Voyage to Lijesnica
In 1964, as a 24 year old doctoral student in anthropology, I conducted socio-cultural field research in a Bosnian Muslim peasant village a few hundred kilometers north and west of Sarajevo.
I had failed out of college in 1959, served six months active duty in Army artillery intelligence, map reading, and field observer training in NJ and Ft. Sill, returned to school nights, worked days as a postman, and rematriculated. I have always been glad to have had the experiences I did both as an active duty soldier and in the active reserves … at least until Vietnam.
After the Army – upon returning to college – I was required to take a science course in order to satisfy graduation requirements and elected to take what I believed would be the easiest course for me, Intro to Anthropology, and therein fell madly in love with the study of non-Western, non-European, indigenous cultures. Literally had my mind and consciousness forever altered and blown far beyond its working class Bronx confines.
It is now fifty two years later. I'm in Rome. Alone. It's a long story how I got here. I was blessed by the Holy Father on Easter. On Tuesday the 18th I plan to take a train to Venafro and from there a bus to Montenero Val Cocchiara where I will find (or not find) my childhood neighborhood friend and blood brother Alan - escapee from the Nazis – whom I have not seen in 62 years. I have no plan as to how long I will stay in Montenero Val Cocchiara, nor when I will leave there, nor where I will go next, although ultimately, by way of overnight ferry and bus, I will get to Sarajevo, probably around May Day, and from there, with the help of a paid guide I've yet to find, I will return to Lijesnica, and most specifically to the neighborhood of Sehici, where I lived among the rough and tumble Sehicians and where the long standing process of extended family (zadruga) land division and inheritance was reaching its geometric and economic terminus in 1964.
But first a few words about Rome … this absolutely magnificent city where the streets are paved with pizza and beautiful children and where I sat exhausted in the airport figuring out where I might stay for 4 days as the guides spun the wheel and picked the phenomenally perfect, beautiful, quiet, garden filled, breakfast included and aptly named Fenix Hotel in a room with barely enough floor space to do yoga and the only wall hanging a poster of an art exhibit depicting Matisse's magnificent and delightful "La Danse."
What else? The Vatican, Saint Peters, the fountains, the vast squares, the rich green trees, the statues everywhere, the Italian guy who asked if I preferred Obama or Trump, the nuns omnipresent on street corners and buses, a murder of black and gray old crows, the fantastic bus service everywhere, the prevalence of family groupings that cross 3 or more generations, the tourists. My god, the tourists!
And, of course, although as an experienced traveler I carry only one very small carry-on bag and one very small backpack, I've brought all my baggage with me: political struggles, relationship struggles, an awareness of my mortality, the pace at which I walk and move about the planet.
Which seems a quite good place to leave these reveries … on the way to Lijesnica, to my past, all our pasts - peasants, serfs, hunters and gatherers. Or as the beloved, brilliant, prodigious, gay Michelangelo said about more than rock," Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." I too am still emerging.