My Balkan love affair began back in 2010 with my first trip to Subotica (Szabadka), just over the Hungarian-Serbian border. Since then, over many more trips, including a memorable first time in Belgrade, I’ve come to realise that Serbia and its people are one of a kind. Perhaps their history has taught them the value of living for today because without exception, every Serb I’ve met to date has an unparalleled appreciation for life.

While the rest of the world’s partiers spend New Year’s Day nursing a headache, feeling none too happy with life, and making all sorts of resolutions to behave over the course of the coming year, Serbians head out for Repriza (reprise). A do-over. A replay. And this I had to see.

Six of us convened in Subotica to acknowledge the start of the Serbian New Year last weekend and to celebrate two birthdays. The fact that I’m writing this a week later says it all; it’s taken me this long to recover. Six of us, from six nations, sat around a table in Jelen Salaš, a farmstead just 1 km from Palić lake. We brought to the table a mix of traditions from Serbia, Wales, Hungary, the USA, Romania, and Ireland. We switched between three languages and over the course of 12 hours, did our bit to store up good memories to get us through the week ahead. Thoughts of Trump as President were quickly decanted and sights were set on the now. [No coincidence, perhaps, that Jelen is Hungarian for the present.]

The platters of food – a meat lover’s fest – seemed endless. The musicians were in fine form. And everyone in the room was up for dancing. It was a riot. The wine and the šljivovica flowed, as did the conversation and the laughs. The waiters became part of the party. Cries of Mammia Mia! mixed with Oh, yeah! punctuated the night as the mood got better and better (and it had been great to begin with).

What struck me most was the hospitality shown, the size of the welcome, and the readiness to simply sit back and enjoy. Serbians, and their neighbours, have a respect for music and musicians that I’ve not seen anywhere else. I first encountered it in Belgrade and then later, in Sarajevo. It’s humbling.

For 12 hours it went on. And we hung in there till the end. It was a long train journey back to Budapest, but we lived to tell the tale. If memory serves me correctly, now that we’ve been broken in, as such, we plan on doing the real thing in Serbia next year. But even were I to start training now, I have serious doubts about my ability to do both NYE and Repriza. I haven’t an ounce of Balkan blood in me, and it shows.

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