(Observations from the Holiday Inn—Sarajevo, June 1993)
Sarajevo is a city in the mythic land of Jugoslavia.
It is a landscape that needs to be read, not just looked at.
To find it, consult any map and locate the crossroads of history, geography, and myth—
where the roads interstice between Hellenism and Mithraism
between Roman and Illyrian
between the Byzantine and the Ottoman
and where Catholic, Orthodox, Hebrew, and Islam share together their coffee.
No one thinks much about Sarajevo until
some damned fool steps out from a café and shoots an archduke.
Sarajevo is religiously and culturally progressive:
Muslim women drink in the same pub as men.
Fredrich Engels consider Sarajevo as a sewer running with human shit.†
Sarajevans play a game called Bosnian Roulette.
This game involves dodging sniper bullets to reach a water spigot.
Some days, the spigot even works.
The winners in this game receive a drink of water.
Everyone who plays Bosnian Roulette is undefeated.
A century after Engels, General Mladić hopes to dispose of that shit.
The only flight service to Sarajevo is Maybe Airlines:
maybe you can fly in today; maybe you will arrive; maybe you will be shot down.
Maybe you will even get back out again.
Sarajevo produces more history than it can consume.‡
History is not very nutritious; Sarajevans grow hungry for for bread and water.
Sarajevo is protected by UNPROFOR—a magical alliance of apathetic warriors.
Locals call the UNPROFOR guards “Smurfs”
because of their powder blue helmets and shiny white trucks.
The little Smurfs eat lunches of potted shrimp and foie gras,
with a desert of fresh-baked sweetbreads.
Hungry Sarajevans decline invitations to share the leftovers for it is summertime
and they need to watch their figures in case they go to the beach.
Facing Mecca, men and women raise their glasses to toast
the snipers in the hills, who prepare another round.
Thank you for choosing Maybe Airlines.
His desk so bravely out of range, Papa Smurf shows little interest in Sarajevo.
The field where many nations celebrated the 1984 Olympics
is now a graveyard for the people of a besieged city.
The international community understand bullets less than sports.
Rose bouquets explode across concrete sidewalks and
thorny bodies are bunched by the dozen.
Outside the empty bread market,
Sarajevans smile at the UNPROFOR and think to themselves:
How lucky we are to be guarded by Smurfs.
Gardening was a favorite pastime before the war,
but after till the soil of city parks to bury family and friends,
gardening has lost its popularity.
At 4 am, the morning call to prayer competes
with the orchestra of artillery tuning up in the hills.
Sit back and enjoy your front row seats for this atrocity exhibit.
original draft: 19 May 2007
‡ qtd. Winston Churchill