War Stories - Dining in Sarajevo

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Visitors to the main page of this site should recognize the stone statues that frame the doorway in the photograph below. This doorway is so replete with fascinating detail, I could very well imagine it as the backdrop for some silver screen narrative. The burnt-out, broken neon “METRO” sign with its askew letter “E” adds to the film noir semblance of the edifice. Weighed down by the alcove above, the slightly larger-than-life stone statues, a cross between Greek classicism and socialist industrialism, seem like they would be at home in a Tim Burton film. What stories could these chiseled giants, given life’s breath, bear witness to?

Two soldiers in front of Metro doorway

In the lower left corner of the photo is a German shepherd who became somewhat of an unofficial mascot of our task force. In an environment where food is scarce, like war-torn Sarajevo, a dog is a nuisance; he is an unwelcome scavenger—yelled at, chased away, a target of angrily-thrown projectiles. Among the American soldiers, though, he found friendly greetings, scraps of food, and loving hands stroking his fur. Given the chance, this grateful canine would have followed us to Hell and back.

Turned toward the camera is Julie, a reservist, fellow artist, chess player, masseuse, and native Chicagoan, who also happens to be a convenient segue into the focus of this latest installment of my Sarajevo photos thread.

When we first arrived in Sarajevo, our leaders strongly enforced the “buddy system” for all incursions into the city and its environs. We could not sortie in parties of less than two, and each member had to be in uniform and armed. Anyone packing just a pistol had to have someone with a rifle alongside him or her.

The spring thaw brought a relaxed atmosphere to the city and a corresponding relaxation in regulations. We could now venture out and about in civilian clothing and leave our rifles behind as long as at least one member of the group agreed to be the “designated rifleman,” dressed, of course, in that stylish woodland camouflage battle dress uniform (BDU) that blends so well with the urban landscape.

(When engaged in physical training, i.e. PT, i.e. running, all of the rules went straight out the window, but that is grist for a future installment.)

One of the advantages of spending that spring in Sarajevo was an intoxicating air of hope, renewal, and optimism. New businesses seemed to spring up out of nowhere on an almost daily basis, and the easiest type of business to get off of the ground was the restaurant—especially in a city full of foreign troops whose pockets were lined with deutschmarks, the stable currency of choice in post-war Bosnia.

Julie and I decided to dine at one of these new restaurants, a fancy little Italian place that probably would have earned three stars under normal, peacetime conditions. I, of course, was to be her uniformed escort, and she had the opportunity to dress like a normal woman, rather than a soldier, for this one evening. Under my green BDU top, I chose to wear a high-necked light-brown sweater, an optional uniform item for cold-weather conditions.

Upon our arrival at the restaurant, a polite waiter showed us to our table, diplomatically ignoring the automatic rifle strapped to my back. As we seated ourselves at the table, I laid said rifle alongside the front of my chair and proceeded to strip off my BDU top. A confused look spread across my date’s face as I then started to remove the high-necked sweater. Her surprise soon gave way to gleeful laughter. Underneath the sweater, I had on a starched white button-down Oxford shirt and silk tie. (When special operations forces deploy to a war zone, we do it in style.)

So for that evening, above the table, we were just a normal couple, out for a night on the town in a charming Eastern European locale. The waiter even brought out our wine list selection for me to sample and voice my approval, a patriarchal custom that has always made me feel uneasy. Below the table, though, I sported black leather combat boots, an M16-A2 automatic rifle, and two 30-round clips of 5.56 mm ammunition. Of course, I could imagine circumstances where being so well-armed on a date might actually come in handy.

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You have any other photos of those statues? I’d love to see some close ups. Been looking at a lot of statues lately in my art classes, and these look pretty cool!