Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The ghost of Travnik

The bus stoped. I opened my eyes and looked out on the station. "Just another town on the way", I thought and set myself to go to sleep again. The last night in Jajce had been a rough one and I wanted to get some rest before I would come to Travnik.

Travnik. The only town I knew something about, except for Sarajevo. Travnik hab been the capital of Bosnia under ottoman rule. It used to be the political, financial and cultural center of the country. Also, it is the town where Ivo Andric, writer of the nobel prize winning book "Bridges over the Drina" and "The Travnik Chronicels" had been born. I was very excited to go to this place, but now, I only wanted to close my eyes again.

The drivers voice came through the speakers "Passengers for Travnik, please leave the bus".
I opened my eyes again. Was this it?!I climbed of the bus and asked a man standing next to me. "Je to Travnik?" "Da" came the answer, together with a quick nod of the head. "Poor idiot", he must have thought. I opened my guidebook and looked for directions.

The Bosanska was supposed to be the main street of town. I left the busstation and found myself standing right on it. Firts, I walked right, which turned out to be wrong. The center was down the left. After some meters I asked a women if the center was straight on. "Da", she said and gave me the same shake of the head. Three rounds later I had found the Pension.The guidebook had described it as noisy, which was a slight understatement. The house was situated right between the side of the cities main motorway and its central Mosque. It was so close to the street, that one could smell the exhaust fumes of the cars passing by and distinguish Diesel from normal gasoline. I slept about four hours that night, always waking up from the sound of the cars passing by, then falling back to sleep after some minutes. When I finally woke up, my head felt like a burned out racecar engine. Heavy and full of black holes.

Damn it, Travnik didn't make it easy to be liked or loved.

On the next day, it became clear that the three nights I had booked were way too much time for Travnik. In the morning, I had walked up to the castle to take pictures and enjoy the view over the town. When I arrived on the highest point of the fortress, I sat down and glanced out over the valley. The Bosanska was right in the middle. It ran from one end of town to the other, paralell to the motorway and the small river Lašva. The houses were all built into the hills and slowly climbed up on both sides of the mountains. I looked around and listened to the ominpresent noise of the motorway. Except for that, there was no sings of life in the streets on the hills and in the valley. Stoves and litterboxes were burning in some spots, children cried for the mothers, dogs were barking and the traffic kept flowing. All that, together with the moisture in the air lay spread out across Travnik and made it hard for me to breathe. Shit!

I had hoped for more. Much more. Too much as it seemed. I had come to Travnik because of Andric and his books, of which I had read "The Travnik Chronicles". I had come to feel the atmosphere of him and his books. I wanted to understand his descriptions and stories of Travnik. I wanted to feel them, the spirits of the ottoman days. For Travnik, these had been the days of glory, but there was nothing left of it. All of the inspiration and magic which had been in the air at some point was gone. All of the things which this city was once famous for seemed dead and vanished. The Ottomans were long gone, leaving no sign of their existence other then the castle and the arabic letters on the old tombstones.

I had seen Andrićs birthplace earlier that day. It turned out to be a disappointment. He had been born in a simple room, which his poor parents had rented, including the furniture. He had had no brothers, no sisters, close relatives or children of his own. Together with him and his stories about the great days of Travnik, everything this city was ever special for had died. The cities most famous son had died and been cremanted in Belgrade.

All that was left of Travniks once found fame and glory, was now ashes and dirt.There was no live, no progress, no spirit in anything. It made me sad. Travnik had been the town which I had expected the most from and now, everything that I had come for was gone and lost.

Jajce had been a total shot in the open, while Travnik had been in it to win it. Right from the beginning, the odds had been to high. Travnik appeared to be frozen in time, robed of the chance to stand out in the world for anything, ever again.The past was ominpresent and the people of Travnik seemed to exist, only to keep the memories alive. They fed the ghosts of the past every day, so that the world would not forget them, out here, by the motorway. The ghost of Travnik, Andrić, had written the chronicles of the city, about its people and their feelings, wishes, hopes and fears, long before the last one of them had died. He had condemned them to be ghosts.

I started to be angry.

Why in the world would I have to put up with all of this? Why was there no life what so ever in this town? I could not allow myself to think that Travnik had been trapped inside its own legend for ever. Then, I heard the voice of the muenzin.

I can not say why, but for some strange reason I rtopuld myself that going to the mosque would be the best thing I could do. So I did. When I though about it later, I came to realize that this had been the first time I had ever entered a mosque, during the ceremony on top.
During their schooldays, most german children go to see at least one syngogue, not to speak of the dozens of christian churches. In 23 years. I had never been inside a muslim curch ever.
That could not last.

At first, the feeling was very strange. I had washed my hands and face and taken of my boots on the dorstep, but when I entered the main room, it became clear that the chance that I would be overseen was close to zero. "Fuck it", I tould mayself. "Nobody is going to chop your head off".

I sat down in a corner and watched the ceremony. Islam is a very active religion, you know?!
In christian churches, you sit down and pray to yourself - end of story.
In a mosqoue though, everyone is constantly moving from their feet, to their knees and back on their feet. The religion demands a lot of dedication (also because you have to get up at 5 in the morning to say the first prayer of the day) and I came to like that. I looked around and all of a sudden, something struck my mind. "Islam!"

Islam was what was still alive in this town, living and moving. Of all of the public clocks I had seen around town, none had worked. Still, the little wooden clock in the back of the mosque, probably more then 100 years old, kept ticking.

This was the place where live was still goiung on and you could see it.

There were man and boys of all ages, at least 50 of them and an equally high nubmer of women.
With the practice of their religion, they gave prove of the time of the ottoman empire, of the time that Andrić had described in his books and which I had wanted to experience myself.
When I left the mosque, I felt relieved.

I had found what I had come for, even if that was totally different from what I had expected. The ghosts of Travnik had not scared me away and the inspiration I had hoped to find finally came to my mind.

I walked over to the hostel and took a deep breath of Travniks air.
After all, it was not so difficult anymore.

1 comment:

maminka said...

HURRA! Ich habe wieder ein Telefon und Internet! Hätte nie gedacht, dass mich so etwas freuen könnte... Ich hoffe, Dir geht es gut, übrigens, gerade die Katholiken turnen in der Messe ´rauf und ´runter, was das Zeug hält; ich fürchte meine religiöse Erziehung hat bei Euch nicht stattgefunden, pass gut auf Dich auf!!! MAMA