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.