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Friday, 11 October 2013

PUNK ROCK, FRIENDSHIP, AND SARAJEVO



Between the years of 1967 and 1991, Adam Yamey visited Yugoslavia frequently, making many friends and enjoying a variety of interesting experiences. Recently, he wrote a book called SCRABBLE WITH SLIVOVITZ in which he relives and shares a diverse selection of his adventures. 

In the first excerpt, he relates an episode that demonstrates the warmth and friendship of the peoples of a country that has sadly been torn apart by a tragic series of civil wars.  

In the second excerpt, he describes how he attended one of the first ever punk rock concerts in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.


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"Dubrovnik was the point of departure for my first visit to Sarajevo. I bought a ticket at the bus station just outside the walls of the old city, entered the bus, and headed for the seat, whose number was printed on my ticket. In those days, and maybe this is still the case today, passengers were assigned specific numbered seats on long-distance buses. Whenever I knew that I would be travelling a day or two ahead, I used to buy my ticket in advance in order to get one of the seats numbered 1 or 2, which were at the front of the bus, and therefore with the best view, and, incidentally, also with the highest risk of injury in a head-on collision.

On this particular occasion in the bus station at Dubrovnik, I found a young French tourist was sitting next to his girlfriend in my seat. I started explaining, in my poor French, that he was occupying my reserved seat. As I was doing so, a middle-aged woman, sitting near the rear of the bus, explained the situation in fluent French. The French couple vacated the incorrect seats and settled into their assigned places. These happened to be close to the woman and her friend. I could hear them conversing in French as we wound our way up along the valley of the Neretva River and away from the Adriatic coast. I felt a little miffed that they had found someone to converse with, but I had not.

After a few hours we stopped in a village perched high on a hillside. The young French couple said goodbye to their new friends, and left the coach. Our bus, which should have arrived in Sarajevo well before nightfall, remained parked on a steep slope in the small mountain village for hours. The few passengers who were continuing on to Sarajevo sat on a bench under a tree in the sultry afternoon sun. Eventually, I asked the lady, who could speak French, what was happening. She explained that one of the tires of our bus had been punctured, and that it was taking a long while to repair it. She revealed that she was an inhabitant of Sarajevo and that her travelling companion, an old friend of hers, was a school teacher from France. Finally, our bus was ready to depart. As it was now almost empty, I sat near to the two women and chatted to them. The sun was setting, and we were still only half way to our destination.

Soon after we began moving, the heavens opened. The mountainous region through which we were slowly making our way was filled with crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning. Torrents of rain made driving slow and difficult. I began despairing of ever reaching the city where the Hapsburg Archduke was shot in 1914. And, I was becoming concerned. I was heading for a city, which I did not know and where I had no accommodation arranged, and it was beginning to look as if would be almost midnight by the time we reached it. I asked Marija, the French-speaking lady from Sarajevo, whether she could recommend a hotel for me. She shrugged her shoulders and said that as she lived there, she did not know about hotels. At this point, her companion said to her in French,
“Whenever I meet foreign students in my home town in France, I invite them to stay in my home.”
Marija said nothing. It was my impression that she had not needed to hear this particular bit of information.

It was late at night when we eventually arrived in Sarajevo’s bus station. It was located far from the town centre on the main road that led to the spa at Ilid┼ża. Miodrag was waiting for Marija, his mother-in-law, and her French friend. I was told to get into his car with them, and we drove along ill-lit rain soaked streets through the darkness of the night until we reached the end of a short, steeply inclined cul-de-sac in central Sarajevo. We entered Marija’s second floor flat, and Liljana, Marija’s daughter, served us a huge, tasty supper. At the end of the meal, I still had no idea where I would be spending the night.  Before I could ask where I would be staying, Liljana showed me her mother’s spare bedroom, and told me (in good English) that I should sleep there.

After breakfast the next morning, I set off to find a hotel in which I could stay for the rest of my visit. It did not take long to find one and to reserve a room. Next, I bought a bunch of flowers - they were stems of gladioli - for my kind hostess, and returned to her flat. I entered, gave my bouquet to Marija, thanked her for looking after me, and told her that I had found accommodation. She told me not to be ridiculous; I was to cancel the hotel and to stay with her and her family." 




"Every summer, there was a folk-music festival in Dubrovnik. We attended a few concerts, but these were never free of hassle. Most of my Yugoslav friends seemed to believe that it was beneath their dignity to buy tickets. Somehow, we used to smuggle ourselves into the concert without tickets, and then occupied seats which had a good view of the stage. Without exception, we managed to sit in seats that had been reserved by paid-up ticket holders. An argument would begin. There would be much swearing and even threats of violence. Eventually, a compromise was reached and everyone enjoyed the concert.

Whilst on the subject of concerts, let me whisk you away from the coast for a few moments in order to describe the occasion in Belgrade when Dijana invited me to join her and some of her friends to attend the first punk-rock concert ever to be held in the city. It was to be performed in the Students’ Cultural Centre (‘CKC’), an elegant late nineteenth century building in the heart of the town, which had once housed the Officers’ Club of Belgrade. We did not approach the main entrance, where a group of oddly dressed young people were queuing, but instead we went to a point on the pavement next to an open window. To reach the window it was necessary to cross a high cast iron fence topped with spikes. Dijana’s girlfriends scaled this easily, but I was unable to follow them; they had to return to carry me over it. We entered the building by climbing through the window, and stepped into the darkened concert hall, which was almost full.

 The young audience, dressed in outlandish punk clothing, sat as quietly as if they had been awaiting a classical chamber concert at a place as sedate as Londons Wigmore Hall. The band appeared on stage and began strumming their electric guitars enthusiastically. Within seconds of their beginning, after fewer than two or three strums, the electrical supply fused, and we were plunged into an eerily dark silence. Soon, the lights returned, and we were all told to leave. The concert was, like the one which I had attended some years before in Zagreb, terminated prematurely. It was not the only concert that I attended in Belgrade, which I had to leave precipitately. Once, I was invited to attend a rock concert in a huge stadium in the city. It was a pro-Sandinista event. We left in a hurry to avoid becoming involved with the riot control police, who arrived on the scene soon after the performance began."