Alexandra Marshall


Adopting Sarajevo

Ploughshares, October 2015


It took only fifteen minutes for the taxi to bring them from the airport into the city center, so their fifteen hours of airborne tinnitus ended with an orchestral flourish of Sunday morning church bells. Even the horns of the indigenous VW Golf cars sounded tuneful, compared with their blaring newer model counterparts back home in what Marina now referred to as the United States of Amnesia.

The blue glass facade of their reconstructed Hotel Art reflected back the architecture of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, in the rebuilt five-star Europa Hotel and the restored Medieval covered market to the left and right. The square in front had been the site of an inn built in 1543, a caravanserai with the traces of thirty chimneys, one for each guest room, and stalls beneath for seventy horses. Already it was clear that Sarajevo’s layered history was in a continual process of updating itself.

The rose-colored hotel room was modestly furnished, but it had two of everything. Unpacking was quickly accomplished, and from the Art's central Old Town location they planned to explore on foot. Their first scheduled appointment wasn’t until the next morning's classroom visit to distribute the T-shirts that were waved through Customs formalities without regard for their incalculable worth to kids worldwide whose values were warped by American consumerism.

Were they hungry? The desk clerk recommended Željo, a local ćevapi restaurant famous for the Bosnian specialty of grilled ground meats ordered five or ten mouthfuls at a time, served with chopped onions and pita bread doused with a cheesy yogurt sauce. Želio was so popular that the owner now had three adjacent shops along the pedestrian street just behind the hotel.

The driver who brought them from the airport—"Dzevad, like David," he'd introduced himself—had stationed his taxi beside the hotel, hoping they wouldn't give in to their jet lag without first taking the half-priced tour he'd offered as a way to earn all the rest of their business. There were too few American tourists these days for his English to be as good as it once was, but like so many of his generation, he would make the best of it. If he could survive the siege, why die now?

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