Hanging out at the Internet Cafe
September 2-3, 1996, Sarajevo

The Avatar isn't a large cafeé. There are the dozen or so tables, and the Mac awkwardly shoved in the corner. You have your choice of cappucino, espresso, and a few varieties of beer and liquor. What more do you need, after all?

Morgan showed up that first evening relatively early, after a shaky drive back from Croatia with his girlfriend. He stood me and what looked to be half a dozen other friends just passing through to a round, and we agreed to talk in the morning. I joined my new friend Peter at a table with what turned out to be a very drunken American news reporter.

"Yup, learned to drink like this in Russia and I never stopped," she intoned every so often. In between she would declaim the most amazing insights (useful or not I don't know) about Sarajevo, the NATO forces, the UN, what it had been like under siege, and so on. Of course, as an American press person she hadn't gone through what the average Sarajevan physically endured. In fact, even now, she was entitled to fly into Sarajevo, something that was made available again to the general public only a week or so after I left.

It was a lot like hanging out with the gang back at the Goliath bar, in Jerusalem, where people similarly used to get very drunk, swap very bad stories, and stare deep into the liquor looking for answers that weren't ever going to be there. Here, where I wanted to get all the local color I could get, this formed the nucleus for a very serious party of drunks, all foreigners--American, Russian, British, from all walks of the official occupation life of Sarajevo. It was certainly fascinating, and perhaps, just a bit depressing. But, that may have been the overabundance of cigarette smoke. Air quality control was beginning to become a problem for me.

I asked about the local scene--did they have any hope for the elections? (No, of course not. First off, everyone still hated each other, so elections were only going to entrench and legitimize and perhaps even legalize those fears. Second off, there was massive voter fraud, so tens of thousands of people were voting in the wrong place, or barred from registering where they used to live--why did I think municipal elections had to be deferred? But the elections would certainly be fair in the sense that the people would obviously going to vote nationalist only, that the people were obviously afraid of each other and hating each other, and the elections would represent those sentiments 100%. And, said some, there would then be more more--more weapons more evening divided, this time--and lots more thousands of people would die. Thank you Bill Clinton and the need to pretend to democracy. (Mind you, Clinton at least got them this. George Bush could have taken action to prevent the mess. Americans talked big about Bush's foreign policy savvy for a while, but it didn't include doing squat here--nothing to prevent the war, and nothing to help once war broke out--and Bob Dole, the current Republican candidate for president, didn't have anything to say, either, except now, as the US Republican party candidate at last, "sell 'em more weapons" and "it's all Bill Clinton's fault." Right.

Of course, to change things, the US would need to have long-term foreign policy objectives, and have to be able to sustain something long-term like it did after World War II in Europe, Marshall Plan and all. Can you imagine the United States of today steadier than a raft at sea? Can you imagine us committing to foreign--or even domestic--objectives, other than building more weapons to sell--that were longer than six months away?

Societies can make bad decisions. That's what comes of making decisions--some turn out to be wrong. But a society that can't make, and stay to course for--anything longer than six months, doesn't have a prayer. And may not be worth much more.

I crashed for the night upstairs in what Morgan was threatening to turn into a youth hostel, but had originally wanted to call a "Center for New Media," (at which I might have taught had funding been available. By the time I came downstairs in the morning, having had my first near-night's sleep in a couple of days, Morgan had just gotten news that his first idea for the CNM--teaching regular Sarajevans how to use the web--still wasn't approved, but if he wanted to work with commercial ventures and, in effect, help recreate a Sarajevan economy, well, funding might be available for that. He was exuberant.

The whole idea of an Internet cafe had arisen one evening with a friend, while in Prague. Morgan, a British citizen who had grown up in Italy, was talking with another friend about things that would be worth doing. "Now, an Internet Cafe in Sarajevo, that would be neat," said Morgan. "Okay," said his friend, "I'll bankroll it if you put in the sweat."

So far, the Internet end was taking off slowly, but the cafe had become the watering hole of choice for everyone from graphic designers at the local newspaper to a wide variety of foreign expatriates. There probably isn't a better place in Sarajevo to quickly meet the widest possible variety of folks now in Sarajevo--including many who grew up here and speak at least some English. (As is true for most of the former Yugoslavia, most younger folks have learned English in the high school; older educated folks tend more towards German.)

In the meantime, Morgan has rented two floors of a three story building right near the center of things and a short distance from the bus station or the Old Town. The bottom floor is the café, the second is to be a small school, the Sarajevo Center for New Media, outfitted with computers, in which he can teach graphics and New Media classes--possibly, if this funding works out, to local business getting on the Internet, and to local designers interested in learning how to become webmasters. In the meantime, he spends much of his days working on physical infrastructure--banging on walls, plastering, and making the space livable.

It's all this kind of charming and, so far, moving forward bit by bit, application of getting things done by figuring out where you'd like to be, and then putting the pieces together one by one as materials become available (in this case, not only metaphorically, but really).

By the second night, supplemented with ongoing doses of Internet connections in between tourist trips around town, and realizing that I was coming down with a cough, I made it a shorter night. Or meant to.

But, just as evening approached, I began talking with a young student, now in München, who was back for a visit and was talking about her work in reconiliation groups and we began exchanging poetry and important peace sayings and getting very excited about being for peace and justice and the Sarajevan way and all that, and then more of her friends showed up. One in particular was organizing an arts festival (which was upsetting in that it was all coming down after I left, but so it goes), and a young layout person or graphic designer from a local daily down the street. He took a different tack. Tradition needed to be tossed. Tradition is what got us into this horrible mess in which we were stuck today. He was into new music that was totally beyond tradition--trance stuff, or music such as Marta Sebastyn was doing with some electronic music folks.

I am someone who is very much a fan of Marta Sebastyn, albeit far less of a fan of her solo work (as opposed to the Muzikas albums), so we had some concrete grounds for discussion. I argued, that, in fact, tradition was that the different traditions coexisted peacefully in Sarajevo, and that it was the ignoring of tradition, the breaking of tradition in the name of greed, that led to the current pass. Tradition was a root, an anchor (just so long, say, as we're not talking about the patriarchial traditional in which I grew up, which must change, etc., but that's another story). I believe at one point I even declaimed, "the past must have a voice, just not a veto!" (Shades of Mordechai Kaplan!)

Needless to say, we were all fast friends and continued drinking and talking about these and lesser matters for hours. In fact, at one point we discussed Jewish music and my graphic designer friend insisted that he had an album done by a Sarajevan Jewish choir whose repertoire consisted of Yugoslav partisan songs, some Sarajevan melodies, and old Yiddish shlaggers. (He did, indeed bring it by the following morning. I left it with a friend in Graz for recording, and for safety. It looks interesting.) I brought out some compilation tapes that I had brought along as presents and made him a present of them.

Long before Sarajevo's eleven post meridien curfew, I was in a taxi for a short ride to a private room (with bath!, and hopefully smoke free) that I had rented out for the night, but, really, as had been the case the previous good evenings, I felt as though I had been transmitted back in time to a different Ari and a different way of life. I wasn't sure, though, that it was a place that felt comfortable any more. I'm not sure that I'm growing old. I feel younger now than I did twenty years ago, for sure. And there was a manic energy infusing everything that felt less purposeful, more like the static energy you encounter as you walk across a carpet on a winter's day--massive energy accumulated from the orgone around us and shocking us each time we touch something.

Hell, I'm not sure what I'm talking about any more.

What astonishes me is how quickly, once I arrived, I realized that this was not the right energy for me at this time. This is an exciting, fun time to be in Sarajevo, to work hard, and to drink hard. And, even though I think I still work hard, my capacity for drinking hard is pretty much gone. And while I certainly burned enough tobacco in my day to deserve what is coming down at me, I don't smoke anymore, and my lungs were not adjusting. In that sense, despite having too many unanswered questions, too many things still undone and unseen and unheard and unasked, it felt good to light out from Sarajevo on the evening of the third day to catch the night bus to Graz and music and a different part of my life.

Still, once I recover my lungs, getting back to the Avatar Internet Cafe in Sarajevo would be a fun, worth doing thing to do. I'll be back.

[back] to Land of the endless fish girl
[on] to Passing through Srpska, like hemorrhoids
[on] to Sarajevo, continued
[on] to Sarajevo, the instant tour
[on to beyond Sarajevo: Semper in transit

Europe '96 | Ivritype | My WELL pages

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