The Way It Used To Be - Chapter Twenty: Mostar


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Europe » Bosnia & Herzegovina » South » Mostar
August 9th 2005
Published: May 28th 2008
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Stari GradStari GradStari Grad

Mostar's center has been reconstrcuted with a shiny veneer...
Anticipation has run very high about my visit to Mostar. Its Stari Most, or Old Bridge, is its eternal symbol of the link between the city’s Muslim and Croat communities. My excitement and pace picked up during my brisk walk to the center as I envisioned the impact of casting my eyes upon it for the first time. But that eagerness propelled my right by it, as I missed the right turn and continued a few more hundred yards, almost completely out of the downtown area. I realized I had gone too far only because the density of tourists had become more sparse. Moreover, the bridge I did manage to reach was a metal monstrosity for motor traffic. This was embarrassing, having come all this distance to miss my intended target and to have to double back. But, fortunately, no one was the wiser and I paid no attention to my silly oversight.
And then there it was: very simple, but curiously out of place, as was the rest of Mostar’s Old Town. And as I climbed to the crest of one of the most famous bridges in the world, it occurred to me how perfect it was as were its
Cold Blue BelowCold Blue BelowCold Blue Below

Off the bridge, into the river...
surrounding roofs, terraces, and alleyways. To put it mildly, in spite of its brilliant setting over the cold and swift aquamarine currents of the Neretva River, the whole build up to my arrival concluded in a sort of anticlimax. This is it? OK, but I expected more. And I could not put my finger on it. It was not the countless tourists crossing over back and forth, for I was among them and not that naïve to think I would have the historic overpass to myself. The whole place, the bridge, the Old Town was just too perfect. It needed to be broken in a bit. You know, a few scratches and scuff marks to make it look, well, like and Old Town. The bumpy cobblestones are connected with mortar and not chiseled together. The stone pieces of the bridge and support towers practically shine in the sunlight. There was no trash, no cracks. Essentially, it is brand new.
It is rather unfair to be critical of the antiseptic image Mostar’s Old Town. Though a tacky souvenir junkyard amidst upscale cafés and short order restaurants, this reconstructed city was completely obliterated over ten years ago. People here are fine with
Historic IconHistoric IconHistoric Icon

Mostar's Old Bridge repaired back to glory...
out scratches or scuff marks. Mostar, very similar to Sarajevo in this sense, can once again entice visitors to appreciate its history and setting. Mostar should be applauded, not overly critiqued. People here are proud of their town, though its only lifeline nowadays are the tourists that descend upon it to gawk at its spiffy renovations in one area over an mocha-laden coffee, and then take snapshots at its obliteration in another.
Evidence of Mostar’s outright destruction is completely on display and far more graphic than that in Sarajevo. The number of residences and other office buildings with bullet holes and mortar craters is greater, as is the concentration and intensity of the indentations. In some parts of the city, only the beam structures stand, bent and twisted from the heat of battle. In the outskirts of Mostar, it looks as if the war ended last week.

Interestingly enough, it was the Croats, not the Serbs, who wrecked this gem of a city and turned it into a wasteland. Their onslaught upon Mostar purposefully brought the Stari Most into the Neretva in large chunks. Not even the tires that were suspended upon the bridge’s exterior to absorb the firepower
Can't Escape The PastCan't Escape The PastCan't Escape The Past

Sectarian hatred leaves its mark...
could save it. As I sat in the air conditioned bliss of my private accommodation on the L-shaped sofa one steamy evening with Ilidia, the lady of the house, she told of the Croat sniper who took the life of her husband as he sat on the very same sofa. Let me assure you this will take the wind out of any enjoyable evening conversation. But Ilidia recovered and moved on to another topic as a matter of course. The bullet holes on the walls have been filled in and the surface refinished. You’d never know the horror it would have been to live here. On the other hand, I could not ever get that image of horror out my mind. Snipers terrorized this apartment building in which I am now a guest. All windows were destroyed and residents assembled plastic replacements. Going to get groceries, she said, cost some of her neighbors their lives.
A merciful cloud cover has allowed me to enjoy Mostar, the sweltering temperatures nearing 100°F having at least temporarily subsided. I have become unaccustomed to dry T-shirts but certainly used to the towel I have dawned over my shoulders, permanently borrowed from the Delta
TouchingTouchingTouching

My hostess' husband's grave. I learned a lot about him and his passing when he was shot to death by the Croats...
Hotel in Pécs. I have visited Ilidia’s husband, Ibrahim, his gravesite that is. The Mostar Diving School invited me into their offices to view recent footage of a diving competition on the Stari Most. Members continually tout tourists on the bridge for cash until they have the equivalent of twenty-five euro, at which time they one of them will dive off to the delight of everyone and the clicks of digital cameras. It is exhilarating to witness the well-cut young men launch themselves and then fade twenty-eight meters to the water below. A head first leap requires the diver to make a large splash for effect, and more points in competition. Conversely, it is imperative to enter the water as a pencil if lunging to the depths feet first. In competition, some perform twists, flips, and combinations thereof. Making a mistake and entering the river off balance will prove to be a valuable, yet very painful, lesson. It is even possible to jump off yourself, with the permission of the school and after completion of lessons the first conduct on a lower platform downriver.

Mostar practices the evening stroll just like in Travnik and Sarajevo. Beautiful couples saunter
Tourists ResurfaceTourists ResurfaceTourists Resurface

Mostar turns a page towards the future...
by. Some pause to read the death notices plastered on available wall space and tree trunks. I have dined at an Italian restaurant twice and on one night next to two Swedish EUFOR officers on assignment in Mostar. I cannot take them seriously, as they act as if their sales office has sent them on a four-month fact finding tour. Earlier, I walked by a uniformed Italian military officer reclined in the front seat of his Carabinieri vehicle. He had dozed off for a quick catnap. I think of the European military presence here and can express nothing but amusement. The moment they are called upon to take decisive and combative action in Bosnia will be just like if I play point guard for an NBA franchise. They, like me, will simply be in the way and part of the problem.

I have observed that couples here in Bosnia are much more restrained concerning the affection they display towards each other in public. I think the Islamic influence plays a crucial role. While ladies’ attire is no less revealing, they seem to wait for a quieter and more private moment later in the evening before they mount each other. Coming from New England, a very puritanical part of the world, it is a relief not to have to see two people go at each other like wild gorillas on a park bench or by the CD rack at the mall. Once in Budapest in another time in Slovakia, I believe I may have witnessed conception as on both occasions men and women were wrapped around each other like two boa constrictors. I did not know if I should let them be, or go over, congratulate them, and suggest a few stores in town currently offering sales on maternity apparel.
For as reserved as amorous couples are in Bosnia, I doubt the Omanis and Yemenis would still approve.


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