Some days on any trip, especially research-oriented trips, mean no excursions, no crazy adventures, and a day in a cafe or meetings that you can’t necessarily share all the details of. This is fine – indeed, to spend a day as a local is to learn in some small measure what it is to be a local. So perhaps I will describe to you what it is to have a day.
I wake up in an apartment that is almost all window, meaning the natural light floods in as the sun rises softly over the mountains. Bosnia’s sun rises early and I thrive on natural light, a glow that can never be replaced by any amount of fluorescent mimicry. I don’t sleep well on a good day, have never slept well in Bosnia, so I usually rise when the sun bursts through my windows, padding to the kitchen to make Turkish coffee and eat a fig or five. I discovered figs in Croatia last year with Justin, eating them sun-warmed on the rocks by the Adriatic, and I have loved them ever since. You can’t find figs in Washington DC, not easily, and I have eaten more than my fair share here.
I sit in the light with my coffee and my phone, my laptop, my book, or my journal, whichever takes my fancy at that moment on that day. I cherish mornings alone, have always needed them to face a day full of people, and I sink within the deepest parts of myself fueled with caffeine and almost always a pair of fuzzy socks.
Eventually I wash, dress, and leave, always carrying my laptop, camera, and journals. On this day I have two meetings, both with important people, so I dress in slacks and a button-up and fling my ballet flats into my bag – I prefer to walk into town, a forty-minute trek up and down a hill, and my loyal Birkenstocks make that journey with me. I could take the bus, have taken it a few times, but I prefer to walk, even if it takes longer.
I decide to get lunch before my first meeting at 3:00, so I walk to the center of Sarajevo, to one of the markets in the city center. Inside are countless stalls full of eggs and a large variety of cheeses and meats- smoked, cured, and fresh. Bosnian cuisine relies heavily on meat, cheese, and bread, and I’d love to learn about all the different kinds one day. I bought a loaf of bread and some of this cheese (cream, cheese, and a pepper), which I took to the square and ate while watching old men play chess.
Beside the sjenicke paprike (roughly pronounced “syinichka paprika”) is a kind of tart jam, which they let me try spoonfuls of. Very delicious!
I love chess but I admit that it isn’t my best activity. Watching people play, especially those that are good, is exhilarating! These men each had “teams” offering advice, and they moved so quickly it was impossible to keep up at times.
The play under the shadow of one of the Catholic churches in the city. Men come and go as the game advances, a crowd lingering as it ends to see who won. I was the only woman the entire time that stopped to watch, but I certainly did not give strategy advice. Though I think that chess is a perfect game to play to learn the dynamics between tactics, operations, and strategy!
I had to leave before I saw who won, but I want to say that during my time watching, the man on the left (in the checked shirt) had the advantage. We’ll never know! But then I had a meeting at the Army House, the headquarters of the National Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Originally built in 1881 and expanded to include a concert hall in 1912, it housed Sarajevo’s first public concert and has since become a cultural beacon. It was a point of fighting during the war in 1992, a fight for control between the JNA (Yugoslav National Army, which at that time effectively fought for Serbia) and the Army of the Federal Republic of Bosnia and Heregovina. Though the latter won the fight, the building, located in the middle of downtown Sarajevo, experienced the siege conditions between 1992 and 1995.
I didn’t get a picture of the outside at the time because my colleague met me outside and also bade me farewell outside, but he did allow me to take pictures from the balcony after meeting with me for over an hour.
In addition to being a cultural beacon, the concert hall located on the second floor is considered by many to have the most impressive acoustics of any similar structure in Southeastern Europe. I knew this and asked my colleague about it, and he offered to give me a tour and let me play the piano! We walked into a magnificent room, high-ceiled and, sure enough, with perfect acoustics, the walls covered in four enourmous oils by Ismet Mujezinovic. He walked me to the stage, where a beautiful new baby grand was stationed against the wall, and told me I could open and play it if I wanted to. I was not classically trained in piano and do not play well, but I did take lessons from age five to twelve, and music is magic to me, a way with which I orient my world. I leaned against the wall, uncovered the piano, and played while he walked around, the music floating around the room like so many dreams of a sleeping fairy. It was a kind moment, an intimate moment, and one I will always keep with me as a thing that I have done.
From here I met Mirsad at his election headquarters before strolling down the Miljacka, across Vijecnica (the library), and to my favorite tea shop.
Here you see the Inat Kuca, which has a very interesting story. This house was originally built in the 1700s during Ottoman rule as a domestic residence, located on the right side of the river. When the Austro-Hungarians received administration of Sarajevo, they wanted to build a massive administrative building on the property the house located. The old man that owned the house was stubborn and refused. Eventually he struck a deal – the Austro-Hungarian authorities could provide him with a bag of gold and move his house, brick by brick, to the left side of the river, or they could forego their plans for a grand administrative building that would display their authority and might. In 1895, they accepted his deal, and the house you see above, which translates to “House of Spite”, is that building. It is now a Bosnian restaurant.
On the left side, where the house used to be, is what used to be the administrative building, then the library, and now a museum. It was completely destroyed in the war and has been reconstructed with the aid of the EU, though the books were lost forever. Read about it here! And here.
I walked by some fruit stands, bought some figs and tomatoes.
And then to the tea store, where I ended my day.
It isn’t much, but it was my day, and that makes all the difference.