The following is reprinted with permission from Rob's Blog, a blog about rural and traditional life in Serbia. If the beautiful Serbian landscapes and lost-in-time rural life appeal to you, Rob and his wife (who are British) offer a rental cottage and rural tourism activities for visitors. There are more lovely photos on both websites.
Out on the Atar - by Robert Maccurrach - May 23, 2009
Coming across Djordje Novaković and his daughter Eta drawing some fresh hay home with his Lipizaner mares Sonja and Beba I discovered that next day he was making a long journey. With mares, foal and fijaker he was setting out for Subotica to carry bride and groom and guests from the church to the wedding feast. This, it turns out, is his summer work. Once or twice a month he is on duty with his beautiful old fijaker and perfect team. When I asked if he would like some company he welcomed me to join him. “Hvala Bogu,! Dobro došao!” What a privilege it was!
heat of the day, not long after noon, we set off with feed, hay,
festive clothes and everything he needed for a 2 night stopover in the
old Empire's Baroque city of fine buildings and churches. It is a very
long way to Subotica by road but it turns out that an abandoned railway
line takes you there over 40km across country in a straight line. This
makes all the difference. On the way out of the village every time a
car or truck came towards us the foal, only 5 weeks old, shied
violently. “He's got to learn!” said Djordje with a reassuring flick of
his whip. The fact that no one slows down for horses shows that drivers
and horses are quite used to each other.
Soon we were heading out along a hard and good track, leaving our neighbouring village Pacser behind us, striking out across the atar as the open farmland is called. The land spread away to an infinite horizon with a wide open sky under the hot May sun. A breeze kept us cool and the land rolled slowly by to the sound of iron rims on sandy gravel and Djordje's constant talking to his horses. The foal, tied to Sonja's harness, settled down and jogged along happily. A horse drawn cart is surprisingly noisy. The background murmur of bird song from trackside cover was only occasionally obvious. Nightingales sang and bee-eaters sailed bubbling in the blue. Red-backed shrikes flitted from the tops of rose thickets. I even spotted a pair of wheatears. Alas no chance to stop and investigate things. On we walked steadily passing bright pink wild peas, yellow Euphorbia and purple sage.
Most crops looked very dry and many were also dirty with weeds. Was this a result of credit squeeze or cost cutting? It is disastrous not to weed maize and soya. Winter wheat and barley were almost ready for harvest, but very short and probably very poorly cropping. This sandy ridge of land that arcs out from Subotica for about 50 kms is what Djordje calls “hungry land”. It is light and easy to work, but it needs manure. When rain doesn't come the crop is quickly burnt up. Under such conditions the traditional wheat and barley do better while the non-native maize and sunflower shrivel up.
long ago the land would have been full of people hoeing and weeding by
hand. But they have left. Everywhere there would have been thriving salaš ,
the little farmsteads of the open plains. Few have survived the process
of post WW2 collectivisation and industrialisation. The places where
they sank back into the ground are marked only by old fruit trees or
scrub, much favoured by shrikes. Occasionally we passed a salaš
where the mud brick walls where collapsing, paint as bright as hope
still visible. Nearer Subotka, as the city is called in Magyor, the salaš became a little more prosperous. They could sell milk and cheese and peppers in the town. They even drove cars observed Djordje with what might have been envy. This whole salaš culture is best preserved in a host of traditional and contemporary songs; from Djordje's stories of his travels by fijaker it seems that life is often little changed along the “summer tracks” across the atar.
Stopping in the shade about every hour to let the “little one” suckle we finally approached the city. It is a sight no longer possible in the urbanised West to see a city's cathedral and art nouveau “rathaus” from 8 km away across open farmland. As we crunched our way along with a lowering sun and cooler breeze the city's skyline drew us ever closer. Away to the left were blocks of flats looking straight out over the crops. To the left was the centre, a red roofed Reformed church with spire, the more sombre twin spires of the Catholic cathedral and a host of old shady trees.
Djordje and his team to overnight with friends and prepare for the next
day I went off in search of a bus, feeling a little light headed and
hungry but very happy! “Then man goes out to work, to his labour until
evening. How many are your works, O Lord!”