Friday, February 18, 2011
The Slavic world has a rich tradition of playing chess, privately and publicly. A chessboard is tiled right into the pavement of Alija Izetbegovic Square in the center of town, and meter-high chess pieces are in play all day long, sunrise to sunset. Pensioners in berets (and fur hats in very cold weather) stand around and yell advice or taunt the players. Younger men stand around watching and occasionally try their hand against the senior masters.
One thing I've noticed, though, is that it's always men, never women, standing around the chess board. I asked a Bosnian woman friend who loves playing chess why that is. She told me that she tried, for a time, watching the public game, but ultimately felt too awkward being the only woman.
The men, though, are very kind to boys (like mine were nine years ago) who want to watch. After weeks of watching the chess games, 9 year old Edward decided he wanted to play, so David took him down at 6:30 AM. There was nobody there, so they set up the board and played a game and a half before they had attracted a crowd and decided to relinquish the pieces to the more mature players.