Are Common Serbian Woodpeckers Frightened of Bulgarian Scarecrows? (The 19th Letter)

29 May 1958

Beograd, Yugoslavia

Between the green leaved oaks lining the boulevard to the rear of the cathedral, to the left of the fourth shadow of the second grandest leaf, ninety two meters from the national library, where Dimitri Shostakovich is playing in my head.

Dear Comrade Milos, Twice Recipient of the Order of Marxist-Leninist Nature and Recent Guest Speaker at the All Republic Gathering of Socialist Ornithologists:

The seconds became minutes and then compile themselves into hours. I am afraid, like the time I encountered the darkness of my house without electricity, that eternity is unable to be contained by my words alone. Do you also fear time and the dark? Dear friend, does this mean we are getting old? In the hours since breakfast, I now feel even more alone and compelled again to write both questions and answers; as I am the only one who knows what I seek.

The juice, made from the Montenegrin apples was so fresh, do you not agree? The Kosovar woman who waited on our table reminded of both my second wife and mother. Perhaps it was because they were both kindly in the early morning way and provided me juices without asking?

Summer has arrived early this year. Don’t you think so? To be this warm in late May leads me to forecasts a warm summer. Tourists from as far east as Moscow and as north as Warsaw will come to beautiful Belgrade. Must everyone holiday in Dalmatia? Our work, dear friend, does not stop because every machinist in Prague needs a week’s leave.

I know you are busy for I can hear you at work. Might I propose both a question and idea? As our streets grow crowded and summer falls upon our beautiful land, shall we head east? It has yet to be proved that the Picus Virdius* migrates beyond the mountain passes. Could this not be the time, even the reason, to travel to Bulgaria? The lush Bulgarian cornfields, rolling for miles, are guard by hundreds of плашило. We call them scare crows. Bulgarian birds are frightened of these stick figures made to resemble Ottoman sultans and Nestorian heretics, and Russian generals. It is known, however, that images Ottomans, heretics, nor Russians frighten the common Serbian woodpecker. What say ye? Shall I call the station and purchase two tickets to Sofia? Perhaps Shostakovich will perform?

I do think this could be our opportunity to capture the elusive Serbian woodpecker. Unlike like the time we were in the place with the man who told us about the road that went to the other town that was near the city where the trees were that might have contained a single bird, I feel much better about this new plan.

If this is to reach you before tomorrow’s post, I must find make haste for the evening post.  I humbly await your reply.  And the arrival of my stamps.

Your friend,

Slava

*Picus Viridus-Common European Woodpecker

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A Bosnian Black and White Film

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The air is light,
a dangubica* sings,
Darkness does not fight,
While the curtain recedes,
Black and white,
The images form,
Of Bosnian streets,
Before the war,
Muslims read Marx,
Christians read Sartre,
Dervishes cannot stop,
Whirling to Johann Bach,
Amidst the ground beans,
In cafes to numerous,
Seen in scene after scene,
Tell me dear friend,
Where can I breathe?

-Richard Bryant

*dangubica-a small Serbian and Croatian stringed instrument

Food for Thought-Heisenberg Says We’ve Already Been to Zagreb (The 18th Letter)

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1 January 1958

Belgrade

Between the hallway photograph of the River Nišava and the champagne flute left on the floor by Vjekoslav Kaleb during the New Year’s festivities

Dear Comrade, Esteemed Hero of Ornithological Quests, and Master of Socialist Alchemy:

Happy New Year!

Josef Stalin is still dead and the Josip Broz Tito Lives! Does this mean there is a God? What kind of God kills one and leaves the other?

I write to you this morning as a rejoinder to our conversation of last evening. I admit it was difficult to follow our discussion of New Year’s resolutions amidst the revelries. Heisenberg’s insistence on performing Bach concertos for two pianos, with you, while we spoke, was quite distracting. Somewhere around the eighth measure, I’m certain you stopped paying attention. Now, without the benefit of Heisenberg’s rambling arpeggios, I would like to finish my list of resolutions. They are as follows.

To locate the *Picus Viridius.

To discover the Unseen Foolishness I Cannot Understand

Visit the *village in Albania where the dehydrated towels and sheets that are packaged and served for my post culinary convenience.

Find the ticket stubs for our next trip to Zagreb. After speaking with *Heisenberg last night, I’m certain we’ve already returned. Though I can’t recall what we found. Do you have them?

Loose one toe as my final concession to what I perceive as a case of gout or frostbite which has yet to arrive. Did we catch frostbite in Zagreb? Is this why my toe feels dead? Why do I have no memory of going to Zagreb?

Purchase a *cover for the hole the street adjacent to the flat. I fell 17 times last year. If I must, I will write to the Marshal directly.

Your friend,
M

*Picus Virdius – The Common European Woodpecker
*Dehydrated towels – Legends speak of a labor camp run by Enver Hoxha which forced Albanian political prisoners to manually dehydrate napkins and towels with their mouths.
*Yes, that Heisenberg.
*Manhole cover theft was a problem in Belgrade in the late 1950’s. Hipster coffee shops decorated their walls with the heavy, iron pieces. They were once considered the ultimate in socialist realism.

Food for Thought-Mr. Jung Goes Looking for Woodpecker in Prague (The Seventeenth Letter)

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1 June 1957
Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
Prague Industrialization of the Masses Leading to Revolutionary Peace Workers’ Guest House

Dear Friend, Comrade, and Esteemed Follower of Birds,

The days have faded into a hazy oblivion. Prague is not Belgrade and I fear that Belgrade is not Prague. People seem different here. What is it about their socialism that seems so “Russian”? The streets, language, and food are not as they are in our beloved Belgrade. The manager at the hotel knew nothing of the insurance official or the mysterious number we were given. Could you believe his atrocious accent? He seemed to illiterate of Serbo-Croatian. Was he not warned of our impending arrival? What good does it do to pay a drunken gypsy in the Belgrade station to send a telegram?

Most assuredly, the beasts lurking between the buildings do not fully grasp the meaning or purpose of our quest. It was in a dream, only last night, as we pursued the disembodied pecks through an abandoned city center, I realized that we were climbing an ancient Babylonian Ziggurat. This holy mound, a shrine to the god Marduk, led to a darkness of unbearable lightness. Inside the temple, Marduk handed me a letter, from the angel Gabriel, which I unable to read. Were I able to read Marduk’s Babylonian message for Gabriel, I believe we would now know the whereabouts of the woodpecker.

As I cannot read Babylonian dream writing, I will wait here. The Czech Party has a fine reputation of offering night time adult education seminars in both dream interpretation and Babylonian cultural history. Perhaps we may find one near our hotel that offers better than adequate translation into Serbo-Croatian.

I suggest, tonight, we meet for soup and bread. Are you certain the goat we consumed was well done? I am not. I must post this before the bell strikes four.
With warmest regards,

V

*Marduk Babylonian Deity
*Ziggurat a type of Babylonian pyramid

Food for Thought-Mr. Jozef Has Left For Bratislava (The Fifteenth Letter)

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13 May 1957

Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
In the place between where the mail is relinquished and a letter is received

Dear Friend and Author of the “Epistle to My Cousin Branimir”*,

How can one not recall such an epic work of beauty on such a pulchritudinous day? When last has the sun shone forth so brightly?* My walk down Knez Mihaila*, amid the beclouded monuments of past, started in the pre-dawn obscurity of night. It was with the upmost of ease and gradual displacement of the general murkiness around me, I noticed darkness gave way to morning.

Among the scattered detritus of this morning are the remains of my breakfast. A few crumpled napkins on the corner of my desk and a torn receipt in my pocket are all that tells the story of Vlado, his brioche, and the Serbian perfection of French pastry.

You will remember that after breakfast, I needed to visit my insurance company. Upon presenting myself, you I believe, remained at the door, and I asked the kind woman working at the desk if I might speak with the manager, a “Mr. Jozef”. After 10 minutes (or more), her friendly demeanor completely gone, she insisted that “Mr. Jozef” had left for Bratislava. Should I need to speak with him, she gave me this card and said he may be contacted at the following “address”:

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Could this be some way leading us to the Picus Viridius? What does this mean?

Are you able to decipher any meaning? Should we go to Bratislava?

Tomorrow may not be soon enough.

Yours friend,

V

*Epistle to My Cousin Branimir M once authored a play by this title which ran for a short time in Sofia, Bulgaria
*Weather reports indicate sunny conditions on the 3 previous days
*Kneza Mihaila A large thoroughfare in central Belgrade
*Vlado A great Serbian pastry chef of the day
*Picus Viridius The Common European Woodpecker

Food for Thought-Lingonberries from Ljubljana (The Fourteenth Letter)

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10 May 1957
Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
After the time the rain began, ceased, and began again

Dear Friend and Esteemed Finder of Lost Things,

As I read my calendar, the week has ended. Accordingly a new week will soon begin. The impending one hundred sixty eight hours offer the chance to listen to innumerable records, eat fourteen breakfasts*, and pursue the most elusive avian between Ljubljana* and Skopje*.

In silence, the sounds of the Picus Viridius* mean nothing. Silence must give birth to sound for us to see the art we cannot hear. The partial experience of beauty so embodied by the dull undertones of a low pecking Viridius are like the seeds from which the total experience of beauty is grown. While we may be prisoners to the calendars of linear time, the Picus offers us a shelter from the gods of chronos* and kairos*; a place to step back from the present without remembering the future. If we are not present to hear and appreciate its song and gentle tapping, are we not like patrons, wandering the museum in pitch darkness? I would argue yes.

I thank you for the lingonberry jam. As you know, I have made many attempts to plant vaccinium vitis-idaea*. Due to my inability to find enough dirt, I’ve been reduced to purchasing lingonberry jam in exclusive Bulgarian markets or in ordinary restaurants selling toast. To know that I may simply walk into my kitchen, remove a knife and spread this elixir upon a piece of bread is almost too much to contemplate.

Yours friend,

M

*fourteen breakfasts some persons ate two breakfasts per day, one early, one late
*Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia
* Skopje the capital of Macedonia
* Picus Viridius the common European Woodpecker
* Chronos and Kairos the ancient Greek concepts of chronological/linear and circular time
* Vaccinium vitis-idaea the Ligonberry

Food for Thought-Mr. Andric Meets Mr. Tagore For Dinner (The Thirteenth Letter)lm

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9 May 1957
Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
In the afternoon, waiting for the parades to end

Dearest Hero, Friend, and Caretaker of the Past,

You know I have never been much for our public victory celebrations. To have lived through the war and survived is a daily celebration in and of itself. Would you not agree? Besides, no one wants to hear stories that begin with, “I knew Tito when he was still ‘Josip Broz’”. *

As the sky darkens in the east, I’ve spent most of the day watching the sound of the wind falling between the clouds. The noise of nothingness is deafening, even on a beautiful day. Sitting high above the Sava*, I wanted to find one gust, a single breeze and follow its course to the flowing water below. So certain, was I, that air and water would meet to produce a new language, I began to compose a verse in Bengali*. Perhaps it was the waiting, or the water, or the late night reading of Tagore*.

অন্ধকার আকাশ নীচে, সেদিনই বৈকালে আমি অক্ষয়বাবুর বাতাস অপেক্ষা, তাদের আর্তনাদ শুনতে,*

Today, many waited upon the Marshal*. On other days, we wait upon our food, we wait upon the Picus Viridius, and today I waited upon the wind. While we wait, in these vast and varied places, may we make our waiting matter? As we listen for the bird, are we listening to those around us and each other? Do the overwhelming sounds of nothingness prevent us from hearing the songs we are seeking?

These were the questions that once dominated our lives. It seems they have come to do so again.

Until tomorrow.

Your friend,

V

*Josip Broz the given name of Marshal Tito, late dictator the former Yugoslavia
*Sava the river running east to west through Belgrade, Serbia
*Bengali the language of Bangladesh. Many British officers who worked with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Yugoslavia had served in India and spoke languages of the subcontinent. It is probable V was exposed to Bengali at this time.
*Rabindranath Tagore Bengali Poet and Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913
*Beneath Darkened Skies, I wait upon the winds, and wait upon their cries…
*Marshal Marshal Tito
*Picus Viridius the common European Woodpecker