So last week I found myself in a dark room in Serbia; my ears ringing from a 30 minute barrage of electronic feedback torture played on a box of wires by a bearded German sadist.
He invited me along, I mean, why not? Who do you know who’s been to Serbia FFS?
So far, we’d seen video project of ‘clubbing choreography’ which looked like a pissed-up fight in a bee hive. Then a heavyset Dutch woman with green hair explained the secret codes hidden inside image compression codecs. And a psychologist cheerfully expounded on the brand new-internet addiction pathologies he was beginning to treat.
The sadist sputtered to a crackle-pop stop to a smattering of applause from those who could still hear. We pulled the tissue paper out of our ears. The drummer passed me a small phial. “Try this,” he whispered.
“Oh.” I asked. “What is it?” sniffing the cap suspiciously.
“Artificial tears” he said.
I read the label: ‘Artelac Rebalance. Long lasting relief for irritated, burning, painful, dry eyes.’ I squeezed in a few drops and blinked. It worked. But even so, it all seemed very dark.
“There’s a bit of a hangover about the place,” I suggested, “what with the war and all the killing and raping and so on. And didn’t they find that guy who started it all living undercover in the suburbs somewhere here? With a big beard, working as a faith healer or something? Karadzic?”
“Lot of beards here.” said the drummer. We looked around. It was true.
“Maybe we should go and try and find his practice. Think we could get a treatment? Think he does tanning? I’m white as a ghost.” I was only joking, but the Drummer jumped at the idea.
“Genius! There’s the story!” exclaimed the journo and pulled up Wikipedia. “Yuri Gagarin street. 27 minutes by foot. Let’s go.”
We set off through the streets of Belgrade. It was cold. A dirty cloud wrapped across the Danube as we walked over the bridge.
“Just up river is Vienna which is all waltzing and cake and choirs.” I remembered. “So what went wrong here?”
We looked down at the brown water swirling eastwards out of the bowels of Europe towards the Black Sea.
“Huns, Slavs, Bulgars, Romans, Hungarians, Austrians, Mongols, Nazis.” the drummer said. “They’ve all passed through, starting fights. NATO bombed it. It’s always been occupied by someone – the Turks only left a hundred years ago.”
“But to be fair,” I pointed out, “they left their women behind.”
Which is true: Serbian women have a look: sparkle-eyed Slavs mixed with an Ottoman legacy of raven hair and aquiline noses that curve straight and sharp like a sultan’s scimitar. The dress code is black and aerodynamic. Knee high boots are big – in case of sudden escape by horseback, one assumes. Here at the bloody crossroads of Europe, three thousand years of fight or flight has left a mark on selective breeding: you wouldn’t cross these girls.
We got to Yuri Gagarin street. I can recommend it, if you’re a fan of decaying brutalist cement tower blocks flanking bacon-slicer wind tunnel streets a hundred metres wide. (Some people are.)
A two-car tram rattled by. A line of small shops with signs in Cyrillic lined the pavement. I tripped on a broken slab and hopped for a while.
“Do you think this is it?” asked the Drummer. I looked at the shop – a salon offering eyebrow threading and waxing and nails and all the delightful details that make life worth looking at.
“Definitely.” I wanted to see how far he’d go.
He went in. I saw several Serbian Sheilas sitting around getting beautified.
A sweet smell wafted out the door. I started after him.
He came out again.
“He didn’t work there.”
“We need to leave.”
“Without a tan?”
“Too soon.” he said, “too soon.”