One of the “Must See” items on my list for Belgrade was the ubiquitous Pijaca. The word pijaca has been translated to me as a “green market”, but Americans would refer to it as a farmers market. I’m a big farmers market fan, and Southern California my current home boasts a plethora of farmers markets. With our year-long growing seasons, stable weather, and society that has a thirst for all things “green”, farmers markets are available every day here. Even with this, SoCal has nothing on Belgrade when it comes to farmers markets. On a Belgrade city map, look for the symbol of a scale, and you will see that there are a handful of farmers markets open every day just in the city center alone. These bustling markets are microcosm of Serbian Society, and present a sensory overload for the easily stimulated such as myself. It’s quite fantastic! Go with your eyes open, smell all the aromas, hear all the exchanges, and feel the energy of the locals, doing business at their local pijaca.
For a Belgrader, the pijaca may be just one stop on their list of daily errands, but for an outsider, it’s a peek at Serbian lifestyle. My cousin calls these places “Gypsy Markets”, due to the majority of sellers being Gypsy, though all different types will be selling their goods there. Drop by here early one day and you will see all sorts of Serbs: kids dragged by their parents, hastily buying the family groceries, old retired folks haggling for a better priced cabbage, quirky individuals combing the tables for that unique find, and young people buying pirated DVDs. The market area itself is a maze of tables piled with fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, household items, cleaning supplies, clothing, random odds and ends, and even more tables full of junk. Literally junk. Some of this stuff is crafty, some of it historical, almost of a museum quality antique, but much of it stuff that I would expect to see on the bottom shelf of an old tired thrift store, stuff that no one had bought for years, but the staff had forgotten to throw out. You’ll see plastic parts of old cell phones, tangles of electrical cords with no components attached, broken picture frames and clothing that probably belonged to dead relatives. Old cassette tapes and torn up yellowed books and shoes that should have been retired years ago. More sellers plant themselves firmly in the middle of aisles, setting up shop on a cardboard box with a hand written sign, calling out “Fresh Lavender, Fresh Lavender”, or perhaps, “100 Dinara for packet of new lightbulbs…get it here…get it now”…And by your foot a grey poodle prances by, a baby cries, and money changes hands between the potato man and a beady eyed grandma.
Ahh…the pijaca. How I will miss you here…I will miss the life of the pijaca, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the place. Instead I will shop at sterile grocery stores, where people quietly rush through their lists, refusing to look at each other as they stuff their metals carts full of frozen pizza, expensive sauces, organic imported vegetables, and individual processed snack packages, and wait in line impatiently to run their credit card before speeding off in their luxury car that cost more than most of these people’s homes….
Oh Belgrade, I miss you…