SINKING MY TEETH INTO SUBOTICA, SERBIA: A TALE OF ART NOUVEAU & DENTAL TOURISM
Sitting in a dentist’s chair half-way around the world from ‘home’, I was told the disappointing news: I had my first, albeit tiny, cavity. Shawn and I had come to Subotica, Serbia to devour its delightful Art Nouveau architecture, but I hadn’t imagined that one of my teeth would be wearing a porcelain souvenir upon our departure from the historic city. While we’d read about Subotica’s gorgeous architecture and promising wine in a New York Times article dubbing it one of 52 Places to Go in 2014, we had only learned about the northern Serbian city’s well-respected dental tourism by chance, once we’d arrived there. Long curious about the medical tourism phenomenon, we sandwiched routine dental check-ups in between a Subotica walking tour, market visit and leisurely strolls.
As the dentist and her assistant initiated the drilling on my hitherto pristine tooth, they spoke in their native tongue, alternating to English whenever walking me through the procedure. The television monitor before me was there to distract and comfort patients, but a Nirvana video featuring Kurt Cobain violently thrashing a guitar did nothing of the sort, especially as the buzzing began and nervousness set in.
A few minutes later, with a successful and painless filling under my belt and pearly whites to boot, Shawn and I left the modern clinic. My bill had only come to about 35 Euros (roughly $40 USD)! With those prices, it was no wonder that the waiting room of this clinic had been filled with patients from Scandinavia awaiting dental implants and advanced dental procedures.
A spontaneous stop into Subotica’s tourist office earlier in the week had introduced us to staff member, Homolya ‘Levy’ Levente. Levy’s background, it turned out, was about as diverse as Subotica’s and the Balkans: he speaks Serbian, Hungarian, English, and a smattering of German, and has a mother that comes from Bosnia-Herzegovina and a father from Subotica. Just kilometers from Hungary, and once part of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Subotica’s population is today divided between ethnic Hungarians, Serbians, Croats, and Bunjevci people. It is one of Serbia’s largest cities.
With Levy having enthusiastically taken us under his wing, we embarked on a walking tour of the city, which was heavily focused upon its Art Nouveau architecture. On the way, we learned that the buildings’ designs had been largely influenced by folk art-motifs and that the area was once at the heart of a cultural crossroad.
At times, I imagined that the elaborate structures had spilled out from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, because of their colorful, whimsical nature. I loved the colorful ceramic tiles adorning select rooftops, the curved gables and symbolism galore – everything from beehives to hearts and gargoyles to flowers.
Indeed, we will return to Subotica someday. And, I won’t be surprised if we spend some planned time in the dentist’s chair the next time we return!
Tricia A. Mitchell ( U.S.A.)
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