Sarajevo or My Weekend with Robert De Niro

The title is a bit of a stretch, I admit. Firstly, Robert De Niro was visiting Sarajevo overnight only. Secondly, I never met him. Thirdly, I admire his acting and his films very much, really, truly, but let’s be honest, I’m whispering now, he’s of a certain age.

Robert de Niro in Sarajevo
There he is: Robert de Niro

Coincidentally, Robert De Niro, one of the world’s greatest actors, and I happened to be at the same event last Friday. He was a guest of honour, of course, whereas I was a mere spectator. I’m talking about 22nd Sarajevo Film Festival, a festival that started during dreadful times of war and evolved into the most influential and eminent film festival in the region.

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Robert De Niro was there to open the festival and promote the restored Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and most importantly was awarded the Heart of Sarajevo (what a brilliant name for a prize, don’t you think?) for lifetime achievement. His presence in that city was powerful and meaningful and his thank-you speech at the opening ceremony was nice too. So was the audience at the open-air cinema Metalac. It’s an incredible venue, a courtyard amidst the townhouses (in fact, a high school sports ground), huge, roughly 2000 to 3000 viewers were present, the screen is of king-size XXXL, it felt almost as the Rome’s Colosseum.

“I will treasure this award — my Heart of Sarajevo — because I don’t think there is another city in the world that has shown such heart in the face of so much tragedy,” De Niro said at the ceremony.

Do read the Washington Post’s article on the festival (the above quote is excerpted from it) – it’s filled with all the vital information.

Of his countless performances, the one line I remember most is “I know a thing or two about a thing or two” from … wait, I have to check the title of this movie co-starring young Leonardo Di Caprio …here it is: This Boy’s Life. If you have the stomach for abuse take a look.

Not only was De Niro there, in Sarajevo, the festival is packed with celebrity material: on the second evening Stephen Frears of Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen and Philomena (among others) came to greet the public on stage before the screening of his magnificent Florence Foster Jenkins. He is a regular but he was all the same overcome with the large auditorium.

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Sarajevo is the European capital that appeared regularly in the headlines in the 90’s. Unfortunately, this was due to the so-called Balkans’ war following the break-up of Yugoslavia, which led to this city and its inhabitants being tragically under siege for several years (1425 days actually). The reminders of this brutal war are visible throughout the city still. Today, two decades after the conflict ended, the city is as pleasant and welcoming as ever before. That’s at least what I’m told because my first visit to Sarajevo took place only about 10 years ago. So, I’m not in a position to judge the before and after effect. Not that I’d want to anyway. From what I hear I would’ve liked it before the war for sure and I certainly like it now.

What’s not to like?!

Sarajevo, Bosnia&Herzegovina
Many streets in Sarajevo are quite steep

Friendly people? Check

Food? Check

Sirnica s pavlakom
Sirnica s pavlakom
Baklave
Baklave
Sarajevo, Bosnia&Herzegovina
Market stalls in central Sarajevo

Drink? Check

Bosanska kahva
Bosanska kahva

Sights? Check

Latinska ćuprija
Latinska ćuprija
Vječnica
Vječnica

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Scenery? Check

Sarajevo, Bosnia&Herzegovina
Baščaršija
Baščaršija
Baščaršija

Greenery? Check

Bjelašnica near Sarajevo
Javorov do on Bjelašnica

For those of you awaiting more on Apulia please be patient. It’s coming up as promised.

 

Related:

Sarajevo

Sarajevo Film Festival 2016 Highlights Day One

SFF Official Site

Taxi Driver (1976) on IMDB

Javorov do, Bjelašnica

 

A Bowl of Cherries

Finally, it’s the cherries season!

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I have this thing with cherries. You know how there are cat people vs. dog people? In my opinion there are also strawberry people vs. cherry people. I’m a cherry person myself, no doubt about it, and it’s the one segregation I don’t object to.

The best way to eat them is directly off the tree of course. Regrettably, this is a fairly rare indulgence.

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It’s not only the fruit that satisfies my appetite, I love to see a cherry tree in every guise. I love to watch the cherry tree’s transformation through the seasons: first, in the dead of winter, there are black trunk and branches with wonderfully patterned bark and nothing more. Then, in the spring the branches get covered in white fragrant blossoms, which look like quilted down sleeves. Next, it turns elegant dark green with ruby red fruits hanging in couples or triplets resembling the most precious earrings. Finally, in autumn, its leaves steadily become a sunset’s mirror as they turn the warm spectacular red before they fall off.

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I was growing up in a concrete neighbourhood of apartment buildings bordering on one side a highway and on the other a large area of detached houses. The houses typically had their cute little backyards, flowerbeds, kitchen gardens and at least one fruit-growing tree (if I were to inspect the area today I’d notice most of the front lawns transformed into parking lots since every household now has more cars than the side road can accommodate).

Needless to say, we, the kids from the boring urban community, shamelessly raided the cherry trees every June when they were laden with fruit. Some people didn’t really mind our self-invitation to their garden as long as no damage was done, but the great majority of them weren’t all too happy with sharing their fortune with us. Those trees were particularly attractive because by some unwritten rule they bore the sweetest, the reddest, the best fruit. Usually a group of four or five of us sneaked on the fence and snatched as much cherries as possible off the branches and straight into our mouths, continuing until we were discovered and made to run away as fast as we could. The cherry raids we called them, our expeditions. On a good day we had a chance to raid several trees in a row so in the end we would feel pleasantly full (and our mothers wondered how come we’re not hungry after a whole afternoon out).

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Also, my both grandparents, who lived in the countryside, had had a cherry tree each, so when I stayed with them in cherry season I could stuff myself dead with cherries until my stomach neared an explosion.

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Nowadays, I normally buy them from the farmers at the local market. I’m known to consume a kilo in one go all by myself. Day in day out. Yes, cherries are by far my most favourite fruit. Not only do I adore eating them fresh I also like to have them in desserts: clafoutis, cherry strudel, cherry and apricot gallette to only name a few. I might just poach them with a few slices of ginger and a strip of lemon zest. I might even buy a jar of those candied cocktail decoration stuff when I crave cherries out of season. I even used to freeze them – they freeze well. I never bother to pit them before using them.

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I simply love clafoutis but it’s probably been years since I attempted to make it myself. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that quite often I wasn’t really happy with the result. The best clafoutis I had was the one in  London at Le Cafe Anglais. To my deep regret the restaurant has been permanently closed but fortunately the chef’s Mr Rowley Leigh’s columns for the Financial Times are still running (too seldom though). I must admit it amused me to read his confession about the common disappointments in this classic French dish.

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Today I followed his recipe (yes, I separated the eggs) but I didn’t pre-cook the cherries. I don’t find it neccessary since I prefer the cherries firm. When I arranged them in the dish I tossed some little pieces of butter over them, sprinkled them with a spoon or two of sugar and a spoon of cointreau (in place of kirsch which I don’t stock). The rest by the book recipe (follwo the above link for it). It turned out remarkably well. Delicious too. Very much so, indeed.

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Jump!

I felt a last minute sensation the second I caught a glimpse of the almond tree in its final blossoming stage. At the same time I felt grateful for that occasion. It was rather late in the season, after all.

Blossoming almond tree

But the rewards on our trip to the coast were great nevertheless. There were blossoming peach trees galore and glorious magnolias of different shapes, colours and sizes aplenty. Wisterias have already woken up from their hibernation and proudly displayed their fat buds, which were just about to explode in fragrant bloom.

The day itself was as fresh as a daisy, bright and colourful just as the market day before Palm Sunday. A splash of colour all around.

A colourful market stall before Palm Sunday

The air was dense and heavy with sea salt, a little bit hazy but quite warm: neither coat needed nor the gloves.

Early spring mist over the sunset

The hedgerows and garden trees have already been trimmed, all ready for the Easter time show-off. The land work must have already started too although the fields even now, in the first days of spring, looked abandoned and cast-aside. I guess the soil needs more sun and its warmth to be ready for a serious makeover.

The birds were happy to perform for whoever wanted to listen, a brisk vivace at one moment and a joyful allegro at the next. It was a good day, breaking out of the ordinary for a while. Can’t wait for spring to jump out of the closet!

The tree top in early spring full of chirping birds

An Ode to February

I don’t know when it happened that people started to plan their summer holiday as soon as the Christmas period was over. As much as I try to fight it and to find excuses why it’s almost immoral to do it, I do get caught off guard in the January calmness and I start to check the websites, magazine clips I saved, notes I made in the past months, and to discuss the dates.

It’s clear to me that the earlier you book the more choices you have to choose from. The longer you wait and procrastinate the more you have to be flexible. In the early days you have the luxury to be picky.

Suddenly, you find yourself immersed in the expectations of long hot days, full of desire to see new places and eat wonderful meals, and feel blessed by the promise of dolce vita, as limited as it is. You notice the expressions like cooling linen bedspreads, airy silk dresses, refreshing seaside breeze, soft golden sunsets, and they echo in your everyday.

At times, dreary February still outside your window, you open the drawer to reach something and there seats this glass candle with an overwhelming fig tree fragrance that transports you to laziness and seduces you to have another glass of limoncello just to let it linger with you for a tiny bit longer.

It’s easy to get carried away and lament over grey skies of now. But you know what? I did all the necessities it took to secure our holiday and let it go.

That day we made ourselves fondue for dinner and it was totally appropriate, you know. The champagne bottle was chilling on the terrace. The candles were lit. The table all set. Baguette, fresh from the oven, still warm. Celebration of winter of sorts.

In the end, eventually, as I looked out of the window I saw it was snowing and the trees were slowly gaining their winter coat. I felt the peace within me that all was right, that the Earth rotated its usual cycle and the universe spelled whatever it usually spells. It was wintertime and it was snowing. Bliss.

What the Hell Is Wrong with Leonardo di Caprio?

It’s been a couple of weeks since we saw The Revenant. I felt kind of doped afterwards. It lingered in my mind for a while, it somersaulted within the curves of my thoughts, I kept stumbling across the associations that reminded me of the film but I couldn’t come round to it. Let me explain.

View of the snow capped mountains that might reminisce of the ones in the film The Revenant

I’m no fan of Leonardo di Caprio, I’m not a movie freak for that matter, I just like to watch a good movie now and then. Preferably European but by all means a serious, driven by quality movie. That said, I don’t mind a Hollywood production as long as it doesn’t insult my intelligence.

When this year’s Golden Globe winners were announced I accidentally overheard Leonardo di Caprio’s thank-you speech being broadcast on the national TV. Some words on indigenous people and the respect for first nations came out of his mouth. I couldn’t make much of it because, well, as I mentioned before, I only overheard it. Come and gone. It was enough though to produce a mental note that this might be a movie to watch.

The small talk at work added up although it was mostly about Tom Hardy, not the leading-role guy. The big trigger for me was Alejandro G. Inarritu. I loved Biutiful and Birdman. I was hooked by the “subtitle” of the latter: Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Magic. This director certainly knows a thing or two about titles. Among other things.

Luckily, The Revenant is on in our local cinema. Surprisingly so, as it is clearly THE movie and our local cinema is not as frequented. We both hate the gigantic cinema complex in the suburbs and have years ago decided to avoid it altogether. So early evening one Saturday we went.

It’s brutal, butchery, full of blood and slaughtering, it’s as vivid and intense as a movie can be. It was clear to me the first minute that it’s going to be about covering my eyes and ears. And so it was a couple of times during the two and a half hours. But let me tell you: it’s a wonderfully done movie and it goes by in a flash. The sound is fantastic, you hear every drop of melting snow falling off the branches of the trees, the angles and the colours and the rhythm of the sequences and the elements themselves are unforgettable. The countryside and the beauty of the landscape are overwhelming. The story? Here.

I was a fan of Davy Crockett, Robinson Crusoe and the likes when I was a child. I read the books like crazy and of course there came a time when reading was all about adventure in the glorious past times. I think I read Tom Sawyer in the same period. Angelika as well to be honest.

However, Hugh Glass, The Revenant, was not after adventures, I can tell you that. Nor were the Arikaras. Or other fur trappers. Or the armies. The adventures simply happened to them when they didn’t pay enough attention or they paid too much of it. Not sure about Fitzgerald though. He was kind of seeking trouble all the time. You know: asking for it. And here we go taking sides.

The actors are outstanding of course. The directing is superb. Well done. There’s not a second of boredom, none one too many detail. The rest is what you would expect in a Hollywood drama: a dramatic survival story, a constant underdog struggle, a wholesome manly power, to-be-anticipated turns of fate, and a flexible notion of justice.

So, let me ask again: what’s wrong with Leonardo di Caprio? Does anybody know? There must be something he’s done (or hasn’t done) to not get the Oscar continually. He’s an extremely good actor, excellent to be exact, so I guess he must be hard working and devoted and everything by the book. He gave numerous fantastic performances; he grew on me in Revolutionary Road and I found him very convincing in every role that followed. In fact, I can’t think of any disappointing performance by him. But should he get IT for The Revenant it just wouldn’t be just.