It feels like a thousand years since the war. It never feels as if it actually ended. Wars never end, really. It is only peace that ends, and with the last bullet or shell is forever transformed, like the innocence of childhood. It never escapes memory, and though the burdens of today take precedent, it is always there, like a cold shadow haunting the soul, awaiting a smell or some odd trigger that will pull it from its dark hiding place.
I had gone to Bosnia as a witness. I was an artist, not a journalist who was raised during the 1960’s on Martin Luther King’s message, inspired by the anti-establishment Woodstock generations belief in standing for a better world, and by the post-Holocaust never again idea, whether it was Jews, Bosnian Muslims or Tribal Tutsis in Rwanda. I prided myself on seeing a very different war than Western Journalists in Bosnia. Travelling as an Artist, I could go places on every side of the civil war few journalists could go. Dangerous as independence often was, the true character and potential of humanity revealed itself each time I stumbled alone and forlorn through the war. Good souls revealed themselves everywhere, whether Serb, Muslim or Croat. Without them I could never have travelled through the war, not once or twice, but three times. It was one of those good souls that would carry me to Tuscany 18 years later.
To say that Shevko Jakirovich and I ran into one another on the frontline in the besieged Bosnian city of Mostar in October 1994 is an understatment. He was hardly 18 then, and already a two-year veteran of a brutal urban war against former Catholic Croat neighbors. His dishwater blond hair was uncombed, a ready smirk on his unshaven face. He and his cousin, in threadbare khaki uniforms, rifles laying casually over their shoulders, had every right to arrest me that close to the frontline. Who was to say I wasn’t a spy for the besieging Croats, or a journalist who might foolishly blab details about defenses on the Muslim side, but that ignores the intangible nature of human relationships. Something about my story endeared me to Shev, and I found reason enough trust this swaggering ad hoc soldier.
Shevko was my key to the true Mostar under siege, a meeting so inexplicably fortuitous that I wrote a book attempting to understand just what it was. After a few days I pressed on to besieged Sarajevo. And contact with Shevko might have ended there. He might have remained a memory from the war, a face in a picture that hangs upon a wall or is forgotten in an album on a shelf, but fate is a very curious thing.
You see, I was married in Sarajevo to a Bosnian artist. Forced to escape the city separately, my new wife arrived one night with her mother and baby brother as refugees, Catholic Croats saved and sheltered by a Muslim kid. The story brought tears to my eyes when my wife finally reached relatives in neighboring Croatia. How does one ever repay that favor?
And so, after 18 years Ana an I had come 5000 miles to Montelupo Fiorentino, not to repay that favor, but to reaffirm a friendship. Looking along Via Salvador Allende, the setting sun painting warm colors upon the walls of homes clustered at the edge of the two lane street it felt much less as a thousand years at war than a thousand years from war.