Belgrade » Beograd | 67 ST R ANGE RS I N B E LGR ADE Belgraderswith strange names AMexican guy calledCarlos and a Chilean girl called Valentina, both ballet dancers of the National Theatre, found their second home in the Serbian capital, where the thing that bothers themmost is the košavawind and the thing that brings them themost joy is the Belgraders who accepted them like their closest relatives The love of ballet led to Carlos Rene Alvarado (22), aMexican guy born inWashington DC, and Valentina Abarzu (23), a Chilean girl born in Santiago, meeting in Ecuador in 2019duringtoursof their thenballet troupes. Their meeting was fateful: they fell in love at first sight, and life - with its unpredictable ways - brought them to Belgrade, straight to the stage of the National Theatre in the Serbian capital. “It was in March 2019 that I found myself in Belgrade for the first time, for an audition. I felt great excitement as I travelled fromthe airport towards the city. I was delighted by the wide fields beside the highway and Branko’s Bridge as a ceremonial entrance to the city centre, with many stylistically different architectural structures,” says Carlos. Valentina notes that Belgrade is the first European city she’s ever experienced. “When landing at the airport in Surčin, at the end of February last year, I was a little nervous at first, but everything turnedout easier thanexpected. And already when getting off the bus that brought me to my first stop in the city, Slavija, I was delightedwith the roundabout located nearmy residence. That day I took a walk past the beautiful buildingof theNational Assembly, because I was going that way to the National Theatre for my audition.” Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic and breaks in the repertoire, ballet dancers rehearse every day except Sundays. They prepare for performanceswithall theprecautionary health measures. “More than a year has passed since I arrived inBelgrade, andeverything ismorebeautiful for me, especially since I’ve had Valentina with me. I like it here, while I’m still most bothered by the košava wind I can’t manage to get used to. I grew up in California, with lots of sunshine and littlewind all year round, but I can’t wait for snow to fall.” Valentina is also of Latino blood and comes from a climate where there are no strong winds and frosts, so she says that our wind is like a new form of endurance training for her. Spring is their favourite season in Belgrade for now, because they both like riding bicycles along theDanubequayside and familiarising themselves with the city that has become their secondhomeon foot. “Here I found a similar rhythmof life andmentality to theMexicanone ofmine. I’mglad that peoplehere are happy to find ways to help foreigners, even when they do not know English or some other language. I often see tenderness towards children, and that reminds me of my compatriots, who have many children and large families,” says Carlos, while Valentina also says that she finds theemotional sideofBelgraders themost beautiful. “Thefirst thing I noticedabout theSerbianmentality is theway people care for their loved ones and their commitment to the family, especially children. You nurture the traditionofmarriageandstrong family ties. I like that. In our Latino mentality we all communicate informally, we greet cordially with almost all the people we meet on the street, even when we don’t know each other well.” Carlos speaks English better than Valentina, while he’s started putting together short sentences in Serbian. And Valentina, alongside English, is learning ever more Serbian words: “I learnt to say goodmorning, good evening, thank you, rakija and ćevapi in Serbian. I love fruit and vegetables, so I regularly visit Zeleni VenacMarket, because I like the atmosphere and the colourful stalls. The language barrier isn’t a problem – I easily reach an understanding with the traders using smiles and pointing,” says Valentina. “I like red bell peppers with onion in a juicy vinegar sauce and veal stew.The name of that dish is among the first things I learnt in Serbian, because it’s irresistible to me, just like ćevapi! Valentina loves prebranac baked beans themost, becauseshe’savegetarian,” laughsCarlos. This beautiful Chilean girl claims that it was only in Belgrade that she discovered how muchshe isrelaxedbytheritualofdrinkingcoffee, which she didn’t do in her home country. “It’s difficult for me to choosemy favourite cafe, because many of them have a pleasant ambience and atmosphere, but for now I like it the most when I drink coffee at the cafe-bar Kofein. They chatwith their families almost every day, telling them about Belgrade and waiting for them to visit. “The happy circumstance is that ballet dancing connects us to the whole world, and you actually never feel like a stranger wherever you dance. That’s why the two of us feel like localswith foreignnames inBelgrade.We also attend opera performances, listen to Serbian ethno and tavernmusic. Belgrade is now our home.” On voli teleću čorbu i ćevape, a ona prebranac. Oboje vole da voze bicikl duž Dunavskog keja i peške otkrivaju sve lepote Beograda He likes veal stew and ćevapi, while she likes prebranac baked beans. They both like riding bikes along the Danube quayside and discovering all the beauty of Belgrade on foot