Life, Novels

Towards the Heights of the Holy Despot
He was growing up by the relics of Dušan the Great and always used to greet warriors-guards in front of Ružica. He remembers one issue of ”Svetosavsko zvonce” and some yards of Palilula, likes Hugo, Pushkin and a whole bouquet of Serbian poets. He reached the ancient layers within us with music, heard our relatives in time and anticipated deep connections, beautiful and mysterious. He spent only two hours in Dublin, yet remained there forever. His heart gave him a yellow card back then, and he is a wise player. He remained enchantingly common, ”a true anti-star”. He does not play important, he is important

By: Branislav Matić

You think you have Merlin’s school friend before you, Lancelot’s magical lute player or the boatman of Avalon. And it isn’t. It is our Aca Celtic, vivid Belgrade citizen, a sprout of deep Celtic layers within us. He was born on St. Thomas day in 1969. His father is from the Timok area, from Zagrađe in Zaječar, and his mother a merge of Moravska (in the Czech Republic) and Belgrade, ”with a Valjevo branch”. His ancestors were teachers and soldiers, aristocrats and musicians. He is a musician too, frontman of a famous band, radio presenter, editor in Radio Beograd Children’s Program.
You meet him and ask: ”Where are you, Aca?”
He joyfully replies: ”Eeeverywheeere!”
And already passes around the corner, like a bird.
However, he was willing to be caught into the net of this conversation.

White City. Belgrade... Ha, my Belgrade is somewhat more peaceful, calmer, with rivers flowing slower than in the one we have today. Yes, there are a few places which always stir up my feelings, sometimes even trigger a few tears.
Interestingly, my sacral places in Belgrade are truly sacral.
Church of St. Mark. The Chivalric Church in which Emperor Dušan dreams his eternal dream. His sarcophagus has always provoked my imagination, returned me to the book Magical World of Đorđe Lobačev. I also remember priest Gvozden from the small Church of St. Sava, before the Big Church began rising. One Sunday, I think, he brought Svetosavsko zvonce. Even today I have this magical book with golden-purple covers somewhere in my home.
As I was growing up, my Belgrade views were growing wider. My parents used to take me to a morning walk through Belgrade on weekends. It was often the two of us, my father and I, while my mother stayed at home, so that we could have a proper lunch afterwards, ”with a spoon”, as our people say. In ”Kališ”, a boy simply gets dizzy from all those towers and cannons. My favorite place, even today I like to go there with my children, was another chivalric church, Despot’s Ružica. To say hello for the hundredth time to the warriors guarding its entrance, to stop at the Church of St. Petka for a glass of spring water and to, at the bend on the road between the two churches, greet major Dragutin Gavrilović and his heroes. (...)
There are certainly other places which were important in my life as well.
I was able to enter KST (Club of Technical Faculty Students) whenever and however I pleased, even though entrance was permitted only to those above 18. The father of my ”club friend” Goranče was the Faculty janitor and they lived in an apartment next to KST. I spend half of my life in KST, it was the place I met my wife. We rushed every Saturday to Dom Omladine to ”Hit of the Week”. The crème de la menthe of Belgrade rock and roll came to the garden of SKC. At one point, ”Akademija” was second on the list of the best European clubs.
I could also tell you about some dear ”common places”, some yards in Palilula, passageways in Vračar, paths and roads then known only to my generation. But it would take long. And we should also leave something for later.

Cities I relate to. There are two more cities in which I literally feel at home. I went to Thessalonica every year, sometimes even twice a year. If we exclude what was constructed during the last fifteen years, I know it as the top of my palm.
I had one of the strangest feelings when I first went to Paris. As the bus entered Paris, after twenty-five hours of making our way through half of snow-blocked Europe, a thought just passed my mind: ”I arrived home!” Even now I cannot explain it, at least not rationally. I had that feeling only when I came to a leave from the army, after six months of being away. I woke up at the entrance of Belgrade, saw the ”Genex” tower in New Belgrade and, as if in a trance, put my face against the glass with tears coming from my eyes. But, ok, nobody saw. A soldier doesn’t cry!
Later I related it with the manner the center of Belgrade was constructed, looking after the Paris triangles, and the fact that both Belgrade and Paris are the cities of Virgin Mary. Perhaps this explanation is ”too metaphysical” for some, but either way, the fact is that in both of those cities I feel as if I were at home.

How Baš Čelik was tampered. We were growing up in a fortunate time, when you had to put an effort to get to something that really matters to you. Sacrifice something. Not everything was at the reach of our hand or ”a click away”. You couldn’t cancel an already scheduled meeting, you couldn’t immediately hear a song that interests you, but had to wait for the record or patiently hunt it on the radio. You had to tell people things eye to eye. This taught us patience and responsibility. It taught us to plan and think, finally to respect each other.
We all read, listened and watched.
This today, this ”instant society”, in which everything is told by typing on the keyboard, has nothing to do with it. Every time has its postulates and its values, but it seems to me that this generation gap is a bit wider than the previous one.

Contemporary poets’ society. I discovered poets much later than prose writers. I guess that’s how it goes in life. The entire palette of Serbian poets is important to me. From the long gone, unknown ones, who sang all those epic poems that have fed me since my childhood, to the later ones who preserved the national identity and patriotic enthusiasm and never refrained from expressing it. I have been reading again Dučić in the past few months, I know I will also return to Rakić, Đura, Dis, Laza Kostić, Zmaj, Branko...
And here is where suddenly He comes up! More than a poet, much more. A role model. Holy Despot Stefan Lazarević!
As for the foreign ones... Um, he’s not foreign to me, he is mine! The one and only, the most loved of all poets: Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin!

Fatherland. Serbia is my Fatherland. It is a great gift in the XXI century to live in a country you can call Homeland and Fatherland at the same time. Not a single American lives in his Fatherland, nor has the right to call his country that, except for a few Indians that survived. And instead of being proud of our Fatherland, we undermine it. We are foreigners in every other place of the world. This is our only home.

In the constellation of the Celts. The legend says that my first word was: Celtic. It was during the Champions Cup finals ”Celtic” – ”Feyenoord”. At least that’s what my dad claimed. And it wouldn’t be logical if it were different.
My introduction into the world of the Celts simply had to happen. Later it spread in many directions, mainly artistic and historical. From the subconscious vigorous reaction to the melody and meaning of the strange music from the ”Dubliners” records, John Renbourn, ”Jethro Tull”, the famous third album of ”Zeppelin”, to my later serious fascination with ”The Pogues”. Their appearance had a crucial influence on everything that later happened with me.
This is where the images of brave, joyful Celtic jokesters emerged before me, voracious and good drinkers, great naggers, restless and quarrelsome people, yet endlessly loyal and committed to their families, friends and finally their country, faith and heritage. In brief: the Celts.
Of course, this was only the beginning of the road which I took and reached the place we are at the moment.

Reflections, relations. Echoes of a long gone past, which I certainly had to explore, reached me through these songs. Then, along the way, you meet Miloš Crnjanski and his thoughts about that mystical Serbian-Celtic similarity; Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, a book in which you unmistakably recognize the echo of Serbian mythology and old faith. Then you meet Ranka Kuić, whose epochal work on 5.000 pages about the Serbian-Celtic parallels nobody here found a reason to publish, still standing somewhere in Wales (luckily, the short version, published under the title Red and White, did find its way to those interested in it)... You also meet many others who feel that there is something more than pure consideration towards a geographically so distant, yet so close nation.
To make a long story short, it is enough to say that the Serbian and Gaelic languages have about 4.000 words and toponyms in common, from Tara, Juhor, Avala, Dunav, to Era. We share some archetypical rhythms and melodic structures characteristic only for the areas we populate. Of course, we also have in common the famous saying that we love to ”eat, drink and make three points for an away win”. Finally, half of Serbia lives in Celtic cities. And don’t forget, we are both afraid of only one thing: of the Sky falling on our heads!

My ”Fellowship of the Ring”. I like to say that the ”Orthodox Celts” band was put together by St. Patrick, Irish St. Sava, personally. How else could you explain that so many different people, at the time when people didn’t know much about Ireland in Serbia, gathered around a single common point: Irish music? And we gathered for a simple reason – it was our way of expression. This is where we felt safe, this is what we were and remained. This goes for everyone that passed through ”Orthodox Celts”, and not many band members changed, only when really necessary.
I mentioned already that we are all different. Completely. From the music we like to political views and gastronomy. But that’s the point. Each of us brought a part of ourself into the ”Celts” and built it into our unique sound. They say there is no such thing as the best guitar player, best singer, best band... There are only those you recognize always and everywhere. And they say that you cannot mix up ”Orthodox Celts” with any other band playing such kind of music. That’s our greatest success.

Two hours in Dublin. Sounds strange, perhaps even incredible, but I spent only two hours in Ireland! It’s even stranger than those two hours were more than enough for me to confirm everything that made me fall in love with it. Two hours of wandering in the Dublin port and its surrounding were more than three days of riding in some other place. And yes, the confirmation of my earlier conviction that blood is thicker than water came from there!

Anti-star. Nick Cave once said: ”I’m Nick Cave on the stage, but when I come down, I’m Henry’s dad!” I’m somewhat different: even on stage I’m Stefan’s and Jovana’s dad.
The greatest temptation is to remain on stage as you are away from it, not to permit the cheering of the mass elevate and corrupt you. In fact, I’m a real, authentic anti-star. I persistently refuse to admit that I’m different from the others only because I’m on stage and watch them from it. These are only moments. However, I’m the same person at the green market, in the schoolyard when we play football, when I take my kids to kindergarten and school, when I’m in a city bus... I do whatever most other people do. It’s sometimes unpleasant when you think you cannot take a walk through Knez holding your wife’s hand without being noticed, but that’s how it is. The few seconds of taking a quick photo means a lot to someone, so who am I to deprive him? And that’s it: the temptation to remain normal, healthy and upright, with both feet firmly on the ground, and the gift that enables you to do what you love most.

I’d change, if I could. I don’t think so! Whatever I changed in my life willingly, life itself returned me to complete the lesson. I think that everything that happened was supposed to happen. Finally, if I played differently, it wouldn’t be me.

My heart stroke me. Yes, literally, on stage. It snapped. Still, I think it’s only a ”yellow card”, a sufficient warning to a smart player. It’s not that I’m afraid of going to the other side. But, I know that, if I go too early, my loved ones will be deprived of some things they should not be. Therefore I don’t intend to repeat this episode.
What new did it bring into my life? Before all, the knowledge that others depend on you much more than you wanted to admit before, that you’re not almighty and that such things don’t happen to ”someone else”. That’s why I removed from my life everything that brought me to the border, hoping that I will see that border again in about a hundred years at least. Then we’ll talk about it.

”The talking box”. ”The radio is the last thing you hear”. The national radio is the first and last voice of a state. If Radio Beograd disappeared, we’d know that the state had disappeared as well. And, heeey, I’ve been in that Radio Belgrade for a quarter of a century. Longer than the ”Celts” exist. As much as I’m part of the Radio, after everything we’ve been through, the Radio is also a part of me. I think it can be heard in my shows. That is where I feel at home. Literally. I’m sorry television has become dominant in the speed of launching news, because the radio is naturally a faster media. But this is also coming to its place, just wait. Nine days’ wonder.

Reasons for hope, despite everything. Some say that I’m an immoderate optimist and that I’m always positive. I guess that’s my nature. What else could we do? I draw it from everything around me. Life is wonderful, the world is wonderful if we see it that way and take the right point of view. At home, at work, on stage... I do what I love most, in a way I find most convenient, as sincerely as possible, with all my strength, without any reserves, without compromise, I’m surrounded by people I love. What else could one ask for?


Literature and Music
– At one point, Orwell’s ”1984” truly disturbed my image of the world. I was, I think, about 14. Some would say: too early for such a book. But I chose it for ”free reading” and wrote a tractate on eight pages. My teacher didn’t believe I wrote it myself. Then came other great writers. My favorite was and remained Victor Hugo (”The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, ”Les Misérables”...).
Music has always been an inseparable part of my being, and this part is very crowded. But, let’s say that Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Jethro Tull, Iron Maiden and The Pogues always meant more to me than others.


– I studied inorganic chemistry at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, but I never envisioned myself in a lab and white coat. It was the family inertia pulling me to study the same thing your parents had. However, life arranged it differently. After the army, I entered Radio Beograd and stayed there until the very day.


The Call
– Besides all those places I’ve already mentioned and often visit, there is another place magically attractive to me: Rtanj. As if it calls me to come. Roots are deep.


– I’d like to find time and write a novel which has been in my mind for years, but I’m aware I’d have to be alone and in peace as long as necessary. What awaits me until then, I cannot even imagine.


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History of the Heart


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