robertisenberg

Archive for the ‘Bosnia’ Category

THE BOOK IS HERE

In Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Pittsburgh, Uncategorized, Vermont on October 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This afternoon, a dream finally came true: I picked up 162 copies of my book, The Archipelago, from the offices of Autumn House Press. They look fantastic — I even love the spine. I am so grateful to my Autumn House dream team: Kriscinda Meadows for keen editing, Rebecca King for her magnificent design, Rick St. John for his business acumen and Michael Simms, President, who took a chance on a 30-year-old grad student.

And now you, too, can have your own copy.

There are two ways to find one:

Amazon: You can go to Amazon.com and order a copy. This is the most efficient way to track it down. Orders will start shipping on November 1, 2010. You’ll have your very own volume, full of mind-blowing adventures, in a matter of days.

Me: If you don’t want to pay for shipping, and you tend to run into me on a regular basis, I plan to carry around copies wherever I go. Copies are $20 (which is about the same price as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s $280 less than a Playstation 3! What a deal!). I now have 162 copies to peddle, and nothing would make me happier to furnish you with one.

What will you discover among these pages? You’ll learn:

  1. What it’s like to get solicited by prostitutes in Athens.
  2. How it feels to fly down mountain passes in Albania. In a bus. In the middle of the night.
  3. Just what it takes to wreck a hotel room in Tirana.
  4. The joys of getting interrogated by Montenegrin border patrol.
  5. How to cross a [potentially active] mine-field.
  6. The awesomeness of Austrian mimes.
  7. What to do when confronted by American G-Men at the Sarajevo airport.
  8. The mysteries of “Turbo-Folk.”
  9. How Bosnians courageously survived the siege of Sarajevo.

Makes the perfect Christmas gift.

Thanks to everyone who made this project possible! Enjoy!

Bosnia the Beautiful

In Bosnia on August 7, 2009 at 12:00 am

Archipelagos 188

Is this really Bosnia – a place where every mountain is more beautiful than the last? Where the river roils beneath us, and bold cliffs clump like clouds above? I’ve never seen the Alps up-close, but could they rival the snow-capped peaks in the distance, tinted eye-blue? Who built these bridges, which seem to fling their steel girders across the pass? How could highway tunnels look as natural as caves, blasting us through the dark, hurling us back into blinding sunshine?

No news footage prepared me for these sights – the ebb and flow of primeval escarpments, bronzed and thicketed. The afghans of evergreen forest drape into crevices, halting abruptly at the road, and the road drops abruptly to the frothy water, and across the river an opposing rock face surges into the sky. How many times have people told me of Bosnia’s beauty, and how many times did I not understand? And who could picture, in their wildest dreams, a countryside so crudely carved, where glaciers and hail have failed to smooth the crusty crags, and each apex is surmounted by another, brawnier peak? Buildings flash past us, along with occasional trucks and cars, but the view is dominated by jagged ranges, climbing exponentially higher, as if the cosmos struggles to contain them.

Our bus feels infinitesimal in such a place. A pinprick on the planet. Here we are, a dozen people scattered among our seats, our lifetimes hardly a clock-tick when measured against these prehistoric hills. How many merchants climbed through these gullies, thinking they had left the tangible world? Far from the Adriatic Sea, far from Grecian plains and nameable towns, Bosnia disrobes all at once, and its nakedness induces waking dreams.

Bullet Holes

In Bosnia on August 4, 2009 at 12:00 am

Archipelagos 283

The holes are like acne on pale faces. There are big blemishes and long tears that scar the plaster, and in-between are hundreds of tiny blackheads, pocked by high-powered rifles.

Sure, I’ve seen bullet-holes before – in shop windows, the circular shatter of a stray shot. But I’ve never seen anything like this: Entire walls flecked and chipped, bitten and pecked. The widest gashes are like vertical potholes, oblong circles punched through the wall’s smooth skin, exposing the brick inside.

Most of the Old City is rejuvenated. I’ll pass an entire city block and see only fresh façades – bright signs, stone arches over doorways, clean shop windows displaying cell-phones and watches. But then I’ll turn a corner and see these galaxies of puncture-marks, holes unfilled, mortar broken away. Buildings on the main streets are lucky – they’ve been refurbished, rebuilt, made-over so that the war’s damage is invisible. Then I turn a corner, into a side-street, an alley, and I see the houses still nursing wounds. Some walls await a single spadeful of wet cement.

The New City

In Bosnia, Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 287

 When Sarajevans talk about the New City, they always smirk, spitting, “It is very Socialist.” The tenement buildings are gray and rise 20 stories into the air; each apartment has a few windows and a balcony, where chairs are positioned and laundry is strung. Some buildings are abandoned, pocked with mortar blasts and bullet-holes and covered in graffiti.

The New City is ugly, surely – at best, a Communist wasteland, at worst, an eerie mirror of the Chicago Projects, where any kind of mischief could be lurking within the massive cement boxes. But I can also see the theory behind this architecture: Each building looks exactly like the others, and each apartment looks equally sized. The narrow sidewalks have stretched into broad, convenient bike-trails, and the four-lane highways meet at sensible intersections. The New City is built on flat soil, yet the tall buildings force me to look up – up toward the sky, the future. This is not suburban sprawl, but a reasonable use of space, where each buildings is surrounded by public courts and green-space, accessible to all. Tito’s urban design was logical, even if time has chewed these buildings apart, leaving them colorless and abandoned.

Bosnians Are Cute

In Bosnia on June 8, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 208

A ancient man at the Cafe Vienna leans over and asks, “Entschuldigung, sind Sie Deutscher?”

“Nein,” I say, “ich komme aus Amerika, aber ich spreche ein biβchen Deutsch.”

“Amerika!” the man proclaims. He’s senile and emaciated; he shakes convulsively as he hovers, his gnarled hand using my bistro table for support. “Bitte, können Sie uns fotografieren?”

He holds out his compact digital camera with a shivering hand. This is one of my favorite requests, and I take my time sizing up the shot. The two men don’t exactly smile; their expressions are meditative, as if they’re pondering their many decades of friendship, and the endangered years to come. The camera snaps mutedly, and they thank me, bowing their heads, before returning to their coffee. It occurs to me that they only speak German, but they themselves are Bosnian. They presumed that I, being blond-haired and sipping Cappuccino at the Cafe Vienna, must be Austrian, or at least German or Swiss.

I look up from my torn sugar packets and see a clothier across the street. Shirts and sweaters are hanging from a rack outside the shop, and the front sweatshirt reads: “Bosnians Are Cute.” It’s a disarming statement, more fitting in Cape Cod than in Sarajevo. The survivors of a war-torn, mostly-Muslim, former Communist city are actually pretty sexy, the shirt suggests. When you look past the casualties, the starvation, the genocide, the bullet-holes and the long tradition of praying five times in the direction of Mecca, our girls are downright hot.

“We’re not like that,” locals will tell me again and again, referring to regular prostrations and abstinence from sex and liquor. “We’re Bosnian Muslims.” And they’ll shrug, as if that explains everything.