Tuesday, Sept. 10, 1996
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: I am still recovering from the technical feat it took to e-mail my diary yesterday. These days, with thousands of journalists descending on Bosnia to cover the Sept. 14 elections, it’s harder to find a working phone line than it is to interview an indicted war criminal: The phone lines are busy and the indictees are free.
As if all the old Bosnia hacks, seasoned war reporters, and political commentators weren’t enough, yesterday a passel of sports journalists came to Sarajevo and monopolized our phone lines. This was because down at the Kosevo stadium, just next to one of the largest graveyards in the town (it used to be a park, but became a cemetery in 1992), dozens of the world’s most famous athletes were demonstrating their solidarity with the town. I don’t know exactly what happened–I lost all interest in sports a couple of years ago when an event involving one Olympic skater who hit another Olympic skater on the knee stole American headlines away from another event involving the massacre of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serbs (“Bosniaks” is the ethnically correct term for the people most journalists call Muslims). In any case, the sports commentators have now left, but the phone lines are still bad.
I can’t help finding it spooky to write for the air, so to speak. Since I myself can’t read SLATE online, I don’t really feel like a full-fledged author. I know that someone somewhere may come upon what I write, but my friends in Cuba, Haiti, Afghanistan, or Kalmykia (a Buddhist ex-Soviet republic north of Chechnya) will never see it. And–if I may employ some Leninist rhetoric here–the fact that to read what I write requires advanced communications software makes the whole thing seem undemocratic. My friend Jim says I’m kidding myself if I think that you can find TheNewYorker or the NewRepublic on coffee tables in Havana and Kabul, but somehow, at least theoretically, they could end up there, couldn’t they?
My point is not that I manage to bring my scribbling to every shack in every hamlet. It is a more existential one. For the past 10 years I have been a kind of Wandering Jew, traveling to all the worst places on several continents, considering the hard drive of my laptop the closest thing I’ve got to “home.” I am on the road roughly nine to 10 months a year, and if I’m not driving down a dirt track, I’m jumping on the back of a horse cart or motorcycle or hitching a ride on a helicopter. I make friends with victims of the most famous and infamous wars. I try to learn their language and the details of their dreadful lives. Then I try to give them a voice by proxy by writing my little worm’s-eye-perspective postcards for the NewRepublic.
All that time I know that somewhere back in the States, I exist in a physical form, that issues of the magazine are being stuffed into mailboxes, along with a ton of junk mail. It is not much as a point of reference, but it is palpable. With SLATE, neither I nor the diary feels palpable. It is very disconcerting. More so, even, than interviewing war criminals, rotting in a Cuban detention center, or tiptoeing on a Somali minefield. A question of taste, I guess.