This is the second in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011. These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, emotions and experiences. This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home from Sarajevo from January 18-22. I’ve included a few photos here, but you can see all the photographs here.
As you read in the previous article, the journey to Sarajevo was long and eventful. Guesthouse Halvat, where I stayed in Sarajevo, was a wonderful refuge to rest and unwind from that exhausting journey and the following days, each one filled to overflowing. I highly recommend this clean and cozy guesthouse owned and operated by the extra charming Valida and Mumo Vilic.
Just about one block from the heart of Bascarsija, its location can’t be beat. Here is a link to the Halvat website: http://www.halvat.com.ba/
Sadly, the main purpose of this trip was to attend the 1-year memorial of Mr. Pobric’s death. He and his family had given me so much that I wanted to be there for them. Unexpectedly, my stay in Sarajevo turned out to be a whirlwind of activity and the two weeks flew by. This was really the first time I’d had the opportunity to experience Sarajevo. I had been to Bosnia in 2005 and 2007, but those trips were to record and perform with Omer Pobric at the Sevdah Institute in Mulici near the town of Visoko. I mainly saw the inside of Omer’s car and his recording studio, though had seen enough of Sarajevo to have fallen in love with this unique city.
Art Kuca was my first stop on January 19 to meet friend and music critic Ognjen Tvrtkovic who divides his time between London and Sarajevo.
Art Kuca, or House of Sevdah, is a must see not only for lovers of sevdah, but for anyone looking for a beautiful environment in which is have Bosnian coffee, traditional non-alcoholic drinks and dessert. Tables are set in the courtyard of the surrounding stone building. Friends who have visited during summer rave about this lovely oasis. In winter there is a roof over the courtyard and heaters warm the air to create a very cozy environment.
Visit the website at: http://www.artkucasevdaha.ba/
The sevdah museum is located in the surrounding building. It features the biggest stars of sevdah: Himzo Polovina, Safet Isovic, Nada Mamula, Zaim Imamovic and more. Though light on detail, it is wonderful that there is a museum devoted to sevdah, a cultural treasure of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After our meeting, Ognjen graciously walked along side me with his bicycle to my next date with the Tanovic family in their home in Marindvor. Hatidza and Mevludin Tanovic are the parents of Oscar award winner Danis Tanovic. It was quite by accident I met Hatidza in 2007. Those who read my article about getting to Sarajevo will chuckle to learn that the Sarajevo fog was again responsible for our chance meeting. It was December 2007. I had just completed recording two CDs and two DVDs with Omer Pobric, soon to be released by the way, and was heading home. The airport was packed with travelers when it was announced that flights would be delayed due to fog. I decided to grab a cup of coffee while waiting so went into the coffee shop, me and everyone else in the terminal. Scanning the room, there was literally only one chair left at a table occupied by an elegant woman. I asked if it was free and she invited me to sit. We struck up a conversation and it turned out to be Hatidza Tanovic whose sister-in-law, also kind of an amazing coincidence, is a good friend of mine in Seattle, Ulfeta Basic!
The following week the Tanovic’s invited me back for a delicious meal prepared by Hatidza and they surprised me by also inviting their son Danis. A very special treat, indeed!
After a lovely visit in my broken Bosnian, I said goodbye to the Tanovic’s and headed back to Guesthouse Halvat. That evening I had the great joy of meeting the family of my dear Seattle friend Jasminka Kujundzic. She had told me so much about them that I felt we were already friends. It was an evening of conversation and jokes. I am grateful to Ismet, Jasminka’s cousin, who helped arrange my stay at the Halvat guesthouse. Jasminka’s Aunt Sena sounds exactly like Esma, Jasminka’s mom. It was a joyful evening, though I was keenly aware of Jasminka and Esma’s absence. It is so hard on families to be separated. The time and distance is so painful.
At one moment I felt my eyes closing on their own accord and it was time to call it a night. Ismet kindly drove me back to Halvat for some much needed rest. Not only was the journey long, there is a 9-hour time difference between Seattle and Sarajevo.
However, knowing my time in Sarajevo would be so short, I did my best those two weeks to fight back the fatigue and embrace every second.
The next morning, January 20, I took a taxi to the Radio Television Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) to appear on the local television program Sarajevo Morning for a memorial to Omer Pobric, along with Omer’s long time friend and Bosnian hero Jasmin Odobasic. It was a real honor for me. Afterwards we stopped for coffee with two journalists, friends of Mr. Odobasic, when Mukadesa Suljovic stopped by our table. She is the BHRT Ethnomusicologist and surprised us by inviting us to her studio to record a radio interview. I was grateful for these opportunities to express my condolences to Omer’s family and pay tribute to this great man.
From there Mr. Odobasic and I went to the Bosniak Institute, an endowment from the late Dr. Adil Zulfikarpasic. It is located in a former Turkish bath and houses a library, gallery and meeting space. A breathtaking collection of modern and historic artwork is beautifully displayed in galleries on multiple floors.
There are also fine examples of traditional costumes, carving, textiles and metalwork.
One should really devote several hours and return on more than one occasion to digest these treasures. Our English-speaking guide provided a wonderful look into the Institute and ended the tour by giving me the book The Bosniak, Adil Zulfikarpasic in dialogue with Milovan Djilas and Nadezda Gace (Hurst & Company, London, 1998). I simply cannot wait to return to the museum for a longer visit. Their website is: http://www.bosnjackiinstitut.ba.
The following day, January 21, my friend and former Sevdah Institute cameraman Esmer Pita arranged for me to participate in a memorial program on Visoko TV. As it turned out, Esmer also planned a visit to see Edina Begovic who had been Omer’s right hand at the Sevdah Institute. With true Bosnian hospitality, Dina had prepared a feast for dinner and the time quickly flew by over fascinating conversation.
Then Esmer and I were off to his home where I would meet his wife, mother, two adorable children and sister for the first time. Their house sits high atop a hill overlooking Visoko. We drove through the dark snowy woods to reach it, sometimes as if in a bobsled flying through the turns. Hanging onto Esmer’s arm we crept up the icy stairs and into the cozy warmth of his home.
What a beautiful family. It was a real joy to spend time together, but before you know it we had to head out to Visoko TV.
It was wonderful to see familiar faces: the beautiful Meliha who hosted the program, her husband and camerman Haso, and Mirza, one of Omer’s regular guitarists and member of the Sevdah Institute Omer Pobric. So sad that it was Omer’s death that brought us together again.
Meliha began the program speaking of Omer in her graceful manner. I could feel the lump in my throat growing with her every word. Then when they showed a clip of Omer on the television screen just off camera it took all my strength to fight back the tears.
By that time it was very late and the roads had turned to sheer ice. Thank goodness Esmer’s wife accompanied us back to Sarajevo so he wouldn’t have to drive home alone. Still, I held my breath after they dropped me off in Sarajevo until they called to let me know they had arrived safely home.
In my next article you will read about the memorial service held at the Pobric home in Mulici on Saturday, January 22.