Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cities of the Imagination

I, like many of us, have a considerable amount on my plate these days. It's turning out to be a busy year. But I'm starting to feel a bit of crunchtime. Let me tell why. I have been known to be one of the greatest procrastinators on earth. This unfortunate flaw has, however, trained me to be an impressive 'last-minuter.' Well over a year ago the editor of Signal Publishing from Oxford contacted me. We met in London several months later. The proposal he put on the table was one of the most interesting and challenging ones of my short writing career (if i can call it as such).

Signal Publishing is a brother of Hurst Publishing based out of the UK. They have produced an incredible series of fascinating cultural and historical episodes of people and places worldwide. Signal's idea was a marvelous one. The series is called "Cities of the Imagination - A Cultural and Literary Companion to".....in this case - SARAJEVO! They have done Milano, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Rio, Hong Kong, Sydney and dozens of worlds greatest cities.

I was tickled pink that they wanted to do Sarajevo. I was honoured that they asked me to do it for my newfound hometown. Then reality set in.

This is a very real book. And one that HAS to be done right. It's not a tourist guide book. It's not a tiny and vague depiction for an improv publisher. This is the big league. One of their main target market is Ivy League schools in the US - Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown. Students and professors alike, through this series, are supposed to get a detailed, accurate and intimate experience of the city they are studying.

Perhaps this has intimidated me a tad. I think about the book constantly. Its contents. Different angles. Untold stories. The heart and soul of this town. I have written volumes in my head and a mere few chapters have evolved onto my screen via the same keyboard i am writing to you all from.

So now my deadline is approaching. This year is the year. I have to bring all these random thoughts together in a more cohesive manner.

The task at hand is not to write yet another historical depiction of Sarajevo. I do not want to talk about Ottoman occupation but rather the wonderful cultural influences and customs of the Ottomans. The Austrian annexation of BiH is often only seen through a historical or political perspective. We so rarely look at it as the Europeanization of Sarajevo. Tito's regime is all to often weighed by strong arguments from both sides whether he was a true dictator or magician in holding Yugoslavia together. But so few speak of the socialist cultural revolution that took place and the great artists and movements that this grassroots revolution created.

I certainly don't want to talk about Markala, the Vance-Owen plan, or Mitterand's visit to Sarajevo. I want to show the world how Oslobodenje printed the news every day of the modern worlds longest siege. How the Sarajevo Film Festival was born in 1994, the war theatre, the Miss Sarajevo contest....and how all these things shaped the post war cultural rennaissance. I need to show how these events, directly related to human experiences and not political ones, created the films of Danis Tanovic and Jasmila Zbanic and why the Sarajevo Film Festival has become as popular as it has. Where does Aleskander Hemon find his true inspiration...what makes Faruk Sehic tick....how and why did Namik Kabil come back from driving a taxi in LA to create the impeccable films and documentaries that he has.

So my message to you my dear friends....is, as citizens of this great city, despite all the stupid shit that goes on here, we have a serious task at hand. I kindly ask you to consider your comments carefully. I would love your help. Tell me your ideas. It's your city too. What we're lookin' for is nothing ordinary....quite the opposite actually. I want to tell stories of the water fountains, of the zanatlija, of tucano kahva, how we hid the Haggadah from the Nazi's, of the Ilegalci, of our forgotten poets, of Mak Dizdar writing Kameni Spavac in Male Daire, of Teta serving food to the poor on Bistrik....about what makes the heart of this city beat.

For those of you who would care to share....i welcome your ideas and thoughts. I won't necessarily comment on many of your suggestions as I will try simply to process them and see where, if at all, these things can fit into my semi coherent concept.

This could be fun. And let's keep in that way. Remember the title of the series, Cities of the Imagination. No politics. Cultural and Literature. And also beware that there is a limited space, so let's focus our ideas on the true best of the best. I know there is enough to write about to keep me in the 1,000 page range - but thank goodness, I don't have to produce that much!!

I patiently await your calls. peace my friends....and....vozdra!

1 comment:

Owen said...

I just saw the link to your second blog. This is probably a lot too late to be any use, even if it was related to the appropriate medium.

Watching the few short minutes each evening of Sarajevo: A Street Under Siege was one of the most extraodinary experiences of my lifetime (like hearing the bleeping of Sputnik on the radio, watching the fuzz from Early Bird and then seeing live reporting of the Armenian earthquake in 1988). That was a true encounter of reality and the imagination. Myself in my sitting room experiencing the absolutely unimaginable - life in a city under siege in Europe.