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Arts & Culture

Memories of Dario, some personal and some less personal ones


Dario Džamonja, whom many knew as Daco, was a well-known writer in Sarajevo. He was also my step-brother. Our father was Vlatko Džamonja, a tenor in the Sarajevo Opera. He had Dario in his first marriage, with Ljepša, and then, eleven years later, he had me in his marriage with Dženana Ku?ukali?. We did not grow up together and my memories of him before my age about 14, are almost non-existent. I knew he existed but I really learned about him and about a few other things the one and the same night, when I found the "forbidden" (forbidden to me) book "Pri?e iz moje ulice" (Stories from my street) that he had published some years before.

That night, 20 of April 1981, I was spending with my family in the apartment of my uncle, the sculptor Alija Ku?ukali?. We were waiting to hear the news about my grandmother Esma who was in the hospital fighting for the last hours of her life. I was watched a little bit less closely than normally, so I looked through books on Aljo's bookshelf and found "Pri?e iz moje ulice".

Whoever has read even a little bit of Dario's writing knows the characteristic points: short story, to some, undetermined but high percent inspired by a true event that happened to him, Dario. Dario could just sit in a bar and stare at the ceiling for an hour, and something would happen to him, something worthy enough of a story. Or at least it would happen to him in his imagination. Anyway, when Dario was 16 he had decided to write down some of the things that had happened to him: how his (ours) father killed himself in 1971, some years after his brother had killed himself, and some years after two other brothers of theirs have died or disappeared. How Dario lived with our grandparents and their fourteen cats that our grandmother Ruža could not quite distinguish from her fur collars. In the apartment on the ground floor of a house in Daniela Ozme street, which I had visited a number of times with my that-night-dying grandmother Esma. We would have stayed in front of the window where grandmother Ruža, dressed perpetually in black, would stand and talked to us. I don't think we ever entered, probably on the grounds of my grandmother Esma not being able to stand the point of being in the same closed space as 14 cats. Her Muslim soul expressed itself also by a virtual obsession with hygiene (I think she would have been totally shocked to know that Muhammed actually quite liked cats). I could write so much more about the events relating to our common family, but there is no need, it has already been done. Read "Pri?e iz moje ulice" if you want to know more. I did myself, I learnt all these things that night, from that book.

Many things happened that night, when I was barely fourteen. That night I became angry, so angry that it took me years to calm down. How could they have hidden these things from me? The next thing on my programme was to find Dario. I could have just asked my family, because it was clear now that they would have done everything to calm my anger. But it was too late and I needed to find him by myself. All the writers went to Kafe "Zvono". So I went to Kafe "Zvono". Every evening, until one evening I met not Dario, but Hazim Akmadži?, a writer whose story also deserves to be told, but that some other time, and by Hazim himself- he is definitely a better writer than I am! Let me only say that Hazim was 12 years older than me and became my first serious love, my entrance to the world of adults, and a man with whom I shared two years of a beautiful relationship, and many later years of mutual respect and friendship. Hazim was also the person who showed me Dario, from a distance once.

I don't remember how much it took me to pick up the courage, but one day, across the Titova Street, somewhere between "Kluz" and "Nama", Dario was passing by and I ran across the street and said something like "Excuse me". He immediately told me to get lost, that he already had a girlfriend. I explained I was his sister, and he could not be happier. We hugged and kissed and walked together for an hour, until we ran into the named girlfriend – Goga, a violinist. She was very upset and it took my ID card to calm her down. Then we went to some café and then to another, I was drinking innumerable coffees and he innumerable "Metaxas". We kept seeing each other every day for a very long time, so thirsty from the years of separation. One day he presented me to his other sister: "Sister, this is my sister". Marta from Amsterdam, I remember you still and I am glad we are friends.

Fast forward to the years just before the war. First I defend my B.Sc. thesis. A public defense at PMF Sarajevo. The party provided by Dario. Then I am a graduate student in Madison-Wisconsin. Dario is happily married with Dijana (I still remember the letter he wrote me then), they have a daughter Nevena. He is living a perfectly normal life, he is happy like a child. We meet that summer and hope Markovi? will win, we are going into the EU. Obviously, we agree that the nationalists do not exist in Bosnia. Papci.

Everything unravels before we know it. The war. I am in Wisconsin, Nevena and Dijana live as refugees in a camping van in Baško Polje. Dario is in the hospital in Sarajevo, all broken up, he was thrown under a moving car by a bomb detonating close to him, on the street. It is still too fresh to write about more about it, it has only been nineteen years, ask me some other time Fedja.

We managed to reunite in Wisconsin in 1993. Dario, too proud to lie, tells the authorities he left school at 16. He does not tell them he left school because it was too easy for him, he does not tell them he could have had a doctorate in literature at a move of his fingertips, he cannot communicate who he is. He thinks he will make a living as a writer as he always did. Naïve, so beautifully and childishly and catastrophically naïve. Everything collapses then, his marriage, his health, he works at stupid jobs and does not even complain, he lives with a woman who loves him but how can she know about our culture, they have a child, Vesna, may she have a long and happy life, he leaves.

Dario went back to Sarajevo in 1999. Sarajevo where he was born and where he hoped to live. It lasted two years. He was dead on October 10, 2001. I flew in from New York, I barely had time to catch that flight. I dressed in black because I did not know how he would be buried, maybe as a catholic. But his friends who organised everything in such a short time knew that Dario was a Yugoslav, he was buried the way he lived, as a Yugoslav, in Sarajevo, with many friends and very little family. We buried Dario, we buried Yugoslavia, we buried those years of life together but somehow they still live in us, the dreams of things that did not happen and could have so easily and temptingly happen, the nightmares of things that did happen but could have so easily and temptingly not happen. We went away to our lives spread all over this planet, I imagine us all with a long thin string of cotton around our waists, centred in Sarajevo and circling the Earth like some floating, attached satellites.

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