This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Guca, Day 2

There is an internet cafe in Guca! I was afraid that I would have to write a gigantic post when I got back to Belgrade, and there is no way that I would be able to encapsulate everything that's going on here in one post.

Guca is a village of 3000 people, about three and a half hours south of Belgrade. For those driven to try and find it on a map, the closest major city is Cacak. This part of Serbia is mountainous, and Guca is surrounded by hills. It is an absolutely breathtaking village. Holding a gigantic trumpet festival/debaucherous party in a village of 3000 people presents some serious problems, not least with accommodation. 500,000 people will come to Guca this year. A lot of them are Serbs from Belgrade or Cacak or Nis or somewhere within driving distance who come for the day then retreat back home (driving drunk, inevitably) to sleep. But even if only 20% of the people who come to Guca sleep here... well, that's still a gigantic problem. They tell me there is a hotel here, but I haven't seen it yet. Pretty much every family in Guca has opened up their houses to travellers. A lot of people camp. And a lot of people, including a Welshman who I met in Belgrade, sleep in fields, the town square, or collapse on the street, drunk. I am staying with a family. There are nine of us staying at their house, three per room. I have no idea where the family is sleeping. I am staying in a room with a Frenchman, Laurent, and an Irishman with arguably the most Irish name of all time, Patrick Murphy. We arrived at about 6:00 PM last night. Immediately, the family made us sit down and offered us food, coffee and booze. The father, who's in his 50s, immediately took out shot glasses and put them in front of Patrick, Laurent and I. It was slivovice. We thought that it was just a welcome drink (very common in Serbia), but he kept filling up our glasses after we finished and insisting that we drank more. We probably had 7 shots of slivovice, and we were drunk. And then we went off into the night.

How can I describe this festival? How's this: it's a bunch of crazy people (almost all Roma) playing crazy music to even crazier people (probably 95 Serbs and miscellaneous other foreigners). The festival is loosely structured around a battle of the bands. There are competitions all overt Serbia, regional playdowns, and at the end 16 bands emerge, representing all regions of the country. These bands give concerts in the stadium (not a soccer stadium, but a specially-built stadium for brass music!) and there is a panel of judges who give the bands marks. The winner wins the title of "zlatna truba", or golden trumpet. What that entails I don't know. Probably money and definitely fame. Meanwhile, in downtown Guca, hundreds of brass bands play for the thousands of people milling around. They play in restaurants, on the street, anywhere there is room. Remember, this is a village of 3000 people, so this is all happening in a very confined area. You can walk 20 metres and another band is playing.

It is absolute madness. The music is fast and pulsating. Serbian brass music isn't "traditional" music per se. A lot of it is, and I'd say that the bulk of the repetoire of most bands consists of Serbian folk songs. But there is new material being written all the time, and all sorts of foreign influences are easily identifable. Last night I heard a band playing Brazilian samba on brass. Most bands are about 8 people, but sometimes more. You'll always have a bass drum, a snare drum, at least two trumpets (definitely the most important instrument in the band), a tuba or two, and some melange of trombones, french horns, flugelhorns, sousaphones, whatever. The music is absolutely frenzied - songs are played in double time, at 200 beats per minute or faster. The harder people dance, the faster the musicians play. Everyone is drunk. I've never met a group of people who enjoy drinking and partying as much as the Serbs. The music starts at about 7 AM, and continues in earnest until about 3 AM though if you know the right bar, it never stops. Meanwhile, there are vendors everywhere, selling beer, slivovice, vodka, every other kind of alcohol you can imagine, massive amounts of grilled and roasted meat (ethical vegetarians probably shouldn't ever come here, because there are entire pigs being roasted on spits pretty much everywhere you look), t-shirt and every other kind of trinket you can imagine. It's a crush of people in a very confined area.

I was separated from Laurent and Patrick but I ran into some people who I met on the bus down here, two insane Austrian guys and two Australian girls. We just bounced around from bar to bar and wandered down the street, listened to music and danced. Various people joined us along the way, including an English couple, various Serbs, a couple from Madrid, and innumerable French people. French is basically the second language of this festival, there are a lot of French people here. At about 1 AM we went into a bar and we stayed a while because the band was good. If you like what the band is going, you give them money. The more money you give them, the longer they will play, otherwise they'll just leave and set up shop at another bar. But this band was good and the people at the restaurant were generous. I guess word gets around among the bands about good places to play, because soon there was another band in this tiny restaurant. And then there was a third. It was absolutely insane. You had to get really close to the band you wanted to hear or else the other bands would kind of drown them out. Consequently I spent a lot of the night dancing right next to blaring tubas, which is definitely fine by me.

We moved on to another bar where we made the acquaintance of some Bosnian Serbs who insisted on buying us drinks. OK then. The band at the previous restaurant followed us there. They made a circle around me and one of the Australian girls and we went absolutely crazy. I danced harder than I'd ever danced in my life. I probably spent $40 (a lot of money in Serbia) on this band because they were amazing and I didn't want them to stop. There are two main ways of paying the band. First, you can shove the bill into the lead trumpet (always the trumpet). Or, and this is my preferred option, you paste the bill on the lead trumpeteer's forehead. They are invariably sweating so much (everyone sweats in Guca all the time) that the bill sticks. They blasted at us for about 45 minutes. Afterwards, everyone was exhausted (it was about 3 AM) and wanted to sleep, but I ran into the Welshman who I had met in Belgrade and we decided to keep partying. We went to the main square and drank with Serbs (who of course never sleep). I learned some interesting things from them. For example, some of the bars, including the one we had just been at, are known as havens for Serbian ultra-nationalists. The Bosnian Serbs we met there definitely fall into that category. Moderate or pro-European Swerbs generally don't step foot into those bars. They have their own preferred bars and restaurants, where ultra-nationalists (many of whom are wearing Mladic or Karadzic t-shirts) aren't welcome. I am learning a lot about Serbia here, more than I did in Belgrade.

I finally stumbled home at 5 AM. This morning, the family served me a wonderful breakfast of cheese pie, eggs, watermelon, greats heaps of food I had no prayer of finishing. He also offered me slivovice. Brandy at 9 AM. Why the hell not. The insanity here never ends.


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