybe later.

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The place’s greatest pleasure is its people. They have a quality that I’ve always struggled to express in English but is nearly impossible and makes me constantly have to resort to other languages. The somewhat dated Spanish “altanero” works – “alto” is your cue there – as does the more popular term still in use in Spain, the complex of traits referred to as “majo,” which I’ve tried to describe several times elsewhere (such as in this post: Un Verano en Nueva York).  “Αγέρωχη” works, the word Cavafy uses to describe Anna Comnene, which Keeley and others, I think, mistakenly translate as “arrogant” or “haughty,” but which for me means something like “breezily confident” and again could almost be a cognate for the Spanish “airoso.” But it’s a type of confidence that isn’t entirely about your ego, but one that obliges you to be open and generous and welcoming with others as well. The media and its pundits have fed us so much crap since the nineties about Serbs’ pathological and self-aggrandizing sense of their own heroism, that it’s impossible to even tell what’s true or not. But if they are that conscious of their heroic mantle, they certainly wear it lightly, like a people who have nothing to prove to you or really could give a shit about what you think of them. This means almost none of the tough guy, hyper-butchness we might be conditioned to expect. In fact, despite the borderline cockiness, women and men are almost always polite and unfailingly warm; sweet and tender even, like Russians when they get in their Russian moods. And with Serbs you don’t have to pry off the cast-iron mug first to get to the sweet part like you have to do with Russians.

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One great thing about Serbian women, aside from leggy and sexy and gorgeous and everything else you’ve heard: they’re real pals. This is going to sound totally sexist to some, but I didn’t mind the first time I was called sexist in my life and it certainly won’t be the last. They have this uncanny ability to hang out comfortably with guys. They’re not cloyingly clingy. They don’t demand attention through passive-aggressive silence or sulking and they speak freely but without forcing themselves into the center of the conversation. It’s not an attempt to ingratiate themselves with their man or his friends. It’s simply this extremely attractive capacity to go along with the rhythms and patterns of male camaraderie without sacrificing any of their femininity. Serbian men should consider themselves extremely lucky.

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And on a related and final note: it’s not a myth; it’s a fact that I’m sorry to report is true. One out of three people you pass on the street deserves a head-turn and a second looking-over; you simply can’t stop yourself. One out of…I dunno, I’m just stupidly throwing out numbers here…six or seven…or at least one person in every kompaniya/parea or “ekipa” let’s say, are simply knock-outs: tall, long-and-strong-limbed, great noses, good jaws and a higher percentage of crazy green-hazel eyes than I’ve seen in any other country. It’s dizzying. And they know it too and there’s no false humility about it either and of course that only concentrates the effect.

Sorry, only the one pic below, which isn’t even mine.  I’m still too shy to photograph people without having a press i.d. round my neck.

Anyway, there are places you go to and say: “That was nice…” and then they go into your travel archives.  And then there are places that you know, as you’re leaving, you’re not finished with.  Belgrade I’m not finished with.

Belgrade street scene(click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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