Mostar (Side 2) : JUMP!
Mostar Travel Blog› entry 190 of 268 › view all entries
Okay guys. Time to flip this disc; this coin over. Yesterdayâ€™s observations were a little scuffed and scratched. Side 2. Positivity. Reconstruction. Letâ€™s look a little at the shiny side. Everybody say â€˜JUMP!â€™â€¦
Feet in position. â€˜Okay, so when I swing my arms backâ€¦â€™ â€˜Right, do ya want me to use the zoom?â€™ â€˜Well, I dunno. You be the judge. Just get me mid dive with the bridge inâ€¦oh itâ€™ll be fine.â€™ Look down. Reposition. â€˜Ya ready?â€™ â€˜Yeah!â€™ â€˜Okay, 3,2,1...â€™ Swing. Knee bend.
â€¦thereâ€™s something different about diving into rivers. Not the placidity of a pool or a lake. Nor the back and forth churn of the sea. River waters really embrace you. Take hold of and envelop you. Their invisible limbs, and ribbon-like currents writhing around you. Swallow you if youâ€™re not too careful. No such risk for me in the Neretva though although its flow is determined.
Frankâ€™s on the bank looking sheepish with my camera clutched in hand. Take 3. Another fluffed â€˜Stevie JUMPâ€™ shot. I give up. Other photographers. â€˜Sheesh!â€™. The Neretva coaxes my body along. So I turn and force a breaststroke against the flow. And there she is. The most beautiful object in Mostar. The gleaming â€˜arch of a rainbowâ€™ * , all of its colours petrified and combined to brilliant white.
Strung with a makeshift necklace of black rubber tires (to deflect mortars presumably?) throughout the heaviest inter-communal fighting in 1993 Stari Most, having spanned the Neretva for nearly 450 years was blown up and within seconds ceased to exist on 8 November of that year. A tragic fate for this icon of a proud town and peoples. A town that takes its name from the plural noun â€˜Mostariâ€™ meaning â€˜bridge keepersâ€™.
When you visit Mostar I strongly recommend that you hand over the 5KM (2.5 Euros) to enter The Old Bridge Museum housed within the watchtower sat on the south side of Stari Most. The history of the bridges construction at the behest of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557, completed by the architectural genius of Mimar Hajruddin in 1566. Informative throughout it concludes with a fascinating video documentary diary that follows the painstaking process of the reconstruction of Stari Most that took place between 2002 -2004. Itâ€™s just as captivating a story as the bridges history. UNESCO regulations for preserving World Heritage Status for restorations and reconstructions are extremely strict and dictate that such processes must utilise precisely the original materials and construction techniques employed by Suleiman himself nearly half a millennia ago.
Itâ€™s 600 tons of locally quarried porous Tenelija stone re-cut into the 1,088 each differently shaped blocks of the bridges composition. These to be braced together with large iron â€˜crampsâ€™ like gigantic metal staples that recall for me those crafted of titanium that once ran the inner length of my knee joints, forcing my legs to arc slowly outwards against their natural inclination. Reconstruction.
The pressure bearing load of a centuries old mortar â€˜recipeâ€™ scrutinised to the most infinitesimally small detail in pursuit of authenticity. Most interesting for me, the requirement to imitate imperfections and structural imbalances in the bridgeâ€™s original form. With wooden pole and beam scaffolding employed in Suleimanâ€™s times, warp and slippage of support structures was inevitable and over a period of construction however brief (it took Suleiman 8 years of planning but only one dry season of construction to craft his masterpiece) the finished product would never be perfect.
Itâ€™s a great, great video counterbalancing the obvious fact of mankindâ€™s ability to both destroy something of value and beauty but also to show determination, commitment and craft in acts of creation and reconstruction. It shows momentarily the goose flesh raising instant of the bridgeâ€™s annihilation captured on video and runs through to the re-inauguration of the bridge at which British Lord (Paddy) Ashdown was present in his then capacity as â€˜High Representative of the international community in Boznia & Herzegovinaâ€™ but to which not a single one of the hard working builders or craftsmen that brought the bridge back from the dead were invited.
For this is the heart of Mostar. The bridge. The river. The people. And the most famous activity in Mostar, bridge jumping. For centuries no doubt it has been tradition for Mostaris - mostly men looking to prove their machismo and worth - to clamber over the iron railings and jump or dive from the 20 metre plus keystone down into the Neretva. There is a long established Mostar Divers and Youth Divers club. All weekend Frank, Chris and I have returned to the Neretvaâ€™s shores to watch the occasional maniac step over and, once his cap-in-hand colleagues collected enough pennies, plunge down knees first, straightening at the very last moment, into the river to great applause.
Lower down, the three of us plunge from tamer heights again and again into the blue green chilly depths. People of all ages likewise jump, dive, smash, splash, plunge and crash into the river all day long. Flashes of sun bronzed bodies careening past, a blaze of brightly coloured swim short cart wheeling into the waters. For the slightly bolder a 10 metre platform sits on the opposite shore. â€˜No thanks!â€™. The sun again is unbelievable hot and so the contrast of the bone-numbing cold as you plunge into the Neretva and the heat searing your frozen torso as you clamber back out is incredibly invigorating. A quick wave of soft electricity courses over your frame. The feel of a thousand snow flakes casting their bodies against yours and expiring all at once.
And I love this! You feel so, so alive! And I am so happy right here. Right now. Happy to be in Mostar. Happy with the sun and ice cold water and Stari Most. Loud music blaring out of the PA system. And I feel this new happiness profoundly, rediscovered as it is amongst the ruin and rubble and regeneration and joy of this town. For slowly slowly and by many a different means during my circuit of Eastern Europe, from a momentary low about a month ago I too have been reconstructed. Block by block by the experiences and people I have met with along the way.
And Providence has treated me kindly also. For the last 60-70 years (I am told) it has been tradition on the last Sunday in July to hold the annual Mostar bridge Jumping Competitionâ€¦ and yes my friends, that would be today! Come 4pm the PA systemâ€™s moved away from â€˜Crazyâ€™ by Seal ( â€˜One of themâ€™s got a gun to shoot the other one / And yet together they were friends at school [â€¦] No weâ€™re never gonna survive unless we are a little crazyâ€™ ) and endless repetitions of Chris Reaâ€™s â€˜Road to Hellâ€™ ( â€˜This ainâ€™t no technological breakdown/ This is the Road to Hellâ€¦â€™) to the inevitable rousing beat of the Stereo Mcs ( â€˜Pack it up, Pack it in and let me beginâ€¦â€™ ) and the competition commences before a gathered audience of several thousands of Mostaris and visitors thronging the banks of and walkways above the Neretva.
The contestants line the bridge and cast flowers down into the river. Chris, Frank, Tamara, Tamara, Anya and I stare with everyone else as the two competitions are played out to great cheers, sharp collective intakes of fearful awe-struck breaths and applause. First being the knee-tuck drop contest and second the incredible head first divers! They dive from more than twice Olympic high diving heights into running waters! Points out of ten are awarded by an invited panel after each breathtaking plunge. ( â€˜â€¦ jump up jump up and get downâ€¦â€™ ) It has to be said though that no round of applause during the contest outstrips the standing ovation for the one bold female jumper who, in a two piece sports bikini had earlier stepped up to be the only woman all weekend to take the drop.
I have to slip away during the second contest as I have to catch the evening train to Sarajevo. But itâ€™s been a great time with a perfect ending and I will miss Mostar. Its smooth cobbles medieval streets. Cafes and market areas and mosques and churchesâ€¦ and its bullet holes and lace, yet happy smiling face and its river, its beautiful bridge over troubled waters and the fact it could be knocked down again and again and its people plunge into the waters for all time, but always to get back up, get back out, and jump around, jump up, jump up and get downâ€¦ â€˜Everybody say JUMP!â€™.
* Hadji Kalif, Historical Turkish travel writer/ geographer