I was sitting over dinner with three women about ten kilometers east of Belgrade: my Serbian girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s daughter. The men of the family – two brothers, two cousins – were in the city, and all of them were armed because one of the brothers had almost been attacked by an enemy family. Luckily, the police turned up in time. This had occurred in the afternoon, and it was now evening. My girlfriend’s sister explained how it all started. A couple of years ago, drinking at his local, her husband’s brother offered to buy a drink for a man who didn’t like him. When the man scornfully declined, her brother-in-law pulled a gun and shot him in the leg, whereupon he went to prison for two years. Two weeks ago, he was released, and this afternoon, promptly ran into the man he had shot, surrounded by a group of friends. The house we were in stood all by itself, surrounded by snow. It snowed here day and night. The thought of what might happen next flashed through my mind. Instead of the men returning home, would their enemies come for the women? What would I do then? I had not spoken aloud, but the women read my thoughts. “I think Helge needs a slivovitz,” my girlfriend’s sister said. Then she thought I might need a second one. I helped myself to a third, and by the seventh glass, I was on my feet declaring that they would be fine because I would protect them. I was itching for a fight with a couple of Serbs. That’s when my girlfriend’s sister said: I think Helge’s had enough now. Nothing happened, of course. Nobody met anybody in town, and the men all came home in one piece. I’m only telling this story to explain what slivovitz does to you.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.