By Anna Squires
This morning I woke up in Sarajevo – the “Swiss Cheese City”, as the locals called it during the 1992 – 1995 siege, when forces from the Army of Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serbs, led by General Mladić) assaulted the city from the surrounding hillsides until it was so riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel craters that it looked like just that. (Now the locals call it something more like “Feta Cheese City” – a little less hole-y, and more delicious.)
I’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and already I know: this is my city.
See, I woke up early this morning and walked through Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazaar district. It’s a cool maze of alleys with people selling imported, tourist-y, fun things like shot glasses and scarves and carved silver spoons and lavish rugs. It’s cold here in Bosnia, much colder than Belgrade – proper winter, where you can already see your breath in the middle of October.
I was walking slowly, alone, hands shoved in my coat pockets, when I saw a man bent over a table through a window cluttered with shining silver plates and džezvas. (You might know a “džezva” as an “ibrik”, or as the small coppery pot that you brew Turkish/Bosnian coffee in.)
I poked my head into the shop to see what the guy was up to, and he looked up from a crowded desk with some kind of heavy metal carving tool in his hand. It turns out he’s a coppersmith who engraves intricate designs on plates, cups, džezvas, sugar pots, etc. His wife is an artist who sketches the beautiful swirling designs for him, and his son is learning the trade.
He invited me to sit down and watch him work. So I pulled up a rickety black office chair and watched him for at least ten minutes as he scored a shining silver-coated copper plate, using a compass, with perfectly straight lines and intersecting half-moons to make a swirling circular flower-petal pattern. Then he picked up another tool and carved thick, dense, textured hashmarks inside the petals. It was warm and quiet in his little yellow shop and we sat there in a companionable silence while he worked. When the plate was done he handed it to me so I could see it, shining and intricate and so, so lovely.
I ended up buying an entire hand-engraved Turkish coffee set – džezva, sugar pot, and two silver sleeves with ceramic cups nestled inside of them – even though I didn’t have enough money to pay for it. And then the coppersmith brought me a tray with a steaming pot of Bosnian coffee, added a sugar cube to my tiny cup, poured the coffee with shaky-tired artist hands, dripped in a few teaspoons of water (as per the Bosnian tradition) to the top, and stirred it for me. I peaceably sipped coffee while he engraved the place and the date on the back of my tray and then signed it with his name. Then we just sat and drank coffee and smoked and talked in broken Serbian/English for another twenty minutes – about his children, his grandchildren, the scars along his arm from a shrapnel wound from his time in the Bosnian Army, during the siege.
And when I got up to go, we kissed cheeks and I walked back out into the cold and cried, just a little, from the cold wind and the stiff dry air and the happiness of this simple encounter. From the generosity of a stranger. From sitting and watching an artist at work, which so reminds me of watching my momma quietly paint in her studio. From the pleasure of owning such a beautiful thing. From the warmth of this city, this city that has struggled so much and seen such atrocities and still offers its heart to foreigners gladly.
Of all the cities I’ve seen in the world, of all my small travels, this city feels most like mine. When the clock hit 11:11 tonight, I looked over at my friend Kelsie, who was sitting at a smoky golden bar next to me, and told her to make a wish. She closed her eyes, and I closed mine, and I sent my wish out into the night: that I will come back here someday – someday soon. As quickly as I can make it.
More love (and photojournalism) from Sarajevo soon –
ps: If you want more info on my coppersmith friend, check him out on Facebook: he is Nijaz of Nijaz and Kenan Jažić’s Kazandžijska Radnja / coppersmith shop.