Super Mario is actually called Ivan. The reason he’s called Super Mario is his big appearance and his bushy mustache. Super Mario’s camp is Ivan’s house and large yard, in which during the Guča Brass Music Festival people camp are allowed to camp for 5 euro a day. Conditions are basic. Drinking water comes from a hose. The shower is four pieces of sheet metal welded together with a water container on top. While showering I can observe the entire camp. Toilets are two wooden huts with holes hacked through a concrete plat inside. Everything that goes into the hole flows into the nearby river.
Staying at Super Mario’s camp includes breakfast and dinner, but nobody ever knows when those are served. Staying there also includes an unlimited supply of home made rakia. In fact, Super Mario’s only duty is to offer rakia to all new arrivals plus to periodically share drinks with other guests. His son Miro speaks English and he seems to be doing the communication with guests.
In the morning I get out from the small tent they’ve lent me and walk to the few wooden benches and tables. I sit down and a Polish guy I’ve met the night before at once wants to have a glass of rakia with me. I turn him down, it’s too early.
I sit and after a while coffee and pancakes are brought by a few women that seem to be preparing food inside the big house all the time. Together with the other guests I eat them with homemade jam, it’s delicious.
The other guests are a wild mix of travelers. One Polish guy has been coming to Guča for years. There are German psychology students, a Tunisian couple, an Australian teaching English in Breslau, a whole group of Serbs, a Norwegian guy, a Belgian guy and two Americans.
One of them is called Ebin and he’s probably the most geographically knowledgeable American I’ll ever meet. He doesn’t just know where Kirgistan, Abchazia and Transnistria are on the map – he has actually been there. For a while he has worked for the American chamber of commerce and now he’s making a trip through Europe before returning to the States. He has heard about the Zwarte-Piet debate in the Netherlands and voices his opinion of how racist the whole Sinterklaas tradition is. When I answer that at least in Holland black people don’t get regularly shot and that the Americans have a proud tradition of Indian genocide a long discussion ensues.
Later in the day my Swedish university friend finally arrives, together with two other Swedes. They have left their group of friends in Belgrade to come to Guča. We take a walk to the town and discover it’s actually quite small. Just two long streets with an enormous number of bars and restaurants. It seems like literally every house in town has been turned into a restaurant. Guča is famous for its yearly music festival, where brass bands and trumpeters compete for three days, before the best trumpeter of the year is chosen in a ceremony and then paraded around town.
Now it’s only Tuesday and the town is still a bit empty, though we can see it’s getting ready for the big day. It’s getting very hot under the Serbian summer sun and so we return to Super Mario’s. With the other guests we spend hours and hours sitting on the wooden benches, drink rakia, beer and water, smoking and discussing. Ebin says he thinks home is where you chose to live, where you like it and where you make your home. My friend and me disagree. Maybe in America you chose your home. In Europe, your home choses you. Wherever you are born, that’s the place where you learn the language and the customs and you’ll never be truly accepted in any other place.
My friend then convinces Ebin he’s published a book on conspiracy theories, but has to admit he lied when Ebin can’t find him on amazon.com.
In the evening we head into town with two German girls and walk past a big restaurant tent, where a whole pig and a whole sheep are being slowly roasted on a barbeque. A few pig heads are lined up at the buffet and we decided to try some.
We sit on the plastic chairs and one of the Swedes orders meat and salad. When the food comes it’s just regular meat, no head involved, but at least it’s a lot.
As soon as we start eating, the first brass band walks into the tent. The leader and main trumpeter is still young and the band looks like it’s all gypsies. They surround a group of eating Serbs and start blasting music right into their ears. After every song, someone from the group is supposed to give them a tip. Either by slapping it on their sweat wet foreheads or by shoving it down one of the trumpets. Soon a belly dancer arrives and starts dancing around the group of Serbs. It’s unclear whether giving money makes the band stop or continue but after a while they move on.
Since it’s still early in the festival there aren’t many people in the restaurant and before long the group comes to our table. Eating while very very loud music is being pumped at me is a bit difficult, as is being surrounded by ten guys. Finally one of us gives the band leader a tip and they move on.
Then the next band, with an older band leader comes in. They can play even louder and seem to connect better with the Serb group. It’s not long till the belly dancer defects to them and the gypsy band wanders off to play for tips elsewhere.
We have finally finished all the meat on our plates and pay the rather pricy bill. This might be Serbia but this is also the main cash making time for all the locals involved.