Wednesday, March 21, 2012

on war and scales of measurement

The biggest graveyards in Sarajevo are immediately next to the sports fields. If you were to have a tendency to shoot for the net too high, like I do, I can only imagine that you would be in danger of some seriously iconoclastic soccer games on a regular basis.

Coffee houses and bars are immediately next to many of the other, smaller graveyards (where "smaller" means "not Olympic swimming pool-sized.") One of my favorite outdoor cafes was less than five feet from a series of rather impressive tombstones. The square footage of the graveyard was greater than that of the affiliated mosque.

This is not surprising, of course, given the number of people that died during the war. But... I have not seen life kept in this close physical proximity to death anywhere else that I have been in the world. The fact that at any given location in Sarajevo you are surrounded by high mountains, the "Bosnian Alps," exacerbates that feeling of enclosure--it is magnificently claustrophobic. The blown-out buildings every couple of blocks serve as a reminder of this. And further, the Historical Museum captures this elegantly: there are sections that recreate living conditions during the war. For example, the importance of the kitchen as a public space becomes obvious: you can walk into said kitchen. This reminded me of the Holocaust exhibit in the Museum of Yugoslavia: you can walk into a concentration camp cabin.You can feel it and smell it--and while I am sure that the feeling and smell are wildly unrealistic--you get a sense of it. The tiniest additional notion of scale.

There is a section of the Sarajevo exhibit entirely devoted to pictures drawn by children before their schools were bombed. One of them depicts a raincloud pouring through a rainbow--and then, there is a color wheel. Essentially, the rain seeps through the rainbow, and that is how colors on Earth are made. Another, in response to how 'destroying bridges destroys people' as a prompt, wrote their name (Adna) in beans pasted to a loose leaf sheet in the shape of a bridge. There were rapids in the background... that was it. Two colors: brown and blue.

It was very simple and powerful. And almost impossible: I was able to see the museum even though it was "closed" by sweet-talking the guard into letting me in. (In Italian! Three years of language study: justified!) Seeing it by myself was brilliant. Actually, this museum may be one of the only ones left in Sarajevo, soon. All of the public museums are being shut down by the government due to a lack of funding. This is evidence that distributing public resources amongst fourteen different cantons, with radically different governmental systems, can't be easy. The National Museum was practically in shambles--my two dollar admission got me into one room of very nice doric columns, and every other exhibit had been shut down. Except for the graveyard, which was not an exhibit, so much as a graveyard... placed in the museum courtyard.

Unrelatedly, I met the most fantastic hitchhiker, and we talked about cognac for about twenty minutes because the only phrases that either of us could articulate in Bosnian and English involved alcohol. (It knows no borders, apparently.) Bear this in mind, if you should ever find yourself in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in need of a topic of conversation. He was about one thousand years old, and he let me take his portrait:

In my next blog post, I plan on trying to adequately describe what I can only rightfully call a "Serbian Zombie-Themed Ballet." If Tim Burton himself had choreographed it, I would not be surprised. Brace yourself accordingly, as I will be scouring the internet for video evidence of this beautiful, beautiful thing.

1 comment:

  1. That man looks like you just googled "Bosnian" and picked the first return.