Novi Pazar, Serbia

Here is an excerpt from a February 11, 2010 family letter.

7 AM:  looking out a hotel window, fog from the river, steam from tile roofs and smoke from chimneys all mingle and rise past the top of a minaret towards the snowcapped mountains carrying smells of baking bread, roasting coffee and wood smoke touched with soft coal.  Two hours earlier the muezzin’s call to prayer would have mingled with these mists but I wasn’t looking out the window just then.  The call to prayer nudged me awake long enough for me to check the time, think my own devotions and fall back into my Balkan dreams. They were comfortable dreams and I felt at home although I have never before been in Novi Pazar.

Novi Pazar, it would be called Newmarket in English, is the center of the Sandzak region, one of those ethnically mixed areas still in the Balkans.  Churches and monasteries from the 12th and 13th century attest to early Serbian presence.  The Turks moved in during the 14th century adding their mosques, assimilating and being assimilated.  They held on until the 1870s when the Austrians occupied the Sandzak along with neighboring Bosnia, still technically recognizing Ottoman sovereignty.  The Habsburgs left the Sandzak as a sop to the Turks in the early 1900s when they formally annexed and incorporated Bosnia into their empire.  The vacuum left by the Austrians was filled by Serbian and Montenegrin armies who split the Sandzak. The Turks never came back.

For much of the 20th century the Sandzak was firmly inside Yugoslavia.  In the 1990s the country split and the Sandzak was split between independent Serbia and Montenegro.  It also borders Bosnia and Kosovo.  Our friend Sheriff says that in the 1950s Yugoslavia didn’t build roads with any notion of republic borders and there are a lot of tracks zig zagging across frontiers.  Smugglers attach contraband to livestock and send them a-grazing.  When they cross the line an accomplice relieves the beasts of their burdens.  Sheriff claims that local police arrested a horse for drug smuggling, but did not catch the human accomplices.

When I stand in Novi Pazar’s main square I note that I have been in every town in every direction where the sign posts point, Prishtina, Mitrovica, Podgorica, Cacak, even Zubin Potok.  I just have never been here before.

Suzi and I decided to walk to our appointments rather than ride once inside town, walking past rows of one story shops and two story shop houses with tile roofs.  Through shop windows we see baklava, Turkish sweets, bread, and local wedding dresses with gold brocade.  Then there are mosques, stone arch bridges, and open markets interleaved with socialist monstrosities

Novi Pazar is noted for its Turkish sweets.  There’s a saying in Serbia, “There is no baklava like Novi Pazar baklava.”  Whenever Sheriff comes to visit he always brings baklava and on our visit he gave us some to take back to the office.  He laughed that once he got to Novi Sad in Northern Serbia and realized he hadn’t packed his car with baklava so he went to the Novi Sad Tempo store, which is the Balkan equivalent of Walmart.  He bought some baklava along with a plate with a sort of antique design.  He put the sweets on the plate, throwing away the Tempo packaging, and brought it to his meeting where everyone said “There is no baklava like Novi Pazar baklava.”

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