We talked with Betsy in one of Belgrade's popular coffee shops. She stayed in our city for about a month and a half, a lot more than she originally planned. We wanted to know why.
As we were waiting for her, drinking cappuccino, a lot of questions went through my mind. "Will I remember all of it?", I asked myself. I was a little bit anxious, no doubt. But when I told my colleague to put aside the voice recorder, all the pressure was gone. We decided to make a conversation with our guest, plain and simple. It is more sincere, I guess. And so she came.
If I needed to describe Betsy in one word, I would say that she was serene. She talked with ease, making the fact that we just met each other completely irrelevant. Before I could ask any questions, she described in details what she was doing earlier that day. As if she were at home, in San Diego. I learned that she went to buy some groceries in the morning, then finished her pending work, met with some friends, and later on, after this meeting, she was going out to dinner. As she was telling me her daily routine, a guy approached our table and greeted her. "You seem to know more people than me around here", I joked. "Yes", she commented, "the people here are friendly, although not at first sight. You must deserve their friendship, but not in a way that you have to do something spectacular, you just need to be natural and benevolent. So, initially, they are cautious, but soon they will open their hearts to you and invite you to their home to have lunch". I smiled. Yes, that's who we are.
And so we began talking about her job and her experience with people in Belgrade. "As photographer, I like to catch life in the streets", she said, "to capture people doing whatever they are normally doing".
Betsy loves farmer`s markets. And there are a lot of these in the wider center of Belgrade. There you can buy all sorts of vegetables and fruits, directly from the peasants that breed it. In addition, you can buy dairy products, meat, fish, and dough for domestic cooking. And lots of interesting stories those vivid characters could tell you while shopping.
She visited flea market as well, across the river, in New Belgrade. She talked with sellers and they somehow managed to understand each other even tough very few of them can actually speak English. "If you don't mind I would like to take a picture of you", she would be saying to them. "I always ask for permission", she emphasized, "and everyone here is so forthcoming". She guided us through the process of taking photos after being granted. "I pull back, watch them work, and capture moments", she explained.
When it comes to public places such as streets, squares or parks, I learned from her that no matter if it is a couple on the street holding hands, or some lonely student thinking about his or her exams, normally you are allowed to shoot photos, but still it is always important not to invade people's privacy. And I understood that perfectly. I came to realize that Betsy didn't want to embarrass anyone, but at the same time she disliked artificial beauty. She just wanted her photo to be realistic in a way that it portrays a true spirit of the city. And indeed, she took some fantastic pictures of ordinary people on the streets, of walls sprayed with graffiti, of poor neighborhoods, in a word - of life.
However, I found strange that she didn't show me pictures of what I thought to be our main landmarks. She visited some of them, but it wasn't her main point of interest. She liked people and the overall atmosphere in the city. Simply put, it felt good to be here. Also, she added, this was the only place she grew fat. Normally, on tour, she walks a lot and this results in losing weight. "But here", she said, "you simply cannot stay fit. The plates are so rich, and everybody keeps feeding you". And yes, that is typical for us. We are very generous when it comes to food. And food is all around. There are groceries, convenience stores, and supermarkets on every corner. In addition, there are pastry shops, bakeries, and meat shops everywhere. And when I think of it, I have to remember that time I was in Milan, Italy, and I had to walk for about 2 kilometers from the city center to find an almost inconspicuous grocery store. But never mind that, now.
In the end of our little chat, I wanted to know how the Americans perceive Europe, as a whole or as a continent divided by nations who have different customs, tradition, and a way of life? As I thought, she confirmed that people in the US regard Europe as one entity, even though they are aware of some differences between various regions. "So what about Belgrade?", I asked. Of course, she could only speak for herself. "I traveled most of Europe, and for me there are two cities that stand out. Those are Belgrade and Berlin. And I found a lot of similarities between the two. It is the way they are growing, the structure, the overall atmosphere, the sense of culture and tradition mixed up in a new wave of lifestyle", she explained.
"My dear Belgrade", I said to myself, "you are in a good company".
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