NOTES FROM THE BALKANS
Travelling creates a headspace for endless reinvention of the self, a recomposition of its facets and a weaving of them into new, more fictional, territories, away from the familiar eyes of friends and family. Our familiars harbour dated ideas of us, they solidify our identities simply through having seen us over a period of time; how comfortable are we in being ‘known’? Breaking from our mundane captors into lands that know nothing of us, we can spin tales and projected elements of our characters that we had previously talked of but are now able to epitomize. This is why every backpacker bemoans others and the tourists traps that expose the shared desire to define originality through the world at large, our external environment optimistically transposed to reveal some untouched upon aspect of human experience. It’s most mystifying how personal perspective is disregarded in the rapid flitting through masses of the world’s scenery, reducing the budget travellers to little more than the uniform cameras they use to soak up the imagery.
Two young boys sit with their mother in the train carriage with me, wearing Serbia football shirts, while their mother dozes against the window. I ran for the train in summer heat and am now sufficiently sweating and frustrated by the stuffy carriage. The ticket collector comes; in Hungarian she tells us all to move. We move. She returns again, and tells us to go further, dismally gesturing on and on to us all. Only the front two carriages of the train from Keleti, Budapest go to Sarajevo. Sitting back down, the two boys have realized that I am English; as I read one of them makes jokes about me, doubling up his brother by saying occasional things to the side of my face, thinking i don’t understand. I eventually look him straight in the eye and ask him his name is, and call him a naughty man; the mother smacks her son on the leg, overwhelmed by fresh embarrassment, possibly for not having stopped him earlier. I say that I am English and do not really understand.
They pull they pin on the bulk of the train at Pecs, not far from the Hungarian border. This leaves you without about eight hours to go before arrival in the BiH capital. You can smoke on the trains, tying string to the heavy, spring back windows and ventilating the old fashioned east European khaki seating and six room carriages. Of all the countries in Europe this is the only one I have truly wanted to see, one that I have wanted to visit for an especially long time. The edgy stigma surrounding Sarajevo comes back to me as soon as i step out from the train station, later than due by an hour and a half, causing me to miss the uniform lift that would’ve taken me and other travellers to the hostel near Bascarsija square. Two Danish lads rendezvous with a fifty something American who had joined the train somewhere in Croatia; He sat in my carriage and i know that he had skin cancer and had spent five years working in a cannabis factory in Holland. He had met the Danish guys in croatia and they plan to race the American to the top of the Bosnian pyramid that exists in a town called Visoko; the pyramid isn’t an official archaeological find, much uncertainty exisiting over what it is exactly, if anything at all. I ask them if they know the way to Bascarsija square; they tell me to follow the tram lines because they have seen a sign somewhere that says that, or to get the number three tram, A taxi driver pulls up, asks me where I am going; he says twenty Marka and I tell him no chance and he drops it to fifteen; he has a broad baby face, a pinkened complexion which mingles with a definite intensity upsetting his generic type with a unplaceable brutality. I am nervous—i do not like city’s at night. I remember being lost before in Croydon, looking for a friends house til four in the morning and ending up sleeping on a mattress left on the roadside. I remember the years i worked in a city centre bar, every weekend witnessing an incessant stream of violence; understand that i am not afriad, but that i am not careless, and distrust people simply through having dealt with them in countless contexts.
I followed the tram lines; I came to typical high street just beyond perpetual construction site and apartments so typical to this part of Europe. At a open cafe I ask a young guy where Bascarsija square might be; he answers in perfect English, rendering my poor pronunciation of his mother tongue redundant, teasing his friend who attempted to override his directions, saying you should not listen to him, beginning a banter of, him; who me? My friend here, he throws a sarcastic hand his way; or should i say co worker? I’m just your co-worker now you piece of shit? Don’t listen to this guy, he’s not from here. I had spoken to three people, ready to unleash my patchwork quilt of east European language in order to reach my destination; there’s is no need. The people here generally speak English more fluently and with greater confidence than, say, the Czech or Polish. The high street goes from typicality to cobblestone Turkish; i pass a mosque, cafes. I see a drinking fountain and the relief of my hostels name.
It was late, I reached the Ottoman style Bascarsija square too tired and flustered to really pay attention to it; my cheap hostel was a twelve bed, three bunk set up. The joyous aspect to this is that every time someone turns on their side in the middle of the night the whole thing creaks as if the support is about to give and they will crash through ontop of you; I didn’t sleep well the first night. I had not seen the city yet, I had seen few of the people. I entertain exaggerated ideas of what to expect.
In the morning what makes the hairs on the back o f my neck stand up are the mountains looming over the city, an irrepresible green, most notable from the ornate drinking fountain in Bascarsija square, pigeon square, the core of the miasma of streets that weave amongst and through the plush greenery of the mountainsides, amongst the articulate red tiled rooves of the house peppering it with no particular plan; there are the economical high rises in Novo Sarajevo and apartment blocks, titillating bearing the scars of three years of shelling; a beautifully restored Orthodox church is a few hundred meters from a minimalist synagogue that acts as a Holocaust museum and the cluster of mosques that source of its crafts and gift shops, its coffee houses and shisha bars. I see these people as having once dashed between buildings to avoid sniper fire; blood stains on the asphalt, and huddled in their kitchens as the frontages of their homes were assaulted. The young people who are from here were not raised here; most still working in central Europe. But they all come back; they are Bosnian. The dashing is gone; the pace is laconic, cheery compared to most of Europe. Tito is still here in spirit and image, everywhere in fact; an understandable rose tinted idolatry that is justified…
On the park that hold the monument for dead children, I watch young mothers and grandmothers sit on benches, talking side by side as their children concoct a variety of games, rallying into large groups betraying solidarity of the city’s community. For a large place it is familiar to so many of those it houses, relaxed; people are not strangers here. Near the monument a little boy wields a toy Kalashnikov. Boys will always have a fascination with guns; is this form of insensitivity on the parents part, to let him play soldier near this monument? I think moreover it is telling that the people are not prone to flighty hysterics, not cross examining child’s play with hyper sensitivity, or watching them with intense caution. Many times I had and would be told again that the “people here do not want any more trouble.”
Outside my hostel I began speaking flippantly with a group of French university students; I ask them what they think of the city. They are disappointed: “it is a bit touristic.” The implication that it has too many visitors, not too many, but enough for them to lose interest. I’ve heard this expression used enough over so many cities to muse over it here; at the heart of backpacker culture is the longing to find a landscape completely unique, an idea explored years ago by Alex garland with the beach, for the tourist to reinvent himself away from home as a traveller or new frontiersman and to see the objective world as the possibility for a original extension of his identity, or reinvention of it. Naturally common sense will tell you a place are only as good as the company you keep, for example, or as what you put into it, and that any place worth visiting will result in the situation that you will have equally interested company. One especially confounding aspect of back packer culture is largely their reluctance to speak with anyone from the place, the people who make it as it is. This makes even less sense in a place like Sarajevo where so many people speak English. Surely with the overkill of digital photography the idea of going to see a place is becoming ever more redundant? That the experience has to go beyond the sights… In a desperate bid for fruition and industry tumultuous landscapes will turn to the outside world in the hope of visitation in order to sell the raw materials of their daily lives and hopefully provide for themselves more consistently than they had beforehand. I saw graffiti in both Prague and Budapest that read” tourists go home.” That implies all visitors. And what then, dear bomber? The iron curtain was pulled back and its governments mindlessly sold the land beneath their feet. The immense population growth was only made possible by such rapidly flourishing passing tourism. It collapses just as simply–take Mexico for example with the discovery of swine flu, the industry collapsed, leaving it to degenerate into drug feuds and general crime and migration.
Still, perhaps this is the overall intention of the back packer and naive host alike. The tourist goes in, helps to beef up the economy and pulls out after a length of time to leave the place in a greater shambles than before. When the place has adequately torn itself apart again the tourist interest resumes, more privileged boredoms titillated by the idea of a lawless lands, the chance to see a horrendous gunfight or be flashed on the metro. You can pick up the local high grades for a lot less at that point and if you visit a club the locals will throw themselves at you for the price of breakfast. Citizens of the developed world inadvertently create their expendables.
Benoit’s face reveals itself through a smile, one that ages him and makes him curiously familiar, and the reminiscence of a friend I can’t put my finger on. He has hitchhiked from Normandy to Bosnia, and plans to cross the Mediterranean. He tries to make me wear a turban top go into Mosque but I refuse, explaining that I have no real feeling for religion whatsoever, although I have a curiosity for its customs and cliché iconography. He bought a bicycle at the first town he came toy in Croatia and subsequently travelled across the country with it, he tells me. At the Croatian border the guards said to him, be careful in Bosnia. He has a problem being in Sarajevo now; he slept by the river in a town about an hour from the capital, a town called Ilyash; I explain that i had some family from that town. He tells me to come look at his problem; while he was asleep by the river a puppy came a sidled up next to him. In the morning there were another two huddled into him. He took the first, naming him after the town. He stole a plastic shopping basket, placing the animal inside. The pup is adorable, peering around from his elevated position.
We go for a coffee; I say I have a pretty good knowledge of the city, of the country and its history. I give him a guided tour of the streets I have heard so much about but not seen for myself, talking as if i have always been here. Everyone stops to pet the animal, men and women alike. He is a great starting point of conversation; I say I will find my own Ilyash simply because he is the best chat up line I have ever come across. The second chat up line is introducing ourselves when asked where we are from as Multinational, England, France and Bosnia. A man fishing at the river practically tries to steal the animal; Benoit won’t give him away. He is forced to resolve that the pup has sabotaged his travels, deciding to take the animal to the veterinarians as he takes the animal back from the old man who pleads to keep the dog in a bid more complex than I can decipher; I tell the old man that Benoit has decided to take the animal from the country that we are going now to the vet to get his vaccination papers. He stares after us glumly.
Benoit is a sweet juxtapose to the other hitchhiker i met, the American who joined my train carriage in Croatia. The American was travelling with thousands, generally staying in hotels and throwing in the towel and taking trains and flights when the thumbing didn’t work out. He was practically in tears when he found his ticket came up short of Sarajevo and they tried to kick him out at Zenica. All he had to do was pay the ticket collector a few euros to tun a blind eye.
It’s the first day of Ramadan; I regret not going to the Gazi Husrev Mosque the day i arrived. The firework explodes signalling the days end; the city is illuminated as the sun fades on it and song drones from the minarets. In the daytime I had noticed soldiers amongst the devoted, in and around the courtyard, betraying the anxiety and perhaps animosity levelled at this particular form of worship. But these are not simply Muslim worshippers; they are a completely mixed bunch of people, the Slavic faces, the Mediterranean and darkened gypsy feature that peer out from the headdresses are something completely unfamiliar. We make so many associations through our general experience that it is always impressive when our generalities are disrupted. The military are in small supply, along with occasional police presence. Outside one mosque I see a sign saying make a choice, and another equating the word NATO with a swastika… Age old tensions, however extreme their catharsis may be, do tend to ebb and flow. The fear is always that they will meet boiling point again. The poor will always want to blame someone for their desperation, their frustration; they will always direct it at those who are successful.
A Jehovah’s Witness approaches me whilst i sit at the bird’s nest overlooking the city, the point where they set off the firework to signal the end of the fast for Ramadan. He says there is nothing better than to sit amongst nature. He begins translating passages from the bible, asking if i have ever thought about God. He cannot understand that my ideas which so closely resemble religiosity can lack association to a god or particular faith. He tells me that Islam pray to Death; I say this is similar to advice in the orient that advice encourages one to perform a task as if one dead; this is a positive thing, death implying one who is free from conflict The core of western faith is the root of utopian thought in that bliss can be achieved in living, and sustained day in day out. There is bliss, happiness, but it is the by product of as friction, as energy release and tension. Both western and eastern religious thinking advocate the denial of the flesh, which is something I can sympathize with. Peace is especially elusive in gratification and perfection. Those cultures that negate and fear the idea of death are the cultures that have been subjected to the greater manipulation by their hierarchies, drawing distinctions between man and animal and aspiring to god. I agree to come to a reading, as he seems convinced that i am ripe for the love of God. He is further spurned on by the fact that my Uncle was also a Jehovah’s witness; i fail to mention that he only became one to increase his chance of parole after being sent down for manslaughter. It worked.
The subtle; difference between religions have turned into gulfs over time much like childhood traumas can create a hindered and neurotic–even psychotic–adult. Given institutional religions blessing of prolonged longevity, most religions have only seen their efforts turn to suicidal bids at conversion or crippling chokeholds. Bosniaand Herzegovina understands this better than anywhere in Europe, never having the geographical distance to determine a singularity in its influence. It predicted the future of a Europe without its empires, monarchies and self possession a hundred years in advance.
There’s a great fortune in travelling in being able to speak English; the language pervades through all countries, even amongst people you wouldn’t expect to speak it. It is the significant language of the world; take Italy or France, for example; they do not belong in Eastern European, in the Balkans. There is nothing here that accommodates them. But it does accommodate English speakers, and speakers of Slavic languages. The greater irony of Western Europe is that they will have to accommodate greater teaching of English in the very near future, to a standard that East Europe already has. Even when making general chit chat with a German man working just south of Moscow and dealing with Germany, he says that the Italian companies that they deal with have to have interpreters. They are out of the loop because they are dependent on translation; central and east Europe are more proficient, practical and intelligent than western European people. It would have strewed after the fall of the Soviet Union for sure, east Europe turning to the previously oppressed influence in order to liberate themselves and their homes. The Balkans is different; Yugoslavia was an extremely successful country. They did not turn to anyone, but they did, eventually, turn on each other; this is its tragedy.
People from the Balkans have a train of thought that must be finished, monologues that have to be continued. Even when interrupted the conversation will come full circle at some point. I first noticed when engaged in conversation with my friend Branko; he cannot be interrupted; he will hold onto what he was saying like a breath until he can desperately exhale again. In this time he will have heard nothing that you have said; he watches you disdainfully. I remember telling him about my time in New York, how unflinchingly ignorant and obnoxious they could be, talking about a bus driver who dropped the case of an old lady and then coldly watched her pick it up off the floor. I dismissed the whole of New York as arty bureaucrats. He equated Bosnia as being the same way, saying that the people will rob you, beat you and kills you but they will not help you. I don’t see it personally, i told him. I feel infinitely more threat walking around my home city tan walking around Sarajevo; naturally every city has its problems, and areas that invite them. I always thought that I looked for intellectual reciprocation but he simply does not look for this; his thought process is like a train. He told me that phrases in Bosnian, meaning Serbo-Croatian and reflections from Serbian, are some of the most difficult in the world. He had lived in Chicago for sixteen years, since he was eleven, America having arranged a visa system to take in varying children during the Serbian war. He lost both his parents. Since returning to BiH he has enrolled in the army; we talk of the Second World War, Stalin’s back door deal with Hitler, and the first victory won in the Balkans over the Nazi’s. Branko doesn’t like Russians, they don’t have much tact, he says. He tells me of a captain, a Russian, who kept calling him the Turk. He called the captain a Nazi lover and they ended up in a fight. The thing with Branko is that he really hates the Turkish.
Branko is writing a book called Assassin’s Creed, about Italy. I start laughing, saying like the computer game. He is pissed off; I ask him why he doesn’t write about Bosnia? He missed the war and lost his parents to it. There is plenty for him to think about, I say. He asks how someone can write about the suffering that his friends and family have only told him about, that he did not see for himself. I understand that guilt.
Yahida’s name is on her bracelet; I don’t catch the pronunciation at first so she shows me; she is about six years old; she is tall for her age and with large gaps between her teeth. She plays with her cats outside my hostel, wearing them around her neck like a scarf and singing to herself. Some is rehearsing a loose grunge band in one of the building, an overly bass heavy sound.. She is stunningly confident, starting up a conversation mingled through with Bosnia and occasional English. We get stuck on one lot of Q and A; her mother walks past us both as if I am also a child. Her voice deepens in quick inquisitive rhetoric directed at her mother; she wants to know if I am English or Spanish, finally. She asks me to tie bandages around her hands so she can pretend she is a boxer. The relaxed confidence possessed by so many is one of integrity and defiance. There is another Nick I have met here, from Ireland–he left his position as a newspaper editor t come live in Sarajevo, to write a book whilst here. He tells me I’m a presence, which makes me laugh. We decide that we are falling in love with this place; but a place is only the sum of many parts, and the biggest is the people who inhabit it.
My friend used to live in Mostar, but has since moved to Foca. It is easier to catch the coach from Mostar rather than straight from Sarajevo. With the exception of the area surrounding the stari grad, the old bridge, the town of Mostar is either unassuming or still tormented. It did not even have the structural edifices of Sarajevo to add continuity to the identification of it’s remain. It was nothing; but it is starting, it is changing, and a ton is appearing again. Now with a huge passing tourist trade there is an imbalance of its earning, a fleeting industry. I walk down to the base of the bridge; two primary divers are making a collection to jump off the bridge, one man walking the rim of it whilst the other stands appearing to psyche him up for the 21 meter drop. People applaud. He drops unhesitant, a three second fall, his legs tucked into him to keep the centre of gravity beneath when at the last second he straightens out like a candle, piercing the water. He comes to the surface of the Nerevta rubbing his jaw; when the bridge was rebuilt the firework went up in celebration, and in the early evening the first and one of the best divers ran and swan dived from the immense bridge. This is a brilliantly defiant moment, fearless, and embodied the attitude of a community whose entire life is based upon this bridge, who hang around it, whose livings come from it, and a culture that proclaims that “where there is no bridge there is no life.” I had never thought about them before, and berate myself for the careless oversight.
In Mostar board with an old couple; a photograph of Marshall Tito is directly over the bed. They have a grape vine and a fig tree; they do not speak English but are easy and physically expressive enough to understand that I am welcome to eat them as I like and that for this house. When i leave i’m told I do not need a key; the door is always open. In the morning the husband practically chases me around the house with coffee until it is gone. The wife has me pull figs down from the top of their tree. Sometimes I worry that I am lost in the language, but fully confident and paced conversation is much easier to understand than you ever suppose, and much more so than a language spoken perfectly but with no confidence. We all use the familiar medium of humanity; those who know the price of it ascribe much more value to our fleeting moments.
There was a common expression in England throughout the Serbian war which I was acutely aware of; if a woman was begging in a headdress, if children washed your windows at the traffic lights if something was stolen or went missing and an article in the newspaper talked about increasing numbers of immigrants on benefits the term people threw about was “Bosnians.” That is a hard thing to define for sure; there is no set generic type amongst Bosnian people–it is diverse generically and racially as England is. Also very few English people can speak Slavic languages, if any language at all, so it would be very difficult for them to know what was being asked or who was saying what. What can be done in a war where immigration or death were the choice but to immigrate? The morning clouds move from muddled and vague to speckling the sky like an egg of azure blue, the rapidly rising heat of the morning taking the night’s moisture by force.
The disenfranchised citizens of the more developed parts of this world are looking for something but fail to turn their journeys upon their subjective world; they are manifest in the desire to find an expression of the their originality in their external environment. This is why they bemoan other tourists, expecting to happen upon this original aspect of their experience but finding it defiled by the like minded, equally looking to gage their boldness and individuality. It is even more confused when these backpackers travel in groups, and consider themselves travellers. It would seem that they are missing a very obvious point; that a traveller or gypsy did so because they were obligated to no particular place, they had no home. Perhaps this is the psychological sensitivity of these people; they are strangers to their own backgrounds, to their loved ones.
I drink coffee at a cafe by a lakeside; a teenage boy pulls a snake from a rock and chases the other kids around with it. Miran has four years on me; he throws the pedantic tick of, you understand? Into all his monologues, pennimaesh the Russians say. It does not demand an answer. It is a simple tick; the people of Yugoslavia are the most similar to the Russian people in terms of attitude. They are proud and defiant; they also know that although their country was communist it never bowed to soviet hegemony. In Mostar they produced the Boeing apparently, and given Tito’s pact with India and Africa they were one of the most successful and respected countries in the world for four decades.
Miran talks about the mine clearing operation in Mostar that he was involved in the late nineties; a British soldier came to train them saying he had cleared mines here there and everywhere; he put up a huge poster of Mostar saying, we are going to clear south east of the city. Some people felt their luck was in, knowing that that part of the city was clear. Miran could no t keep his mouth shut, even though his friends tried to make him. There are no mines in that part of the city, he told the expert. How do you know? Because he had lived there for twenty two years, and everyday he walked through that part. The intelligence pulled out in order to be reassessed, all operations being hindered by information incompetence and corruption. He talks about Tito always, for Miran he will be his politician until the end of his life. He says under Tito there was no corruption that everything, health care, dentists and schooling were free; if you tried to thank a doctor after heart surgery with a present of money, he could not take it. If he did then he could lose his job. He apologizes to the woman next to us for saying if you wanted to fuck bitch you could do it for ten Marka. He says it again and again, anyway, as if the apology was more a question of asking permission.
At his house he has mine souvenirs, some detonated and frayed, other diffused. He pulls out the huge contraption, which looks more like a rocket. How do they know how many are left? Because every time someone stands on one they count one less, is a running joke. I tell him I am going to Sutjeska national park, and briefly to the Montenegro coast. Apparently a tourist is missing in sutjeska, but nothing can be done in such thick forestation to recover him. Miran is disdainful when I say that my home town was recently voted the fifth worst city in the world; I relay a story of a gang threatening me with knives for no particular reason, when I was on my way home from work. I said I walked off, but Miran is enraged, he stands and struts about, he declares that they would have to kill him. I am pleased he is not from my city. His wife Maya brings his son in to say hello; this is my life, he tells me, standing the little boy on the patio table. The child dives from the table into his arms, one day he will jump from the bridge in Mostar.
Miran has started opening his house to guests in order to pick his money up; he is bemused by the visitors whose first questions are concerning the landmines and whether it is safe to walk the streets at night. He is near hysterical talking about the people who sleep with the doors and windows shut in the summer time, he tells them to be fresh, to open the windows; sometimes, when need be, they rent out their marital bed and sleep on the patio.
Later I consider his conversation and realize he would have known little about Tito’s rule, only being fourteen or so when war broke out; he wouldn’t have been fucking bitches for five Marka or trying to thank guilty surgeon’s. What he knows of Tito’s Yugoslavia would have been in his wake, a brief childhood and the rose tinted reminiscence of his elders. He celebrates the life that he never led, the Chinese whisper of a past that sets the benchmark for a lifestyle they all hope to live again someday.
In the middle of the night a Turkish guest of Miran’s, a dowdy and reserved girl, tries to leave, storming through the courtyard, not far from where I am sleeping. Miran chases her saying I can fix it, I can fix problem. The girl is crying; Miran had refused to lock the front door of the house, even the patio door; he had told the girl to leave her windows open. She is hysterical; he talks her down in a tone both infuriated and reassuring; there is nothing to be afraid of, no one will come into my home—show me the person who would come here and I will show him that he has made a mistake. There is nothing to be afraid of here. I leave early in the morning, to find a lift to the national park. I had not said goodbye; he has taken the Turkish girl to the coach station; he sees me and asks why I was not going to say goodbye? I feel extremely guilty; explain in that it is just my way. He says he does not understand that, and shakes my hand goodbye defensively.
Sleeping outside in Sutjeska national park was a mistake, being so thoroughly eaten by mosquitoes that my face was distorted by bites; i had decided to simply because i wanted to see but i had no tent or even a mat to throw down. The walk back to Foca seemed endless. The night I arrive in Kotor, Montenegro there is a hotshot d.j from Belgrade playing; nearly everyone is going to see him. Most of the quality nightlife has dried up since one of the local entrepreneurs was killed weeks earlier. I am too exhausted to go see for myself, having gorged myself on junk and exhausted from a sleepless night. I lie down, feeling queasy from intense palpitations that rattle my chest.
The Montenegro coast is swallowed by Russian holiday developments, complexes springing up everywhere, turning a practically provincial fishing village into a swamp of commercial obscenity. One apartment block developer has cemented the side of the mountain that spills up behind his complex, a horrendous slab of cement that would be quite easily visible in a panoramic image of the city. It seems incredible, but is proof as to where Montenegro’s influence and surging economy is drawn from; the animosity is evident in the locals who see their lifestyles being sold out by their own government. Given the Balkan tendency to turn against every occupying influence that has ever taken, I imagine a coup not altogether dissimilar to the Cuban abolishment of American influence. Fog descends over the coast by night, clouding the horizon; after what has to be done is done what next?
It is the same principle of every civilization; they push toward perfection and in doing so have to manufacture and manipulate the mass consensus of what that constitutes. The individual must be united; this is the principle goal of communication. Globalization has one titanic flaw it that it does not consider its inexorable end; civilizations have always fallen, their people migrating. But if this united civilization falls where will we go? Plato’s republic hypothesized state nurseries in the uniform and idealized raising of children; now, in the more affected part of the developed world, a sort of white noise individualism is redundant, a uniformity that can be guaranteed to incorporate domestic violence, broken homes, weakened schooling, and frustrated and over indulged hierarchies that cannibalize and undermine one another. The tendency towards communication involves a completely open society where thought is given free reign but action is near impossible.
Uncharted territories do not exist anymore, outside of the oceans and space; only over indulged people lose sense of their own reality. I am always impressed by the freedoms of people in the Balkans, the space and confidence they have, not understanding the bulk of their visitors who one girl described to me an s being born scared. But Miran or his wife could not understand the people who spend three years and thirty thousand travelling; this is the price of a home, of a life, not simply three years.
Movement and travel are good for direct experience, for events to be recorded, but they do not make for good writing. Good writing emerges from something else, but the characters that speak do so only in the retrospect of experience and interaction.
The exceptional nature of BiH is born from conflict, from a greater significance that life can take on through their labouring under money grubbing politicians defiantly, from the days of passing the huge uniform graveyards containing friends and firmly on their way to work, past the shelled buildings and the iconography of cultures that have made such impact upon their environments. Past the construction sites and the bridges that have been paid for in blood without a hint of sentiment it rages, this temperament, and one of its downsides is the spectacle it can make of rebellion and honour, which can mislead. You do not visit BiH as you do Montenegro; you are invited into the lives of the people who live there; even the inanimate is imbued with a significance that makes it incandescent.
Resolving to sleep on the coast, finding a spot amongst the scarred rock formations to watch the sun go down, and covered by cactus wildflowers. The sun is starting to go down on this point of the Adriatic making the intricate colours near hallucinatory, a painful vividness. The moon soon begins to make inflections upon the water, the sea shimmering incomprehensible Morse code; I tell the moon that it is not its time of year, that it has no power over the world until next season. My spoken voice comes out in irrepressible alignment with my thoughts; it must be a chilling sense of isolation for those who converse with themselves in high streets. My thoughts extend to the surrounding insects, showing themselves up in the imagined forms I encourage the clouds to take on. Memory is all a question of triggers, a similar tick or feature to a person could spark off endless reminiscence. I had grieved lives in the wake of my accomplishments, seen my own inadequacies in the light of others. Friends have died, even lovers, and I am something i would never have guessed partly because of them. Some people are simply harbinger to the lives of others, a surreptitious position that rarely reveals itself until you can see you are th eonly one left that recalls a certain time and place. When jean genet was asked when he decided to be a writer he answered, at birth and perhaps before.
In the night a mock pirate ship floats past chiming, illuminated to the point of appearing ablaze. A rock band is turning out covers somewhere in the distance a sound distorted by the pulse of a nightclub also in an unlikeable point along the coast. I remembered the look I drew earlier in the day having stormed excitedly in the 35 degree sun to the old town and arrived soaked through with sweat; the woman looked me up and down with a hysterical spasm pulling her face to the floor. I laugh to myself.
What would the drop do to my body from here? Nobody knew where I was, so how long could it be before I was identified? I kept thinking of lover craft’s Cthulhu emerging from the depths to pull me from my makeshift bed into the depths. The mosquitoes harassed my, the bites eventually distorting my face and legs for several days. I feel unlimited possibilities and consider how the feeling can be sustained in the familiarity I return to. I remember an art student who claimed to have a spiritual experience in the Adriatic, basing a whole series of clumsy paintings around it. Now I am here it is not impossible to imagine such a thing possessing you.
A backpacker accidently stumbles across me in the night, having a similar plot for an evening in obscurity He is symptomatic of the addicted traveller, clumsily loved up, flippantly uses words like positivity and beauty. He talks of soul mates. He is from Holland; his family were Romanian Jews who immigrated to Israel; when he visited he attempted to get close to the Gaza strip but stopped because it was against their wish; he talks of beauty, but is drawn to violent places. Later he talks about porn and later talks more about soul mates and perfection; his platitudes are hard to deal with in a tactful way and he becomes increasingly uncomfortable talking with me; he wants to take a year off, he wants to travel for a year and talk with as many people as possible from every part of the world to come to an understanding of the place. I tell him travel can be a bad thing; he clearly wants to leave at this point, to move away from the negative character he stumbled upon, prostrate on a cliff side.
Yahida is still playing in the courtyard when I return to the hostel in Sarajevo from the coast; she sees me from the balcony and exclaims in English, how are you? I shot back, dobro sam. When I exist the hostel she is loitering in the courtyard, ready to ask where I am going. I ask her the word for food, dada; tell her that is what I am doing. An hour or so later she is still there, this time conversing with the many cats that inhabit the alley; I can tell parents are in the vicinity that she’s under strict rules to keep to the perimeter. She is bored. One of the kittens has burns all over it; I ask where they came from. She shrugs her shoulders, before mouthing at a house, a neighbour, and it seems he burned the mewling animal with a lighter. I say that this person is sick, and she puts a rigid finger to her mouth indicating our silence, with a frown that betrays the severe disposition of the neighbour. She asks if I want to play football, which I hesitantly agree to. She disappears, returning with a ragged ball which we kick between the imaginary goals that exist between the entrances of the hostel. Every time it clatters against a wall she creeps tentatively for a moment, thinking that the people in there are asleep; I tell her not to worry, knowing that they won’t use the same caution should they come back drunk. She runs a hysterical commentary of England versus Bosnia with the typically excited maxims of sports commentary. I win 10 – 9 and grab my satchel to go inside; she says shit, drawn out to a long sheet. I tell her I have to pack my suitcase to travel; she looks impressed asking where I am going? To Budapest, and then back to England. To London she asks and for the sake of not explaining where I come from I say yes. It looks like a whole conversation is likely to spring up, more so if my Serbo-Croatian or her English were better. There is no shyness about the girl; children usually skulk off sullenly when playtime is over. I see that the game of football was really an indirect form of conversation, a means to interact with this foreign person. She sees no boundaries other than language and that she cleverly circumnavigated, something I could not do with my clumsy attempts at speaking the lingo. Now I think about a woman in a bar who came up to me while I waited for the toilet to be free, asking if I was next. I answered in English, leading to her asking where I was from.She is from Sarajevo but living in Antwerp; I realize that as a child she would have been one of the few that were forced to flee, but now an adult is returning here comfortably, and amongst friends and family who perhaps never left. An Italian social worker in Kosovo told me of her time there, that the secrets are covered, and only in time do you realize the scars and fear that people are living with, that it is normal for them to live in fear and to have weapons in their home. I answered but it’s a lot like that in Italy, in England and America, amongst other places; she did not like the comment exclaiming that it is not the same.