Monday, November 24, 2008

Thoughts on Sarajevo - 11/8/08

I was cleaning my desk and found this scrap of paper, where I had scrawled the following during the train trip described in the previous post:

Sarajevo turned out to be a very interesting city, beautiful, sad, hopeful and unforgettable, and I am glad to have visited it. One the one hand, it reminded me of Ecuador, with its trash-lined streets, the grayness of its buildings where people's private lives hang in the open windows, and the vendors haggling in the streets and watching over their wares everyday for endless hours. But the grayness of cities has many sources.

Unlike in Ecuador, the face of war still hangs grimacing over Sarajevo. Some buildings have been entirely rebuilt, but most are still riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel marks. The post-war standard seems to be, "repair it to usefulness; attractiveness can come later." So, windows have been replaced and doors rebuilt, but everything else remains as it was when the shooting stopped 13 years ago.

Buildings deemed beyond repair have not been torn down, but stand as empty, ruinous reminders of a time when death lurked in every corner. The people of Bosnia have no need yet for post hoc memorials - the streets themselves, covered in shrapnel scars, remind everyone of what went before. Gaping windows tell us of a life lost. And even if you might begin to forget, the graffiti sprayed on every gray wall will tell you of your sin.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A dream

I saunter out onto the tracks of the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, 20 minutes before my train is scheduled to leave. I stand in the cold, idly staring at the offerings of the platform's vending machine. Suddenly the conductor, a small blond woman, starts frantically yelling at me to get on the train; it's leaving right away. I confirm that it is indeed headed for Munich, and stagger aboard, bewildered. The car is almost empty. Besides me, there is only family of 3 - a mother, father and their son who can't be older than 4.

Despite the fact that we have departed 20 minutes ahead of schedule, the captain comes onto the loudspeaker at every stop to apologize for the delay. Could it be that I am on an earlier train that was severely delayed? Am I on the right train?

The trip drags on and on. We keep slowing to a crawl in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness. The flash of a camera keeps glaring at me through a crack in the seats, as the mother seemingly is making a photo journal of her son's great Ride on the Train. He grows bored of sitting with his parents, and devises a game for himself. He divides his father's newspaper into sections, and carefully walks through the car, placing a piece of the newspaper in each empty row. Soon every row except mine has a piece of the newspaper. Then he goes back to every row and picks up the pieces of the paper, until he is holding the whole jumbled mess in his tiny arms. The process repeats endlessly, until they get off the train at Munich-Pasching. They leave behind 2 half filled Pepsi products and a few newspaper sections scattered randomly about the car. I collect these, and determine which might have reading value.

We get to Munich Hauptbahnhof about 11:20. The train for Ingosltadt doesn't leave until 12:30. I wander up and down the platform and soon bore of my newspaper sections. I leave them on an empty bench. When the train comes, I take shelter from the cold in it immediately, even though it won't leave for another half an hour. As soon as we depart, the captain comes onto the loudspeaker and says that the train has been rerouted. We will go around the entire south side of Munich before heading north to our first stop, adding half an hour to the journey. At 2 am, I finally get out at the Ingolstadt Hauptbahnhof.

A thick fog has descended over the city, and there are neither buses nor cabs. I start walking down the main street toward my apartment. It is about a 2 mile walk, and I can only see about 30 feet in any direction. Suddenly, a man in a suit comes running out of the fog toward me. He pauses when he sees me, but only long enough to say, "I'm being followed!" before he starts running again. I see a second man emerging at a half-trot from the fog, presumably the one following the first.

I dash across the street. The man passes in the opposite direction, and disappears behind me. I hear nothing of note.

About 2:30am, I am finally at my apartment door. All is as it should be.

*This series of dreamlike occurences was my actual trip home from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof after flying in from Sarajevo.*


Come, small one
and gather your things:
We are unburdened now.

Let us leave this rain
to look for new rain,
and let fresh lies
bury our deceit.
Look out into the fields, and see!
How they are overturned,
and the garden plots abandoned.

We will go out from this sickness
in search of the land
where we cannot recognize hollow faces.

We are resurrected.
Beyond this grave lies another,
and the new fields full of fresh sorrows.