We are back. (See August 12, 2013 post, Belgrade, Serbia). Instead of returning to the apartment building with the dilapidated façade, we are living in the executive suites of a nice hotel three or four blocks south of the St. Seva cathedral. Our groups’ rooms are on the sixth floor of the hotel (seventh, actually, because in Europe the ground floor is not numbered, and the first floor is above it).  We have the floor to ourselves.

From our windows and thin balcony, the cathedral dominates the skyline. And then there are the bells. The main barrage comes at noon when many bells of different pitch peal forth seemingly in competition with each other. I suspect that they are amplified as there is a tinny, clangy quality to the sound that is not as pleasant as the resonant bongs that large bells should produce. The bells are also very loud. At other times of day a single bell announces the hour—but not every hour, only some of them—and it does so by striking twenty-five times. At first we disagreed about how many times the bell tolled. Some said twenty-three, some twenty four, but this was because sometimes the bell couldn’t be heard. If, however, you counted the space where the bell should have tolled it came out to twenty-five. Why? I have no idea. There is also some multiple bell tolling at other times, presumably to get people to the church on time. There was so much ringing on Saturday that I thought that it was the Greek Orthodox holy day, but, no, there was much more clanging, pealing, tolling on Sunday.

We arrived on a Sunday, and I noticed that some construction was going on below our balcony. Behind the hotel’s patio, where we have breakfast when the weather is fine, is a one story building with a flat roof. Piles of sand and gravel and some stacks of white blocks had already been hoisted onto the roof. Eight or nine workmen arrived on Monday morning and, using a small electric hoist mounted on one corner of the building, began hauling up more supplies. Arcs of iron rod, like the handles of Easter baskets, had been welded to wheelbarrows so that when the hoist’s hook was hooked to a barrow, the load, whether more sand or more blocks or buckets of water, would remain in balance while it was being lifted up the side of the building. At one point they lifted a small cement mixer that was soon sloshing away. Workers began laying down a course of blocks over a layer of concrete around the perimeter of the building. Were they going to add a second story to the building?  It didn’t seem likely, but other purposes didn’t come readily to mind. Over three days the wall grew to about three feet high, and then they started capping it with wooden forms into which they shoveled concrete. That part of the job was finished by noon Friday, and no one showed up in the afternoon. The next morning, though, a full crew was back, some of them building a kind of wooden bridge using 2x4s that ran across the middle of the roof. Other workers ran wires perpendicular to the wooden structure about three feet apart from one side of the building to the other, nailing them to the concrete forms that were still in place. I now noticed that rolls of green plastic sheeting had been hoisted to the roof, and by the end of the day the roof was completely covered and all the tools, the cement mixer, and the hoist itself had been taken to the ground and trucked away. I should note that the building’s windows were gone and the inside contained nothing but some rubble.

Rain was forecast, and I wondered if the new structure had sufficient pitch to shed the water. A little rain on Sunday left some pools in the plastic. Then Tuesday night, while we were having dinner in one of our favorite restaurants, a huge thunder storm swept through. For a while the ground was white with hail, and the rain was diluvian. Fortunately for us, the main brunt of the storm passed while we were having coffee, so we could walk back to the hotel without getting soaked.

The next morning, however, I checked on the project. The sheets of plastic had come apart where they had been fastened together, and, worse, the weight of the water that pooled in the plastic had pulled one of the walls part way over, breaking blocks and joints. The roof below the plastic was filled with water which was, presumably, just what the project was meant to prevent. I haven’t seen anyone come by to check things out, so I suppose it is possible that whoever contracted the job doesn’t know what happened. When we return next year we may find that the whole building is gone except for the wall that borders the hotel’s patio.

Meanwhile, I frequently went running in a small park a half block from the hotel. Under a tree, another laborer, a wood carver, was working on a large log about fifteen feet long, chipping out a face at one end and then a face at the other end. He worked methodically and from time to time would stop to sit on a bench and smoke and chat with other bench sitters. Eventually he would decide that his project was finished, and it would be.


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