Serbia, Mokra Gora

(This is an excerpt from a letter from March 2009)

Last week I visited a resort, Mecavnik, in the Tara Mountains near the Bosnian border just outside the town of Mokra Gora.  It was built by Emir Kusturica, the Serbian filmmaker (“Arizona Dream”, “Underground”).  We are planning to have the IREX Journalism Summer School there in June and July.  Mecavnik is an “ethno village” designed to look like a traditional Serbian village and was built, I think, first as a film set.  It is the site of the annual Kustendorf Film Festival and has a modern cinema, indoor pool, gym, and film studio.  The “streets” of the village bear names like Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini and Nikola Tesla.

Kusterica was born in Sarajevo to a secular Moslem family but was baptized into the Orthodox faith and became a Serb.  His resort is first rate.  It is filled with artworks of whimsy and irony and is graphically pleasing.  There is a stretch Triblat “limo.”  Anyone who knows the old East German Tribi knows how funny that must look.  On the walls of my room were primitive paintings of a loving couple that charmed me.  The mountains aren’t bad either.

One thing I found amusing was the dining room filled with photos of Fidel and Che.  The Cuban revolution always had good graphics and the photos fit artistically but not politically.  Castro is no friend to free art.  He is Latin America’s biggest jail warden when it comes to journalists.  I find it amusing that Kusturica would so honor him.  The filmmaker even has a brand of organic juices “Biorevolution” with stylized drawings of Cuban revolutionary heroes on the labels.  Irony is part of the package at Mecavnik.  I have the impish idea to get one of those black and white photos of Castro taken with Tito at some non-aligned summit somewhere, slip it on the mantle and see what happens.  From his work I can guess that Kusturica is no fan of Tito. 

Excerpts from a June 2009 letter, which continues the story, follow the pictures.



Here is a letter from June, 2009.

Dear Friends,

This weekend Mokra Gora is living up to its name “wet mountain.”  Watching the clouds, rain and fog roll in and out of the valley reminds me of Sitka, except Sitka does not have the accompanying thunder and lightning, shows of nature I always adore.

Emir Kusturica, the movie director and owner of this place, is against globalization so he does not allow CNN or Coke here.  When one of our people ordered Coke the waiter said “We don’t do American here.” At that very time Bob Dylan was singing “Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door” on the sound system.   This hotel owned by the leader of the “No Smoking Orchestra” sells globalized brand cigarettes here — but no Coke.

Kusturica uses Che’s face to grace the labels on his bottles of Kusta’s “Bio-revolution” brand of organic fruit juices.  (The English side of the bottle label has Che wearing several Kusturica buttons and the Serbian side has Kusturica wearing a Che button.)  I kind of like the idea of the famous revolutionary not only as narrator for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (Evita) but now being used to sell organic fruit juice (not to mention “t” shirts to disaffected affluent youth.)

So I was sitting on the terrace during one of the few sunny spells this weekend and my cell phone rang.  It was Kusturica calling from Paris where his “No Smoking Orchestra” is on tour.  Apparently a mutual friend tipped him off about my comments on Che.   We discussed irony, globalization, Che and Poncho Villa.  (Kusturica is preparing to film a new movie about Poncho.)  He said he was trying to create a space at his hotel where people with different views could gather.  The decoration and natural setting combine to create an artistic style that stimulates the sense of irony and, therefore, thought.  We arranged to have a drink together when he gets back.  It impressed the hell out of my staff that I took a call from “Kusta” on the terrace.  Last evening Suzi and I had a private screening of his Cannes “Palme d’ Or” winning film “When Father Was Away on Business,” at the Stanly Kubrick Theater in the basement of his home on the mountain. The next night we saw “Life is a Miracle,” filmed on the narrow gauge train line a couple of kilometers away.  After seeing the film we realized that a famous film star had been begging scraps at our table at lunch.  The black and white cat in the movie now lives in Kusturica’s house and prowls the restaurant for handouts.

Last week our cabin was on the edge of the village with big windows overlooking the valley. This week we have a house right in the middle of the “village.”  It is more traditional with small windows.  Lots of tourists come here on daytrips from Tara National Park.  Our house looks like it may be an exhibit, especially since it has Diego Maradona’s (an Argentine football star’s) name on it.  One tourist followed us right into our room chattering “Maradona, Maradona.”  It took us a while to get rid of her.

I love the way this place smells.  Our room smells like pine.  As soon as we go out the door it smells like Serbian barbecue.  Often it smells like rain.

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