Steel cables hiss, close to the breaking limit of the breach, the large yellow crane on the gravel bed of the river sinks its legs struggling to counterbalance the suspended arm. No way, 28 tons are too many. Major Tibor Kovacs, the Hungarian Engineer who since three months directs the recovery of Mostar bridge stones, orders to suspend the operation. Feko and Sandor, the two divers who' ve been working for weeks in cold waters, unstrap the steel ropes. The last stone block, truly a large piece of the bridge with more stones still solidly embedded, remains a few meters away, nearly a island amidst fast and green waters of river Neretva. The final rescue must be aborted, but it's not that important. The challenge bravely matched by the military Hungarian Engineers of SFOR (Stabilization Force, the multinational force currently dislocated in Bosnia), has been won anyway. On the large stilt house constructed on the beach to the confluence of the Radobolja, above the limit of the floods, 163 more stones, almost a scrambled puzzle from a significant share historical bridge pulled down by a croatian tank on November 9th, 1993; Mostar's loved and prestigious symbol. " We estimate to have found 80 cubic meters of material out the 125 which collapsed in the river ", comments with satisfaction Major Kovacs". We did worked in often proibitive conditions, with insufficient visibility, the strongest streams and not a few risks. We were to invent and assemble a special pontoon equipped with a tackle. But on the bottom, 9 meters deep, there is no block left apparently useful for the reconstruction". Sure, the reconstruction. This is indeed the dream behind the military operation, these days. Rebuild Stari Most, the Old Bridge, the masterpiece of Ottoman architect Hajruddin, perfect synthesis of functionality and elegance, largest and most beautiful in the City of Bridges. Beyond the profile of the suspended footbridge which temporarily replaces it, the spectral background of East Mostar is delineated, the historical center from fifteenth century, devastated during two wars in 1992 and 1993-94, with its broken minarets, 21 destroyed mosques, its houses ripped open by mortar shells, the walls crippled by machine-guns. The Old City of Mostar, which was declared " cultural patrimony of the humanity " from UNESCO, will have to be restored too, the plan being entrusted to florentin architect Carlo Blasi. But Stari Most deserves the absolute priority. The bridge endured the worst of the war and its destruction was decided by high ranks, taxing decision by the Croatian military Headquarter. In order to pull it down, in that gray November of 1993, a croatian tank did its best for two days, shooting "ground zero" more than sixty rounds from just a few hundred meters away. The historical sequence of the landslide was filmed by a 18 years old cameraman, named Palata, whose braveness earned him a job in today's Mostar TV broadcasting crew. That footage testifies eloquently the outstanding ruggedness of the bridge."The employed technology ", confirms architect Carlo Blasi, 49 years, expert in building resistance estimates, " was a much sophisticated one, based on perfect geometry of the arsin, the measure unit of the Ottoman art, equaling 71.12 centimeters. It is not exaggerated to compare Hajruddin to its contemporary Michelangelo, and Stari Most to the cupola of S. Peter's cathedral in Rome". It took ten years in order to build the Old Bridge of Mostar, since 1557 to 1566. Turkish architect Hajruddin, fellow of great Mimar Sinan, had designed an elegant curve suspended on cliffs, slightly asymmetric in order to take advantage of the natural support provided from the sides. The bridge was built by the dry technique, but with an exclusive technique for joints, iron casts and lead filterings, which allowed the bridge to survive undamaged after four centuries of floods and earthquakes. Interestingly the landslide has revealed many unknown details of the employed technique and the skill for perfection by architect Hajruddin, a genuine maniac for solidity. The legend tells that the most celebrated bridge constructor in Bosnia-Herzegovina fled the day before the wood scaffolding embracing the bridge was dismantled, coming back only after the bridge's opening. It's easy to feel the excitation in East Mostar, mostly in a little restored building with sight on the river and on the broken arc of the Old Bridge. Its reconstruction is architect Ivan Demirovic' promise to himsels as well as to Mostar residents. Demirovic, 56, did not hesitate to monitor hungarian engineer's work even underwater. " Mostar was Florence of the Ottoman Empire ", he tells us passionately "tolerant and opened city to most different cultures. And the Old Bridge, with its 30 meters overhong, was the symbol of its vocation as a door between East and West. It was definitely intended to destroy the spirit of the city, but we must show that they didn't succed". Demirovic, Muslim, used to live in West Mostar, the Croatian district. The war cracked the city in two and came down like a storm on its family, too: his son Suleiman seriously hurt in combat, his wife and daughter deported in Ljubuski concentration camp, Demirovic himself was in jail for one year, his house, on the other side of the river, confiscated. Today the family has newly gathered. Suleiman works in his father's office, specializing in computer animation. And the new " virtual " bridge which comes to life on the screen becomes the most real and tangible witness of the will of peace and normality of these modern heirs of the ancient Mostaris, " the Guards of the Bridges ", caretakers of the most deeply rooted tradition of the city. " The stone recovery is just a first step", Demirovic explains, "there is still some resistance from our Croatian counterpart, but the new mixed local administration has been engaged to rebuild the bridge within two years. The dry-technique constructed arc was made out of 100 shaped stone measuring approximately one meter and a half. Those lacking or damaged will be assembled exactly as the original, after getting them from the same quarries, located a few kilometers from here. By the meeting with 2000 the Old Bridge will be back in place ". Turkey has already anticipated one million dollars out of seven needed for the whole operation, an Hungarian company is ready to build the iron scaffolding that shall support stones before the arc is put together again, the Unesco and some important American Foundations have answered to the appeal. Five years ago, when the Old Bridge collapsed in Neretva's waters, it seemed that the same would happen with the remaining hopes to overwhelm the hatred abyss that split the city in two. "Bridges ", used to write in 1945 Ivo Andric, the author of The Bridge over the Drina, which has been acclaimed as an effective historical metaphor for the Balkan spirit, "are more important than houses and more sacred than temples, as they prove useful to everybody and everybody's patrimony ". Unsolved stresses and different problems stands in Mostar's future. Nevertheless, within two years, that elegant elegant arch over the emerald stream of Neretva river could mean that civilization has finally defeated barbarism.
Farewell, good ol' Marjan... The lone king of Kabul zoo succumbs to his age at 48, after surviving years and years of deprivations and symbolizing to kabulis the spirit of resiliency itself Well.....that's sad news, indeed. To my eyes, Marjan symbolized hope. However, in thinking about that dear old lion's death I choose to believe that when he heard the swoosh of kites flying over Kabul, heard the roars from the football stadium, experienced the renewed sounds of music in the air and heard the click-click of chess pieces being moved around chessboards....well, the old guy knew that there was plenty of hope around and it was okay for him to let go and fly off, amid kite strings, to wherever it is the spirits of animals go.
Peace to you Marjan and peace to Afghanistan.
[Diana Smith, via the Internet]