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The City and the Writer: In Belgrade with Jasna Ani

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Belgrade as you feel/see it?

Belgrade is undergoing major changes at the moment. Its image changes literally from day to day. Some forgotten parts of it are being brought to life. It has started to breathe the fresh air of a new generation. Its daily life is hectic, and at night, Belgrade opens its eyes widely. There is something contradictory about it, and a “devil may care” attitude toward almost everything. Perhaps because people are used to destruction, they feel anything can disappear at any moment. Bitterness from nihilism has lead to a new hunger for life and adventure.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

This city has faced threats of demolishment numerous times, and numerous times it has been ruined. I can’t really say if it hurts more when its own citizens ruin it or when it’s a victim of outside forces. I was about sixteen years old in the 1990s when I saw it diminishing before my eyes—I felt helpless and caught in something bigger than any heartbreak I could have ever imagined.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

People. Everyday people. Recently, I noticed how I see the same people at the bus stop every morning. It feels strange realizing your life is interconnected to people you’ll probably never know. In Belgrade, a person with a PhD in art history can easily be your cab driver, the street salesman offering you a rabbit could be someone who has majored in archeology. These details and life stories never cease to amaze me.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Even the most talented ones are struggling to get published because nepotism dominates the literature scene. Some promising young writers, alongside established ones, include: Ana Ristović, Novica Tadić, Goran Korunović, Ivan Tulić, Ivana Velimirac, Vladimir Tabašević, and many others.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I never return to a place, I return to people. There are people I call home all over the world. The only true answer would be I never leave home.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

Skadarlija is an old district famous for its artistic history. The greatest minds used to gather there to drink, discuss, and celebrate life until dawn. Even though times have changed and artists today do not live that life, this district has preserved some of that old charm.

Are their hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

Many people tell me that I have no strong sense of belonging to any place due to my mixed origin—my father is Syrian and my mother Serbian. My interest in place follows the people who create it. In that sense, I find every district of Belgrade intriguing and some even seducing.

Where does passion live here?
In all those passionately dedicated to jobs and purposes that do not provide them secure existences, in all of those who survived, determined to stay true to their talent regardless of the political issues of the moment, in all those who’s minds and hearts address passion. A new generation of artists and writers are bringing a breath of raw passion into the atmosphere. They are bitter, angry, crazy, and hungry for life—a powerful and promising cocktail.

What is the title of one of your works about Belgrade and what inspired it exactly?

I have never written a single word about Belgrade.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Belgrade does an outside exist?”

The way I see it is that there is always an “outside” to everything and everyone. It just depends on how far you dare to look, and what you can bear to see.

Jasna Ani is Serbia-Syrian poet. She grew up in Belgrade, and graduated from the Faculty of Philology. Ani is the author of two poetry collections, The Way of Silence and Nameless. She is a member of the Serbian Literary Society, and lives in Belgrade.

Published Oct 31, 2016   Copyright 2016 Nathalie Handal

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