I found these two journal entries I made in September 2002 and February 2003. I have been writing about Bosnia this week. This one has a Valentine’s day theme … sort of. These are notes I made 11 years ago while I was visiting there.
Bosnia and Herzegovina September 10, 2002.
I am in Tuzla this week.
If Sarajevo is the Montreal of Bosnia, then Tuzla is its Hamilton. Not much to do here in the evenings except wander the streets with many of the rest of the people who live here. During the day I work teaching principles of Family Medicine to local doctors. At night I am on my own.
Last night was a bit rainy and I thought I would wander downtown for some dinner. While I was looking for some keys in my knapsack, I came across the Stuart McLean Vinyl Café book that friends had given to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. I had brought it along with me, knowing that it would be good for short reads on the plane or while waiting for my meal in a restaurant. I tucked it under my arm and headed out.
I ate in a restaurant called Cite del Sale, a Bosnian version of an Italian restaurant and I was actually able to order Vegetarian Lasagne – not bad in a country that sometimes seems to worship meat. The beer, a local Tuzla variety, smelled a bit sulphury but it tasted OK. I started into a story about Dave and Morley and Harrison Ford’s toes and smiled to myself, all the while hearing Stuart McLean’s distinctive voice tell me the tale.
After the meal I decided to head down to a café called Mozart that is a short stroll along the main walking street in the city. I often go there for a cappuccino in the morning – a replacement for my Canadian Starbucks habit. The café has a small outdoor section that was not busy since it was misting rain, another large main room and then a wicker- furnished salon at the back that is kind of separate from the rest. I usually sit back there in the morning and read a bit while having my coffee and at 8 am, I am often the only one there. In the evening, I discovered, the music is louder – sort of Euro Disco. I wondered as I ordered my tea if I would be able to concentrate on my book.
There were three couples spread around the room. I pulled out the Vinyl Café and started to read. Soon I was distracted, not by the beat of the music but by the sound of kissing which seemed to be going on all around me. I quickly realized that I had stumbled into a make-out area of the café. So, here I was, a middle aged foreigner, sitting at a little table in the middle of the room, reading Stuart McLean and trying not to look up at the couples surrounding me who were fiercely groping at one another. This felt worse than the week before when I had accidentally found myself in the middle of a Nudist Colony on the Adriatic coast! But that is another story.
The stereo sound of smacking and sucking seemed to rise above the music. I was having trouble concentrating. I casually looked up. One couple, kind of fat were making most of the noise. The guy had a sort of Henry VIII look to him. I imagined that he makes similar noises as he tears into his chicken legs for dinner. Another couple had ordered both coffee and coke to drink. They must have wanted to stay awake. They smooched away between drags on their cigarettes. The third couple were in the corner and at first I thought they were having a bit of a tiff. I decided that if I had to look up, I would gaze in their direction. Soon, unfortunately for me, true love rose to the surface and they started kissing away, the woman also chewing gum between slurps.
I thought maybe I would leave but I had ordered a veliko caj (large tea), which came in a cup the size of a sink. So I was stuck, feeling a lot like a High School Hall Monitor.
Just as I was starting to feel sorry for myself, a small kitten appeared at my feet. It was a nice little grey striped thing that was sharpening its claws on the carpet. It started to pounce around and jump like it was being poked by an imaginary stick. I put my hand down to play with it but as it got closer, I noticed that its right eye was oozing and crusted and swollen shut. I withdrew my hand, thinking that I didn’t want to catch anything. But this didn’t deter the cat. Soon it was pouncing on my feet and grabbing at the laces of my sneakers and climbing my pant legs. I tried to look inconspicuous, periodically shaking my leg to detach the tiny sharp little claws from my pants. The kissers broke apart and looked over at me as I tried unsuccessfully to discourage the cat. I ended up downing the rest of my tea as quickly as possible and headed back to the hotel.
February 20, 2003
I am back in Tuzla.
I find the breakfast at the hotel simply annoying. It usually consists of dry buns, scrambled eggs that have turned greenish black from sitting in the warming pan too long and “orange juice” that is a cross between Tang and Fanta , a watery orange coloured sugar water that is sometimes even effervescent. My preference is to start the day on a more positive note, by walking to a local Pekara or bakeshop to pick up a fresh bread roll filled with cherry jam. I then head a bit further down the street to the Mozart café for some coffee. They don’t serve food there so they don’t mind if you bring your bun in a bag and eat it while you have your drink. And I usually go to the Wicker room at the back of the café that I have come to view as the nocturnal lair of lust. In the morning, however, it remains bright and cheery and almost empty. This morning was no exception.
I ordered my coffee, pulled out a journal to read, and got the cherry bun out of the paper bag. I put the bag on the chair beside me rather than have it obviously displayed on the table. I was trying to be discrete about bringing food into the café although I know that this is a common practice and the waiter really doesn’t mind.
I hadn’t counted on the rustling sound of me getting my food out of the bag to attract…the cat. Suddenly this little grey striped beast ran from the other side of the room and jumped up on my chair to quickly begin exploring the empty bag. Within seconds he was halfway buried into the bag. He pulled his head out of the bag and stared up at me. We hadn’t seen each other for five months. He had grown but was still scrawny and where his right eye should be was now a hollow socket.
We sat together, the cat and I, reacquainting. Periodically he would chase the shadow of a bird on the roof, bounding over the furniture as he ran around the room. I crumpled up the bag and he batted it around on the floor. We played and visited while I drank my coffee. When I got up to leave, he lay back on the chair pad and cocked his head to look up at me with his good eye. I imagined him thinking, “Nice to see you again”
This little cat has it’s niche in a café here in Tuzla. I travel all over but I can still come back to find this friendly kitten here several months later. “Strangely comforting”, I thought, “how small this world really is.”