Monday, 15 February 2010

Where are the Stories Now?

Saturday 13th February.

We're staying in a wonderful guest house called Halvat on the edge of the old town and are clearly going to be royally looked after. Some interest in our project has been generated through email exchange. This morning we were able to finally meet some of our initial contacts.

Firstly Ema, a literature student, who does the breakfast shift at the house. She seemed genuinely excited to meet us and pledged lots of help with arranging meetings. She made us pancakes and talked a bit about where she felt Bosnia might be.

'I don't like that the fact that the war is always in the background of stories about Bosnia.' she said challengingly, 'It's so commercial. What used to be a kind of therapy is now just a way to make money.'

'So what stories need telling now,' I asked 'are any artists exploring the possible futures?'

'What future? We stopped thinking about the future a long time ago. We just live day to day and that's it. In Sarajevo we have a saying - it could be worse. That is Sarajevo - it could be worse. We don't have stories for the future. We're stuck in the present.'

We headed out into town and orientated ourselves by walking westward from the bazaars, up Marshall Tita Avenue to the Holiday Inn, which housed the international press camped out during the seige, before coming back along the river to the old library where some two million books and manuscripts were lost in the fire storm of a mortar attack in August 1992. Finally we climbed up, through the cemetery to the yellow fort and watched the black dotted silhouettes of people walking home highlighted by the Winter pink sun of a pale afternoon sparkling off the snowy rooftops.

'All over the city sheets of burnt paper, fragile pages of grey ashes, floated down like a dirty black snow. Catching a page you could feel its heat, and for a moment read a fragment of text in a strange kind of black and grey negative, until, as the heat dissipated, the page melted to dust in your hand.'

- wrote the chief librarian, Kemal Bakarsic, after the attack. Putting together our fragments in hope of finding a story worthy of telling is going to be a complicated task.

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