Story and photos by Jim Bartlett, Editor-in-Chief
"We Hendrix speak, is international, da?" I said.
The boy with long hair looked at me and burst into hysterics.
"Him smoke much grass," my companion and guide informed me. He must have, he got laughing so hard he threw up. To the hoots of his friends in the cafe, he bolted down the stairs so fast he completely wiped out and careened into a group of others below. That was Steve, my first encounter with Serb counter-culture.
My guide, Goranj is the 15-year-old son of the family that hosted myself and Bruce from Discovery Channel while we were in Teslic. His room where I stayed was wall-to-wall Doors, Marley and Nirvana posters. He was one of the few people I met who was not buying the party line. Neither were most of his friends.
For days we had been stuck, virtual hospitality hostages. It had been one round of coffee, lunches and visits to friends with the occasional "show and tell". My requests to speak with local soldiers on the front line came to naught and it was endless political discussions. If they pulled out the map of the medieval Serb Kingdom one more time I was going to scream. Wonderful people, very open and giving and some of the best food I've had in a while, but it ain't the stuff of journalism.
Your papers, please
In the cafe, Goranji and Steve
compare identity documents
In Teslic, there is a section down from main street lined with cafes. They are not like the bars we have back in the U.S.A. They are little affairs with a bar and small area downstairs, and a second level with several tables. They're almost like little loft setups. Each one has its own flavor, and the kids drift from place to place as their fancy strikes them. One bar will be playing American rock while another will be cranking out local tunes. There is no drinking age here, so things get pretty rowdy on the weekends. After several maddening days with the older folks, I was ready to break on through to the other side. Turned out it was the hippest table in town. Almost every local band member was there. Singers, drummers, guitarists, and groupies. The only difference between them and my friends back home was the language and the situation.
Peace, music, beer.
Steve and "Poncho" chat about the local
rock scene. Teslic surrports a large youth culture.
"G-man, we gotta blow this place." I told Goranj. He readily agreed. Into the car, crank up the Black Sabbath, and we were free.
When we first got to the cafe we sort of sat over in the corner and chatted amongst ourselves. I was clearly an American. I don't know why, but we just seem to stand out. This was attracting some looks. Then Steve came over and that whole scene with the grass-smoker went down, nicely breaking the ice. Goranj and I were ushered over to the "hip" table.
None of these kids wanted anything to do with the war or the politics that started it. More than a few had even managed to avoid the draft. It is a precarious existence. As a journalist I was initially treated with some reservations, but when I kicked down on a couple of rounds for the table and broke out the blues harps the ice was gone. A fast, Delta jam goes a long way. That was where I began my ride into the vortex of youth culture in Teslic.
Everyone is pretty camera shy and strangely nameless due to present conditions, but all spoke freely. Tales of local weed-growers, insane groupie sex blowouts, the local coke lord, and all forms of musical discussions began flowing earnestly. Later we were taken to a couple of parties. The first one was at the local church where the rector's teenage son was have in one hellavah high school puke party. It was truly ugly. Some chick blowing up her guts in the john, and all the rest of them swarming around the alien American visitor. They were all very friendly and eager to voice their love of America, but after a while I got sick of having all my smokes bummed and wiping drunk-ass, teen booze-head slobber off my glasses. I nodded to my older companions and we blew that place for a bigger, wilder party.
A thirty-minute drive into the country brought us to the mother lode of local Serb blowouts. Loud techno music could be heard for kilometers and the place was packed. They even had busses full of kids rolling in. Back home, this place would have been busted by the cops in about three minutes flat.
Once in the door, and this place was much bigger than the cafes in town, you could barely move. Guys were doing donuts on dirt bikes in the yard, gallons of booze was going down, and here and there groups of "heads" were smoking in the new year with a vengeance. It was definitely a switch from the usual rounds of Serb history and "why does the world hate us."
If we hadn't had to split to pick up Goranj's folks I probably would have been there till dawn. Appropriately enough, this place was known as "The Jungle" and was definitely off limits to cameras. Except for the togas, it was right out of Animal House.
After returning to see Goranj's parents at their positively lame party, I thought about how the kids in this war really got screwed over. Their lives have been completely disrupted, many have been killed, and their dreams have been dumped down the tubes. All this for the petty prejudices of evil old men. Yet for the luck of my birth, there may have gone I.
Teslic, I will see you again.