Olympic Games

What were you doing 30 years ago?

Written on February 14th during the Olympics

On February 14th 1984, quite out of a blue, I told my teacher in school that I had to go to the dentist, and flew out of school as fast as I could. (I was going to something called all-day primary school, its last year, which included lunch and a few classes of independent work per day, very good for doing nothing at all, and lasted from 8am to 3.30pm.)

Instead of going to the dentist I ran straight home. Winter Olympic Games were in process, you see. In Sarajevo, no less, in what was my country at the time, Yugoslavia. True, we had a TV turned on in school hall but we were only allowed to watch it during recess. After watching the promising first run of men’s giant slalom which ended with a couple of our guys close to the top, I began to doubt that the second run will fall on a recess. And even though I had a favourite classmate with whom I loved to discuss sports and my deep feelings for him (he was not so keen on hearing this last bit), for this I had to be alone.

My father was there, in Sarajevo, for a month, covering the pulse for the media. The summer before we spent in the little village on the Croatian coast, as we did every summer since I was a little child.

Those three weeks in August by the sea were my growing-up time, my real life, I felt that this was how it was supposed to be: the sea took care of my pimples, the active life took care of my body shape, the sun took care of my tan… I turned into a goddess. It was temporary – I knew I couldn’t fool my classmates, I couldn’t fool the pool life guard in my city, I couldn’t fool that scout with his cute blue kerchief and eyes of almond – but in those three weeks I could sniff the life as it WILL become.

Not only because of him, the guitar man from Sarajevo. He was tall and yummy and Older, and he could play and sing and was teaching me songs, and he lived conveniently right across the street from us. One time I woke up in the middle of the night, hearing him returning home from the beach with friends where He Played and I Couldn’t Listen because of the damn Curfew which a not so liberal ex-cop mom plopped on my best friend – during holidays! – and I climbed down the balcony and they laughed and called me a moonwalker.

Yeah. Sarajevo. It’s always the best of them who get fucked.

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Poster by Trio

But this was a long time before any damage was done to the city, the country was still whole, we were still we, and Bosnia was our heart and soul. And in 1984 the whole world came to this heart for two weeks (just like right now the whole world is in Russia, making fun of the toilets). Most foreigners who were there could tell you that the most frequently used phrase by the locals was Nema problemakein Themani frke, no panic. Over there, nothing was ever a problem. Maybe that’s why they had to deal with so many of them, later.

But at that time everything was all right, the same venues that now stand in divided Sarajevo with bullets in their heads were catering nicely to sportsmen from all over the world. Not many remember a Yugoslav speed skater falling to her face, repeatedly, because it’s only proper that a host nation has a participant too and she was just not cut for it, or a little stutter during the Olympic oath which a Slovenian skier had to say in another, Serbo-Croate language (the languages had not separated yet either).

Who knows what we would remember from these games if there wasn’t for that giant slalom which I ran home to watch in peace – my parents were at work, my sister in kindergarten, I cherished peace then just as much as I do now. And so I was able to watch in peace how a man from Slovenia with smiling eyes took silver for Yugoslavia, its first winter Olympic medal ever. He reunited us again, after the death of Tito 4 years earlier. At the medal ceremony, Bosnians greeted him with a poster: Volimo Jureka više od bureka.They loved our Jure better than their burek – Bosnian favourite cheese pastry (or rather, as Klu points out in her comment, MEAT pastry).

In the next days, newspapers were full of heart-wrenching eye-moistening reports. It must be true that in the Balkans men only allow themselves get emotional over sports. Or maybe, hopefully, this sentence should be in the past tense. I remember an article describing him as he was talking to his parents over the phone on the day he won the medal. His hand was going to his eyes in an attempt to shut himself from the outside world, and the reporter noticed this hand and followed it for us.

I wonder if it was my father who wrote this article.

This is how the nation that didn’t exist but was composed of many nations, who got along fine for such a long time but then they stopped, got its favourite day. We were all happy then. And nobody even knew it was Valentine’s Day.

(And I just realised this was 30 years ago, hence the title. Damn!)

Top photo: serving of Bosnian-style coffee in Das ist Valter, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: MM

≈ Manja Maksimovič ≈

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The secret

On February 2, apart from cutting electricity and water supply from roughly 75% of households nationwide, causing most of the schools to shut down, turning the country into a post-apocalyptic scary place, making woods into killers, and killing so many trees and some people who fell on ice or used the aggregates wrongly, the sleet and snow in Slovenia destroyed the fence of that part of the ZOO in my ex city where the lynxes and wolves and mountain goats lived.

The ZOO keepers said: “Oh, nobody will escape, we FEED them, you see, they prefer to stick with us.” Still – the wolves, they put them to sleep and transfer, but not the lynxes. They are not a danger to humans, they said. Father informed me of all this via mail. I wrote him back saying that I was very sad for the suffering of the people, as for the lynxes though I was sure they would be all right.

In that night, the two lynxes, a couple, killed a ZOO mountain goat and disappeared. The keepers said they were still within the ZOO, rather than in the wild, and in two days a title on a news site read: “Tonight, the decision – which animal will be killed next?” Somebody must have told the journalists that the lynxes kill every second night. The article expressed most fear for the power panda couple who look like they might become parents soon.

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Dragon tree near the ZOO. Photo: MM

(Some say, NATO did it with their planes, the weather. Some say it’s all fabricated because the lynx was the mascot of our Olympic ice-hockey team who in the group with the USA, Russia and Slovakia could only hope that their opponents get brainwashed and forget how to skate, but lo, they went and beat Slovakia, eliminated poveri Austrians in the next round and were only destroyed by cocky Swedes. Some say it was to take our minds away from the Olympics because our athletes were going to suck so much – but lo, they went and won 8 medals, ranking 12th among the countries on the medal table!)

The keepers set live traps (the non-hurting kind) around the goats should the couple return. Sure enough, the male lynx was caught. But she was nowhere to be found.

A variety and quantity of false alarms was tremendous. Every bigger cat turned out to be a lynx. Media issued paw prints, comparing those of the dog, the lynx and the cat. An account was made to her name on twitter. And then finally, a walker took a photo of her chilling in a tree, outside of the ZOO, next to a path where I used to walk my first dog, in all weather, even doing some Marine-like exercises when in the mood. The area is serene, a little hill above the city, wooded, quite large, but not for a lynx.

The trap was waiting for her in the ZOO, should she return for more capricorns, or for her mate. And then, lo, a goat got trapped in it instead of the sly lynx.

As for her, she was still out there… Father told me the territory of lynxes is vast, huge, up to 1000 km.

The country would soon prove too small for her should she start to wander, I thought. So she could easily cross the border and come to me, to Toscana. No border patrol any more.

As it is, the story has a bad, sad and mad ending.

She didn’t get far. They got her with a supposedly safe, sleeping rifle, right there in the city woods. The bullet hit her thigh bone, most unfortunately, and the bone broke. She needed a surgery. And from it she never woke up.

She knew what freedom was though. She was tasting it, for a whole month. Her secret. And she didn’t tell.

≈ Manja Maksimovič ≈