Pljevlja, Montenegro

The city of Pljevlja, just across the border of Serbia in neighboring Montenegro, reminded me of the Višegrad of the Ivo Andric’ novel, “Bridge over the River Drina.” We visited the city over the Labor Day weekend attending a friend’s wedding. It is the third largest city in Montenegro and is located in a wild, beautiful region of canyons, rivers, and forests.

There was a relaxed, dusty feel to the city. Most impressive were the two Islamic minarets and the old Ottoman cemetery next to our hotel. The Ottoman Turks ruled Pljevlja for centuries and these are their legacy. There name for it Taslidža, which referred to the rocky landscape. Owen thought the country should be called Rock Negro, as they are everywhere. In Andric’s novel, the novel starts in the Ottoman times and ends with the arrival of the Austrians to the dusty river town of Višegrad. Pljevlja felt like that city after the Austrians had left. We visited the large Hussein Pasha’s mosque which dates back to 1569. It had been beautifully restored, but looked abandoned with uncut grass and a street dog sleeping on the front steps. The old Ottoman cemetery next to our hotel also had very long grass and looked like no one ever visited it.

The city today is mostly ethnically Serbian, politically Montenegrin, and it looks Bosnian. It sounds like it should be part of Yugoslavia with this mix.

The renovated but empty - Husein Pasha's Mosque

This is my favorite part of the Balkans, the region of Tara as I call it. It encompasses the Tara River and has snow-capped mountains, river canyons, pine forests, and lots of wildlife. So far we visited Mokra Gora in Serbia and now Durmitor and the Pljevlja municipality. I hope to explore Tara more.

Ivo Andric Museum

Note- Any of my Serbian readers can translate what is on the page above?

Yesterday I went to the Ivo Andric Museum located near the Parliment building in downtown Belgrade. He was a true Yugoslav, being born and raised in Bosnia and having homes in Croatia and Serbia. He ended spending the majority of his life in his later years in Belgrade. The Ivo Andric Foundation made a museum out of his apartment. It was a modest apartment, and typical from a man that material things did not mean much. He was a man of principles. 


Andric's 1961 Nobel Prize

It was interesting to see his small cerca 1976 apartment. The photo above is from his desk. It was also the first time I saw a Nobel Prize medal. He won the 1961 Nobel Prize for literature for his book, Bridge Over the River Drina. I was a chaperone with the grade 11 students from the ISB High School. We stopped at the Hotel Moscow for a cup of coffee before visiting the museum. Andric used to spend a lot of time there and the cafe there was THE place to be in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. All the celebrities, intellectuals, and visiting dignataries made a stop there. The morning gave me a glimpse of how it was back in the time of Tito and Yugoslavia. Sad that they couldn’t keep the federation together – I think everyone would be much better off if they did. 

I asked the tour guide if Andric had any living relatives and she said no close ones. There is a group of people that manage the foundation. I wonder what Andric would have thought about Višegrad today. It is the scene of his book and it is much different after the Yugoslav Civil Wars. He probably understood Bosnia better than anyone. 

The View of Andric's Apartment Building From Pioneer Park

The Bridge On The Drina – Ivo Andrić

 I just finished reading “The Bridge on the Drina” by Bosnian writer, and former long-time Belgrade resident, Ivo Andrić. He won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature.
UPDATE: I visited the bridge on October 17, 2009. My blog post on the experience is here

Andrić lived a full life and he is a great example of the idea of Yugoslavia. His parents were Croats from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He spent his childhood in Višegrad, a small town on the border of Serbia and Bosnia. He studied in Sarajevo and Zagreb, Croatia. He was imprisoned during WWI by the Austro-Hungarians as a revolutionary. After the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes gained independence Andrić began a career as a diplomat for the new government. He held posts in Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and finally, in his peak position on the eve of WW II, to Berlin, Germany. All during this time, Andrić was writing and publishing poems, essays, and short stories. When Hitler occupied Poland, he tried to resign, but the Yugoslav government rejected it. When Germany bombed Belgrade in 1941, he retired from the foreign service and lived the rest of his life in Belgrade. During the war, he wrote three novels that would earn him the Nobel Prize. He donated the prize money to build libraries in Bosnia. You can read more about him at Ivo Andric Foundation web site.

I highly recommend the book, “The Bridge on the Drina.” The Drina is a river that separates Bosnia and Serbia. The bridge he refers to in located in the town of Višegrad, Bosnia. The novel is an epic historical fiction beginning in the 1500’s with the construction of the bridge by the Ottoman Turks and ending with its destruction during World War I. I love history and as all good historical fiction does, it brings alive the facts of history. It got me to think more about the legacy of the Ottomans. They had a large empire for many years, but are not that well known or studied in the US. Andrić tells of the Ottoman’s blood sacrifice, in which the Turks would raid Serbian villages and kidnap young Serbian boys to raise them as Turks in Istanbul. He also describes the public “staking” of a man caught vandalizing the bridge during its construction. The Turks were here in Serbia for a long time. As the novel progresses through time, it is good to have a bit of background of Balkan history. Besides the historical stuff, he tells good stories of people and families. My only criticism is he slides into a bit too much of “magic realism” and I got burned out on that by reading Garcia Marquez and other Latino writers.

The picture above is of the Hotel Moscow which I took in August of last year. Ollie is pictured in front of the fountain. A friend tells me it was one of Andric’s favorite hangouts here in Belgrade. I will go visit his museum soon. The apartment where he lived is now a museum and it will give me a better idea of the man and his works, and I will do another post on the visit. I will also most likely read some more by him. I am especially interested in reading his essay on Simon Bolivar. If any of my blog readers have a copy of that, preferably in English (I am now at the stage in my Serbian language development which I call “early caveman” – for example, Danas lepo toplo i kizovo (today very cold and slippery).