Tuesday, November 13, 2007

sarajevo rose

Sarajevo roses are spots in the pavement where shells hit, and have been filled in with red concrete. I only managed to find a couple of them.

BiH is giving me writer's block. Since I was so busy socializing, I'm writing about cities days after I've left them. All the fatty food I've been snarfing is making me forget things, and I'm having trouble organizing my thought. The biological effort needed to digest all the squid and burek has left my brain functioning at goldfish levels. And I have a cold right now, making things more murky. At least I get to use the tube of Airborne I've been carrying all this time, thus lightening my pack by 1.7 ounces. Silver lining to my stuffy nose. Anyway, the BiH blogs may be a bit scattered.

Continuing my education about the Balkans War, the place I really wanted to see in Sarajevo was the Tunnel Museum. Extending for 800 meters underneath the airport, and barely high and wide enough for an average adult to pass through bearing a load, the tunnel allowed people to escape the besieged city, and supplies to come in. The Serbs knew some sort of tunnel was somewhere, but were never able to figure out where it was. It's now mostly collapsed or closed off, but about 25 meters of it are still open underneath the house that hid the entrance.


Standing in the yard and looking down at a hole in the ground, it reminded me of images from all the World War II books and movies I've seen, yet this was just over ten years ago. Seems that when it comes down to basic survival tactics and desperate measures, not a lot has changed over the centuries. But neither has fighting dirty; at the infamous section of road called Sniper Alley, snipers lurking in houses on the hillside picked off people who came down to the area for supplies. No matter how enlightened or technologically advanced we think we are, something barbaric always lurks in the psyche of mankind. Sobering thoughts.

My first day in Sarajevo I walked around town with Toni, a girl I initially met in Mostar. She had just finished a Peace Corps stint in Bulgaria. Halfway through the day we bumped into R (identity masked to protect the innocent from my barbs), also staying at the hostel. R was smitten with Sarajevo. "Oh my god, I love this city! Don't you love it here? It's so beautiful!" Together we went in search of the Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie were both shot, kicking off World War I. R excused herself to find a toilet and Toni turned to me. "I like how she's on crack." R was indeed high on the crack of life, and also seemed to have a case of ADD. She managed to stump both of us by asking what happened after WWI. Toni and I pondered the best way to answer this in less time than it takes to complete a semester of world history. The best I could muster was "Flappers." I ended up having dinner with R, and despite her somewhat confounding naïveté, she also had an incredibly positive outlook on everything new that came before her eyes. Nothing was going to get that girl down, which I had to respect, at least just a little.

One display that caught our eye at the museum next to the bridge was a gun labeled "Assassination weapon." Could this actually be the one object that kicked off WWI? We asked the guy selling tickets, but it turns out it's a replica. The original is kept in Vienna. Looking at the photos of the conspirators, we noticed that all of their moustaches were sort of wispy and scraggly. Franz Ferdinand, on the other hand, sported a rather grand 'stache. Toni and I wondered aloud if moustache envy could have been behind the assassination, and then worried that the one other woman in the exhibition with us would think we were irreverent, and clammed up. R and her ADD has left by this point. Did I mention that the museum was only one room of displays? That's what I mean by ADD.

R was certainly right about one thing, Sarajevo is a beautiful city. Gritty, but gorgeous. A lot of buildings were destroyed and damaged during the war, so something you have to perceive the beauty through boarded up windows and crumbling walls.

Sarajevo's old town is called Baščaršija, winding streets full of shops selling handicrafts and carpets. There's also a lot of copper and silver smithing here, some of it using the leftovers from artillery. Lots of pens for sale made from bullet casings. Baščaršija is full of things for the tourists, to be sure, but it was also full of Sarajevans as well, going about their normal days. Come to think of it, I think Sarajevo was the first place I've been where I didn't see one tour group. There did appear to be some sports team in town, which I noticed when I was sitting in the Holiday Inn using their wireless. Okay, it's going to sound a little weird, but I first noticed them because it was big bunch of black guys, which isn't terribly common in these parts. I later spotted a couple of them in Baščaršija, where their matching track suits made them stand out a bit. I suppose matching track suits are well and good in the gym, but sightseeing...way to stand out even more as a tourist.


A few of us from the hostel went to Baščaršija every morning for a Bosnian coffee. The café we frequented served its coffee with a lump of pink Turkish delight. The Turkish influence seems stronger in Sarajevo than in Mostar, but maybe that's just because the old town there is more extensive than Mostar's. At least the carpet salesmen aren't as annoying as the ones in Turkey. There are also a lot of Romany in BiH. I started getting hit up for money by women wearing colorful clothing and toting infants in Mostar. Children as well. I always wanted to ask them why they weren't in school. Sitting outside at the Sarajevo cafe, one little Romany kid kept coming up to us with his hand out, poking me in the shoulder. Another girl seemed to go out of her way to bump into my back after I shook my head at her. I was wondering if they were getting physical to weird me out enough to hand out some cash. I don't think it was a pickpocketing attempt, since I was sitting down at the time. I had some conversations about responsible tourism with some hostelers; ie, don't hand out money even if you feel bad for someone and they looked really wretched. I never feel bad not handing out money. Years of living in Berkeley and SF has hardened me to any pleas for cash.

Mostar and Sarajevo are the two main cities to visit in BiH, and I was thinking that I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't on the popular circuit. To really get a decent flavor of a country, you need to go to at least one place that isn't the capital, or main city. I had decided to spend a night in Jajce, but as the days in Sarajevo passed I started thinking that maybe I should just head to Serbia. I had spent way longer than I planned in Mostar, which was all great, but made me conscious of how much time I have left (not much), and how quickly it's passing. I was also thinking back to my Croatia experience, where going off to the tiny towns really hadn't resulted in any significant cultural experience. I couldn't quite make up my mind, and kept rolling different options around while wandering around. The weather was wavering between fairly mild dry and cold wet rain. Sarajevo is up in the mountains (1984 Winter Olympics), and a little dusting of snow was visible higher up on the hillsides. Thinking that I'm only going to be going to colder places as the winter progresses, I started scouting around for a waterproof jacket and boots. Food in BiH may be cheap, but fashion isn't. Deciding that a pair of boots was out of the budget, I instead snooped for something to waterproof the shoes I have, but since it was Sunday most of the shops were closed.

My last day in Sarajevo was a bit of a fizzle. I had the sad misfortune of staying at the same hostel as two American teenagers and a gaggle of Australians with the mental capacity of teenagers, and every night was treated to juvenile drinking inanity. It was like the northern and southern hemispheres were having a competition to see who could be the most immature. Kept awake by yet another idiotic conversation that I dearly wish I could erase from my brain, I made the decision around 2:00 in the morning to not go to Jajce. I didn't want to waste the daylight hours sitting on the bus to Belgrade, but didn't feel motivated to do much in town. I had lost my wall socket adapter, so I wandered down the main street searching for a replacement (found), and something to waterproof my shoes (not found). I did find a shoe repair place, but the guy didn't speak any English. I tried to explain what I needed, and think it came across as shoe dye instead of waterproofing wax. Through the one tooth in his head he did his best to explain to me where to go get a bottle of it, so I just listened, repeated the info, and wandered out. Deciding that strolling the wet streets wasn't offering me any cultural edification, I just parked myself in the Holiday Inn lobby until late afternoon. On the way back to the hostel I nosed around a few second hand stores and scored a Pacific Trail waterproof shell that only set me back 10 KM (convertible mark). I had changed back most of my remaining KM to dollars earlier in the day, but kept a spare 20 in case something unexpected came up. Another traveler at the hostel, Chris (not one of the children) was taking the same bus. We got cheap but delicious pizzas for dinner, rode the city bus 40 minutes to the bus station, and bought tickets to Belgrade.

1 comment:

sandy said...

uhm, who IS this and what have you done with the person who started this blog?

love the prose.

love.