| Research | [ Photography + Film project ] Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Trip notes | june 2019
Easyjet to Split. My seat number is 1C. Never sat so close to the cockpit. I am fascinated by the circuit boards. We are delayed. The pilot himself addresses the passengers. The computer needs to be replaced. The plane’s brain, in a hard drive; defect. They swap the box for a replica (there are five identical drives on a plane the steward tells me).
So we wait. I wish I understood the signals spelled by every button surrounding the captain, I wish I understood this electronically tickled beast, that will eventually ignite the fuel lifting me into the airs. Machine heaven. My neighbours have ordered pink prosecco.
A lack of oxygen inside the brain. That was his illness according to the report. That is what made him pass out on the road to Ploče after an official dinner in Split. That is what triggered the aneurysm that made him collapse in front of policemen in the station of Makarska at 7am.
My dad had joined an Inter-Governmental Organisation to assist the reconstruction of urban infrastructure following the Bosnian War.
My mind feels like is a sniffer dog set loose in the future of imagined memories. Nothing is more intoxicating than the encounter of imagination with its referents in reality. Because of its impossible equivalence. An inevitably corrupt rendering process. It is the breaking point that celebrates the limits of bodies and the vertigo of senses. It is the breaking point that moves me into place. Time becomes space.
An inflatable iceberg is floating on the Adriatic. Blue ice creams, woolly dogs, trampolines, mini-golf…
Legs and armpits open wide to welcome the blinding sun. The sheets of a massage table are flying in the wind.
The closer I get to the concrete place of the disappearance, the more the absence becomes evidence.
I was floating in the agitated, sweet and emerald waters, watching the steep mountain rising towards the East, and the winding road where cars passed by like hurried bugs on a lush rock.
I waited for night time to drive to the spot where the accident happened. Ten minutes out of town.
So, I beamed myself… through Google Map’s flatness into the thick opacity of fleeting life.
Intuiting the car’s every move so to stick to the road smoothly, my hands' grip tightened with the gradual upheaval inside my ripcage. No Italian pop song on the radio this time.
The very junction of the accident is located next to a monastery, with a grinning statue of Angel Gabriel.
It was February then. Winter. Snow. The AC blowing onto my toes is barely chilled. I really shouldn’t have worn flip flops to drive.
I woke up in the middle of the night with an acute headache. I unplugged the empty fridge. What the hell am I doing here?
“Let’s keep nations together”.
In an article inside the Inter-Governmental Organisation's newsletter of January 1996 the authors write:
“Are they to be considered heroes? No, that sounds too dramatic. But are they special? What does special mean? Special means, different from what you can expect.
I am talking about those people that said yes and kept their word. (…) They went there without precisely knowing what would be the circumstances and the environment in which they would start their adventure.
The first change was to accommodate themselves amongst thousands of military men. Different style of talking, different style of walking.”
Two men from Bosnia in the other car. One of them died. I decide to head to the town they were from.
Pass the customs post where a free roaming cow is rubbing her back against a shiny EU panel, I head for a two hour drive north-east.
Out of a gorge padded with a dense pine forest, a valley spreads ahead, green, with red-tiled roofs and thin, spiky minarets. A sleepy little town with gardens around well-kept houses. A few communist-style buildings. Striking, all these holes in facades so long after the war. I wonder about the relentless provisions of ammunition. How many bullets are needed to sustain a war? Hour after hour, house after house, day after day… months… years.
Today, twenty-four years ago; Srebrenica. In a 2018 poll, sixty-six percent of the Serbian population deny the genocide, which occurred in a then UN-protected safe area.
Aviator Ray-Bans are prolific still. Kind eyes are buried inside sturdy faces. Most of them shut down with any mention of the war.
Reunited expats in a café tease each other about resembling Trump. One man moved to Australia to become a farmer, mentioning the disappearance of all factories. It’s weird to be here, he says, sometimes you see war criminals walking down your street.
After a walk through the city, followed by a flock of clownish stray dogs, I end up at a 'hotel' outside town; a rundown chalet on a hill, with a saloon-like lounge, smelling of millions of cigarettes still alive in the bleached-out furniture. I am the only guest. She tells me that there is an ethnic village in the wood behind the hotel. Only later do I realise she meant a few derelict hippy huts with dangling Native American accessories behind the parking lot. I emptied my bags of pale green peppers and raspberries to the most enthralling sound of crickets and frogs, the distant barking of dogs and the echo of prayers between valleys.
Further on in the IGO's newsletter, I am intrigued by a black and white aerial photograph of a disused factory. The editors added an ironic kind of title onto the picture: “All the fun of Disney Land… at a fraction of the price!”, and added some text boxes on various spots of the factory ground like: “Dragon’s Lair”, “Space Mountain”, “Sleeping beauty”, “Cogg Train”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”…
With an American Armoured Division, some of the internationals pulled out to this abandoned coke plant near Tuzla to set up base.
I arrive in Mostar and zigzag through the Unesco-boosted old town. The excessive tourism is ennui-inducing. I buy a can of cherry beer and sit down watching the river jumpers from the opposite bridge next to five local elders.
I am told that the main high school has been rebuilt as a ‘unified’ school. But although hosting mixed students under one roof, the courses are different for Croat and Bosnian kids. In fact, one of the rare places they encounter each other is the school toilet.
Smoke rises above the city bathed in a golden light. Down below the Neretva endlessly meanders in its bewitching shades of green.