house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Tuzla, 8 October 1994

I thought being married would feel different, heavier, more static, more cramped. All that day - 8 October 1994, a sunny Saturday in Northern Bosnia - I waited for it to happen. Instead, it felt like air, like a dance on clouds: rising and swirling, so easy, up, up, up... It was air on its journey to turn into light.

Later, my father-in-law wrote an article about our Bosnian wedding. It was a huge surprise and a wonderful gift (and freaky to see own picture on the cover of something; crooked politicians, small-town actresses, Big Brother nobodies, ice-floes-with-polar-bear: I'm with you there!)

He wrote: "All our impressions of the war in Bosnia are second-hand, heavily edited and invariably distorted. I imagine this journey across the mountains will be dangerous. Stephanie says, 'Let's go in separate cars. Just in case.' I left a note at home before leaving. 'No funeral. Dig a hole on the hill at the back of the house. Take care of the cats.' I expect sniper fire in the forest, Serb checkpoints manned by drunken louts, waving Russian machine pistols, demanding money and whiskey. I have daymares about being tied to a tree and shot. Even if we reach Tuzla, a shell will blow my legs off before the wedding. I'm so brave, I can't believe myself. [...]

Many buildings in the small towns are lagged with tree trunks as protection against shrapnel. Bosnian soldiers in green camouflage wander casually through the streets. There is food in the shops and dark sweet coffee in the bars. Rupert is hauled into a police station for filming a rusty tank in their car park and roughly released with a warning. A few miles further on it almost happens again. [...] I slip my camera under Stephanie's coat (she accuses me of implicating her, imagining instant deportation) and behave silly-foreign. The cop looks severe and asks questions in a guttural tone. I understand everything except the words and pretend he wants to know where we're going. I point into the middle distance, away from the ruins, and [...] retreat to the cars.

The Tuzla road winds through mountains and idyllic valleys. Clean, cropped meadows dotted with hayricks meander to sparkling rivers. In scattered villages old men chop wood, old women take the cow for a walk, stacks of corn cobs are laid out to dry. The skies are clear.

Saturday, Magnus' big day. He and Monica wanted a small, intimate wedding. Once the word spread, Tuzla was having none of it. Celebration is their moment of expression and harmony. Play music within half a mile of these people and they burst into song.

In the end, Magnus and Monica's little wedding is on TV, takes over the whole ground floor of Tuzla hotel and would have sung and danced its way into the early hours if it wasn't for the midnight curfew. In a city not so long ago under siege, there is an abundance of food and wine. Even Magnus' new friends from the Pakistani Battalion [..] provide steaming bowls of succulent curry. Zihno, the white-haired engineer who has been responsible for the organisation, rushes about in a frenzy of excitement.

There is an absence of embarrassing speeches. Instead the mayor raises his glass and within minutes is singing. Music never stops. Between the swirling dances, toasts and embraces, it's difficult to remember to eat. There may be 150 people: Muslims, Croats, Serbs, Scots, English, Norwegian, American, Swedish, Danish.

When the lights go out, no one screams. Figures move gently through the dark. Someone finds candles and a match. A cable is run out of the window to a generator outside. Once the keyboard and microphone are working again, the dancing and singing continues. A child of five climbs into my arms, stays there for a moment like a cat, and then climbs down. Nothing is spoken.

Many images remain from this journey - the blackened hulks of houses, uniformed boys training with toy rifles, wood piles everywhere, men chopping chopping chopping, a horse pulling a hay cart with laughing girls on top, a convoy of tankers in a traffic jam on the mountain pass, haystacks and corn stalks, pencil-shaped mosques, horses ploughing, the infinite beauty of the land, the sound of shellfire, the broken bridges of Mostar, the exuberance of the wedding party, Magnus and Monica's joy, dancing as the circle widens, music soaring, little fast steps to the right, little fast steps to the left, round and on and on, never wanting the night, or time, or the emotion to end."

And now, 2012, 18 years of us. Another sunny October, and this is what I remember of our wedding day: "I thought being married would feel different, heavier, more static, more cramped. All that day I waited for it to happen. Instead, it felt like air, like a dance on clouds: rising and swirling, so easy, up, up, up... It was air on its journey to turn into light."

So, are we there yet? Who can tell? All I know is: we're still traveling.


At 11 October 2012 at 09:29 , Anonymous catriona said...

Beautiful - the post, you two, the wedding! Much love to you both!

At 25 October 2012 at 09:05 , Anonymous Marina Sofia said...

Cu intirziere, la multi ani si felicitari pentru 18 ani de casatorie!


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