Chicken Soup feeds the Serbian Soul Every Single Day.
I do believe the last time I was here was the 50th anniversary of Pava and Petar. What a glorious celebration of life and love that was.
I painted Pava’s nails a bright red and she flaunted and flittered them about with frivolous abandon, like a young school girl going to her prom. We took her to the hair dresser in Bijeljina before heading off to Kozarci, a very small village in Northern Serbia three plus hours away where she grew up (in this very house) and where the celebration was to take place (in a nearby village).
Their family, neighbours and dear friends all converged upon that tiny village and it was bursting at the seams that weekend. We arrive to an incredible rostilj that Vanja’s cousin Cici was preparing in the deep dark of that hot summer night. This time, we arrive to a lovely welcome feast prepared and waiting while the family seeks shade in the gazebo, sipping sljiva and drinking Turkish coffee, even in the heat of the day.
The morning was breakfast, coffee, chatter, clatter and laughter, much visiting and constant arrivals of those from afar, popping in to say “Hello!”. Of course, the family was all here at Cici and Vesna’s house. Niko lived in the bottom and they above. Both homes were huge and housed us all: Vanja and I, Vanja’s brother’s family, and Pava and Petar, too. (The above rose bush was also featured in my breakfast post that year!)
When it was time for the party, the casual, hard working crowd re-appeared shiny and new. Glossy and gorgeous in makeup and suits and heals smelling of Parisan perfumeries. And, oh, what a night it was. Pava was never so happy. She beamed joy from every pore and danced all night long. (Above, Vesna’s outdoor kitchen)
What a wonderful memory that weekend was. We have cherished it many times, since, and were so tickled by how many people came. It was a reunion of all reunions! (Above, the main closed in patio where we usually eat family meals.)
Then, Pava died. Three years later. And we are back in this little village for the six month anniversary of her death, this afternoon, enjoying yet another welcome feast of spectacular Eastern European home food. I couldn’t be at her funeral as she died a few days after my own dad. So, now is the time for me to say “good-bye”. Above, the traditional homemade chicken soup that is served before every meal in every home in the countryside.
Though, I have been saying it this past 6 months, there was nothing worse than arriving at her home, in the aftermath of chaos after the flood, without her there. I don’t speak Serbo-Croation. She didn’t speak English. Yet, we understood one another. She was a tiny, feisty little woman with a heart of gold and a mind as sharp as one could be. She worked very hard. She loved her family almost past understanding – but, once you know their story, you do understand. They would cry and hold one another every time they met.
This is the country of the paprika! The peppers that are grown here are untouched by genetic modification or toxic chemical fertilizers. The seeds have been saved for centuries. The aroma and flavour meets one’s imagination. Reminiscent of how one imagines peppers ought to taste: and here, they do!
And the meat? Well, it is raised in the back yard. Need I say more?
I never met Zora. She was the oldest sister who passed before I met her. I loved Niko, the eldest. He was one of the most valiant men I have ever met. And he died within a year of the 50th anniversary party. Every time we parted, I would say, “Vidimo se!” Which means, “See you later!” His answer was always, “Ako pozieim.” which means, “If I should live that long.” (Above, sir pita, or cheese pie made in the manner of meat burek and a favourite of mine!)
Now, only Dragica remains. She is the sister older than Pava; the one who wore white to the Pomen as they promised one another they would, “Whoever goes first, please don’t mourn for me in black. Wear white and rejoice in the love we shared.” And so she did.
That was impossible not to do when remembering Pava. She did everything with love. Every move she made was motivated by love, through love and with love. She understood that love was more than just a feeling. More than just an emotion. Love is action. Love is charity, service, hard work, perseverance and commitment to those you love to support them in becoming the best they can every possibly be. That is Pava’s legacy. She was relentless. She was tireless. She was completely selfless. Her greatest joy was to give to others. And above, the incredibly delicious meal prepared by the hand of Vesna in her lovely outdoor kitchen.
And so, on this weekend, in Kozarci, we gather – and still laugh, and love, and create new memories to cherish. Remembering Pava and her insatiable love for her family, it would be blasphemous to do otherwise. From left to right, Petar, my empty chair, Vanja (our nephew), Vesna, Ivka (Petar’s neighbour), Lori and Mario (our nephew).