So Long Mustafa. A Great artist passes

An excerpt from “Everything for Love,” WC Turck, available on Amazon and at barnesandNoble.com

Mount Trebevich loomed high above the school and city center. Smoke drifted lazily from the Serbian trenches there. Those trenches could see up and down every street and alley in Sarajevo. They weren’t shooting today, despite the clear weather. They didn’t have to. Fear and unpredictability were as formidable to maintaining the siege as bombs and mines and bullets.
It was dusty and cold inside. The walls were covered with graffiti, so much that it seemed like something of a work in progress, a final assertion of a dying city, or the cynical conscience of the world. The building became a living history of lives that faded like echoes. There were declarations of love, calls to revolution, an homage to Che Guevara, filthy words and phrases in a dozen different languages and scripts. There were sketches, cartoons, Rock bands, rap verses, poetry and bits of prophetic wisdom like:

Ever since Tito died the world has gone to shit!
Elvis


Hasan was waiting for us in one of the first floor sculpture studios. The room was empty. Everything that could be burned had been pilfered. The books, desks and easels were all gone. Hasan looked so forlorn surrounded by that emptiness. He looked up smartly as we entered. His face was filled with worry.
“Where have you two been?” he asked.
“It’s my fault,” I said. “I had to deliver some things to a friend at the hospital and we got held up.”
He said we were late to meet with one of Sarajevo’s premiere artists. His name was Mustafa Skolpjak. He lived in the Academy of Arts building across the river. We hurried across the Princip Bridge, the spot where a young Slav nationalist had assassinated the Austrian archduke Ferdinand in 1914, beginning a series of events precipitating the First World War. The academy was an odd looking building with a prominent silver dome. At a glance it appeared abandoned. The tall windows had been blown out and shells had punctured the dome. The once carefully manicured lawns were overgrown with tangled weeds.
The heavy wooden door groaned loudly on its hinges. For a moment we stood in a narrow channel of daylight, illuminating part of a long staircase to one side, and a dark hallway to the other. We followed the hall past deserted studios to the small office where Mustafa lived.
“So would you like to meet Sarajevo’s greatest artist?” Hasan asked.
“Besides you and Nadja?” I winked, with a grin. He chuckled and said something about going into politics as he knocked at the door.
There was a long pause before a shadow disturbed the sliver of light beneath the door. I had read a good deal about Mustafa in the Press back home and was expecting someone fiery and philosophical, someone who exemplified the defiant persistence of the Sarajevo Arts community. Instead the man who opened the door was rather short and kind of dull. He had a thick, brushy mustache and heavy gray stubble. He smiled broadly when he recognized Hasan, though it seemed a terrific effort for him, as though it was not at all a natural act.
In jeans and a beat up leather jacket, his hair somewhat askew, Mustafa was more like a character from a Kerouac novel than anything else. He was quiet, hardly an egoist like Picasso, and certainly not the swashbuckling sort like Hemingway. At first impression Sarajevo’s greatest living artist was rather mundane.
“You’ve gotten big,” he rubbed Sulejman’s head. He invited us inside, apologizing that he had nothing to offer.
Stepping into the studio was like stepping into a small attic crammed with undreamed of treasures. The air was stale like an attic and filled with dust that hung like constellations among nebulous clouds of cigarette smoke. Midday sun flooded through a translucent sheet of UNHCR plastic covering a small window. The light was quickly scattered by abstract constructions of colored glass collected from around the city. Renderings and small paintings covered the walls or were stacked around the room. To one corner a mattress was braced between two burgeoning file cabinets. A tiny sink was filled with dishes and a pair of socks. Below the sink was the obligatory collection of buckets and jugs. At the end of his cluttered desk was a giant stack of magazines and newspapers from around the world. I mentioned that I read articles about him in America.Mustafa_Skopljak_vertikala
”America,” he pondered. He stroked the stubble of his square jaw. “What do they say for me in America?”
“Mostly how you’ve led Sarajevo’s art scene, and how you’ve triumphed and found inspiration in the war.”
“Hmm,” he considered. “I don’t find inspiration in the war. Other people’s words. I only find survival, but that doesn’t pass the time quite so well, and certainly doesn’t feed the soul.”
“All of these magazines and newspapers have stories about Mustafa,” Hasan motioned to the stack on the desk.
“Amazing,” I said.
Mustafa seemed almost ashamed of the attention. “It was only necessary to destroy a nation and murder two hundred thousand people so that I could become famous.”
We all looked to the window as a shell exploded on the mountain. The long, low rumble could be felt through the floor. It shook free more of that ever-present dust, but there was more to the sound. It made Mustafa’s life and talent so fragile and fleeting. Like every other man in the city he was a soldier, and if the Serbs tried to take the city his celebrity would afford him no special privilege. A single bullet or shell could instantly extinguish his rare gift. The artists of Sarajevo were a brave and resilient bunch, but they were also mortal.
We didn’t stay long at the academy. Mustafa was a private man, and despite his graciousness, our visit was something of an intrusion. Besides I was still suffering from the day before and wanted to go home and take a nap.
Hasan was headed back to school. Sulejman wanted to meet his mother at Markale (pronounced MARK-A-LAY), but Hasan didn’t want him to go there alone. The boy begged me to go with him, but I wasn’t really interested. Hasan could see that I was beat and scolded Sulejman about pestering me. With that Sulejman pouted and complained that he was sick and tired of sitting in the house with nothing to do. Out of sympathy I relented.
The Markale outdoor market filled a small square just off Marshal Tito Street, at a place where the street was at its narrowest. Markale was protected on three sides by the high walls of surrounding buildings. It was more than a market. It was an integral part of the city’s social fabric. Neighbors met to swap news and gossip. That simple function was even more important during the war.
Hardly a year had passed since a Serbian mortar slammed into the market killing sixty-eight, but old habits were hard to overcome. Within days of the attack Sarajevans returned to reclaim the market. As Sulejman and I crossed the street it was already jammed beyond capacity with shoppers, beggars and gawkers. I recalled Serbian assertions that the Bosnians had inflated the number of dead by dragging out cadavers. As packed as the market was on any given day it was a miracle that only sixty-eight had died that day.
Shopping was, of course, a relative term in besieged Sarajevo. People were crowded among the tightly packed tables, ogling a pathetic offering of goods. There were putrid looking chicken and pigeon carcasses, some washes with bleach to kill the smell. Not that it mattered. Even at ten or fifteen marks for a scrawny one the price was well out of reach for most. The NEW YORK TIMES some months earlier had celebrated the falling price of food in the city. Over the summer a pound of beef had plummeted from around a hundred Marks to twenty-five. The paper failed to mention that twenty-five marks represented one or two month’s income for most families. Prices fluctuated wildly with the fighting. A single egg might cost a few Marks in the morning, and go for six or eight or ten by afternoon.
Nadja was at the back of the square, looking over a paltry collection of small vegetables grown in the many war gardens that sprang up around the city. I stepped across the small crater punched by the February shell to reach her. It struck in a corner reflecting the full force of the blast into the square, turning tables and body parts into lethal missiles.
Nadja and Hasan had just been paid for the month with a carton of smuggled Drina cigarettes, or roughly the equivalent of one small chicken. She was haggling over a pile of little potatoes, scrawny carrots and some mangy garlic cloves. I gave Nadja a twenty Mark note, but the old Gypsy woman behind the table complained she couldn’t possibly make change for that. Nadja was a shrewd negotiator and managed enough vegetables to make a pot of soup for the next couple of days. She stuffed the precious goods into her tattered purse and, clutching it tightly, hurried out of the market.
“Did we do good?” I asked.
Nadja nodded. “I’m satisfied.
The street opened to a wide boulevard. Cafes had sprouted along sun drenched sidewalks as an assertion of the city’s undying spirit, as if the war was a distant thing. But reminders of the war were never very far away. There was the shriek of a patrolling NATO warplane, a firefight on the mountain and the grating annoyance of a passing UN tank. Just beyond the fringes of the cafes, where patrons chanced a Mark for a moment of normalcy, disowned refugees and the homeless begged for mercy or some small hope from those who had lost both a long time ago. Only the dead or the insane could truly escape the war, and at every given moment everyone in Sarajevo teetered at the edge of one or the other.

So long, Dear Friend

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A Place for Eternity

There is just one moment I return to again and again. It is October 14th 1994. I think it is around 4 in the afternoon. I am a continent and an ocean from home. Soft blue-gray clouds temper deepening shadows. I am leaning on the rail of the Latin Bridge. I can feel the cold metal of the railing through a sweatshirt and thin jacket. The burned out oriental library overlooks tall and defiant just across the road. The city is still and feels like a painting, rendered in hues akin to the flowing blanket of clouds. The faintest light at the far end of the valley reminds of the waning day. The war is in momentary respite. The silence thunders, rushing into the void, demanding to be remembered. A breeze down the mountain carries the warming scent of wood smoke, weathered stone, pine and the mineral coolness of the Milyatska River trickling beneath my feet. Ana is beside me. Her warm shoulder is touching mine. She is new to me; an undiscovered land. I have known her only a few hours. Each new moment falls like notes in a symphony. I could fall in love with the sound of her voice alone. She falls silent at well, breathing in the chilling air. I am in a dream, curious if she is in fact the answer to my prayers. There is no heaven so perfect. The speculation of a long journey to this moment, searing in my bones and muscles, is realized fully. At the end of every road home awaits, even if it is not the home envisioned. Breathing deeply I resolve one day, when life is exhausted and time used up, that I shall return to this place where I will remain forever standing beside her, my undiscovered land…
IMG_0802


Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, with Jack Hammond and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “A Tragic Fate: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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From the Editor: Paris Coverage

Revolution and Beer will not post reports or news items specifically about the attacks. The events of November 13th, 2015 will become fodder for conspiracies, political posturing, bigotry, fear mongering and propaganda. Revolution and Beer has no interest in pandering to such unproductive and regressive perspectives.

It is not a fear of any single group. Revolution and Beer fears no one and no groups. It does hold ultimate contempt for ignorance. In solidarity of freedom of expression we ran just once a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, but vowed not to repeat the publication out of respect for our Muslim friends and neighbors. We have and will continue to confront ignorance and racism of all kinds be it by members of the Islamic, Jewish, Christian or any other religious affiliation. We also stand in full opposition to systems and groups who rely upon or construct or impose oppression on others, regardless of racial make up, or social ideology.

Revolution and Beer will run stories that contrast or frame the debate in its truest light, such as the media’s tendency to focus on one tragedy while ignoring greater tragedy’s, such as the recent slaughter of thousands in Nigeria, or the systemic oppression of Palestinians or the overt racial antagonism against Jews, the mocking of the Black Lives Matter movement, impositions upon a woman’s sovereignty over her own body, LGBTQ rights, the struggle of immigrants world wide or the ghoulish insanity of groups like ISIS, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

We hope that you understand and support our position. You can find headlines regarding the Paris attack everywhere, we hope that for the most honest and humane perspective you will rely upon Revolution and Beer to carry that torch. We have vowed at Revolution and Beer, and at Que4 Radio in Chicago to be a true alternative to the hyperbole, reactionary reporting and propaganda paraded now as news. We strive to be better, with the longest possible view on events and the broadest possible application of our collective humanity.

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Hate laughing darkly? Don’t read this

A good friend, who is as crazy about politics as I am asked why I and Que4 radio did not cover any of the Republican presidential debates. Before I answer that, a reality check on some numbers. FOX News, which carried the debate, is forced through various cable deals automatically on 82 million homes in America. 13 million tuned in for this one, 10 million fewer than the first debate. In fact, despite a blitz of coverage on talk radio and the corporate press, the debates are properly characterized as the Anrea Doria of politics. Those numbers also credit FOX even if someone accidentally lands on the network. “Sweetie, I’m trying to find Diners Drive-ins and Dives and I’m on FOX again!”

To center those numbers a bit more, the episode when Den served Angie with divorce papers in BBC One’s East Enders drew 30 million. 40 million in Portugal, a whopping 85% of viewers caught the soccer game between Portugal and the Netherlands. In fact, the telenovela Torre de Babel in Portugal routinely gets double the viewers of this last debate. Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, arguably more informative than the debate gets 16 million. here in the greatest nation on earth, MASH scored 125 million for its finale.

But the reason neither I nor Que4 Radio will ever cover the Republican debate is twofold. First, we don’t cover it for the same reason we wouldn’t cover video of a man with no lips attempting to eat an ice cream cone, or the funny faces a dog makes while trying to eat peanut butter, a little people mud wrestling contest or a conversation between flatulence connoisseurs (Its all about the layers).

The second part is that Que4 supports and defends diversity, dignity and respect for all people, and a realization of the broadest possible interpretations and manifestations of personal liberty. we champion our brothers and sisters of every race, religion, gender and sexual identity by standing and shouting against oppression, and that is diametrically opposed to every breath and utterance of every of every single candidate on that stage.


Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray with Jack Hammond and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “A Tragic Fate: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Lazy teachers need a pay cut!

Got your attention? I am about to tell you something that might make you punch the computer. first a few facts and numbers.

We are told that teachers make too much and luxuriate with a plush three month paid vacation, plus spring break, and the holiday break. The average Illinois teacher starts at a base rate of about $37,000 and tops out at an average of around $59,000. many, if not most spend evenings and weekends0 building lesson plans, researching material, grading papers, continuing education, seminars, parent meetings, after school curriculum. I am just skimming the surface, but you get the idea. For their time, and what they contribute to society (The Right drumbeats that it is all about the children) teachers are probably the most underpaid of all public servants.

. Contrast that with the salaries of Illinois State legislatures, who just passed themselves a generous raise, who make $70 grand. By the way, they get half the summer off and, it was announced today, won’t return to work until some time in 2016. Three months plus? Wow, and teachers are overpaid?

Illinois has 59 state senators. Nine more than the US Senate, which represents the entire country. there are 118 state representatives, each pulling $70 big ones, of course while nurturing their real careers, in business, as lawyers and such; ya know, poor and middle class folk like you. of course that $70 Gs doesn’t include a bevy of big boy perks, like a $111 per diem for each session day. i did the math and Jimmy Johns or Subway could cater lunch daily for the entire legislature for about $150 a pay, including chips and soda. what costs $111 a day per? caviar and their own private rickshaw to work everyday? .All total state politicians rack up close to $80k for less time on the job than teachers. And they produce far less!

Compare that with Indiana. where legislatures earn $22,616 annually to 50 senators and 150 reps. Last i looked teachers produce in this state. the same is rarely said of Illinois politicians. But they will tell you the state is broke, except for where their pocket is concerned. they have even posted a website so you can harass your local teacher, as if they were some sort of medieval witch. Meanwhile, while dodging the political bullets of bullies teachers show up everyday for work, stay late and often have to buy resources critical to a child’s learning out of their own pockets. No $111 per diem for teachers. many will continue teaching children through the holiday break, while the bloated and overpaid do-nothings in the Illinois congress enjoy a long, lazy vacation…on your dime.

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A Brief Conversation with an Alien-no the outer space kind…

I went for a walk the other night in the woods a few nights back, gathering my thoughts and contemplating my life, the world and the swath of brilliant stars above through the trees. Suddenly one of them moved, seeming to tumble towards me. It veered at the last moment, gliding to an astounding, silent and instantaneous stop among the trees a short distance away, and just above a small clearing. My heart raced, and I had a sense that I should run, but was so taken by this extraordinary moment I remained, even edging from the path, where the grass crunched lightly beneath my feet.
It was indeed an object of some sort. Odd that the light surrounding that smoothly polished body, the color of a blue opal was almost soothing. I angled towards a large maple, placing it partly between myself and the object. Though there w ere no markings seams or rivets of any kind I had a sense that it turned, as though facing me directly.
I had no impression or recollection of a door opening. but I was immediately aware of an opening, and all at once a small figure standing before me.
I might have been shocked or frightened, but I was now looking into the deepest, darkest pools of a small creature’s eyes. There was no emotion in the creature’s pale face, only a feeling that I had nothing at all to fear.
“Thank you,” the creature said.
I can’t say if it was a male of female voice, and I had no impression that its thin lips moved at all. And it wasn’t in my head, but seemed to be in some space between us, where common air existed and in which our own thoughts remained our own.
“Thank you?” I asked. “I, uh, I have a feeling I should be thanking you,” I chuckled. “I really don’t know what…”
“Its understandable. You’ll have a million questions tomorrow, but not a single one right now, am I correct?” said the being.
“Wow,” was all I could think to say. “I suppose I’m not representing the species too well that I can’t come up with one interesting thing to say, huh? I mean, you came all of this way…”
“So why don’t I do the talking and see if I can’t anticipate a few thousand of those questions. How’s that?’
“Thank you,” was all I could think to say.
“There is so much,” began the being. “We just haven’t time for…You are devout to your world, and more devout to your species, and paramount to yourselves. So are we all. You are a miracle. I am a miracle, just as all life is throughout this great universe; and it is great indeed. All of us are the consciousness or a great universal organism. If you take nothing from this, understand that the circle of life is around you in ways yet to be fully imagined. Your world is not merely a host that carries life. It is a living thing, just as the galaxy and universe, and all of the universes are so much more than mere assemblages of random matter. They are teeming, and they are life themselves. Render them from this moment forward in that light and you will begin a new paradigm…oh, crap, look at the time. I really have to fly.”
“Wait,” I exclaimed, ignoring his terrible pun. The being seemed to reappear in the opening of the vessel without the passage of time, as if melting across space between here and there.
“You’ve got questions, don’t you?”
“I think might head might…I just can’t think of a question…Why can’t you stay longer?” I pleaded.
But the vessel was already climbing through the trees where it lingered for just a moment. As fast as I could imagine it disappeared among the stars. I laughed, settling back against the tree, where I tried to take all of this in, to convince myself that it was all a dream, though I knew better.
It was just before dawn then I finally left the forest. The morning dew was already collecting. I could hear traffic in town a mile or so away. Of coarse I would never tell a soul about this. Who the hell would believe such a wild tale, but I tell you it happened, as sure as I’m sitting here. Believe what you will, and if nothing else just ponder the message. All the rest you can discard as the ramblings of a very confused mind…
Turning, I looked skyward, and at just above a whisper said, “, Damn, I just thought of a question…”

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Community Policing is Not the Answer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WHEN: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 12:30 PM
WHERE: City Hall, 2nd Floor
PARTICIPATING ORGANIZATIONS: We Charge Genocide, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Black Lives Matter-Chicago, Black Youth Project 100, Showing Up for Racial Justice-Chicago

Activists and Community Organizations Release Report on Community Policing in Response to President’s Recommendations for Policing.

(Chicago 10/28 – On Wed., October 28 at 12:30 pm, community organizations will convene at City Hall to release a report on Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS). The report is a response to President Obama’s call, in his speech at the meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), to increase funding for police agencies and renew the commitment to community policing.

The report, titled “The Counter-CAPS Report: The Community Engagement Arm of the Police State,” finds that data gathered at CAPS meetings in several neighborhoods around the city shows that CAPS further strengthens divisions within mixed-income communities. The report found CAPS meetings permeated with racially coded language, where police officials inappropriately encourage small groups of self-selected residents to harass young people of color and target low-income housing.

The report challenges the president’s claim that community policing can improve the relationships between the police departments and minority communities. It shows that community policing mobilizes residents already committed to police involvement, increasing police surveillance of a community’s most vulnerable residents or visitors. The solution is not, as President Obama suggests, renewed commitment to community policing and further investment in law enforcement. Instead, the appropriate response is reduce funding for police agencies and reinvesting that money in social services like education and public health that will meet real community needs.

The release of the “Counter-CAPs Report” comes on the heels of a series of non-violent direction actions organized around the IACP meeting. On Saturday, Oct 24th, 60 activists, from the same organizations releasing this report, were arrested after they blocked intersections and entrances of the IACP meeting.
FOR MORE INFO: Follow the #CounterCAPS hashtag on Twitter.
Contact: Eva Nagao (312) 505-8327

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On the day before our engagement

The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside. Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.

“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”

The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.

“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”
“I was leaving the city tonight.”

“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”

At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”

“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”

“Soon.”

“You don’t sound very happy?”

“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.

“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”

“Ana.”

“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”

“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”

Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”

“I’m not finished yet,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.

“Just war,” Alto replied.

Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room. As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.

“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.

“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”

“It was all a mistake, Emira.”

“Real love is never a mistake.”

“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”

“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”

Later that evening Ana and I went to see her grandmother downtown. Ghostly white clouds drifted silently above the dark city and broken rooftops. I said nothing about leaving, and Ana seemed to be in no mood to confront that eventuality either

A soldier was waiting in the war room when we returned to Ana’s. He was tall and handsome, with broad shoulders and neatly trimmed blond hair. He was still in uniform and dirty from being on the line. He paced the room while his girlfriend looked on with a concerned expression. She was equally stunning by appearance, imbued with the grace and elegance of a dancer. Long golden hair was pulled tightly from her small face. Their expressions were severe and tense. Ana knew why they were there. She checked to be sure no one was on the stairs and closed the door tight.

“Bill, this is my friend Damir.”

I held out a hand but he ignored it. “What has Ana told you about the tunnel?”

“Nothing.” I shrank from his girlfriend’s icy stare. Her name was Nina. She and Ana had gone to school together, and had trained at the same dance school.

“Did she tell you that I work on the tunnel?”

“She never mentioned any names.” I looked at Ana. Her expression spoke of the danger and seriousness of all this.

“Damir,” Nina scowled, “this is a big mistake.”

He waved her off and thought for a moment. “Normally I would not do this. There is a reason that foreigners are forbidden from the tunnel. If the Chetniks learned the location the war could be lost.” He sighed heavily. “However, because of my friendship with Ana I will help you, if you can get there.”

“You understand that if Damir is caught he could be shot,” said Nina. “Will you carry that on your conscience?” She glared accusingly at Ana.

“I will be at the tunnel Monday and Wednesday night,” Damir went to the door. Nina joined him there. His eyes met mine, as though second-guessing his decision. “Do not tell anyone of this.”

They left quickly, Ana and I languishing in the heaviness of their departure.

“Do you trust him?” I asked.

She looked so terribly sad as she nodded. I sighed and checked the time. It was nearly curfew.

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Ana and I in Sarajevo. Happy Anniversary

The sun was a sickly yellow ball suspended in the soupy smoke and haze at the end of the valley. The cold reached out from the shadows of the Austrian quarter. What remained of the day ran as a narrow channel of light along the wide promenade. Further on the Western world gave way to the old Turkish bazaar of Bashcharshija. The line was sudden and unmistakable. Vasha Miskin became Sarachi as neatly laced cobblestones changed to uneven quarry stones. The Western philosophy of anonymous commerce gave way to intimate passageways and narrow alleys interwoven with crooked arteries of small shops and Eastern-style kafanas.

Ana and I crossed from West to East past a cordon of soldiers hunting deserters. Muslim men filled the walled courtyard of the Gazi Husref beg Mosque. Its marvelously tall spire disappeared high above ancient maples shrouding the lane. At the head of the valley, the crumbling walls of the fortress Jekovac looked down upon the city. Autumn leaves fell like snow upon the smooth stones. For a moment any distinction between past and present became irrelevant.

“Such a pretty place,” I remarked.

“You should have seen Sarajevo before the war,” Ana remarked wistfully. “It was so beautiful. We really had everything here. We had the mountains and skiing. In a few hours you could be on the sea. There was opera and Rock music. You could go for Chinese food by the river, see a French film at the theater and stop for coffee in Bashcharshija. And friends… we would all go for parties in the mountains: Serbs, Croats and Muslims. It didn’t matter who you were. None of us had learned to hate each other yet. Guys would play guitar under the stars and everyone would eat and sing and…”

Her words trailed away into some distant and private memory. She looked at me as if something had been stolen from her. “You could be any religion or no religion. We celebrated Hanukah with Jewish friends, Bajram with Muslim neighbors and Orthodox Christmas with Serbs. We were so lucky to see the world with so many different eyes. It was like we could see just a little bit more of God.”

“So what happened?’

Ana only shrugged, as if the weight of the answer was too much to bear.

We wandered through the old Turkish market, definitely but not purposely towards the ruins of the Library. It was once a beautiful building, dominating the end of the valley, where the river cut among the deep gorge on its way to Pale. Ana could not bring herself to look at it, and instead kept her eyes to the ground until we crossed to the river. Incendiary shells from Serb guns had destroyed the library, and with it a treasury of Bosnia’s heritage. The steps where Austria’s Archduke stood before being assassinated in 1914 led to the scorched and blackened shell of a building. Ana hurried onto the bridge, and leaned at the rail. I joined her there an instant later.

“Look,” she said as the setting sun cast a pale orange glow upon the shallow waters of the Miljatcka.

The river ran straight through the city between high stone walls. Buildings crowded to either side. The bridges appeared stacked upon one another. As people moved back and forth across them their long shadows were cast upon the glittering sunlit waters of the river. Pigeons gathered in the stone arches of the Princip Bridge. I looked at Ana, her gaze fixed on the city. The city and sunset were reflected in her eyes.

“It’s beautiful,” I said softly, as much about the city as for her.

I could hardly take my eyes off her and would have been content to remain there forever. Ana’s shoulder fell quite casually against mine. The energy passing with that touch was every bit as powerful and fluid as river.

“Do you have a girlfriend somewhere?” she asked.

“No not really,” I said.

“You’re not married, are you?”

“Definitely not,” I laughed.

“How come? There isn’t something wrong with you?” she crossed the bridge and I followed.

“No.”

The cobbled streets of Bistrik climbed steeply before us. This was old Sarajevo, a collection of mostly Muslim neighborhoods called Mahalas. The Mahalas were almost separate communities unto themselves, collections of homes where clear distinctions between neighbor and relation had long ago dissolved. There were houses and families that went back generations, even centuries. Ana was a stranger here as much as I was. The odd looks from doorways and windows only confirmed that fact.

“Be careful what you say here,” Ana warned at barely a whisper. “Many here were supporters of Tsatso.”

I knew the name well In the first weeks and months of the war Musan “Tsatso” Topalovich and other would-be warlords had helped rally the city’s defense. His men fought bloody, wasteful battles from the trenches a few hundred meters above Bistrik. But his forced conscriptions, executions and brutality against Serbs and Croats in the city soon besieged the city from within as well. A government crackdown finally ended his reign of terror. Doubtless, Tsatso’s ad hoc defense those first days and months had save the city, but at a terrible cost. For the Muslims of Bistrik, however, Tsatso was not a criminal but a savior who had saved them from annihilation.

“But Tsatso is dead now,” I observed.

“Here he is a martyr and a hero.”

“Is he a war criminal or a hero, in your opinion?”

The question made her visibly uncomfortable. She kept looking to the darkened houses.

“It is best that we not talk about such things, especially not here, and especially not us.”

I didn’t pursue the subject, seeing how it upset her so. We found a set of stone steps and paused for a moment to look out across the city. Bashcharshija was laid out before us, the red tiled rooftops set ablaze by the final assertions of daylight.

“So how come you never got married?” We started down the uneven steps.

“Honestly,” I replied, “I don’t think I ever will. I have this foolishly unrealistic idea of what marriage is supposed to be: totally equal, friends, lovers, soul mates. I know it’s an unattainable expectation, but I couldn’t be happy if I settled for something less.”
“If you hate it so much why not change your expectation?”

“I don’t know,” I said, a bit forlorn. “Guess I’m just hopeless, and part of me thinks I’ll actually find what I’m looking for.”

“But if it causes you so much pain?’

“Right now I’ve got no reason to change. All I have to worry about is my cat.”

“A cat?’

“A big fat one!” I opened my arms wide.

“How big?” she gasped.

“Well not so big. Seems like it for how much he eats.”

“And his name?”

“Manhattan.”

“Like the city?”

“Like the movie: Woody Allen. I was watching it when a neighbor came over with this little black and white kitten. I had no interest in it, but the kitten sat on my shoulder through the whole movie, and by then I was hooked.”

“Fall in love fast, eh?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“And you have no kids?”

“None that I know of. What about you, ever see yourself married?’

“I told you, my parents are divorced. They had an awful marriage. The whole thing really jaded me to marriage.”

“Really?’

“I think that a man expands himself in marriage. He expects to have all his needs filled. He wants a maid, a cook, a mother and a whore. A woman tends to sacrifice to fill that need. She loses herself to become those things. She gives up her need and identity for him, and freedom for her children. That’s what happened to my mom, and I don’t want to lose myself.”

“What about children?”

She smiled mischievously. “None that I know of.”

Our eyes met, and for the first time I thought it would be nice to kiss her. I felt sure she was thinking the same thing, but I blushed and looked away. From the corner of my eye I could see that Ana was blushing too.

We turned down a long sloping lane bounded to one side by the towering walls of the Sarajevo Pivara, or brewery. A fire hose carried water from the Pivara to a gurgling spigot. The natural spring within the walls of the brewery proved to be one of the few reliable sources of water for the entire city. There was a line of haggard looking folks waiting to fill water jugs at the spigot. Ana stopped at the top of the lane. Her face darkened with a memory.

“I hate this place,” she said quietly. “We came here for water the first year of the war, my sister and me. It was a dangerous time. Nobody trusted anybody. A lot of Muslim refugees were coming into the city to escape the Serbs, and they needed some to place to live. Some Muslims in our neighborhood wanted to put us out of our place because our mother is a Croat and my father is a Serb. They wanted to give our place to some refugees. They would see us here waiting in line for water, with the rest of the city, and calls us Chetnik whores. Sometimes others would join in, cursing us, spitting on us or spilling our water.”

“You must hate them?”

“You must remember that real Chetniks were murdering and raping thousands of Muslims, and the Croatian Army refused to help break the siege. There were no frontlines, not as they are now. It still wasn’t certain that the Serbs would not take the city, and they found some Serbs in the city who were preparing for that. There were Serbs in the city with death lists of Muslim neighbors. Many people in the city simply disappeared. We were just two young girls. One word and we would just disappear. So we would stand there and cry, and wait for our turn for water.”

Ana led me to the courtyard of a small Mosque. Dozens of stone markers could be seen through a small embrasure, the stones sinking gradually beneath deepening grass. The branches of a willow hung in mourning above the stones, lightly brushing their round tops. Ana pressed her cheeks to the iron bars of the embrasure. I put my face close to hers, pretending to look in at the courtyard when I was really looking at her. I breathed in her perfume.

“…but the rain is still pouring down as it has for days,” I said softly, relishing in her nearness, “and the pigeons coo in the attic. They announce the day that has not yet come. My hand becomes stiff from holding the pen, the candle spits and sparks a little as it staves off death. I look upon these rows of words, tombstones of my thoughts, and do not know if I have killed them or given them to life.”

“Mesha Selimovich,” she said, surprised.

“Dervish and Death, my favorite Bosnian novel.”

“You know of Bosnian writers?”

“A little.”

“My grandmother knew him.”

We were very near the river again. The city was quiet, the streets nearly empty…

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Our interview with Bill Ayers Tomorrow

I have received a great deal of feedback regarding Saturday’s interview with Bill Ayers. This is the introduction I am working to:

Modern media tends to render the individual as cartoons, filler for an endless news cycle or worse, ideological bludgeons for propaganda and hyperbole. But before us today sits a man of flesh and blood. This interview is not a response to the Right’s demonization of Bill Ayers, but an attempt to render his humanness more fully. Like everyone of us he is filled with contradictions, faults, blessings, burdens, dreams and regrets. Bill Ayers chose a path in life that set him on a collision course with the state in its prosecution of a wholly unnecessary war and its persecution against an American system of racial and social apartheid. On the frontlines of any struggle for justice there is friction, confusion, passion, anger; danger. While the path becomes unclear the struggle becomes everything, the world becomes an outside place eclipsed not by the struggle itself, but in the resistance wielded by the oppressor.

What did the tumult of the 1960s and early 1970s accomplish, with the days of rage, protest, unrest and, yes, violence or the threat of violence? In a speech last year at Dartmouth Ayers asked an audience if they opposed slavery and then reminded that audience that before the civil war and during the founding of this nation that they would have been considered abolitionists in opposition to their nation, government and economy all of which relied on slavery. Ayers, as a member of the controversial and decidedly militant Weather Underground stood, sometimes violently, but always resolutely against the deaths in Southeast Asia, over the course of more than a decade of war, of more than 2 million people, including 58000 Americans. The Vietnam-era lottery and draft was an illusion of populism with disproportionately high numbers of minorities and poor pressed into service, while the wealthy, like Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent. Michael Savage and many more able to avoid service.

Ayers and the Weather Underground stood unwavering with Black Americans struggling for basic civil rights. Recall that Black veterans were barred from the benefits of the GI Bill and veterans benefits after the second world war, advantages that built the middle class in this country. The stark injustices and hypocrisies they struggled to correct were no different from the struggle of miners on Blair Mountain, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden.

There is a myth of non-violence in struggles for justice. An emasculated and reconstructed pacifist Gandhi once said “…Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.”

Protest and discontent are words of agitation. Protest should rightly be peaceful if the oppressor is accepting of change and willing to dialogue, but when the tactic of the oppressor is greater oppression and tyranny then violence must always remain in the arsenal of the oppressed. Malcolm X said “Kill that Dog! If a man uses a dog to keep you from what is rightfully yours, kill that dog!” A protest without the possibility of violence, should the state choose the road of greater oppression is a parade, and parades are for children and clowns.

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