And where the fuck was I this month? This month I did a wee tour of Croatia and Bosnia. I started in Split…amazing ice-cream, good ferries to tiny islands, touristy beauty and excellent Japanese food. Then I went to the tiny little seaside town of Podaca where I’d rented a basic but perfect little apartment by the sea (I highly recommend it for those looking for a quiet, beautiful place to write)…there were majestic hills, a tear-up-a-wee-bit gorgeous coastline, sea so clear I could see the red nail varnish on my toes, two cafes and a grocery store…I did nothing but write, read, swim in the sea, run by the coast and hike up the hills at sunset…pure fucking bliss.
Next was Mostar, also good for the eyes despite the very evident, and initially, shocking evidence of the recent war. I walked a lot, ate a lot of Nutella torta and drank a lot of coffee while petting skinny little mewling stray cats.
And…then there was Sarajevo. Sarajevo is one of the most remarkable places I have ever been, a city build in a valley, a patchwork of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet architecture. I don’t think I have ever encountered a kinder or warmer folks (though the manager of the cafe I’m in did just come over and give me a free scoop of orange and carrot sorbet…). I lived in a communist-era little granny flat on a very steep hill near the Old Town and my favourite thing to do while there was to wake up and go for Turkish coffee and a slice Kadaif for breakfast and then climb up the hills surrounding Sarajevo.
It would have been an enormously enriching and humbling trip even without learning about the war…learning that during the four years of the siege the city reacted by holding schools in bombed building basements, that to reach those schools young people would run across roads while under constant sniper fire from the hills. Likewise, the orchestra kept rehearsing (I can’t get the idea of the people holding their instrument cases close as they run as fast as they can to get to the deserted and heavily shelled TV building where they met). Some women took part in a beauty pageant as a way of gaining attention form international media. A collective of artists and intellectuals decided to create a contemporary art gallery in Sarajevo, just as the siege was beginning, and succeeded by getting curators all over the world to donate pieces. The daily newspaper was bombed to the ground and somehow, God knows how, managed to keep reporting and producing a paper for the duration of the war. All this while there was no water, little food, no gas or electric, constant sniper fire and shelling…truly an example of courage and determination to keep close the things that make us human while in an often dehumanising world. There’s a brilliant short documentary about this called Miss Sarajevo which I highly suggest watching if you’re at all interested.
I realise now that I have a lot to write about Sarajevo…I was unprepared for how I would feel about it (very much the same way i felt about Palestine when I visited briefly in 2010) the city, the kindness II encountered had a huge impact on me and I’m already planning when I can return.
You know, I do sometimes wonder what the fuck I am doing…very occasionally I’ll have a sleepless night and worry that I’m 33 and don’t own a towel or saucepan set, I don’t have children yet, that I spend writing wages on plane and train tickets as quickly as anything comes in, I own three pairs of shoes and one evening dress, how will I ever form lasting relationships when I’m never anywhere longer than a month (though I know things don’t work that way). And then I stand at the top of hill looking over the shimmer busy, thriving streets of Sarajevo, the call for prayer echoes from the many Mosques in the surrounding districts and I know I’ll return to my tiny little apartment, sit down and write words that mean something to me and even might end up meaning something to other people too…and I know, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing, right now, right here.
And right now? Right now I’m at Split airport preparing for dashing straight from Gatwick airport to talk live on BBC Scotland’s Culture Show with Janice Forsyth and Damian Barr chatting about ‘writing and place.’ tomorrow. I’ll be on between 3.45 and 4pm if you fancy a wee listen.
I’ll spend the evening with two of the people I love most in the world before getting on a train up to Wigtown Book Festival where I’ll be discussing Thirst this very Thursday night with the wondrous Peggy Hughes. I am very excited about it as Pegs is one of my favourite chairs and by all accounts Wigtown is a fucking blast. Will report back on all shenanigans but, if you’re about, why not come and join in.
Then, then onto another train down to talk about ‘Voice in Writing’ at Birmingham Literary Festival with my pal Nikesh Shukla (Shuks, as I like to call him), Lottie Moggach and Sathnam Sanghera…it’s Friday night, the pub is sure to follow, you should come along if yer about - strongly suspect it’ll be a very good event.
And then…then I’ll take the train down to London spend the day with some more of my favourite folks and directly onto another plane to Lisbon where I’ll be spending what I do sincerely hope will be a glorious October full of visitors, cherry liqueur, custard tarts, runs by the sea and long writing stints at the library (somehow I’ve written over half my novel now…I don’t know when really but it happened and it’s not all shite).
As ever..only one word: grateful. Actually two for this last month…very humbled and hugely grateful.
And here’s some pictures…a wee taste of my Balkan adventure.