Postcard from Mostar by Senka Marić          – Bosnia and Herzegowina

   Seventy kilometres long blues

Translated by Mirza Purić

In the late eighties, a Czech family of four set out for the Adriatic coast. They arrived in Mostar in the middle of the night. Tired and sleepy they stopped in front of a sign: Rooms / Zimmer frei. They asked the owner of the house if the sea was near, he confirmed and showed them to their room. In the morning the Czechs turned up in bathing suits, armed with pool mattresses, floats, masks and flippers, and asked the host for the directions to the beach. He pointed southwards and said, “Straight ahead, seventy kilometres”.

Those seventy kilometres encompass everything that might round off the identity of Mostar as a seaside city deprived of the sea. The Neretva reaches it, but we don’t. Although I hear it quite often, the screaming of the seagulls above the river announces its presence, and a moment later it’s here, heaving under my windows, splashing. The Southerly brings it as well, seasons the air. Gales tear us apart in wintertime, but sunny days don’t let us down. The sun gets us out into the streets, we sit on the stools in front of cafes, like rain-soaked sparrows we warm our hollow bones, gazing at the ruins. We’ve got no sea to gaze at. Summers are sweltering. The city is swarmed by tourists. The mass of bodies runs like a river, blocks the view of destroyed buildings, dirt and rubbish. It’s impossible to resist the impression that they all come from an imaginary north and flow southwards down the cobbled streets. Nobody stays very long, we are just a stop along the way. The destination is downstream, down the Neretva, through the branches of tangerine trees, the fabulous Opuzen, and to the waves. But, none of that is necessarily true. It may well be just a story with which I feed my ceaseless longing for the brine and the blue. If the union of the sky and the offing were actually here, in front of our eyes, all these things we have to live with would be easier, more bearable.

From a city that used to be known as the cleanest and one of the most beautiful in the former Yugoslavia, Mostar became a valley of ghosts with a ruined economy and no serious progress-orientated political strategy that would serve the interests of its citizens. It’s a city of rubble overgrown with stink trees, potholed streets and empty shops, untidy, dirty, with heaps of rubbish in every corner. At first glance, this is where the story ends. But that can’t be all. A city lives as long as people live in it. It’s an organism that changes and evolves. One should look at it through a different pair of glasses. Give up on the old notions, and expectations that will never be fulfilled. Aesthetics is not a stable category, it, too, is subject to change. I don’t know what to call the aesthetics of Mostar today. I won’t call it aesthetics of ugliness, I’d rather go with aesthetics of dislocation, of brokenness. There is fragile beauty to all those abandoned, wounded buildings, rain-washed graffiti, trod-down parks, cars stranded on the pavements, plastic bags with which the gale decorates the trees, vandalised benches, dustbins and playgrounds, and the absence of any kind of order under the bright sun and the blue skies. A line from the film American Beauty comes to mind: “Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in”. It’s a new, monstrous aesthetics, whose beauty lies precisely in the fact that it doesn’t hide what we are today. The internal image matches the external. Laid bare and exposed, we breathe a strange kind of freedom, we reject shame. This is what I tell myself to feel better, but most of the time I think about bridging that 70-kilometre gap and connecting with the sea. That, I’m sure, would put all things in their proper place.

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  Sedamdeset kilometara bluza

Krajem osamdesetih, četveročlana češka porodica je krenula na Jadran. U Mostar su stigli usred noći, umorni i pospani zaustavili se pored natpisa: Rooms/Zimmer frei. Pitali su vlasnika kuće da li je more tu, a on im je potvrdio i smjestio ih u sobu. Česi su se ujutro pojavili u kupaćim kostimima, naoružani dušecima, šlaufima, maskama i perajama i od domaćina tražili smjernice do plaže. Rukom je pokazao prema jugu i rekao: Samo ravno, sedamdeset kilometara.

U tih sedamdeset kilometara slilo se sve ono kroz šta bi se Mostar mogao zaokružiti u svom punom identitetu. Primorski grad, kojem je oduzeto more. Neretva stiže do njega, ali mi nikako. Iako, često mi se zna desiti da ga čujem, najave ga krikovi galebova nad rijekom, i već trenutak kasnije je tu, nemirno pod prozorima, zapljuskuje. Donese ga i svako jugo, zasoli zrak. Zimi nas razdiru bure, ali sunčani dani ne iznevjeravaju. Sa svakim suncem smo na ulicama, poslagani po stolicama ispred kafića, kao pokisli vrapci grijemo šuplje kosti, zagledani u ruševine. Mora nemamo da bismo u njega gledali. Ljeta su vrela. Grad preplavljen turistima. Ta masa zakloni razrušene zgrade, prljavštinu i smeće, slijeva se kao rijeka. Nemoguće se oteti utisku da svi oni dolaze s imaginarnog sjevera, otječu niz kaldrmu prema jugu. Niko se ne zadržava, mi smo usputna stanica, odredište je dole, niz Neretvu, kroz grane mandarina, bajkoviti Opuzen, do valova. Mada, ništa od toga nije nužno istina. Možda je to samo priča kojom hranim svoju vječitu čežnju za slanom vodom, plavetnilom. Kada bi zaista pučina sljubljena s nebom bila tu, pred nama, sve ovo u čemu jesmo bilo bi podnošljivije, lakše.

Od grada koji je nekada bio poznat kao najčišći i jedan od najljepših gradova bivše Jugoslavije, Mostar danas liči na dolinu duhova, ekonomski uništenu, bez ikakve ozbiljne političke strategije koja bi u interesu imala građane ili napredak u bilo kojem smislu. Grad ruševina zaraslih u rusovinu, razrovanih ulica, praznih poslovnih prostora, neuređen, prljav, na svakom ćošku su gomile smeća. Na prvi pogled priča staje na tom mjestu. Ali to ne može biti sve. Dok ima ljudi grad je živ. Organizam koji se mijenja i evolvira. Potrebno je gledati drugim očima. Odustati od starih predstava, očekivanja koja se neće ispuniti. Estetika nije stabilna kategorija, i ona je uvijek podložna promjenama. Ne znam kako bih nazvala estetiku Mostara danas. Neću reći estetika ružnog, radije estetika iščašenog, polomljenog. Postoji krhka ljepota u svim tim napuštenim, izranjavanim zgradama, ispranim grafitima, izgaženim parkovima, automobilima nasukanim po trotoarima, plastičnim kesama kojima bura okiti gradska stabla, demoliranim gradskim klupama, kantama za smeće i dječjim igralištima, nepostojanju bilo kakvog reda pod neumoljivo plavim nebom i jarkim suncem. Na pamet mi pada rečenica iz filma American Beauty: „Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in“. Nova čudovišna estetika, čija se ljepota sagleda upravo kroz neskrivanje onoga što danas jesmo. Unutrašnja i vanjska slika se preklapaju. Izloženi u svojoj ogoljenosti dišemo čudnu slobodu, odbacili smo stid. Tako se tješim, dok većinu vremena zamišljam kako da premostim tih sedamdeset kilometara i spojim se s morem. Onda bih, uvjerena sam, sve bilo potpuno na svom mjestu.

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