Thursday, July 1, 2010

Charles, Pierre and Charles

After finishing up his final seminar at the medical school in Sarajevo, my husband and I took off on an extended car trip that ranged from Dubrovnik, Croatia, through Slovenia, northern Italy, southern France and the Alsace region, and Switzerland. We had some wonderful experiences along the way and will be sharing those – in no particular order.

One of the highpoints was a visit to the Pierre Sparr Winery located in the town of Sigolsheim, France in the Alsace region. Pierre Sparr wines are well-known and respected around the world. We have found them in local wine shops and on the wine lists of nicer restaurants. Intrigued that we shared the same last name, we always harbored the hope that we could be related to these famous Sparr’s, so we planned a visit to the winery as part of our car trip. We booked a hotel in the nearby town of Riquewihr, and as we drove through town on our way to Sigolsheim we noticed a wine cellar named 'Charles Sparr'.  Hmmm.

We went on to Sigolsheim - about 5 km from Riquewihr - and easily found the Pierre Sparr wine cellar. The woman in the tasting room knew some English and she told us that the Pierre Sparr winery had been sold just over a year ago to some sort of conglomerate. The winery had been in the family since 1680! Nearly 330 years. She also told us that one of the Sparr brothers, the current Pierre (the 10th generation) had set up a new winery in the area of Riquewihr. We stopped at the Charles Sparr winery on the way back, walked in, and there was Pierre Sparr and his son, Charles.
Pierre and Charles were wonderful, greeting us like family members. Pierre said he was heartbroken over the breakup of the family business, but as part of the deal, he kept the original family vineyards, and is starting a new business, growing the grapes and making wines himself, but bottling thousands instead of millions of bottles of wine. Since the ‘Pierre Sparr’ name belongs to the business that was sold,  he named the new winery after his son, Charles. At 22 years of age, Charles is interested in learning about the marketing aspects of the wine business and has already visited wineries in Oregon and will spend time in California in coming months.

Pierre invited us to come to dinner. They had planned a wine makers’ dinner with Alsatian foods paired with Charles Sparr wines. We happily accepted his invitation. At the dinner, we were seated at a special table, and Pierre and his father, Charles joined us for dinner.

Charles, Senior, (86 years old) was a treasure house of information on his family’s history. He seemed to think that we must be related, however distantly. He told us the family was traced to Vikings who came from Sweden to Germany in 1220, then moved on to Switzerland in 1580 and finally arrived in Alsace in 1625 and established the family winery in 1680. He believes that Sparr descendants – even with different spellings of the name - are all part of the family in some way. 

My husband’s grandfather was named Charles Sparr and his great-grandfather was August Sparr. Interestingly, both the given names Charles and August also appear frequently in the Alsace branch of the Sparr family. So far, I’ve only been able to trace August Sparr and his family to the area around Mecklenburg, Germany.

Whether my husband can trace his roots back to a common ancestor of Pierre’s or not, we were treated like family and had a wonderful evening in the company of Charles, Pierre and Charles Sparr. 
(photo: Charles, Jr., Pierre, Landy, Charles, Sr. )

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Jewish Cemetery

After my journeys into the Polish countryside, I returned to Warsaw for a few days. I wanted to see Poland’s largest city and take in some of the museums and culture. But first there was more research on my family background and a visit to make.

I had learned that my great-great-grandparents on my mother’s side were Anna (Gradecki) Gradus and Jacob Gradus. Anna was born in Jankowo, in 1858. I had tried to find the town of Jankowo on my train trip to the countryside but only found a deserted train station, a dirt road and a possible glimpse of what might have been the town in the distance. When I looked for the Gradus surname in Poland, I found the name in only one place, the Jewish records of Warsaw. A very surprising development.  

As far as anyone in the family knew, all our Polish relatives were Catholic. There is no way to tell when or why Jacob changed his faith – or perhaps just stopped practicing his faith. His wife, Anna, was Catholic. Did he adopt her faith for love? It’s even possible that she was not aware of her husband’s background. Maybe he was tired of persecution and left his Jewish identity behind when he left Warsaw. At that time in Poland there was both personal discrimination towards Jews and there were also special taxes assessed against Jewish businesses.

I found a record of a Jakub Icek Gradus, born in 1863 in Warsaw on the Jewish Records Index. His parents were listed as Yosef  Tzvi (Hersz)  and Sara Golda Gradus. He had a brother, Benjamin and a sister, Bajla Ryfka. When I contacted the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw I found they had burial records for Yosef Tzvi (Yosef Herz), died 1868, and Sara Golda Gradus, wife of Yosef Tzvi, died 1882. The section, row and plot were detailed for each of them.

My first stop in Warsaw was the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is surrounded by a brick wall, portions of which date from the Jewish Ghetto. Prior to this time, there was a Jewish quarter, but it was not walled off from the rest of the city. Because there were so few Polish Jews left in Warsaw after WWII, the cemetery was virtually abandoned for 45 years. For the past 15 years Przemsslaw Yisroel Szpilman has been the cemetery’s director and has been locating and recording the graves in the cemetery. It has been difficult work. Trees, weeds and shrubs sprouted in the untended area; gravestones crumbled or broke apart; some stones were vandalized. So far, he has found and recorded information and the locations of 85,000 graves. There are still many graves to be found and recorded.

When I arrived with the documents on my ancestors, Mr. Szpilman offered to take me to the graves himself. First we found the grave for who I believe is my g-g-g grandfather, Yosef Tzvi. It is fortunate that Mr. Szpilman was with me because the stone was in Yiddish, a language I don’t know. We found the grave for my g-g-g grandmother, Sara Golda Gradus in another section. Mr. Szpilman told me that at that time, Orthodox Jews didn’t allow men and women to be buried in the same areas of cemeteries; there was a men’s section and a women’s section. He also told me that he was nearly certain his own grandfather was buried in the cemetery, but he had not yet discovered his grave.

It was very moving to be at the graves of my ancestors; ancestors I had not even guessed at. I thanked them for coming before me; I hoped they would be proud of their descendents. I don’t know if any members of the Gradus family still living in Poland survived the Holocaust. It’s possible that the only members of the Gradus family still surviving are all in countries outside Poland. I felt like I had found people who had been lost – with many thanks to Mr. Spzilman for finding them first.

After the cemetery I visited monuments to the Jewish Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, a monument commemorating the location of the railroad siding where Jews and others were loaded on cattle cars for the trip to Auschwitz,  and a monument to the many war dead of all cultures. So much suffering. It was a sobering day. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

City of Poznan

The city of Poznan was the first capital of the emerging Polish state in the 10th century and it is second only to Warsaw as a financial center of the modern Polish state.

Many of my Polish ancestors reported that they came from Posen. That could have meant the city of Poznan, or it could have referred to the area around Poznan. Once again, I was in search of the oldest areas of the city; parts of the city my ancestors might have visited or might have even lived.

The heart of the old city is Old Market Square. The city's Town Hall is on the square and it is surrounded by colorfully painted townhouses. Once the residences of the city’s elite, most of the ground floors are now banks, cafés and shops with upper floors divided into apartments. The Town Hall is considered to be one of Europe’s finest municipal buildings (according to my guidebook), designed by an Italian architect and built between 1550-60. The square is very large and mostly open with the perimeters filled with café tables under colorful umbrellas.

It is said that 1,000 years ago, St Adalbert gave a sermon at the top of a hill in Poznan before he started on his campaign to evangelize the Prussians. Now called St. Adalbert’s hill, it is crowned by two Catholic churches. The small Gothic-styled Church of St. Adalbert faces the Church of St. Joseph across a small plaza. Both churches date to the 1600’s.

Adjoining the Church of St. Joseph was a walled cemetery. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but I walked through the cemetery hoping to find some family names. I didn’t find any, but I did find the graves of two people with the surname of Roche, my uncle’s name. The inscriptions were in German, not Polish. My aunt tells me that the name Roche is Irish. We have no idea how it was that two Irishmen speaking German were buried in an old cemetery in Poland.

I didn’t find any evidence of any of my family members in Poznan, but I was able to experience parts of the city. Some of them might have lived in Poznan, maybe they lived in nearby towns and might have visited the bigger city. But I enjoyed visiting Poznan. It’s an attractive and prosperous city and a very pleasant place to sit at a café table and watch the bustle of city life. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


If you can pronounce the name of this city, I'll give you a dollar.

Day 2 of my foray into the Polish countryside. But first I had to make the five hour train trip from Gdansk back to the area I wanted to be in, near Poznan. The front desk made a train reservation for the earliest train I could get to Inowroclaw, another small town not far from Jankowo.

Inowroclaw was an actual town with paved streets and buildings. What a relief. It’s large enough to get a brief mention in my guidebook; they call it a health resort.

I saw no evidence of it’s renown as a health resort, but I was looking for very different things. I wanted to find what looked like the oldest parts of town. My great-grandmother, Victoria Lugowski, and both her parents (my g-great grandparents) were from Inowroclaw. I hoped to wander the oldest streets, hoping that one of them could have been their neighborhood; seeing the things that they might have seen even in the late-1800’s before they set sail for the New World.

The oldest Catholic church in Inowroclaw, and it’s most historic building, is the Church of Our Lady, dating from the turn of the 13th century. You are allowed to enter through the massively heavy doors, but only as far as the small entry area. Access to the church is closed by a heavy metal gate. The lights are left on, however, so visitors can still appreciate it’s rough, plain beauty. I’ll never know if the Lugowski family ever knelt in this church, but it was here when they lived here and I’m certain they would have known about it.

Directly across a large plaza is a newer, much larger and far more ornamented church. No doubt built by the devoted parishioners when the historic church became too small for the congregation. This newer church was lavished with the gilt, ornamentation, devotional paintings and statuary missing in the early church.

As I walked around admiring the interior I couldn’t help but notice that it was in constant use by what seemed to be local people. They would stop in, say a prayer, then leave. Some stayed just a minute or two, others stayed longer. I would have to call most of them middle-aged women, but there were a few men, too, as well as a couple of young people. I saw the same thing at other churches I visited in Poland during my trip. I was impressed that their churches were so much a part of their everyday lives.

Time to move on to Poznan. As I left Inowroclaw, there were two old buildings along the railroad tracks next to the large train station. I wondered if one of these could have been the old train station and if the Lugowski family might have started their journey to America from this spot. Pure speculation. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Into the Countryside

I set off the first day from Warsaw to Jankowo, Poland. My great-great-great-grandmother had reported her birthplace as Jankowo on the ship registry documents. I planned to walk around, take a lot of pictures and hoped I might find the cemetery and possibly the graves of some of my ancestors or other extended family members.

When the train stopped in Jankowo, I stepped off the train into a field. There was one house about 50 yards down the track. After the train left, I could see that there was a small station on the other side of the tracks and 3 houses just behind it. The station was actually just an empty waiting room of sorts. The lighted sign that should have read “Jankowo” had been broken out. There wasn’t a soul around anywhere. There was a single, unpaved road that ran perpendicular to the railroad track and I didn’t see anything that looked like a town as far as I could see along either end of the road.

I started walking along the road behind the train station. After a couple hundred yards or so I still could see only the road curving to the left and some birch trees. I went back and tried the other direction. After a few hundred yards, I saw a small lake and some marshy areas. There were a couple of houses – or at least buildings of some sort – near the marsh. It looked like there could have been a small town on the far side of the lake. As the crow flies, it might have been 1 ½ miles away, but the road curved around the lake and I was not sure how far it really was to walk. The train trip from Warsaw had taken nearly 5 hours, so it was already near 4 pm. If I missed the last train out of Jankowo I might have to spend the night in the deserted train station! Not a pleasant prospect.

When I looked back toward the train station I saw a woman standing near what served as the platform. Realizing that she must know the train schedule, I decided I would have to abandon visiting Jankowo. The train arrived no more than 10 minutes later; I boarded to return to the small city that was one stop away, Gdniesno.

There was still plenty of daylight so I took advantage of it and walked around Gdiesno. Maybe my ggg-grandmother came to this “big city” with her family for shopping excursions or for special religious services in one of the old and richly decorated churches

As the light started to fade, I decided I better get in a taxi and find my hotel. I had used to book a room in a hotel that seemed to be in a nearby town. The name of the hotel and the town were printed out on my itinerary. I showed it to the taxi driver and he seemed very confused. He pointed to the ground and said what I took to be “Gdniesno”. Yes, I nodded, this is Gdniesno, but I pointed to the paper again and indicated that this was the address I wanted to go to. We went through this round of pantomime at least three times, before the driver finally shrugged and nodded, indicating that he would take me there if that was what I wanted. I handed him some paper and a pen and asked “How much?” He wrote 2,100 Zl (Polish Zloty), or about $700! What?

What to do now? The hotel room in Gdansk was guaranteed; it was far too late to cancel and get a refund. And what little I’d seen of Gdniesno made me doubt that there would be much on offer in the way of a good hotel. As a woman traveling alone, I didn’t want to be in a sketchy hotel in a sketchy neighborhood.

So it was back to the train station, but first I had to engage in another pantomime for “train station”. I’m embarrassed at the thought, but I even resorted at one point to making “choo-choo” sounds, but this apparently doesn’t translate in Polish. I finally went back to the pad of paper and pen and drew some railroad tracks. Yes, understanding at last.

I bought a ticket to Gdansk but when I sat down in the lobby and looked at it, it seemed to be dated for the next day. I went back to the ticket booth, and, again, in a combination of pantomime and a few words of English she understood, I asked if the train left today? Yes, she assured me and pointed to the date at the left side of the ticket. I later figured out that the date on the right side meant I was arriving after midnight – Gdansk was 5 hours away by train. No wonder the taxi driver thought I was crazy.
I was one bedraggled traveler when I finally got to the hotel. Amazingly, there was someone there to check me in, and even more amazingly, a young man all got up in full bellhop livery appeared to carry my bags to my room.

This had been my first full day in Poland, full of frustration, mix-ups and misadventure. I hoped that this would not set the pattern for what followed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Going to Poland

Once I knew that Landy and I were headed for Sarajevo for nearly six months, I started to do some family research in earnest. I’d been meaning to search out some family origins for some time, but never actually got to it. Now, since I was going to be in central/eastern Europe, it was time to get started on locating the origins of my Polish ancestors.

My mother was the 3rd generation of Polish immigrants living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I knew one great-grandmother, the mother of my mother’s mother. She died when I was in my early teens. But I didn’t know anything about my mom’s family on her father’s side of the family – other than they were all Polish, too. Once I started doing some online searching, I quickly found the names of all my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents. My Polish ancestors all arrived in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and they nearly all came from the area of Posen.

The situation of the Polish people became much more difficult after the Napoleonic wars. Taking the side of the French, Poland was claimed by Prussia. The Polish language was suppressed in schools and in government, the Polish nobility was pressured to sell their ancestral lands to Germans, the assets of Catholic monasteries were seized, and non-Polish colonization was encouraged. In 1848, the Parliament of Poznan (capital of the Province of Posen) voted 26 – 17 against joining the newly formed German Empire, but the vote was ignored and the Province of Posen became part of Germany. The heavily Protestant German government increased efforts to “Germanize”  Posen and in 1871 enacted a series of laws curtailing the power and influence of the Polish Catholic church. At the height of these efforts, up to half of Catholic bishops were arrested or had fled in exile; 25% of Polish parishes had no priest and one third of monasteries and convents had been closed. Facing both secular and religious discrimination, it’s no wonder that there was a huge wave of emigration from Poland in the mid- to late-1800’s.

On ship records and US census reports, my ancestors usually just listed Posen as their home. That could mean the Province of Posen, or it’s capital, the city now known as Poznan. But a ggg-grandmother reported coming  from Jankowo and another ancestor came from Inowroclaw, small towns in the Posen area. A third I learned had likely come from Warsaw.

The link to any living ancestors is long broken. I didn’t hope to find any long-lost cousins; I just hoped I might walk some of the same streets or see some of the same sights. So I booked a series of train trips from Warsaw and back again and set off for Poland to see what I could see and find.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Birthday and Getting Stranded

In mid April I flew back to Wisconsin for what should have been a 5 day visit with my Dad and sister and other family members. The occasion was my father’s 90th birthday. My father is in very good health overall; he has lost some significant portion of his eyesight to macular degeneration  and has been troubled by increasing pain due to arthritis in his knees and spine, but he and his wife live without aid in their own apartment and still are active in their neighborhood senior center, playing cards, darts and shuffleboard.
The party was supposed to be a surprise, but I know he was suspicious that something was up. He had guessed that we had planned to have a small party with my sister and I and maybe one or two couples they were friendly with at the Senior Center. Instead, he walked in to see a roomful of 40 people.  Two grandchildren and their families (including his two great-grandchildren) had flown in from Virginia and Mississippi and another old friend and his wife had flown in from their winter home in Arizona. There were a lot of family members and a large group of their friends. It was a wonderful group of people and a wonderful party.

The birthday party was April 16, the day after the Icelandic volcano blew up and shut down European airports. Originally set to return to Sarajevo on April 18, Lufthansa wouldn’t reschedule me until my flight was officially cancelled. By the time I could reschedule, the earliest flight I could get was April 23.
My sister works for a hotel, so I was getting a very attractive room rate, but I didn’t want to keep running up my bill, so I moved into the spare room in my dad’s apartment. I had my laptop with me so I could finish work on the May issue of my publication, the Oak Hills Oracle, but I didn’t have the right cable to hook up to the internet connection they had. To check my email and do any online research, I had to use my dad’s 10 year old Gateway computer. It was only possible to endure if I had plenty of reading material on hand while I waited - and waited - for the little ball to stop spinning. 

I was far more fortunate than many other stranded travelers, some of whom were stuck in airports, or in strange cities where they just had to watch their hotel bills increasing. It was a blessing to have the extra time with my father and I could help them out with some chores. I did the vacuuming, I moved some large potted plants, and I cleaned up their small patio and the chairs so they can enjoy the spring sunshine.

My return to Sarajevo was just in time. I unpacked, then repacked. I was off for a trip to Poland on April 25. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Comparative Convenience

I set off this afternoon to pay the various utility bills. Bosnia is a cash society – they do not use checks at all. I am told that most Bosnians have a bank account and a debit card, but they don’t have paper checks at all. So when it’s time to pay utility bills, you don’t’ sit down and write a batch of checks, you go to the Post Office and pay them in cash.

I was silently congratulating myself that the previous month I had located a nearby Post Office. Our first month here I only knew where the downtown Post Office was and that was about a 35 minute walk. On the plus side, the walk is all down hill from our apartment. The Post Office I found near our apartment was less than a 15 minute walk, although there was a pretty wicked hill to climb. Still, a much shorter walk.
But here’s the really lucky part. Directly across the street from the Post Office is an ATM machine from the bank we use most often! The US Embassy had advised using only the ATMs from the larger, more established banks. Banking regulations here are pretty loose and some businesses call themselves banks and install ATMs, but can charge enormous transaction fees.

When I made this discovery I could hardly wait to tell Landy about how convenient it would be from now on to pay the utility bills. All I had to do was walk to the ATM machine and get out enough to cover the bills, then go across the street and pay everything at the Post Office. How great is that?!

It was hardly out of mouth when I had to start to laugh. After just a few months in Sarajevo, this was my new idea of “convenience”. Back in Portland I pay nearly all our bills online and I find myself feeling irritated at the “inconvenience” of having to write out an occassional check by hand.

This month I’m back to feeling pretty inconvenienced by life in Sarajevo indeed. After a short walk  this afternoon (uphill) I got to the Post Office and it was closed! State services here all close their doors between 2 and 3 pm. I’d arrived at 3:10 – just missed it. OK, it was fun for awhile, but now it’s not cute anymore. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Frizerski Salon

My hair has a tendency to frizz. I try to keep the frizz under control with a variety of hair products and styling equipment. But the slightest humidity or getting caught in a shower will undo my carefully arranged hairstyle and turn it into a halo of frizz. So it was with great unease that I ventured into a Bosnian frizerski salon (haircutting salon).

Entrusting my hair to a new stylist would be anxiety-provoking enough, but – frizerski? – really?

I shouldn’t have worried – I was in exceptional hands with Haris Hodzic. For Haris, cutting hair is a family business. His parents owned a hair salon before the Bosnian war. The family was able to get out and moved to London. In London, Haris found his way into high fashion, cutting and styling hair for models and fashion shows. Now back in Sarajevo, Haris owns his own frizerski salon and has become a local celebrity stylist. He is featured in an article on a hair styling show in the latest issue of a glossy Bosnian fashion magazine.

From the outside, the AS Salon doesn’t look much different from many other hair salons in Sarajevo and showing up during the day, mid-week, I didn’t even need an appointment. First Haris combed through my hair and asked how I wanted it cut. Next I was sent to the shampooist who washed my hair and provided a wonderful head and neck massage. Much needed because my wallet had been stolen from my purse about 10 minutes before. (see previous blog) Then back to Haris for the cut and then to another woman for drying and styling. Haris only cuts hair, the rest is left to his assistants. It was a wonderful experience and I love the cut. Total cost, 20 KM – about $14. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pocket Picked

Well, now I’ve had the full Bosnian experience. My pocket was picked today. OK, not exactly my pocket, but the thief unzipped my purse and lifted out my wallet while my purse was on my shoulder.
My friend Shirley and I were on a fun outing. She had a hair appointment and was allowing me to tag along to the most prestigious hair salon in Sarajevo. You seldome need an appointment in Sarajevo hair salons so I planned to get a cut while she had her hair done. The salon is not in downtown Sarajevo, but what you might call the suburbs, or at least the outer edges of the city. So we met at a downtown tram stop and were off for a self-indulgent afternoon.

When we arrived in Sarajevo we had to sit through a security briefing at the US embassy. At the briefing, we were all advised to avoid the trams and buses because of the prevalence of pick pockets. But since I almost never have to carry top secret documents, I dismissed this advice. Anyway, I was always careful with my things and thought I was so vigilant that a pickpocket wouldn’t have a chance.
Boarding the tram I was very careful to take my tram ticket out of my wallet and put the wallet back in my purse and zip it up.  I knew that, once on the tram, it would be so crowded that performing this simple maneuver would be difficult – especially with the additional challenge of the lurching and swaying tram. I was also carrying a very small duffel bag that was a disguise for my camera. I had already found that carrying the camera was like having a neon sign on my forehead that blinked “Foreign Tourist”. So you can see how cautious I was being.

The tram, as usual, was packed shoulder to shoulder. In squeezing toward the back, my bags shifted so that my purse ended up more behind me than just below my arm. Still, it was right against my body. When we finally squeezed our way off the tram I immediately checked to make sure I had both bags with me and I noticed that my purse was partly unzipped. I knew right away that I wouldn’t find my wallet. I never felt or noticed a thing. They are very skillful.

After a few minutes of anger and expletives and general venting I asked Shirley if she would loan me the money for a haircut. She readily agreed and it was the right decision. Pampering was just the antidote I needed.

Unfortunately, that meant that Landy had to clean up the mess. I called him at once and told him he would have to call and cancel the debit card for our home bank account. Luckily, I was carrying only the debit card and not any credit cards, so it will be some time and inconvenience to fix it, but we are not entirely cut off from access to funds.

This is a cash society, so I was carrying more cash than I normally carry at home. That was a very expensive tram ride. I should have taken the advice from the Embassy Security adviser. I could have taken a lot of cabs for the amount of money that I lost in that wallet. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trip to Bihac

This past weekend, we got out of Sarajevo for the first time since we arrived. Landy was invited to give a presentation in Bihac, and I went along.

Bihac (pronounced bee-hash) is a very old city in the northwestern corner of Bosnia. According to my guidebook, the city was first mentioned in a document from 1260 in a document by King Bela IV. But it is well known that the area was populated from at least Roman times. The city square is dominated by a medieval watch tower. Located at the gateway of the various invasions by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, it was at the center of many shifts in power.

The biggest draw in Bihac today is the Una River. The name comes from the Latin word for “the  only one” and legend has it that it was named by a Roman legionnaire who was awestricken at first sight of the beautiful river. It is very popular for whitewater rafting and it is a unique, jade green color.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel a short way out of town on the Una River, overlooking a series of waterfalls. As special guests, we had a room overlooking the falls and could listen to the rushing water all night. (view from our room)

Landy was invited to speak to the association of disability arbitrators of BiH. In the BiH disability system, applicants are first examined by a physician. After the exam, applicants are referred to the Disability Institute where government employees then make determinations on disability awards. In a country where some reports estimate an unemployment rate of 40%, there is a lot of pressure on the disability system to provide government payments.

Before we arrived, the woman who has acted as our translator (at times) and our host at the Department of Psychiatry at the medical school and clinic, had never visited the Disability Institute even though it is barely 1.5 miles from her office. Both groups are mistrustful of each other: the doctors suspect the Institute employees of “selling” disability awards and the Institute employees suspect the doctors of “selling” valuable diagnoses. Whatever the truth is, both groups acknowledge they need help with providing a fair system and that they are currently overwhelmed and without much guidance.

The trip to Bihac was long and arduous. We had a driver assigned to us by the Disability Institute. We ‘caravanned’ with another car and the trip took over 7 ½   hours! The first stop was so Landy could get some Dramamine from our translator – the entire trip was through mountains, with very twisty-turny roads. Once he got some Dramamine and changed his seat to the front, he felt much better. Then we stopped for lunch (and cigarettes), then another stop later for coffee (and cigarettes).

The lunch stop was at a “country” restaurant. Although it appeared to have been recently built, it was in the Bosnian country style with open rafters and booths with seats covered in kilim rugs. The local specialty was what they call ‘sour milk’ with cornbread. The ‘sour milk’ is much like tart yoghurt, but with more liquid. It was served in a soup sized wooden bowl and we were advised to eat it with the cornbread crumbled into the sour milk. Delicious – and especially good for Landy’s still slightly upset stomach.

After a 7 ½ hour car trip, the last thing I wanted to do was socialize with a roomful of strangers whose language I didn’t know. But when we walked into the hotel our translator told us all her colleagues were already at dinner – and when could they expect us to join them? We begged for 20 minutes, washed up and changed, and joined the group. There were about 24 people or so; some spoke no English and most spoke very limited English. People over 35 here generally know very little English; people under 25 often have good English. If we’re lost, we always look for a young person to help us. Although we are trying to learn some Bosnian, I have to admit that our Bosnian is still pretty much limited to reading menus and navigating in a grocery store. Not surprisingly, being able to say fish, chicken or veal doesn’t get one very far in conversation. But we were good sports and smiled a lot and we got through it.

By dinner the second night a few of the Bosnians had unwound to the point of trying out their English phrases. This was a good thing because our translator had disappeared! I think the others felt sorry for us for being abandoned and they made an effort to make us feel a part of the group. Luckily there was live music in the dining room that night so that helped break the ice too. A few of the women grabbed my hands and even got me up to dance. It was a sort of Greek-style line dance. If I could have asked I would have been curious to know if they were imitating the Greek dance or if there is also a traditional Bosnian folk dance that is similar. Dancing in Bihac can be a lot of fun. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pedestrians Beware

Spring has finally arrived in Sarajevo. The last scraps of snow have just recently melted and tiny yellow primroses have popped out – seemingly overnight -  in the yards and fields around here. 

It’s much easier to walk now that the sidewalks are free of snow and slush, but pedestrians are well advised to watch their step. The pavements here are uneven and full of hazards, from potholes to debris. Some of the sidewalks are brick-paved and it’s not unusual to come across missing bricks here and there. Sometimes the holes and potholes are filled in with loose gravel or asphalt. Where the holes are filled in, the fill is never level with the surface. There are places where the sidewalk has simply crumbled away in spots. Another hazard to pedestrians is that cars park on the sidewalks. You are frequently forced to walk in the street, and well advised to step back between the parked cars to allow drivers to get past; they don’t show much inclination to slow down just because the street is narrow, pedestrians are in the street and barely a foot or two from moving traffic. I’m careful to watch my step; I don’t want to learn about the Bosnian emergency medicine system.

Bosnian women – especially the younger women – are somehow able to navigate all these hazards on high heels. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve stumbled more than once in my sensible, flat shoes.

Pedestrians also have to watch out for cars when crossing the street. Even when you wait for the green pedestrian signal, you are foolish to think that the pedestrian has the right of way. Cars with the green light and making a turn in front of you will try to beat the pedestrians to the intersection. If you are in the intersection before the car, they will stop just a few feet away, then keep rolling slowly toward you, apparently their version of “playing chicken”. 

(additional photos of Sidewalk Hazards) at

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Long Distance Fight

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently writing emails. Many, many emails. Just as I left the Portland area for Sarajevo, Bosnia – 5,800 miles away – the planning process is beginning on a road project I have been watching for 21 years.

When we first moved to Oak Hills in 1989, we lived in a house that backed up to a narrow two-lane road. The road was about 1 mile long; it ended at a T at both it’s north and south ends. What we hadn’t known was that the county had already decided that this little road would one day become a major arterial for north/south traffic and was slated to be 5 lanes wide.

As soon as I found this out I got on the phone. I talked to engineers, county planners and elected officials. They were polite but firm. The decision had been made. They advised me not to worry – there was currently no money allocated for this project and it could be 20 years before it was likely to come up. Well, it’s 21 years later, and now the Bethany Boulevard project is funded and the county is ready to build five lanes of roadway in addition to bike lanes and sidewalks.  

When I first started talking to transportation officials, they seemed to be well aware that the Oak Hills neighborhood had been built before the county transportation plan was adopted and that there was insufficient set-back of those properties to allow enough space for the proposed 5 lanes. Over the years, however, that information was lost and I have insisted to unbelieving officials that the county did not own sufficient right of way for the project. I expect they dismissed me as just another crank who didn’t know what she was talking about.

The first Open House on the project is scheduled for March 30. You might say I’m frustrated.

Bethany Boulevard needs improvement. The existing lanes are too narrow, longer turn lanes are needed, there is no shoulder at the sides, no bike lanes, and sidewalks are on the one side and not continuous at that. It is unsafe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. An improved three lane road along with the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks would benefit all users and would not require that some homeowners (16 in Oak Hills alone) would lose a significant part of their property  - or possibly their homes - to make room for a five lane road.

Earlier this month at the County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board was presented with an agenda item for the purchase of a home bordering Bethany Boulevard in a neighborhood adjoining Oak Hills. The stated purpose of the purchase was for demolition in preparation for the widening of Bethany Boulevard.

The loss of property and family homes is not the only reason I oppose a five lane project. I think that a five lane highway does not belong in the middle of a residential area. There are no businesses, schools or even apartment complexes along this stretch of road; it is entirely single family homes. A five lane project will physically divide a tight knit elementary school community making it difficult for children, parents and school busses to cross from one side of the neighborhood to the other, dividing friends. What will the effects of five lanes of traffic be on the air quality and noise and light pollution for nearby families?

But here’s the punchline: the proposed five lane road will do absolutely nothing to improve congestion and improve traffic flow! At it’s north end, the two new northbound lanes will merge into a single lane north of West Union. At it’s south end, two new southbound lanes will merge into a single lane on the hwy 26 overpass. The county has no firm plans to widen the stretch of Bethany Boulevard north of West Union. The state would be responsible for funding any improvements to the overpass. As we all know the State of Oregon is broke and cannot afford to replace bridges that are nearly falling down. 

Realistically, I doubt they will replace the hwy 26 overpass for 50 years or more – possibly much more. A five lane road will needlessly cause many homeowners to lose their property and  others to see their property values plummet.

A three lane road will be less expensive to build and won’t involve the costly purchase of right of way and the likely legal challenges that will be the result. The money saved can be spent on one of the many other pressing transportation projects the county has on its list. Taxpayers’ money should not be squandered on an unnecessarily expensive project when a less expensive project will serve just as well.
I have been making my case by email to the Washington County Commissioners, the Senior Planner assigned to the Bethany Boulevard project, candidates for county commissioner, and CPO 7, a citizens volunteer group that monitors development and county issues. I’ve been emailing everyone I can think of. My goal is to shake people out of their complacency before it’s too late. I’m afraid that many people won’t pay attention until the bulldozers show up. The time to act is now – right now -  just as the planning process is starting.

For local readers of my blog, here is contact information you might want to have. Matthew Costigan, Senior Planner, Wash. Co DLUT,; Tom Brian, Wash. Co Board chairman, and Desari Strader, District 2 Co. Commissioner must be contacted from the county website; candidates for county commissioner (primary election, May 18 ) Greg Malinowski,; Mike Niehuser,; Mike Matousek,; Jason Yurgel,; Doak Schulte,; Andy Duyck,; Dick Schouten,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dining Out

When we asked some of the previous Fulbrighters about food in Sarajevo, they couldn’t seem to think of anything to say. This worried me. What would we find? Would we be bored silly by a bland and barely palatable diet? We shouldn’t have worried.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the restaurants here. There are no chain restaurants, and you will never be served something that has been pre-packaged, frozen or dehydrated. All the food is prepared in their own kitchen so that is a plus right from the start.

The smaller, neighborhood restaurants rely on staples that would be familiar in any American restaurant – pizza, pasta, and chicken. The servings are generally ample and while simply prepared, the food is appealing in a basic way.

The better restaurants will offer fish and calamari in addition to chicken and veal. The fish is always very fresh and served grilled. In one restaurant, there was a tank of live fish and you could pick one from the tank. In another, the waiter brought a large platter with a selection of fish that were fresh that day for our inspection. This same restaurant is on a steep hill and the tables at the windows offer a wonderful of the lights of Sarajevo. The chicken and veal is most often pounded very thin and sautéed quickly. Meals are usually accompanied by sautéed vegetables. They do a wonderful job with spinach and it is used often in the better restaurants. This is not adventurous food; you can recognize everything on your plate. But in the hands of a good cook, it can be very good and quite satisfying. You will rarely see a vegetarian dish, but there is usually a pasta dish that is meatless.

The other day we met another couple for dinner at the Sarajevo Brewery. We chose it because of its history and beautiful interior. The menu turned out – not too surprisingly in retrospect – to be what might be called a higher level of ‘bar food’. It wasn’t burgers and pizza, but every entrée was accompanied by French fries (in Sarajevo, they use the French term, pomme frites). I decided to try the veal shank. Four jaws dropped when our plates arrived. I was served the entire thigh bone – a good ten inches long, the 2” diameter bone was scraped bare at the lower six inches or so and covered with  meat at the other. It was enormous; it looked like a meal for Fred Flintstone! And accompanied by pomme frites. It turned out to be delicious. The meat was very tender and tasty. I just wish I had brought my camera – I’ve never seen a plate of food like this.

I wonder that the previous Fulbrighters had nothing to offer on the topic of food or restaurants.  Could it be that some people just don’t notice what they put in their mouth?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Sarajevo Brewery

Yesterday Landy and I went in search of the Sarajevo Brewery. We had already sampled some of this great local beer (pivo) and had heard that it was worth a visit.

Today the Sarajevo Brewery is a showpiece of restoration and reconstruction. It is one of the more beautiful buildings in the city with a painted façade and colorful banners adorning the front. Inside, a portion of the building contains a large beer hall and restaurant. Not as large as some of the famous beer halls of Munich, it’s still a huge, two storied room with a brick, barrel vaulted ceiling and beautiful, wrought iron chandeliers and light fixtures. On the entry level the tables sport red-checked table cloths; upstairs the tables have white linen. They brew two beers – dark and light; light meaning the color of the beer, not that it was (horrors!) low-cal. Fresh from the source, both were wonderful!

The brewery also figured prominently during the siege of Sarajevo. The city’s water system was destroyed early in the war. With no running water, the citizens did what they could by collecting rain water and melting snow. But the brewery sits over an underground lake and had its own well, so it became the primary source of clean water for most of the citizens in Sarajevo. This also made it a target for snipers and shelling.

One of Sarajevo’s famous “roses” is alongside the Brewery wall here. The roses have “bloomed” in places where a large shell killed a large number of civilians  - often waiting in lines for water, bread or food. The shell craters were filled in with a special red waxy-like substance, creating a red “rose” to commemorate their deaths. Wreaths have also been left at the Brewery, perhaps by family members  in honor of a loved one who perished there. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Visit to the National Gallery of BiH

My friend Shirley and I went in search of the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovinia (BiH). We had the address, and Shirley knew where the street was, we even had a major landmark – the National Gallery was described as being across from the Orthodox Cathedral. But as I’ve already learned, that’s no guarantee that you can find it.

Since we were in front of the Orthodox Cathedral, we stopped in there first. The exterior is still surrounded by scaffolding, but has been mostly restored and it is splendid. The plaster exterior is painted in shades of cream and yellow-gold and topped with a distinctive dome. The interior soars 3 or 4 stories above the tiled floor, with a huge central dome supported by 6 massive pillars. The intricately tiled floor is mostly intact, but the painting on the ceiling and pillars is still largely untouched and looks like it will require many years of restoration. Oddly, the interior was at least 10 degrees colder than the outside temperature.

Now the National Gallery ought to be right across the street. We walked up and down and couldn’t find the building number, or anything that looked like it could be the National Gallery. Shirley is conversant in Bosnian, so she approached two men in a parking lot across from the cathedral and asked where the National Gallery was. One had no idea, but the other man pointed to a passageway off the street. We went down the passageway and, yes, there we found a small plaque on a doorway that read “National Gallery”. You could not see it at all until you were standing directly in front of it.

We pushed open the door and down a short, dark hallway to find a second door that said “Press Center” (in Bosnian, Press Centar). Were we actually in the right place? We pushed open this door and found a small entry area that looked to me to be more like a storage room or the stage entrance of a theatre – there were boxes of things piled about and a cluster of mops and brooms. Soon, a man appeared – perhaps the buildings concierge? – and Shirley told him we were there to visit the National Gallery. He pointed to a staircase and told us to go up. We were up the first flight before lights were turned on so we could see the photographs that hung in the stairway. The National Gallery turned out to be on the third floor of the building. Soon after we made it into the gallery, a stout woman came huffing up the stairs and turned on the lights in the gallery. We were the only visitors. I had the feeling we may have been the only visitors in days – if not weeks.

Except for two religious icon paintings, all the works were from the early 20th century. Sarajevo had been known as the cultural center of the former Yugoslavia. I have to believe that there had been much more art in Sarajevo, but that it was lost in the war.

In most wars, there has been some warning; a time of build-up in hostilities. A time when preparations can be made and treasures can be hidden or protected. But it seems that the residents of Sarajevo just didn’t believe that there would be war and no preparations were made. They have lost so much.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Balkan Hamburger

You will not find a single McDonalds in Sarajevo. No Burger King, Denney’s, or Pizza Hut. Not a single Starbucks. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single chain restaurant here of any kind. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a hamburger, pizza, or coffee in this town.

Bosnian’s love their coffee, but they prepare it the Turkish way. The coffee must be ground to a very fine powder. The powder is steeped in very hot – but not boiling – water until it foams up. The process is repeated several times and the result is wonderful, but very strong coffee that they serve in tiny cups. In Bosnian restaurants it also involves a great deal of smoking along with the coffee. They do not have the Surgeon General’s health warnings on cigarette packs here and there is no such thing as a smoke free restaurant or even a non-smoking section.

Pizza (pice in Bosnian) is very popular here and is on the menu of most moderate restaurants. I haven’t been able to translate all the toppings yet, but we have had pice with four cheeses and with mushrooms. Because of the large Muslim population, pork is not widely served, but they smoke beef and will serve bits of smoked beef in place of bacon on things like pizza or in polenta or risottos’s. The second time we ordered pice I realized that we had committed a faux pas – we ate it the American way, cutting it into wedges that we ate by hand. In Bosnia, pice is eaten with knife and fork.

You will also frequently find Hamburger listed on menus – spelled just the same, though they rarely understand me when I pronounce it the ‘American’ way. I had lunch in a nice café recently and ordered a Balkan Hamburger. The meat patty was made up of ground veal and lamb, topped with tomato,  cabbage coleslaw, and a poached egg! The bun must have been a custom baked small round bread. It was wonderful. I would go back and order it again, but my luncheon companion ordered a shishkabob that looked delicious and  I would love to try that next.

There are also many small eateries like the one advertising their offerings on signboards like this one. This is the real "fast food" in Sarajevo. In the downtown area you are likely to see 3 or 4 on every block, even away from the center of town, they are not hard to find. Most are about the size of an average American closet. In Portland, they would probably be street carts. I have not yet tried the hamburgers for sale at these small stands, but at just 2.50KM ($1.75) it's a cheap meal or snack. The top item on the menu is a Bosnian specialty. They are made up of ground meat - most likely a combination of ground veal and lamb - mixed with spices and formed into finger shaped meatballs. They are usually served with pita bread and are delicious. This menu also offers chicken fillet or chicken leg, kebabs and juices as well as some other food items I can't translate yet. Nothing on the menu is over $7.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Watching the Olympics

We get two sports channels on cable here in Sarajevo, EuroSport 1 & 2. They have been airing Olympic events pretty much non-stop, but just like NBC, much of it turns out to be repeats.

Since our time zone is nine hours ahead of the west coast, we see live morning and afternoon events in the early evening. Evening events are shown in the wee hours of the morning.  We’re not crazy, so we watch those events the next morning with breakfast.

We’ve seen Bode Miller win two medals, Lindsay Vonn win two medals, and the Flying Tomato win with his spectacular snowboard freestyle. There have been hours of cross country skiing; these events are very popular in Europe. There is competition in “traditional” cross country, with skis pointed straight ahead and a back and forth motion and there’s also “freestyle” cross country skiing where the skier uses more of a v-shaped skating motion. Both look exhausting. There are two additional cross country events: one combines cross country skiing and shooting and another combines cross country skiing and ski jumping. Norway always picks up medals in the cross country skiing events.

My favorite events are the figure skating events, and I love them all: pairs, ice dancing, and men’s and women’s events. The pairs competition was very good and the men’s competition was possibly the best ever. I have never seen a field so deep. There were 8 – 10 excellent skaters this year. The gold medal win by US skater Evan Lycacek was amazing. His performance was flawless; it had to be for him to triumph over so many outstanding skaters.

Now and then we get what I think must be British commentary on EuroSport, but most of the time it is in Bosnian. I can catch a word or two, but for the most part I just tune out the commentary. But without commentary, I was unaware of the complaints from Russian skater, Plushenko that he should have gotten the gold medal because he performed a quad jump and Lycacek didn’t. I saw the story the next day on the internet. His team has not filed an official protest of the judging, but that has not stopped them from sniping behind the scenes. That’s the skating world. Still looking forward to seeing the ice dancing finals and then the women’s competition.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Big Mistake

Today was a little warmer, probably mid-30’s, and the sun even came out for a while so I thought I would take a walk and take a few photographs. My first stop was the Olympic stadium, barely a half mile from our apartment. Then I set off for the US embassy. I wanted some pictures of the front gate and fence – all you can see from the street. So there I was standing in the small park across from the embassy taking some snapshots when I was approached by a very large Bosnian policeman. He spoke to me in his language and I replied in English. There were a few exchanges, neither of us understanding the other. When he motioned for me to follow him, though, it was clear what he meant and my heart sank.
I followed him across the street to a small kiosk at the corner of the embassy compound. In addition to a second Bosnian police officer, there were two guards there carrying AK 47’s. They also had handguns strapped to their thighs.

The second policeman knew some English and he started questioning me about taking photographs of the US embassy. I explained I was a US citizen and didn’t know it might be a problem to take photographs. He asked me to wait while he contacted his supervisor.

The supervisor appeared wearing a sweater with a Embassy Security embroidered on one should and an American flag patch on the other. He was also Bosnian, but his English was excellent. Now he started questioning me: why was I taking photos, didn’t I see the signs prohibiting photographs, what was I doing in Bosnia, where did I live, etc. Thank heavens I had my passport with me. I showed him my passport and freely admitted taking photographs of the embassy. I had just meant to be able to show my family the embassy compound where we had been welcomed a week earlier. He said that it was all okay, but they would have to take my passport and make some notes and I would have to delete all the photos of the embassy. Although it would be easy to take as many photos as I wanted with a cell phone camera and they would be unlikely to notice,  I certainly wasn’t going to get into an argument with someone backed up by two men carrying automatic weapons. He watched while I went through all the photos on my camera and deleted all the embassy photos. Then we reviewed all the photos left on the camera to make sure all embassy photos were gone.

He was really very polite and pleasant about the whole thing and even apologized for taking up so much of my time. He didn’t have a threatening manner, yet the vision of a small dark cell with a single bare light bulb occupied my thoughts while I was waiting for my passport to be returned. I was very relieved to be sent on my way.

I won’t make that mistake again. The US embassy compound is surrounded by a high white concrete wall and takes up a good half block. The buildings are well back from the wall. You’ll just have to use your imagination – I’m not going to try to get a photo. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Ignoring all protocol, a meeting was set up at the medical school without the presence of the school’s president. Landy was asked to meet with the head of research, the head of the psychiatric clinic, and Alma, a psychologist who works in the partial hospitalization and stress disorders programs. Alma, a Croatian, has spent time in Chicago and has fairly good English language skills. At the meeting on Tuesday, Landy learned that they don’t have Forensic Psychiatry in Bosnia and Alma declared that she is not particularly interested in legal issues because it takes away from clinical time. The head of the clinic, however, was quite gracious and seemed to want to learn more about forensic psychiatry. Landy found out later that this psychiatrist is the forensic expert by default in Bosnia although he has not had formal training.

There was some discussion of lectures that might be made to the faculty, but no definite dates or times were scheduled. Then he was shown to his office which contained a table and a chair. There was no computer and there was a printer that was broken. In answer to his question, they replied that no, the facility did not have a wireless internet connection. He was welcome to bring his laptop but could not go online. Bosnia is not a wealthy country, and it was clear that very few resources are available for psychiatric treatment.

He is optimistic about a meeting that has been arranged with a woman from Vermont who is an international judge at the Bosnian National Court War Crimes Chamber and another with a professor at the law school who teaches criminal law procedure.

Tonight we are inviting Patrick Roberts for dinner in our apartment. Patrick is a fellow Fulbright scholar with a background in education and the philosophyof education. Patrick just arrived a week ago. By contrast, we are veterans of Sarajevo. We met him briefly at the Fulbright orientation in Washington DC last August. The menu is Spaghetti with Barilla jarred pasta sauce. They don’t seem to have canned vegetables here – although we recently found a larger and more modern sort of supermarket that has a section with frozen vegetables (!). But the spaghetti sauce in jars is really quite tasty. It has become one of our fall-back meals, easy to prepare and enjoyable. We are trying the locally available lettuce in a salad for the first time. The produce man at our nearby market had to dig down a few layers before he found a head he thought was suitable. It doesn’t appear that lettuce is a frequent guest at our neighbors’ tables. Freshly baked bread is available every day and it’s good – not as good as the bread in Parisian bakeries, but good nonetheless.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting the news from Aljazeera

Since my language skills are still pretty much limited to a few phrases of greeting and a handful of food-related words, getting any news means turning to the internet and tv news.

I have to assume that when I come across a channel with a man or woman sitting at a desk and speaking or reading into a camera that it must be a Bosnian news program. But, of course, I am unable to understand a single word. Several of the channels are in German and I am able to catch a word or two here and there. Fortunately, we also get the international version of CNN and the English version of Aljazeera.

CNN uses a similar format to the US version, with the same news stories repeated every hour. But they also seem to have adopted some of the US network morning show tactics. Most of the hour is devoted to “feature” stories including entertainment and celebrity news. Yesterday, until the “breaking news” story about Bill Clinton’s heart procedure knocked it out of rotation, most of CNN’s time was devoted to endless repetitions of stories about the death of English fashion designer Alexander McQueen, in an apparent suicide. 

The better choice for tv news here is the Aljazeera/English channel. Like international CNN, many if not most of the commentators have British accents. As an American, I had an impression of Aljazeera as being a highly biased news source, possibly even in collusion with some terrorist groups. I still cannot assess how the news is presented in the Arabic language broadcasts on Aljazeera, but I have found the English broadcast much more informative than CNN. The news reports on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq appear to be balanced, with reports not much different in content than what I would expect to hear on CBS or NBC. The biggest difference on Aljazeera is that they carry more news stories on Middle Eastern, Arabic and African countries, a perspective that is often missing on US news reports.

I will continue to tune in to Aljazeera. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010


We are still waiting to find out exactly what Landy will be doing here in Sarajevo.

When we arrived here January 28, we were met at the airport by Elizabeta, a Bosnian woman who works in the cultural affairs office of the American embassy. She had been our primary email contact here for making arrangements and making sure all the necessary paper work – which was substantial – had been completed. She arrived with a car and driver and got us to our hotel. Unfortunately, she was also coming down with the flu. Elizabeta was out of the office all the following week.

Nothing can be done in Bosnia until the formal “courtesy call”. At this event, all parties must be in attendance including the President of the medical center, various department heads,  and an appropriate representative of the state department. It sounds like it involves a lot of hand shaking. But until this event takes place, very little else can be done. With Elizabeta out sick, the meeting couldn’t take place last week.

On Friday, Landy learned that the medical center president, Dr. Faris Gavrankapetanovic (hereafter referred to as Dr. G.) would be gone until Feb. 17. More alarmingly, at least two out of eight department heads at the medical faculty have been replaced in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, these two positions were to be Landy’s main points of contact. A coincidence or a purge? There’s no way to tell.

In the meantime, Landy will be making contacts on his own. We met an American woman, a professor of Economics at the University of Vermont, who knows another American woman in Sarajevo who is an international judge involved with war crimes prosecutions connected to the Bosnian war.  We will have dinner with her next Thursday and Landy will talk with her about opportunities to be involved in those proceedings. Apparently there is a need for good psychiatric evaluations.

We are waiting for the “courtesy call” before we will know what Landy will be spending his time here doing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Stone Lion

Very near our apartment there is a graveyard. Many of the markers are of a white stone and it was very beautiful in the snow. In additon to the beauty of the snow topping and glistening on the grave markers, I was drawn to it by an exquisite sculpture of a sleeping lion “guarding” this cemetery. Carved from the same white stone as many of the grave markers, it is massive as it rises well above all the graves on the hillside. Although they appear to be separated in groupings, the cemetery has graves with Muslim and Christian symbols on the graves. Most sobering, as I walked along the paths, was the huge number of graves from 1992. In the upper section of the cemetery virtually every grave was from 1992. Later war victims must have had to find other resting places; this cemetery had been filled.

This cemetery on the hill looks down at the Olympic stadium and Zetra arena, the ice skating venue for the 1984 Olympics. Zetra arena has been rebuilt after it was shelled into rubble during the war. I remember watching many of the events on tv and still remember some of them vividly. I’m an ice skating fan and I’ll never forget seeing Torvill and Dean’s ice dancing performance of Bolero. US skater, Scotty Hamilton, also put in a memorable performance.

William Oscar Johnson, a writer for Sports Illustrated, attended the ’84 Olympics and wrote an article about Sarajevo in  1994. I’d like to share his words. “The speed skating track has been hit more than 20 times by heavy-artillery shells, and no one is playing tag there. Franko's triumph took place on Mount Bjelasnica, as did the feats of U.S. twins Phil and Steve Mahre (gold and silver, respectively, in the slalom) and that of the U.S.'s Bill Johnson (gold in the downhill).

Last summer the courses were scorched by weeks of combat, the ski lifts were burned, all the hotels and restaurants were torched. Mount Jahorina, where U.S. skiers Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper earned gold and silver, respectively, in the giant slalom, is now a major military installation occupied by Serb troops, the hotels there turned into barracks. The Zetra figure skating center, where Scott Hamilton, Katarina Witt and the elegant Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic championships, was flattened to rubble early in the fighting. Igman Plateau, site of all Nordic events, has been a key battleground for months: The cross-country ski trails have been chewed to smithereens by shells and Serb tank treads, and the ski jumps stand in ghostly silence.” Sports Illustrated, Feb 14 1994.

The evidence of the war is still everywhere in Sarajevo. There are still many buildings pock-marked with shell and bullet holes. Our apartment building is included. Take a close look at the photo of the entrance to our building. The three black dots under the white framed windows and another few black dots to the left of the second floor windows are from bullets. All the buildings in this residential area show the same marks. What could it have been like to be living here then? Under constant threat for four years.

I can’t understand it. Every Bosnian we have met so far has been friendly, warm and more than helpful – and we are strangers here. How could these wonderful and friendly people have been trying to kill each other – their neighbors? I really don’t know.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eating and drinking

Photos from Sarajevo are now posted on

This little store is, indeed, our supermarket. It’s located just 2 blocks away and is in the ground floor of an apartment building. There seems to be one just like it or very similar, every few blocks. In some, the fruit and produce are displayed on the sidewalk, but our local market has an unheated covered area.
The citrus fruit has been fantastic. The oranges we have bought in this little market are much better than any oranges I have bought in Portland. Ever. We learned they are likely from orchards in areas of Croatia and Montenegro near Greece. The fresh produce includes potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, oranges and tangerines, kiwi fruit, and grapes.

Most of these neighborhood markets are about the size of a 7-11 store, but of course carry more real groceries than snacks and candy. Our market carries almost no imported foods and goods. Nearly everything is Bosnian or from one of the countries that formerly made up Yugoslavia. Bosnia is not part of the European Union and it could be that taxes on imported foods would make them too costly to sell here. However, we did find Hellman’s mayonnaise on the shelf, and of course, Coca-Cola – but not Pepsi. The spice shelf is limited to dried oregano, dried parsley flakes and according to the drawing on the package, possibly dried celery flakes? I bought the oregano. We also found Barilla pasta sauce in jars, and Barilla pasta. We made spaghetti the other night and it’s wonderful; a much tastier jarred sauce than what I’m used to. But there’s no parmesan cheese to be found in Bosnia.

The corner markets carry produce and grocery items and have a small deli counter where they sell fresh bread (ok), sliced deli meats of undetermined nature, and sliced cheeses. They don’t carry any fresh meats. The sliced cheeses are excellent although there are only three kinds: Edam, Gouda, and unknown. We haven’t yet tried unknown. We stumbled earlier by buying some packaged cheese from the small refrigerator case. One looked like a swiss or jarlsberg type cheese, the other seemed to be molded in a small wheel. Both turned out to be highly pungent – not bad exactly, but certainly to be eaten in either very small quantities or perhaps as a seasoning. At least to our unaccustomed palates.

In addition to the corner markets, there are two huge farmers markets in Sarajevo that operate 7 days a week – even now. Both are under bridges or highway overpasses. The other Americans here call them green markets and I think many if not most vendors are actually small entrepreneurs that likely get produce from the same source as the markets, but with lower overhead. Some of the stands are really like a tiny store and have a permanent booth with merchandise inside. Others are a few items set up on boxes. There are also meat markets here, where you can get lamb, veal, beef and chicken. Because Sarajevo is mostly Muslim, no pork is sold – at least in any of the meat markets we have seen so far. According to my Bradt tour book, all the meat here is essentially free range. They don’t have corporate farms or feed lots, it’s just a lot of small family farms.

The local pivo (beer) is excellent; the local wino (wine) – not so much. Our landlord gave us a bottle of a local red wine that was ok. But we were served a red in a restaurant that was wretched and we bought a bottle in a wine shop that was undrinkable. The restaurant was on a list from the US embassy as being one of Sarajevo’s better restaurants. We thought it might be a very long six months for us until Landy found a wine shop in one of the green markets. This wine merchant carries local wines but also had some Chilean and Argentine wines inside his “shop”. He said he had some California wines, but the bottle he showed Landy was from Montana! Is that close to California?