The breadtime story

The breadtime story

We crossed the Danube, then meandered through the forest of the national park heading towards one of the four former capitals of the Roman empire, when I decided to make a phone call. A male voice picked up and said: Jeremija speaking. I explained I was just calling to check if the museum was open. “Yes, we are here, awaiting you”, Jeremija answered. At this point I could not imagine that a very small museum in a very small town could make such a huge impact on me. I pictured Jeremija as a simple villager who had a love of bread making and decided to tell a story about it and, perhaps, display a tool or two, or whatever else he could think of, and call it a museum. But there was something in Jeremija’s voice. It was not a voice of a weary villager that spends his days labouring out in the fields, rather, it was cheerful and full of life and it was difficult to imagine that it belonged to an aged man.

Instead of following the road to Sirmium, we took the turn to Pećinci. The road took us to its end, where it intersected with the fields. On our left, the bus stop appeared as if placed right at the end of the world, and on the right, a cage-like entrance to a long ground-level building, resembling nothing more and nothing less but silos for storing wheat, corn and other harvested crops. It was hard to believe that this was our final destination – the museum of bread. That we were at the right place confirmed the image of the museum owner Jeremija hand in hand with a Serbian Nobel prize winner, Ivo Andrić. This juxtaposition of the unconventional museum building, the image of a great figure of Serbian literature and agricultural setting in which all of this was placed was a truly mind-boggling introduction to the artistic interpretation of the meanings and significance of bread in the Serbian culture.

We rang the bell. The owner opened the door in the fashion of a good host and admitted us into a small conservatory. The cheerful voice now belonged to the body of a 70-year-old man with wild, snow white hair and a pair of piercing blue eyes. He sat us on chairs and wanted to know more about us, who we were, what we did, what we liked, where we’d met; just the very usual questions made part of a very unusual reception.

The chatter was interrupted by Jeremija’s wife who invited us for a walk through the collection. And this is where the story about Jeremija and bread unfolded…

Jeremija is an artist-ethnographer who often travels and paints. These are most often the motives of rural, rustic, traditional Serbia which is slowly fading away: the old farmhouses, the windmills, the old stoves, the sheds. Jeremija’s work captures the aesthetic, ethnographic and traditional vales of the people and place, the ones which have not been protected by the government, and through his artistic expression he aims to immortalise them. In his work, however, Jeremija is mostly interested in ritual and cult bread (pogača in Serbian). In its honour, he decided to open the museum, the designing of which he approached in a similar way as he approaches painting. The museum, Jeremija’s life work, is conceptualised in such way to present the life cycle of a wheat grain – “From soil, over bread to the heavens”.

From the soil…

The so called ‘bread street’ starts with the archaeological collection of the tillage tools from pre-history and the Roman period between 100 AD and 500 AD. For the proximity of Sirmium, some of the archaeological material from this period have been ploughed out in the fields nearby and have been conserved in the museum. In order to popularise science, the museum hosts a number of faithful copies of well-known artefacts, like that of the Goddess of fertility which is displayed in the Museum of Vojvodina. The section on the harvest displays Neolithic, Celtic or Roman wheat milling tools, the machines used in domestic households from the beginning of 20th century, the bread scales, as well as the old baking ovens (furune in Serbian) which Jeremija found in Serbian villages and in which he found inspiration for his paintings.

… over bread…

Bread is very important in all cultures. In Serbia in particular, it is the old traditional custom to make liturgical bread for big religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Slava, the family patron’s day. It used to be made for child’s birth and as a gift for newlyweds, an antecedent of today’s wedding cake. All the breads have a spiritual meaning. In Serbian culture there is a saying that the whole human life occurs between the bead for a newborn and the bread for the deceased.

…to the heavens

The path led us out of the museum to the small chapel in the garden. It was still work in progress; the ceiling was covered in frescoes, but the walls were still undone, as well as the floor. Jeremija explained that the floor was made of wooden logs of various trees that he had collected on his travels throughout Serbia. Walking on the floor, he explained, would be like walking through whole Serbia. The frescoes on the ceiling depict the pre-Christian and pagan divinity, the saints holding the bread, the Nemanjić dynasty and Christ converting the pagans into Christianity.

We finished our visit in a warm and cosy dining room where the family admit guests and celebrate their Slava. In the olden days, the kitchen was referred to as ‘the house’, as the hearth of home and the place where the members of the family would gather and prepare food, and from which the light and warmth of home would radiate. On one of the walls was displayed the document certifying that Serbian Slava had been put under the government protection as well as inscribed in the Unesco’s list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. This is how we found out that Jeremija made his contributions to this achievement. He also brought to our attention the traditional Vojvodinian cipovka, ‘the bread that laughs at the moon,’ and the recent attempts to protect its 300-year-old recipe as an intangible cultural heritage.

The playful ginger cat (which never meows) waited for us after vacating the dining room. Having journeyed through the lifecycle of wheat, we were convinced that we stood at a spot of invaluable cultural importance. Jeremija’s museum of bread is not just a tiny pop-up bread exhibition (as I might have thought before my visit), rather, it is a cultural treasure embodied in material artefacts brought together through decades of dedicated collection and creation, and led by a vision of an artistic mind. No wonder that the European museum forum nominated it for the Museum of the Year and the International Council of museums took it under its auspices for the outstanding value it has within the Vojvodinian, Serbian and the world’s cultural spaces.

The artist, curator and above all a great host, Jeremija walked us out of the museum. In the space between the bus stop and the crops, he told us a story about his encounter with Ivo Andrić, his life in Belgrade and his decision to move to Pećinci. “Remember, the most important decisions you make when you are young”, he said and waved us goodbye.

Jeremija - The Serbian Museum of Bread

Link to the official website.

Business and leisure in London Docklands

Business and leisure in London Docklands

World Travel Market is held annually at ExCeL, an exhibitions and international convention centre nested at the Royal London docks, between Canary Wharf and London City Airport. Together with hotels, massive carpark for thousands of cars, and two Dockland Light Railway (DLR) stations, makes a gigantic cluster of so called nonplaces. (more…)

The contested past of Ukraine

The contested past of Ukraine

In the early 1930s, the great famine descended on Ukraine. Claimed to be an intentional and man-made act which aimed to prevent the Ukrainian independence movement by Stalin, the term Holodomor carries in itself a weight of tragedy, suffering, and great human loss. There are still scholarly debates whether or not the Holodomor was intentional and genocidal, however, in 2006, the Parliament of Ukraine voted to recognise this event as a deliberate act of genocide over Ukrainians. To preserve the memory of the tragedy and honour the victims, the Memorial to Holodomor Victims was erected in 2008 on the 75th anniversary of Holodomor on Pechersk hill overlooking the river Dnieper.

The museum is located under the monument and its architecture is full of symbolism. Through permanent exhibitions, movies and artefacts it interprets the great famine that wiped off seven to ten million ethnic Ukrainians. The monument is of a candle shape, dotted by cross-shaped glass windows of various sizes and of traditional Ukrainian embroidery pattern, symbolising souls of starved people. The bronze figures of storks soaring from the base of the monument represent the rebirth of the Ukrainian nation. The most prominent symbol however, is the statue of a young girl (named the Bitter Memory of Childhood) positioned amid the alley leading towards the monument. She is barefoot and anorexic, but looking hopeful with her arms crossed over her chest. People interact with her every day by placing biscuits, fruits and candies by her feet, to symbolically help her go through difficult times.

Since it regained its independence after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the recent Ukrainian history has been mostly interpreted through political unrest and civil protests. The Orange Revolution of 2004, a chain of protests nationwide that occurred as a reaction to the results of fraudulent presidential elections, was followed by the Maidan in 2013/2014. This time the Ukrainians were revolted by the government’s decision to maintain closer ties with Russia rather than join the EU. Various installations at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) speak of this three-month heroic event which resulted in deaths of nearly 130 (mostly young) civilians and policemen, and removal of the president Viktor Yanukovych who succumbed to the pressures of the protesters, eventually fleeing the country.

The Maidan square and the Khreshchatyk street were the main points of protesters’ gathering, however there were several spots nearby which were spaces of direct conflict between the police and protesters. While walking along the Institutska street, one can see the body-shaped outlines marked on the ground, in this way commemorating the ones who heroically sacrificed their lives to fight for human rights, more democratic future, and against the corrupt government.

Chernobyl nuclear disaster is a well known and documented event that is claimed to be the major reason for the implosion of the Soviet political system. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone tells the story of the catastrophic event of the night of 26th April 1986 when the nuclear rector 4 exploded and released enormous amounts of radioactive matter into the atmosphere. The Zone is now available for visits in he company of a qualified guide, who interpret the places and events that were taking place in the area.

One of the most photographed places in the Zone is perhaps the central square of Pripyat which has been entirely taken over by vegetation, as well as the ferris wheel which was open for Mayday celebrations and were in use only one day. This however, is the most radioactive spot in the Zone, and some chairs are marked with ‘X’, signifying the hotspot; a place where the geiger counters go crazy.

The alternative way to learn about the event is by visiting the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum located in the centre of Kiev. While it is a visually engaging experience that exhibits various aspects of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, complimentary to the Zone, in no way can it be compared to being there in person. Original instruments, uniforms and personal belongings can be seen there, as well as the impressive movie showing the construction of the new sarcophagus in 2018.