Sarajevo had already won me over with its hospitality, beauty and cosmopolitanism. I didn’t think it had any surprises left for me to discover. This is until I stumbled across Zlatna Ribica. A cosy coffee house/bar situated a couple of streets away from central Sarajevo. Its eccentricity and utter charm will make you want to spend the whole day there – continuously sipping coffees, beers or wines to your heart’s content while the world continues outside.
Stepping through the doors I felt as if I had stepped back in time at least 50 years to some quaint Parisian café. The decorum screams vintage, with posters and trinkets dating back to sometime before this one. The place really gives me a feel for antique Bosnia. It is quiet. Only a few patrons sip from their cups in the corner so it is easy for me to find a seat. I occupy the one next to the goldfish, happily swimming in its bowl. The waitress does not need to hand me a menu because they hang above my head, on telephone chords. My menu takes the form of a children’s book about animals. You see milk isn’t thirsty kitty’s favourite drink, it is actually lemonade for 4KM. Different menus were written on playing cards and tarot decks and other quirky miscellany.
At this point I didn’t even care of the coffee was bad (it was not by the way). It was just nice to escape into this little world for an hour. I wish I could take the place back home with me. It is this charm of Bosnia that I want to remember from my travels. Despite the countries struggles it still has a beautiful integrity and culture that I think should be shared with more people.
(A fictional travel piece based off a non-fiction place. A real place you would say. A place that actually exists. Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Gallery.)
“If you are looking for Hell, then ask the artist where it is. If you can’t find the artist, then you are already in Hell”
– Avigdor Pawnser
It is your last day in the country. You have visited every museum, café and restaurant. You are now stumbling around the old city looking to find something to do. To kill those final few minutes.
You cross the square, mothers shout at crying children while the father looks onwards at nothing in particular. Students are comparing notebooks. Ideas and drafts that will probably not equate to anything. An old woman sits by the fountain scratching the few whiskers on her chin. She sits alone. You are also alone. A light rain starts to pour from the sky and you take refuge in a nearby building. It is not an inviting building by any means. Plaster peels off the walls and one of the windows has been bordered up. The sign tells you that it is an Art Exhibit. You pay the small commission to allow your admittance.
The walls are decorated with cardboard, not tiles. The number of art pieces is lacking compared to the other exhibits you walked around with your lover in olden, happier days. You walk past the murals of Yugoslavic sieges and Eastern European famine. Guns, then hungry children, then mortar explosions, then prisoner of war poetry, consecutively. Sculptured skulls lay scattered across the floor. A man hangs from the ceiling by this throat, clutching a baby doll. Edgy. Artistic. You think to yourself. The gallery attendants leave for coffee so you saunter upstairs to the rest of the exhibit. There are hundreds of empty seats. You are not knowledgeable when it comes to the Contemporary art scene so you are unsure whether you can sit or not. You are so very tired. You sit on one of the seats since the gallery attendants have gone for coffee. It is quiet now and you are the only one here. In the corner a television only plays static. You swear that for a moment, brief, that a face appeared on that screen. You watch for a few minutes until your eyes hurt, desperately trying to catch another glimpse. Static. That’s all. Your mind must have been playing tricks on you.
You go to the gift shop. A book catches your eye and you flick through the pages. It is a book. It is a book about you. Your birth. A nurse is about to spank you while a doctor holds your mother. There is a photo of you crying on your first day of school. The other children were mean to you. There is a photo of you on the plane here, two empty seats either side of you. You are reading that novel. You should make more time for reading. The last page shows an empty hospital bed. There are no flowers or ‘get well soon’ cards. The sheets look stained and dirty. You put the book down and step back into the square. The one with the fountain. The old woman is still there. You are unsure how long you were looking at the art. You are still so tired. You would like to fall asleep and awake when everything is ok again. It is not long until your plane leaves. You should get to the airport early and check in your luggage. You brought no luggage. You walk up to the fountain and stare at the cool, inviting water. You want to drink the water but the old woman shakes her head. You did not find yourself here. So you must go to the next place. Maybe there. Maybe
“Where is the good life for all of us? You ask yourself”
“Child”. Says the woman
“Such a thing does not exist”.