“Good morning, Sarajevo!” Kutjevo Grasevina 2014

I had almost forgotten how layovers and flights could accumulate time so rapidly; I left home in Omaha around 3:45PM on Tuesday, Sonja and the kids dropping me off at Eppley, only to be delayed there for weather in Chicago. The gate agents were helpful and got me rebooked onto something that had a slim chance of getting me to my connection in Chicago. On the flight, I chatted with a woman named Erin; a fellow runner, we spoke mostly of our children. When we finally arrived in Chicago, I said a hurried goodbye and took off running through Ohare like a madman, trying to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. The stakes were high; miss my Turkish Air connection to Istanbul and I’d probably be robbed of a precious day in Sarajevo. Good thing I’d worn my Asics.

Briefly, I’ll mention here that I was stunned by the number of people in Chicago who seemed either unaware or unconcerned that they should stand on the right of people movers like escalators and moving walkways in order to let those of us in a hurry pass on the left. In DC, where I’ve spent much more time, you’ll get run over for that. I’d had this problem once before in Ohare, back in around 2013, when I was returning home from Rwanda, and I nearly got into a physical altercation with a man who not only wouldn’t move but also felt the need to make snide remarks. I shoved him on my way past, nearly knocking him from the walkway, and he in turn attempted to pin my bag to the side of the moving walkway. That experience probably informed my decision not to toss an airline pilot off of the escalator who, when I asked if he’d move, replied “Why don’t you just wait a second?”  Of course, the airplane won’t leave without you, I thought to myself, but I knew that my odds of missing my flight increased exponentially for every person I shoved off of an escalator, especially a person in uniform. I smiled in such a way as to indicate I wanted to bit his nose off, and waited a moment before hopping his bag at the base of the escalator and taking off running again, even harder, to make up for previous lost seconds.

I arrived at my gate in ORD Terminal 5 just as the last people were boarding, my shoes and laptop and jacket all in my hands after the second security checkpoint. Sweating, panting, the gate agent smiled faintly but made no comment, then took my ticket and I was seated for what turned out to be a very nice flight to Istanbul during which time I watched Downsizing, wrote some poetry, read a little bit, and took a five hour nap. I’ll dwell upon the Turkish Air flight more in a future post. Once in Istanbul, I pulled up for my three-hour layover just as the Uruguay v. France world cup game was starting, ordered a beer at a crowded airport bar, and whiled away the match talking with a man who had been a soldier in the Bosnian Army in the 1990’s, but who now lives in Chicago. We spoke of the war, of the genocide, of Sarajevo, of soccer. His son sat with us, probably ten years old, eating chips and drinking juice that the Croatian bartender provided him free of charge. It was a pleasant afternoon.

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From Istanbul it was a short flight to Sarajevo, then a long wait for my luggage which was never to arrive. Adi, my driver and guide for the next few days, kindly supplied the people at the airport with his phone number and my hotel’s address, and assured me we’d get my luggage. Oddly, I wasn’t feeling very concerned about it, and still this morning I am not. Worse things happen to better people every day, though of course I may feel differently should it not arrive today and I have to purchase another suit to wear to my meeting at 10 Downing Street next week. Eh… even then it wouldn’t matter much. I could use a new suit.

Adi left me at my hotel in the heart of old Sarajevo and after I dropped off my shoulder bag, I took a walk around the neighborhood. The place was packed, a busy Friday night full of people eating and drinking and smoking hookahs in the ancient, crowded streets. I wandered about, taking it all in, trying not to draw attention to my disheveled appearance. Sarajevo, a city built on steep hills, is amazing at night, and from the old town in the valley the views can be spectacular. It felt great to be back in Europe.

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There’s something about ancient Europe that is inimitable, that has never been successfully replicated. Old Georgetown lacks the feel, as does Ybor City and other “old” American cities. There’s something that’s as much a part of the air as it is ingrained in the cobblestone streets that makes old European cities like Sarajevo oddly numinous, seemingly almost haunted by history, and an experience unto themselves. I was reminded of my time in Brugge, of quiet little back alleys in Paris, of the street in London where I lived. Oddly, the quiet rumble of human conversation seems to sound the same no matter what language is being spoken.

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For her part, ancient Sarajevo is a city full of minarets. They are visible everywhere, and this morning as I awoke, I awoke to beautiful singing on the street below my room, which I intend to investigate. There’s so much going on here, so much to see — I’m thankful that I didn’t miss my flight over, and that I have this day to experience Sarajevo. It’s just about time to get going, but first:

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Before going to bed last night, I helped myself to a glass of wine from the mini fridge in my room. The 2014 Kutjevo Grasevina from Slavonija in Croatia is a really pleasant wine.  I hadn’t been expecting much from a four-year-old white wine in a hotel mini fridge, but I was pleasantly surprised. Low alcohol, around 12%, it is smooth with notes of baked lemon, subtle minerals, and hints of brighter white fruit — tinned pear maybe, towards the finish. The wine’s golden hue was misleading — it tasted young and fresh. Medium acidity and slightly round in the mouth, its a very easy drinking wine that, had I any food, I suspect would have paired nicely with just about anything.

Speaking of food, it is morning here in Sarajevo, and I’d like to get some coffee and find out what breakfast looks like in the Balkans. There are a million and one things to know about any place one travels to, and in the next three days here in Bosnia I hope to learn as much as possible. Thankfully, I packed a tooth brush in my satchel, and deodorant as well. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go shower before I put my sweaty Lakers shirt and my day-old socks and underwear back on. Sarajevo awaits!

Cheers to being in new and exciting places,

Mark

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