Yugo, I follow.

Introducing Aleksandra Izgarjan:

prolific scholar, skilled Yugo driver, Serbian gourmand, and my dear friend.


You are meeting her as I did, when I first arrived from Belgrade weighed down by book-filled boxes and overstuffed suitcases.  With her cheery pink t-shirt and instant smile, Aleksandra presented me with a warm and gracious welcome to Novi Sad.  Somehow, through the muddle of newness and jetlag, I was gently guided into my new home, my office at the university, and a fabulous outdoor café in the heart of the city (Mediteraneo, on Isa Bajica).  And I listened with wonder and interest as my new colleague discussed her challenging teaching experiences and a startling number of recent publications.

I am pleased to say that my rather small library of Necessary Reading Material now includes Aleksandra’s Maksin Hong Kingston I Ejmi Ten: Ratnica I Samanka.  And I’d happily dig into the over-400 pages of analysis on Kingston and Amy Tam, if only my Serbian were, o, 10,000 times better.  Tiny Walt seems to have gotten much further. (more on Tiny Walt later.  As several of you predicted, he has really taken to Balkan folk dancing– and thanks to Aleksandra actually knows more about two of his most illustrious fans.  Whitman Ah Singh, indeed!).


As intellectual, industrious, and professional as she is, Aleksandra is also adventurous, funny, and—well, cute.  She shares these excellent qualities with her beloved 19-year old Yugo.  It may rattle your teeth, smell like petrol and allow any passerby access to whatever’s on the front seat, but the Yugo has character.  Like its owner, it’s got pluck, volition, get-up-and-go.  That is, when it’s not in the shop.


IMG_0223After 19 years, Aleksandra and the Yugo have become One Thing On The Road.  Here they are , nosing their way out of a Serbian traffic jam.  And yes, that’s how close the passenger seat is to the driver, in the Yugo.



Novi Sad’s markets—Ribja, Limanska, Futoska (seen here)—are an intense and heady experience. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing, and everybody talks fast. Thanks to Aleksandra’s instructions, I can wheel and deal even with my meager Serbian.  She’s also introduced me to her favorite stallkeepers, including the toothless guy who sold me the juiciest, reddest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.  Freshly picked walnuts, plums, corn, Muscat grapes, wildflower honey (“med”), paprika, homemade wines and sausage (“kohlbasc”, similar to the Hungarian specialties my father made and sold): these markets present the proof that Vojvodina is the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’  (Another blog entirely might have been titled ‘From Fairway to Futoska.’  I’ve come a long from my favorite Harlem market– and it’s been a tasty treat.)

After stocking my fridge full of delectables for those rainy days and workweek evenings, Aleksandra herded me back out to check out Novi Sad’s busy social life.  The city is known for its restaurants, though many of the most delicious and desirable places are accessible only by… Yugo.  The Danube is the site of several lovely hideaway hangouts, including Aleksandra’s favorite: the “Brod Restaurant”, a “ski-bar” (yes, water skis) that sits literally on the river.  Note the pontoons, which help the restaurant and its gangway float with the dramatic tidal shifts.


Ah… the Serbian good life!  Smoked carp, potato salad, fresh corn bread, Gorki List with a slice of lemon… and the late summer sun shining off the water.



That’s us, with our front-row seat of the blue Danube.

Aleksandra has shown me how the Serbians have not forgotten to relax and unwind, particularly on Sundays.  Novi Sad’s bustling shops are closed that day, while the churches do a thriving morning business.  In the afternoon, families spend time together at home or in its open spaces.  Fathers and mothers wheel around baby carriages in Dunavska Park; sisters and brothers play in the white Danubian sand.


IMG_0117Many families own vacation houses along the river that they use only in the summer or on weekends.  Aleksandra’s face lights up whenever she recalls her young years spent on the Monte Negrian coast, in her family’s holiday villa.  Recent political tensions have forced many Serbians to sell their property in Monte Negro; because she cannot physically return to that spectacular seascape, her memories have become even more precious and poignant.

My dedication ends with a candid shot of Doctor Dr. Izgarjan, relaxing in her beautiful “bird’s nest” in downtown Novi Sad.  She told me that her lovely greenhouse balcony was sealed off and full of garbage when she moved into the apartment.  The enterprising Aleksandra broke through the walls, installed new windows and skylights, and brightened the high-ceilinged space with artwork and bright color.  It feels like a country retreat, a place where one can clear one’s mind, think deep thoughts… and write elegant tracts on faraway subjects.


Here’s to a great friendship across borders: between a scholar of contemporary ethnic American writers and a ‘Whitmaniac’, between the daughter of intellectuals from Zrenjanin and a butcher’s daughter from Brooklyn, between a Serbian with a passionate interest in American culture, and an American who is passionate about connecting with her Vojvodina heritage.

Хвала, Алексанцра!  Ти си непроценјив!


About The Author

Avatar of Karen Karbiener

Karen Karbiener

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Author his web sitehttp://lookingforwhitman.org/members/whitmaniakk/


10 2009

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