Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wrapping up research

So, I’m finishing up the research part of my trip, and of my foreseeable travels. (It’s quite possible I’ll be back before the dissertation is done, but this trip ends the currently planned travel for work).

The Croatia trip was less productive than I hoped but more productive than I feared. I learned some interesting new pieces in putting together the puzzle of what is going on in the region, but not much progress on the Croatia case-study itself. That will take more digging and networking from home it seems.

I think in many ways, Bosnia was the most fulfilling part of my travels this year from a dissertation perspective. This is because it was a sort of turning point taking the dissertation topic from something with potential to something I can see developing. It was an aha moment. This thing might actually work. And might actually be important. That is in part because while it was my third stop, it is only the second of the case studies (Serbia was for regional context – the case studies are in Kosovo, BiH, and Croatia). And I learned enough to know that there are going to be some really interesting differences in outcomes here, for a good compare/contrast (rather than just hypothesizing that there might be). There’s still a long road to go, with a number of “bends in the road” as Anne Shirley would say, but I feel like it’s the right road to be on…

Friday, September 23, 2011

Croatian culinary adventures

I've had a few requests for more food posts. Apparently people are enjoying watching me eat my way through the Balkans. Of course, this is only partially true. The vast majority of the local cuisine, at least what would be considered main courses, are meat-based. And besides the fact that I'm not a big meat eater in general, my style of keeping kosher involves eating vegetarian during my travels. However, it turns out there are still plenty of interesting local foods to sample. It's just that most of them are pastry and/or dessert! See for example the ice cream (which is really superb), burek (described in previous posts), and palačinke (crepes), that are popular throughout the region.

And now, without further ado, let me introduce you to three Croatian pastries (complete with pictures!):

Fritule -- these little balls of fried dough remind me of a cross between doughnut holes and fry bread. They are dipped in sugar and cinnamon. They are traditionally a Christmas time treat in Croatia, but are also sold in little paper cones year round at open air markets.

Štrukli -- a traditional Croatian pastry filled with cottage cheese and baked or fried. My Lonely Planet guidebook describes them as "baked cheese dumplings" and the Bradt guidebook says štrukli "is something of a death by cream, doughy-pasta and cottage-cheese experience. It's somewhere between a giant cream-soaked ravioli and a cheese-stuffed dumpling." Personally, I found it to be akin to cheese blintzes, just served with real cream rather than sour cream.

Štrudla -- it's Strudle! This is one pastry influence in Croatia that clearly migrated from further north along with other Austo-Hungarian influences. You can actually find it throughout the Balkans, but in Croatia it's particularly popular.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sightseeing Zagreb – Arts and Architecture

Zagreb feels very European in a way that makes me think of Vienna and Prague, though I’ve never been to either. It does make me want to visit there as well. This totally makes sense if you look at the growth of the city and the influences on it’s architecture. Sarajevo has three distinct architectural phases – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Yugoslav (think communist-era utilitarian), expanding outward from the city center. Only a few hours further north, in Zagreb, by way of contrast, there is little Ottoman influence to be seen. The Austro-Hungarian influence, however, is vast. What a difference geography makes.

The Cathedral in Zagreb is magnificent. (Most Croats are Catholic). It made me think of my thrill in visiting the National Cathedral in DC my senior year in high school, while I was studying art history. “Look, Ma – flying buttresses!! How cool!”. So back to Zagreb, the Cathedral is artistically and architecturally gorgeous, and very different in style to the few others I’ve visited -- e.g. the Cathedral in Mexico City which is Mexican baroque with a vengeance (this is not meant as a criticism, I have a very soft spot for the place), very different from the more subtle dynamic at play here. (I don't have pictures that could do any of the above mentioned Cathedral's justice, but do a quick google search if you're interested to get a sense.) One of the things I love about visiting cathedrals is experiencing another culture putting its best foot forward – this is the way it wants to see itself. The other thing I love about it is something that is both intentional and unintentional at the same time. From my perspective, a great Cathedral is truly awe-inspiring, as it was designed to be, but for me the awe has a more human than divine focus. Look what beautiful works mankind can do when energy and talent are put towards building something lofty!

Along the same lines, I have also visited several art museums while in Zagreb. It’s a great city for art galleries as there are many – private collections and public, including collected works from Europe and around the world and local artists. Today I visited Meštrović Atelier, the home and gallery of Croatia’s most famous native sculptor Ivan Meštrović, and it was very much worth while. I can appreciate Greco-Roman sculpture in theory -- it is designed to be aesthetically pleasing --, but it is not very interesting. The people often seem very reserved. Meštrović's sculptures are perhaps less perfectionist of the human form, but more emotional, and I found some of them to be quite compelling, and almost all of them to be interesting.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The long and winding road

On Sunday, I took the bus from Sarajevo to Split. This involved driving through the mountainous BiH countryside westward towards the coast, at which point we entered Croatia, and then up the coast towards Split. (A long narrow strip of Croatia dips down along the Coast most of the length of Bosnia and Hercegovina). All of the highways were at most 1 lane in each direction. Both the mountain roads and coastal roads were very curvy, and this combined with a slightly-to-warm bus on an 8 hour drive left me feeling slightly queasy. This is unfortunate because it was otherwise a lovely way to see beautiful pieces of both countries.

After spending Monday in Split, yesterday (Tuesday) I took a bus inland (north-eastward) across Croatia to Zagreb, the capital. I was worried about this ride after the previous one, especially since my guidebook said the trip would take 5-9 hours. Ultimately, it was smooth sailing, over much better (and wider! 2 lanes in each direction!) roads. And it took just about exactly 5 hours. Yay. Now to explore another Balkan capital city.

View Larger Map

Zoom out a bit on the map to get a better sense of the geography. I can't get google to show you the route itself because it doesn't have enough road data in the region. In fact there is no google maps data for Sarajevo! It's weird living in a pre-google world!

Monday, September 12, 2011

By the seashore: a visit to Split

Yesterday I took the bus from Sarajevo to Split, and tomorrow I take another bus on to Zagreb, but today is my vacation day to visit Split and chill. It’s lovely. I wish I had more than one day to spend exploring the Croatian coast, as it surely deserves. But has nonetheless been lovely to stroll along the water front, and explore the ancient ruins of Diocletian’s palace (the Roman emperor’s retirement home) which coexist and mingle with modern life in Split. This is not like visiting the Palatino in Rome. Inside the palace walls are restaurants, shops, homes, and small hotels, making use of the ancient structure, which is teeming with modern life. It’s pretty cool.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years and a lifetime ago…

10 years and lifetime ago, I was a college student. A Californian spending the fall semester living in NYC and working at the UN. I and my classmates, all students of international relations, arrived in NY on September 1st, 2001. Less than the 2 weeks later, the world we studying and came to experience changed in front of our eyes. (Although granted, this is coming from the girl who wrote about the threat of international terrorism on a college admissions essay 3 years earlier). Even now I cannot say exactly how that experience has affected my life, but that it has done so, in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle, is indisputable. I don’t think I’m ready to go into that further in this space, at this time. Suffice it to say, I am remembering.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wandering Through Sarajevo: An Itinerary

What would you do and see if you were tourist in Sarajevo? Here’s some of what I’ve done in my free time between meetings:
  • Old town – The Baščaršija (old Ottoman town center) and Ferhadija (city center from Austo-Hungarian times), sit next to each other, in the center of the town, full of pedestrian walkways. Great for people watching, getting a bite to eat, or a ubiquitous coffee, or shopping. Seriously, don't miss it.
  • River – The Miljacka river runs through the city of Sarajevo, which is connected to itself by a series of bridges – both foot bridges and ones for vehicular traffic. Lots of life near the river. Though I'll admit, getting up into the hills (Sarajevo is comprised of the river valley and is built up into the surrounding hillsides) is a great way for a view of the whole town.
  • Maršala Tita – The central street running through the newest part of the city complete with an eternal flame monument to WWII victims, and home of the national bank, UN offices, etc.
  • Art Museum – The national gallery. It was closed during my stay, but I’d have checked it out otherwise.
  • History Museum – This small museum gives a glimpse into the history of the 1990s conflict, and its affect on the city and its residents.
  • National Museum – Zemaljski Muzej Bosne-i-Hercegovine, is a large museum complex including an archeology museum, natural history museum, and ethnography museum, all focused on BiH.
  • Jewish History – You can see the old Ashkenazi synagogue (dating to the Austro-Hungarian era) and the Sefardi Synagogue (dating to the medieval / Ottoman era). The later now serves as Jewish museum.
  • Tunnel Tours – During the war a tunnel was dug under the city, connected besieged Sarajevo to free Bosnian territory. You can go see a small piece of the tunnels, along with a very small museum. Not sure if you can do so without a guide, but regardless a guided tour is worthwhile for this to get more out of it, and to easily get there and back from the city center.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wandering Through Sarajevo: Random Observations

When I was 17, and headed off to travel without my family for the first time, on a trip to Israel, I invested my lifesavings in a fancy new camera. The photography advice my mother gave me then stands by me today. It also is good advice for just taking in and writing about a new place. She said, "Look around you, and figure out, what do you see that would let you know that you weren't in Los Angeles? That's what you should take a picture of."

Here, then, are a few observations from Sarajevo, in no particular order:
  • Cobblestone streets are quaint and charming, and a pain in the neck (or ankle). They are slippery (no traction) and uneven – not so great for paving a large pedestrian area. (This observation is not new per se… Try walking through the Palatino ruins in Rome in flip flops. Actually, don’t try it. Take my word.) This is something I’m daily reminded of in old town Sarajevo.
  • Bosnian Muslims seem to be more religiously observant than Kosovar Albanians, at least in their dress. This is not to say they’re super religious; they’re definitely not. It’s all relative. In Kosovo, where the population is now around 90% Muslim, I saw very few women in hijab. Fewer than I see randomly in Beantown. In Sarajevo, (the Muslim population of BiH is unknown as there’s been no full census since the war, but pre-war it was a little under 45%) the number wearing hijab is much larger. Clearly not as large as the Muslim population itself in the town, but quite prominent, in a colorful sort of way. I love seeing the coordination between headscarves and outfits.
  • I’ve also seen a few women wearing their headscarves in the manner I associate with Tichels worn by married Orthodox Jewish women (knotted in a bun in the back – covering the head but not neck & shoulders). The women here who do so are always wearing it with a turtle neck or equivalent to remain modest. This is clearly not the mainstream style, but is also not completely isolated. Totally fascinating.
  • Not un-relatedly, Sarajevo is great place to shop for scarves (to be used as headscarves or otherwise). There are shops selling beautiful colorful options all over the place.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck. Bosnians love their slatičarnice (approximately dessertaries). It seems like every third shop you’ll find one of these small cafes selling ice cream, pastries, and of course coffee.
  • Other specialty food shops are čevabdžinica (places specializing in ćevapi and other grilled meats), and buregdžinica (places specializing pitta – burek (meat), sirnica (cheese), krompiruša (potato), and zeljanica (spinach, with cheese).*
  • *In Serbia all these pitta dishes are called burek, and are specified more by naming the filling, whereas here they all have specialized names. Thus Bosnian sirnica is what Serbians call burek sa sirom. (Cheese burek). Etc. These filled savory filo-pastries are really not equivalent to what Americans call burekas. Similar concept, but very different. Among other things these are cooked as huge flat (think pizza pan size) circular dishes, and you are served a large slice. It’s a meal by itself.
  • As in Serbia, the preferred national coffee is what we would call Turkish Coffee. Though here I’ve often seen it called Bosnian Coffee. Go figure.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sarajevo, I wish I knew you

On the road again. This time in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina. See the previous where I am blog post for general political geography of the region. BiH, of course, has it’s own much more complicated political geography that fell out of the split up of the former Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing, and the Dayton Peace Accords which tried to put humpty-dumpty (BiH) together again. It is a country of contradictions -- the one former Yugoslav state which has a minority-majority population -- where the various ethnic communities have historically mixed and mingled – and where many divisions of the war remain apparent and divide the country making governance a tragic comedy.

If this is so, Sarajevo too is a city of contradictions in ways both parallel and divergent. Once a beautiful city of ethnic coexistence that brought the world the Sarajevo Hagadah, and the 1984 Winter Olympics. And yet such a fraught and terrible history – WWI (which began here with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand), WWII, and most recently a bitter war of ethnic cleansing that destroyed a country. The city of the Sarajevo Hagadah no longer exists – three wars in one century withered the Jewish community beyond recognition. The city of the 1984 Olympics no long exists either – it was destroyed by the war only a few years later. But it remains a fascinating and vibrant place. A place worth knowing. A place that makes you think twice and look deeply.

Sarajevo wears its scars from the war but continues on; it does not look like a city destroyed (ala Detroit, for lack of a better example), nor does it look like a city re-making itself in a new image (see Pristina). It is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word, mixing people from various ethno-national backgrounds with ease. And yet I know it is far less so than in the past. It is charmingly modern and antique all at once. A big city with the trappings of a small town. It is impossible to describe. Impossible to ignore. Impossible to truly understand. Impossible to be here and not remember so much history.