On his first visit in the 1960s, Roman Polanski apparently observed that London was “a very red city” thanks to the Routemaster buses, phone and letter boxes, etc. There’s plenty of red here in Sarajevo too, thanks to the many, many Film Festival posters, but the colour that I keep encountering in the city centre is green, whether the vertiginous grass-strewn banks of the Miljacka river, the numerous Heineken posters (they’re a major festival sponsor) or, most surprisingly, the pavements in the city centre. I’m sure they weren’t like this two years ago (it’s the kind of detail one remembers), but they’ve been overlaid with a fine green gravel, which when combined with evenly-spaced raised concrete crash barriers must create the impression from above of a dotted “cut here” sign.
The other colour that’s hard to miss when entering Sarajevo from the airport is the hideous yellow of the Holiday Inn, famous for its background appearance in numerous news items about the 1992-5 Bosnian war. I stayed there two years ago, and despite the exterior it was perfectly fine as a hotel - though my most vivid memory was from the opening night, when I returned from the party to find a note had been pushed under my door reading “Your mother has just died - our condolences.”
Fortunately, it took me about half a millisecond to realise that it referred to my grandmother (and it wasn’t a surprise: in fact, I’d been expecting a call along those lines), and I later found out from my wife that the staff were very reluctant about communicating this in a note and that she had to talk them into it. (She didn’t know, of course, about the fundamental misunderstanding). Still, there was no harm done, and I still have the note - I took it to the funeral, where it provided a certain blackly comic frisson.