30 July 2012
29 July 2012
A frontier is both one thing and another. The very meaning of the word suggests two sides, where something comes up against the unknown, or the other. The Bosanska Krajina - or "Bosnian Frontier" - is a place where war has always been close at hand, where the people are quiet and tough, where minarets rise beside cornfields and river trout jump at flies. This is the most beautiful and wild corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pushed up into the sickle of Croatia and overflowing with rivers and pretty towns.
An old name for the Krajina was the "Ljuta Krajina," or the "angry frontier." It's been at the heart of almost every conflict fought in this part of the world: the fault line between Roman Dalmatia and the invading slavs, the grating edge between Austro-Hungaria and the Ottomans, the headquarters of the Yugoslav partisans during WWII, the bloody site of Serb concentration camps during the conflict of the nineties. War is ingrained in the landscape.
the Hungarian Puszta. Tractors rumble through the streets, lamb grills on roadside spits, the food is a hearty mix of grilled meats and potatoes - with some river fish mixed in.
Cazin, not far away from Omarska, up at the very point of the frontier, came to life in the evenings after the daily Ramazan fasting. We ate dinner at Papillon restaurant, which served proudly national food. A man popped in and out of the kitchen with plates and bags of cevapi. Only one other man ate in the restaurant, but there were plenty of other people waiting to bring food home. We have stopped trying, in this land, to reconcile normalcy with horror.
Joseph Broz Tito, the daring young Partisan leader (and later ruler of Yugoslavia) hid his base in a cave near Dvar, in the thick of the Krajina's mountains. Thousands of German paratroopers failed to capture him there in the embarrassingly unsuccessful Operation Rösselsprung - his escape and the Yugoslav victory helped create a legend after Tito returned.
For us, this is also the frontier of our journey - the last push into the hinterlands of the Balkans, of southern Europe, middle Europe, wherever it is that we are. In a few days, we'll be ensconced in Sarajevo, then headed home, then on our last leg - Scandinavia, the British Isles, places that feel especially far removed from heat and confusion, tiny cultures, bombed buildings and Turkish coffee. We'll leave behind a tangle of roads traveled and looped, borders crossed, towns with impossible names. This is the last foray into this particular wilderness, and, standing in the breeze atop the castle, we began to sense the end. Fitting, probably, that this historical middle ground felt like a perfect place to finish the chapter.
27 July 2012
The surrounding fields are bucolic enough, like many green pastures around many old fortresses. There is an abandoned bar on the road below the castle, an old sign on the roof is painted luridly with women in lingerie. A man chopped wood nearby, his young children kicked a soccer ball. It made us think, in some ways, about the periods of peace and warfare that every castle went through. In so much of Europe, that peace has extended now into a kind of permanence that belies millennia of turbulence. Here in Bosnia, the very quiet - an evening calm, with soft light and chirping insects - seemed to clang against recent violence.
The first surprise is the sculpture garden in the grounds. There are some two dozen (maybe more) large carvings, all probably done by one artist who liked to experiment with styles. Some of the pieces are better than others, none have any information by them, none of it seems to be maintained. In fact, the whole castle is wild feeling and, in all practical terms, unattended - though the grass had been cut sometime recently.
At Ostrožac, we were free to wander everywhere - on the narrow battlements, on the very tops of the walls, into the unmarked bowels of the keep. We clambered and climbed and pleaded with one another to be careful. It's not for the faint of heart, but the views and experience are both worth the danger.
Sometimes, we find castles like this. But nothing we've visited has been like the residence part of Ostrožac.
There isn't much grandeur left. This probably wasn't the hardest hit section of the complex during the most recent conflict, but the lighter-weight construction didn't hold up well against bombardment. The walls were better for graffiti, the floors easily rotted, glass windows broke. The centuries have treated the stone walls outside better, the old keep still holds its squat shape - this newer part looks like it has been part of a war. One can still see the remnants of the older walls where the newer material has fallen away, the original framework of the building set in stone.
It's almost impossible to tell exactly what kind of fighting went on here, but that's nothing unusual - the marks of war are just more recent than in other castles, but the stories are similarly cloudy. The 1990's were a while ago now, most people here don't like to recount what happened or where.
Ostrožac is a great castle to visit, perhaps the most whole and impressive in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's remote, of course, in a far-flung part of the country that is deeply cut by river gorges; the going is slow around here, the roads twist and follow old topographical curves. But, to find this castle in the pine forests and cornfields is to find a place that feels immediately powerful and multi-faceted. The older walls are fun in themselves, the sculpture gardens add a bit of intrigue and interest, the marks of recent conflict make it unique. The landscape is beautiful too, with little towns and minarets outlined in the distant hillsides and thick forests below. We left feeling as though we'd explored something unlike anything else we'd seen - a place that felt as recently used as it did old and deserted, as though a wave of something ancient had just passed through before us.
25 July 2012
From across the Atlantic, the Yugoslavian breakup was a confusing mess of television images and magazine covers. Stone houses, broken in the mist. Winter landscapes, tanks and bulletholes, grim politicians, tired soldiers of undefined nationality - whole countries of undefined nationality.
Mostar became a symbol of the Bosnian War. It was, by many accounts, the hardest hit and most bombarded city in Bosnia. Mirroring the larger breakup, neighborhood fought neighborhood, snipers fired from building to building, Mostar became a jumble of ruined houses on two sides of a divisive river. We in America were left with the enduring and emblematic image of an ancient bridge, connecting two cultures, being bombed and left in rubble.
In 2004, before international TV crews and with much symbolism, the Old Bridge (called Stari Most) was officially re-opened after a lengthy rebuilding project. The old town has been beautified again. Restaurants are open along the streams. It's a perfect day trip from the overpacked Croatian coast, and Mostar deserves the visits because it's beautiful, safe and historic - at least, in the pretty part of town.
Stari Most (the name literally means "Old Bridge") was built in 1566 by the Ottoman emperor Sulieman the Magnificent. It's an amazing structure, almost seventy feet high at midspan, but only a hundred feet long. Climbing its slippery stones, the views are magnificent. It was considered, once, one of the wonders of the Ottoman empire, a barely believable feat of engineering. Around the old town, the scene is bleaker.
We watched this group of young men fishing for scrap metal in the river. They used a heavy hook, cable and hand winch, dislodging stubborn bits of what looked like a bed frame from the rocks. Not far from where the tourists ate their meals and licked their ice cream cones, things haven't improved that much.
Even though people visit Mostar these days, a little tourism can only be counted as a small victory. Bosnia's national economy is still in shambles, the war crimes are still being sorted out. And, though they come, most of the tourists don't even stay the night.
Near two huge cemeteries, we passed garages full of rusting machinery, fenced away, wires and hoses drooping.
The rebuilding of Stari Most was supposed to mirror the rebuilding of Bosnia and the relative peace that's settled in. It makes for a pretty picture and a feel-good story, a vignette about the triumph of better blood in a broken place. It's difficult to tell, right now, if it represents the truth or a mirage.
(serves 2 as a main course or 4 - 6 as a side dish)
- 1 1/2 cups bulgur
- 3 cups water
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 large carrot, halved and sliced
- 3/4 cup celeriac, match-sticked
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup cubed smoked gouda (or smoked, firm tofu)
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- pumpkin seeds, hulled
- bunch of fresh flat parsley
- red chili flakes
- olive oil
- Heat olive oil in a medium pot. Add onion and a healthy pinch of red chili flakes.
- Cook until softened and then add garlic. Continue to cook until onion is browned.
- Add carrot and water. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Pour in bulgur and mix. Lower heat to a simmer.
- Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until liquid is gone.
- Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes. Then, transfer to another container to speed up the cooling process.
- While grains cool, dice tomatoes, discarding the liquid and seeds.
- Skin and matchstick celeriac, chop parsley and cube cheese.
- Fold all ingredients into bulgur once it is no longer hot. Salt. Sprinkle liberally with pumpkin seeds and mix again.
- Dress with half a lemon and either serve or refrigerate. This is a dish that can be made the night before if you'd like.
- Drizzle lightly with olive oil before serving (optional).
Check out all of our recipes.
21 July 2012
fried fish in the sunset, made lime-basil potato salad and Njeguski fruit salad with salty skin and wet hair.
homestays. Some of the best moments of this entire trip have been in places like dung-heated Xinaliq and the Arbajter's deer farm. But sometimes, it's also nice just to have a little more privacy. To be less doted upon. To have a simpler breakfast. Since every place we stayed had a minifridge and a hotplate, cereal and a can of instant coffee become Montenegrin additions to our backpacks. Carrying them around reminded us of the good ole camping days of 2011.