One year in the late 18th century a Turkish ferryman on the River Drina, having just boiled some chicken eggs in horse urine to make them keep longer, though quite bewildered, dutifully counted no fewer than 800 Serbian builders and stonemasons crossing into Serbia from Osat, and all 800 were called John. He duly informed his superiors of this phenomenon. The builders then moved on in a wave of constructional fever and flooded the battlefield which had just seen the end of the Austro-Turkish War. In an unbelievable swelling frenzy, they were joined along the banks of the Danube by builders from Karlovtsi, Zemun, Sremska Mitrovitsa, Novi Sad, Osiyek, Panchevo, Ruma, from foreign parts and from the black plain - all sensing great building opportunities ahead. These "hingineers," "carpenters," "Baukünstler," "Bauhauptmänner," "joiners," "builders," and "stonemasons" spent the day buying mules, watching carefully to see whether the animals exhibited all five senses while grazing and drinking - otherwise they were no use - and spent the night dreaming that they stood on the edge of a vanished sea which in their fantasies still foamed and rolled in black plowed waves from north to south of the Pannonian Plain, breaking against the cliffs of Belgrade.
In unprecedented fervor and the shortest possible time, they raised or renovated the monastery of Mesich, the guesthouses of Vrdnik monastery, new churches at Krnyeshevtsi, Stara Pazova, Chortanovtsi in the Frushka Gora mountains, and at Bukovats, and they completed the cathedral at Karlovtsi, a belfry at Beshka, a chapel at Erdevik, and the church of St. Nikolai at Irig. These Serbs from the plain and from Bosnia, along with numerous Czechs, Germans, and Tsintsars, started drawing up contracts all over the place, signing them shakily with a cross, in Cyrillic or the Latin alphabet. These 800 Johns from over the Drina, or other builders with family names like Stanarevich, Laushevich, Vlasich, Aksentiyevich, Dmitriyevich, Lanerich, Georgiyevich, Wagner, Meizinger, Hangster, Hintenmeier, Bauer, Eben, Hask, Kindl, Blomberg, and Haker - drove their boats carrying wood and stone and their horses carrying lead, sand and quicklime. They dreamed of their distant wives, not as marriage and home-keeping had made them, but as they had once been. And they suffered silently since they could not weep in their dreams. They offered their building skills to landowners from the plain and traders from Serbia who controlled the caravan routes between East and West, and they proudly quoted their titles and references. Sporting moustaches after the Constantinople, Viennese, or Budapest fashion, they undertook incredible building projects in the two empires of Austria and Turkey, accepting payment in imperial ducats stamped with the head of Joseph II and his mother, old tsekins and new 'Napoleons,' silver forints, and silver-plated perpers. They took Egyptian dinars, aspers with normally grooved sides or with the silver grooves filed away, and occasionally even ancient folars from Kotor. They would sink them in 'Tamnjanika' wine to see if they were genuine, and continue building. They built without ceasing. Sometimes they were so tired they would forget themselves completely, and from their past they remembered only the smells....
Dreaming in five languages and crossing themselves in two different ways according to their faith, they built new Orthodox churches in Bachevci, Kupinovo, Mirkovtsi, Jakovo, Mihalyevats, Bezhanija near Zemun, and Dobrintsi. They washed their beards in the nosebags of their own cattle and preferred to build north of the 'salt-line' which ran along the Belgrade plateau dividing the northern salt earth left after the retreat of the Pannonian Sea from the southern fertile dark soil which had never seen sea nor salt. Above the saline subsoil they completed Serbian churches in the Danube and Sava basins, eating and drinking with their eyes closed so that the edifices would stay up and they erected new bell towers or reconstructed churches in Shid and in the monasteries of Jasak and Kuvezhdin.
Soon afterwards, hired by the Metropolitan of Karlovtsi, they set off for the fertile land south of the Sava and Danube rivers, south of the salt boundary. While observing the fasts of the Serbian, Greek, and Lutheran churches, they rebuilt or put up new churches like Krivaya, St. Roman at Razhan, Pambukovitsa, Rayinovats, and Cheliye. Slapping their horses on the hindquarters as if slapping women on the buttocks, they went through the Serbian Revolution of 1804 with adz and trowel, for the Serbian traders in pigs, wool, grain, and wax who paid for that revolution, also paid for the reconstruction of the monasteries of Krchmar, Bogovaja, and Ratsa on the Drina, Volyavtsa and Klisura on the Moravitsa, and Moravtsi below Mount Rudnik. Feeding their horses on salt and flour, these builders and carpenters repaired ancient monasteries damaged in the Turkish onslaughts - Manasiya, Ravanitsa, Preobrazhenye, and Nikolye, while others were taken on to build palaces for the rich aristocracy.
And all this new building bore the marks of ancient Greek architecture with pillars and friezes, and Empire facades in the palaces of the Serviyski family in Turkish Kanyizha, the Charnoyeviches in Orosin, the Tekeli family in Arad, the Stratomiroviches in Kulpin, the Odeskalki family in Ilok, the Eltsov family in Vukovar, the Hadiks in Futog, the Grazalkoviches in Sombor, and the Martsibanyi family in Kamenitsa. At the same time, military buildings began taking on a similar appearance - in the headquarters of Austrian border command posts at Petrovaradin, Titel, Zemun, Panchevo, and Vrshats. These new builders carried compasses decked with the flags of their guild and abandoned the fussy tabernacles, over-decorated cartouches, and heavy karnize of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.... Their rulers and plumb lines gave birth to simple Attic pillars with oval scrolls and, soon after, Empire portals with classic tympanums in the municipality buildings in Karlovtsi, Temishvar, and Kikinda; and even on the Empire facade of the spa in Melentsi and the local government building in Bashaid.
But they did not all achieve equal renown. At the dawn of the new 19th century, the village of Martintsi, in the face of other centers of building skill, produced a mason descended from many generations of excellent left-handed constructors. This was Dimitriye Shuvakovich. After 1808, together with his stonemasons, he put up all sorts of edifices at the whim of wealthy merchants and craftsmen in Banovtsi, Klenak, Adashevats, Beshenovo, Divosh, Vizich, Grgurevtsi, Ledintsi, Neshtin, and Yamina. His motto was and remained:
If you want to live long and happily on this earth, do not spare your efforts!
For the noble lord Serviyski, one of his most distinguished clients, Shuvakovich offered to construct an artificial cave containing the stone statue of a Greek god, while for another esteemed gentleman, Lord Nikolich of Rudna, Shuvakovich built a small palace, and beside it a fashionable park with imitation classic marble urns along its paths.
- And what are these urns for? - his client asked Shuvakovich.
- For the collection of tears.
- Tears? - said Nikolich, astounded, and sacked Shuvakovich on the spot.
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