What would Kosta say now ?

For years I have been obsessed with this graffiti on the facade of the ruins of Abrašević : « Šta bi sad Kosta rekao ? », « What would Kosta say now ? ».

I am not sure what he would say, but I’m sure he would be quite pleased if he had spent the 3rd day of the Anniversary of the Center that wears his name since 90 years with us.
Under the name « Od nas prema gradu » (« From us for the city »), an audio walk in the Abrašević neighborhood was organized. You have to download 7 short stories on your phone, you are given instructions of where to go and where to stand to listen to the stories, headphones, and off you go in a neighborhood that you think you know.

Instructions for the audio walk.

The 3 fisrt locations are inside Abrašević itself, looking at the ancient wardrobe of the theater group, in the corridor that links the Bulevar to the courtyard of Abrašević (and ultimately to Šantićeva Street) and in the middle of the courtyard itself, around the foundations of what was suppose to become the ballet hall.

Our friend, Ronald Panza, an oldtimer in Abrašević before the war, has written truly beautiful texts, in an elegant and poetic language, describing the atmosphere of the Center but also, other locations of our Street.

It was indeed very surprising to realize that for more than at least 6 years, I hadn’t been further in the street than the crossroad with Carinski Bridge, 300 m away from the Center, either turning right to cross Neretva and go to the bus station, either turning left to go to Splitska Market or to visit friends in the Rondo or Stadium area.

More surprising on the last part of the walk was coming back to a group of buildings recently rebuilt and realize while I had had the curiosity to go inside when they were in ruins and empty, I hadn’t had the same curiosity once they were rebuilt and inhabited.

After a short pause in front of the former Kino Partizan (cinema hall Partizan), we came back to Abrašević and listened to the last text, back in our corridor.

Our corridor.

 Titled, « Goodbye Utopia », the text reminisces about the last days of Abrašević and how changes come without a warning. Before we closed the corridor, mostly for security reasons, I had spent a lot of time hanging around in our ruins, taking pictures of our walls, our ground. I picked up a numerous amount of items : account papers, notebooks, member cards. I always thought we would organize to pick up everything we could and take care of it as archives. We didn’t really.
Yesterday, at the begining and end of the walk, we came back to the corridor. Miran opened the wooden door that closes the building and I had a look inside for the first time in almost ten years.
Looking at the floor ground, what is left of the ceiling, the walls, the red doors of the classrooms, hesitating to get in.

Classroom Red Doors.

In my headphones, I was listening to the voice of Ronald, telling how he came to Abrašević for the last time before the war. Opened doors, empty building, no light in the corridor and how a note was left to say that there would be no music class until further notice.

Since yesterday, I look at our building in a different way, again. I fell asleep last night asking myself who were the first soldiers who entered the building ? Were they from Mostar ? Did they know about RKUD Abrašević ? Did they find the note cancelling the classes ? Who stole the bust of Kosta Abrašević ? Where is it now ?

Kosta.

I remembered my first time in the ruins, the silence, traces of war and music lessons. I fell like I was violating a secret place, a source of great memories for so many, of hell for others.
Finally, I fell asleep with a strong desire of hugging the whole building, not to keep it for me, just to make sure I would forever remember every detail of it.
When a day starts, you never know how it is going to end. Yesterday, I’d have never bet I was going to fall in love with this place.

Again.



Kertész, Mostar and me.

In June 2003 I traveled to Mostar to visit my friends as I did almost every 4 or 5 months. I was then part time sharing a house in the Cernica neighborhood. I adored this house, I was in love with Cernica, hypnotized by the Fortica hill I spent hours staring at from our terrace.

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A terrace with a view.

Every time I was travelling I’d chose a book to go with the trip. Not randomly chosing a book. Never. Where am I going, when, why ? and according to all of this and my mood, then I would chose a book.

This time, a friend had offered me, 4 months earlier, « The Pathseeker » by Imre Kertész. I had already tried to read « Fatelessness » but didn’t quite get into it. There are some books like that, some authors who either intimidate you or are just simply not for you. Today, I am still struggling with Pessoa, one of my biggest litterature frustration. I simply don’t enter his world. Sometimes it makes me feel not cultivated enough to get him. I had this impression with Kertész and so, I never tried again to read him. The friend who had offered me the book knows me very well and told me « this book is for you ». I understood « there is something inside of it for you ». So, I took the book to Mostar and decided to confront Kertész, again, at the risk to be left out, again.

At that time, my relationship to Mostar was not very clear. I mean, I loved the city, in the true meaning of being in love with the city but Mostar and me were not friends just yet. That’s the least I can say. I was always happy to go to Mostar. I couldn’t wait to see my friends. The trip was very long from Lyon to Zagreb by bus and then another bus from Zagreb to Mostar were altogether 24 hours of travelling. There was always a sort of anxiety growing along the approach to the city to finally sometimes enter Mostar with a real stomach cramp, anxious to discover the state of the city, the news, the atmosphere. I still have this anxiety passed Bijelo Polje, my stomach goes nuts and I wait like a kid behind the window of the bus to see the first glimpse of Mostar. Sometimes, I am truely on the verge to applaude when we enter the city.

I was certainly not ready for the heat that hit us in the days after my arrival. The house was offering some shelter although the sun was hitting the terrace and the bedrooms in the morning but the rest of it was quite protected. For days, I had tried to wake up early and to go out before it was not possible anymore to breath outside. A real shock. I knew the mostarian heat from before but that year, it turned out to be complete hell and one day, I decided I would stay inside all day. I was almost in panic at the idea to go out. I had everything I needed for the day, I thought I would read and try to sleep a little. The sofa at that time was close to the huge windows of the lounge and I had a poor view on our gate, shrudded by bullets, in a terrible old orange colour. A strange scenery.

portail cernica 2

Tutina 3.

« The Pathseeker » is a small book of a hundred pages or so. I took it with me in the lounge, sat down for a coffee and stared at the book for quite a long time before starting to read. I was thinking « what will happen if I can ‘t read it, or don’t get it ? » . I call it « the Pessoa syndrom ». I started to read, a bit nervous. I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to finish it. I just remember I didn’t even light a cigarette or left it for a minute. I read it from the beginning to the end, in a row.

It’s the story of Hermann, a man coming back to a place he knows to write a report about this place where something terrible happened. You never get to know who is this man, who is he is working for, where is this place nor what happened. You just know what happened was terrible and presume that Hermann is either a witness, a survivor or a perpetrator. Hermann is looking for traces. The whole book is about a man who looks for traces in the wrong place actually. Pays more attention to walls than to people and fails in his mission to write a report because reality doesn’t fit his expectations. He is not able to face reality, disappearance of material traces and has a total inhability to face people’s trauma.

I was blown away by the book. How in heaven was it possible to write such a complex story in a so small book ? While reading, images from Mostar and its surroundings were coming instantly to my mind. The transposition was so easy, it was scary. Entire descriptions of the city, of hills, of streets, of people were matching Mostar. I was speechless. A scene was particularly amazing to read. Hermann and his wife finally reach the place were « the terrible thing » happened and instead of finding ruins or any kind of traces, they end up facing a huge meadow occupied by groups of tourists, led by a guide, waving signs, directions, seeming to draw in the air how the terrible thing took place.
I knew this scene. I was always amazed by the thirst of tourists for ruins in Mostar. Regularly meeting lost people looking for Šantićeva street or watching at tourists guides in the Old City, crossing on the wooden bridge replacing Stari Most while it was being rebuilt, making this strange choreography showing Hum and the left bank of the river, Hum and the left bank of the river, miming the destruction of the bridge, moving their hands around their ears to figure the noise of the bombs probably. Looking at them from afar you could instantly tell they were talking about the war. These images stayed with me until now and I still think to this day they should be turned into a contemporary danse creation.

Lights in the ruins of Šantićeva, July 2004.

Lights in the ruins of Šantićeva, July 2004.

At that time, my biggest fear in Mostar was its ruins. I was so afraid of them. But there was also this woman that we called « Duh »1. Dressed all in black with an outrageous make up, exagerated around the eyes and the lips. She looked like a character escaped from a sinister cabaret. She didn’t speak, at least, I never heard her speak. She could stare at you a really long time and leave. She was walking around the city, in silence. Whenever I met her my heart stopped beating. Not from fear but from sadness. I heard that she had lost her mind during the war. I saw her as a sign of something I couldn’t translate, a pain I was cut from, a reminder from something I never knew. The hostility from people towards her was very violent to witness and yet very easy to understand. Reminders of tragedies are often rejected when you try to forget them. In « the Pathseeker » there is a woman who could have been our « Duh », a witness of the horror that comes to talk to Hermann and then kills herself.

So here I was with all my love for Mostar, blocked inside by the heat and by my anxiety of the ruins, the possibility of meeting Duh in the streets while trying to look completely at ease with my environment. A complete stranger not fitting anywhere, not knowing why, a part from seeing my friends, I kept coming back in a place that was constantly punching me in the stomach. I spent a lot of time on the sofa with the book in my hands after I finished it. The book had given me something which I didn’t know how to name. Not an answer, not an explanation but a tool to walk out in the streets of Mostar and to feel free to observe, to scrutinize, to record every detail I could. « The Pathseeker » gave me a different compass to read Mostar and rearranged its geography. Suddenly, I fell free to walk in the city, still afraid of the ruins but with the right to be. It activated a fearless curiosity of every corner of this city. Mostar became the place where I love to walk like nowhere else. Like a sort of transe, an adventure whose interest is never lost. Being deprived from walking Mostar, because of the rain or because of the heat is a punishment. I feel like a grounded kid who has been naughty and can’t go out to play with its best friend.

Everytime I pass by Cernica, I give a look at Tutina street where the house is at number 3 and the name of Imre Kertész comes to my mind with a feeling of gratitude and a smile.

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Tutina Street, December 2003.

Imre Kertész died on the 31st of March 2016.

1 : Duh = Ghost, Spirit.