Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


Stare Alex Greenwood

My life has been spent staring at glimpses. I look out of the corner of my eyes and never trust what is presented through the front view. That is far too dangerous and nasty, really a form of synthesising metanarrative, turning the periphery into fairy tales that don't exist. Ghosts and golems haunting the dusty corners of your monochrome vision. If you only look at the big things, you miss the little - ever so important - items. I carry this through to my whole outlook on life. It pervades it like a mistrusting miser and wheedles splinters out of the skin of the world. Invisible wooden shards that hurt. And that is the reason why I decided to drive to Sarajevo, the city ofthe future. It is an eternal city: eternal in its presence, eternal in the marks of its inferno and like Purgatory, it proclaims its paradox. Beauty in the young women at night against smashed bone windows and mortars sticking out of the ground. Mines and flowers: graves and grass. The conductor trying to control the orchestra of burnt sniper marks on the walls and thudding beats of the reopened clubs and bars.

Some war journalists try. They do. The problem is that ears do not listen to high frequency screams or the dull thuds of bodies. Ears like Mozart or - at the real gutwrenching state - Gorecki. It is the eyes that you need to attack. It is the eyes that lead to the mind with visions and pictures. It is the eyes that can learn to perfect the technique of looking where there isn't anything, to look and see the invisible in all its glory. Just waiting to be found, Bosnia is a beautiful country. Hills and fields unfolding until the end of the world, a sense of nothingness beyond this being, this state of seeing. Stood in a plateau of a rolling world, the dimensions of landscape fold you into a silent fissure - left when time swept over. Quiet and muted. Until you see the first house, the first gate you pass through. Ruined. No roof, windows, no burial allowed. And another. And another. Scalding tattoos on the skin of the scene. The road becomes a snake tantalising with knowledge, a fruit of mental anguish. What is further from the frozen scene, do the rivers tumble from the mountains into a boiling lake? You draw closer and closer. Burnt sticks pulled out of the ground, orange concrete scales lining the road, brushed with oil and glistening in their path. The villages are fronts, some cartoon has been made here, their proportions small with giant doors, burnt wood and signs painted on the door ways. The plague has visited Bosnia and left the dead for mortar food, the living with boils they try to ignore or lance at night in the bars. The snake arches its back, riding the ant-sized travellers through the final gate. There she is. A city in a cavern built by mountains, an underworld pushing itself up to the light. The streets pockmarked, ripped, dignified. But these are the big things: I came for the little.

A washing machine rusting in an overgrown garden. An intercom system on a doorway without any walls or roof or floor. A letter box with flakes of ashy mail. Tiny Caspar pyjamas filling a mortar-blasted hole in the road. UNHC11 tape holding a dustbin together. A soldier's mess tin used for a football. Bullet-holes in a child's bicycle. A copy of a Serbo-Croat translation of the Communist Manifesto thrown out by the wheelie-bins. Water in a cooking oil container from an aid organisation. A school bus with bullet holes in the backs of the seats, old felt tips rolling on the floor. A deserted school with registers scattered everywhere, the stairs covered with paper and on the top floor - wax crayon pictures of animals and Mums and Dads. A dentist's surgery:

Syringes and tablets sprayed all over the couch. A bullet-ridden basketball post with bits of orange net hanging down. Mortar boxes used for toys. Weeds growing out of a petrol pump. Dogs tied up in shattered skyscrapers. Marble fountains inscribed with the letters 'MTV' and in the same pen: 'Fuck, pussy, cunt'.

Yet also, Versace jeans and Helena Rubenstein lipsticks in a shop window. Diamonds and gold glittering in glass cabinets next to a bombed out house. An Afro-American female soldier stood outside a shattered church eating chocolate ice-cream with her M16 slung across her back. Italian army boys dancing to house music. Drinking Red Bull mixed with vodka when the water has been turned offfor another twelve hours. The white Mercedes parked outside the shell of the national library. Talking about techno to a young man who spent the duration of the war hidden in his grandmother's cellar. Girls lounging in bikinis next to 'mine awareness' posters.

And in the middle: a fully plumbed, hot water, plush, manicured hotel gazing down on the rest of the city with an air of untouched arrogance. No-body was staying at the hotel. Its windows were faceless. Windows that have seen people shot as they queued for cigarettes . . . and bread. The people of Sarajevo bustle about, living - and now laughing - in the face of an inhuman icon of money. It paid for its untouched perfection but it proclaims its soullessness. The city is scarred but alive. Kids rollerblade down the streets that were once corridors for marching bullets. And when it rains: they carry on playing chess and drinking coffee in the streets 'cos water doesn't hurt.

 © 1999