At 09.30 I meet Miljan and his wife Ana. They have very kindly offered to take me with them to the Guca Trumpet Festival. They are very friendly and with our common interests in Travel, CouchSurfing, music etc, the journey passes quickly. They spent five weeks together in England and returned with quite a negative view of the place/people. I hope I don't speak out of turn when I say that I think Mihailo's friends were surprised to hear he had befriended an Englishman. I understand Mihailo's words were along the lines of "he's not typical English" - which obviously brought about the conversation of "what is?". We did infact share many views on this matter. Ana has that wonderful ability to speak her mind at all times, I admire such blunt honesty, and at times wish I possessed it. I concluded that they are prouder to be Serbian than I English, but before I get to Nationalist ranting....
It's the 50th Anniversary of the Festival which started off as a modest gathering of trumpet players. No classical training, all self taught and playing improvisations by ear. Over the proceeding years this has snow balled considerably. Trumpet players and folk song and dance groups from all over the world now consider it a great honor to be invited to the Assembly. Each year see's an increase in visitors from all over the globe. The town usually inhabits 1000 but for these four days half a million pass through. Way beyond it's capacity people throw up tents anywhere and everywhere - school buildings, grass verges, random fields, the banks of the river and one bold fellow who sat his tent on a pile of rocks IN the river. Every inch of available space is filled with either a tent, a car, or a drunk sleeping off last nights mayhem.
We head out of town slightly to me some friends. We spend a few hours with them but sadly most of the group are heading back to Greece due to work commitments. Theo and Eva and staying another night and returning with us to Belgrade. A few years ago the group from Greece after a night of carnage decided to head a way into the sticks to get some peace to sleep, they set up their tents in a field in the dark. In the morning the lady owner of the field came over and gave them breakfast. Now, every time they return to Guca they set up their tent in the family's garden and are treated to wonderful homemade food, and so this is where we make camp. We all sit at a round table shaded by grape vines and chat away the early afternoon. The cocktail of languages bouncing around the table consists of Russian, Serbian, Greek and English. We drink coffee and Rakia - of course,the atmosphere is tranquil, any stresses of the trip dissolving in an instant like the cube of sugar in my coffee. At 3 o'clock we go to explore the festivities, considering most people are still asleep it's quite busy. Looking in to various kafana's I see people dancing on the tables to the chirp of live trumpets, I have no idea what to expect in 12 hours time when people really start to party. Everywhere I turn I see people wearing grins, it has a very happy energy. We wash down tasty pljeskavica with Jelen (one of the nicer Serbian lagers) and wander the streets listening to the music and soaking up the ambiance. We sit in the shade of a tree and are all overcome by the overwhelming desire to snooze, after just one more Rakia we return to the "campsite". Back round the table with yet another Rakia in hand - not sure I'll make it through the night at this rate. We set the tents up while a feast is prepared for us. More great tomatoes, their own lamb, cabbage stew with beef (again their own), homemade bread - very organic eating. The generous farmhouse kitchen is quite scruffy by "Ikea" standards, but clearly house everything required to prepare a great meal. What struck me most was the well - In the middle of the bare concrete floor was a hole about the size of a dustbin lid and out of it came a hand-pump well - forget your weathered oak worktops - thats rustic!! After the meal we do some more relaxing, Eva makes us some Greek frappes - yum. Theo and Eva's luxury travelling item is an electric whisk, hows that for commitment to "frappe perfection". At 8 we make our way to the center as this is when the contest begins. Theo works for Canon and has got several "press" passes, allowing us backstage amongst other perks. Like true journalists we fill all available bags with beer and rakia, then make out way to the main stadium. There is quite a crowd, full of energy and alcohol - we do our best to catch up and make a pretty good job of it. The dancing becomes more and more animated and most of the crowd is moving to the music. Arm in arm with various strangers we dance in big circles. In my inebriated state the simple footwork tests my co-ordination to the full. It's a very international crowd, bottles of the infamous spirit are passed around as if everyone's known each other for years, many are keen for us to try their homebrew which they believe is the best. The taste ranges from the "downright delicious" to the "straight from the petrol pump".
Some I the music is abit "poptastic" and cliche for my tastes, but an equal quantity is very very good. I'm irritated that adverts are played on the big screens adjacent to the stage where normally one would observe live footage closeups of the performance. A sure sign that the corporations are tightening their grip on what was once a very natural and pure music festival. There is a whiff of Nationalism, with lots of flag waving - but hey I'm a guest here, and if they're proud of their country then why not. At some point in the night the Rakia takes it's first victim in Eva and Theo takes her back to camp.
The rest of the night becomes pretty blurry. After checking on Eva we go into the press pit and backstage. It's good fun and the view of the crowd is awesome. At some point I'm asked by an actual journalist who I reported to, having had my brain stripped of any remaining whit by alcohol I reply "The BBC" - nice one James, lets see you get out of this. Thankfully I cant remember what was said next, it was probably to shameful to repeat...But it didn't end in a fight and I was even offered backstage passes to the following nights Beer Festival finale...result.
The atmosphere was never anything other than completely friendly. Bumping into people while dancing didn't induce some kind of macho stand off. I remember treading on a girls foot - she even smiled! I tried my best to look apologestic but suspect I had lost control of my facial muscles my this point. Some how we made our way home in the car, creeping along at 5mph down a tiny little dusty lane. No surprises I slept like a baby...a really really drunk baby...
Sadly no pics from Guca folks, left my camera in Belgrade - dick!