18 Oct 2014 1 Comment
09 Oct 2014 1 Comment
08 Oct 2014 1 Comment
photos by Bruce Sterling
Last year, Maker Faire Roma was a Roman colossus, and this year, the second edition, Maker Faire was American in scale, meaning colossal but normally so. It had the look and feel of SXSW Interactive in Austin, when legions of thousands of geeks invade a city with their gadgets, ideas, energy.
But Austin is smaller than Rome and much, much younger. Rome is a wonder of the world haunted by lost golden ages; a clamorous glamour and a can-do imperial spirit echoes among the old ruins of chipped marble and flat red brick, currently abandoned to cats, rats and tourists.
The crowd of Maker Faire attendees — 90,000 they say, which is enough to populate a “bolgia” of some Dante circle of hell — was loud, demanding and of all ages and nationalities. Security, police, participants and organizers themselves struggled to patch the event when the crowds burst its seams.
This year the Makers were more business oriented and also more politically conscious. The hobbyist tinkers of DIY “do it yourself” are taking on a more Italian and sociable “do it ourselves” DIO solidarity. The first day ten thousand high school students from all over Italy dutifully trampled in to see the show, which was markedly national in character. The “Make in Italy” movement is firmly linking itself to the half-forgotten legacy of Italian electronics, when Ettore Sotsass designed for Olivetti and brainy designers like Munari and Castiglione wrought wonders with their radical re-thinks of simple materials.
Italian Makers are even getting something of an Italian Maker look, of baggy start-up Tshirts, orange pants and spotless well-kept athletic shoes, while solemn purple-haired geek women ponder gleaming and beeping electronic costumes.
As a world export power, the trinity of Italian design is clothing, furniture and food — and that is why Maker Faire is leading the world toward the likes of 3d printed spaghetti. Rather than the standard Milanese design wares created to please wealthy Russians, Japanese and Arabs, Maker innovation is “jugaad Italian style.” It’s open-source Italy as an electronic India — everything is scrounged and make-do, nobody has a budget or a lawyer, and everybody knows everybody. Despite this, or maybe because of it, the Camera del commercio and various ministers for industry were standing by. If the Makers themselves can’t cash in on all this ingenuity, somebody else will.
The Maker world is a seductive world because there is no real barrier to joining in. As a network activist with a fondness for electronic arts I’ve always been an Arduino fan. I was already involved with the Arduinisti working on a project for Arduino home automation, but thrilled at Maker Faire when Massimo Banzi as a true cavaliere suddenly named this project after me: from now on, it’s “Casa Jasmina.” “Casa Jasmina” is not a very high-tech name for an Internet-of-Things experiment, but it is a name for a home and women are still the home queens who often fear technology: plus nobody else seems to be using the #CasaJasmina Twitter hashtag. Sometimes dreams come true, and so do dream houses!
The Italian Maker scene is determined to enter electronic home automation. They can’t sit still while Google Android and Apple HomeKit invade the world of “Domus” and “Casabella,” and the logical response to that challenge, from an Italian point of view, is not just “open source” but “open source luxury.”
“Lusso Open Source” is a strange combination of words for someone who knows Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, but I have met Richard Stallman, and Richard Stallman is from MIT, he is not an Italian guy. It’s also strange and even sad to realize that beautiful Italy, which is wounded and even oppressed with German, British and American ideologies of “crisis,” has to struggle to survive by being “luxurious.” But an advanced and civilized quality of life is what Italy makes and sells. Open Source is one of the most ragged and rugged things happening in the world today.
Something important is happening in the Italian Maker scene that is similar to the Italian response to McDonald’s fast food chains. The industrial logic and intercontinental scale of McDonald’s looked unstoppable, on paper. The same goes for Google, Apple and Facebook now.
The “Slow Food Movement” even took its own English name from the threat of American fast food. Slow Food has never been so widely spread as McDonald’s, but Slow Food looks quite modern and progressive nowadays while McDonald’s seems old-fashioned. Even MacDonald’s nowadays is making “healthy meals”!
The real secret of Slow Foods is not that it’s a grocery but a curated chain of food production — people will pay much more for food in the store because of the Slow Foods “good, clean and fair” political stamp of approval. The Slow Food empire even makes a lot of money selling cookbooks to masses of people who want to be slow cooks. The Maker Movement also has huge crowds of fans who love open technology and sincerely want to understand it, but would pay somebody else to do the actual hard work.
That’s why there will soon be an all-connected bed and breakfast apartment in a a giant half-abandoned FIAT plant in Turin, which is called “Casa Jasmina.” For traditional Italian crafts people, who I respect very much, this may seem like a threatening prospect. With good reason, too, because now in the year 2014, anybody with eyes in their head can see that the Internet does to everybody whatever it does to musicians.However designers will be invited as guests to share their craft and opinion in that free space.
I happen to be a musician myself, and there will be quite a lot of music in “Casa Jasmina.” An electronic home obviously needs an electronic soundtrack, songs produced with Arduino and that is going to be one of my personal problems in future. Obviously I could steal and pirate a torrent of thundering music through a Bluetooth Jambox in “Casa Jasmina,” but would that be “good, clean and fair?” It’s been quite a while — since 1973, actually — since there was a truly new “new Italian domestic landscape.” When a woman moves house she can also change some bad habits.
It is presumptuous to claim to know the future. but also irresponsible to behave as if the future is not already here. Not only are we part of the future — we are excluded from it and forced to turn to “jugaad.” The “Crisis” is not a “crisis” at all, it’s a global fait accompli where the 1 per centers who have seized all the wealth ignore solution to “the crisis” because they themselves are the crisis. A white plague is turning Italy into a museum of unaffordable monuments, where tourists abound, but children can’t be born and raised and the elderly can’t be sheltered.
“Casa Jasmina” will not be “my” home: young Italian people cannot find steady jobs, so banks don’t give them house mortgages. They live in shareable Internet housing. What is a modern home? When we want a roof to protect us, what are the real threats? What is made affordable, and unaffordable, and why, and for whom? What is politically and ecologically proper. Who are our allies and partners, what unseen friends do we have?
In the Maker scene people don’t just debate like us writers do; they really do things. Enough with the talk; I went to Maker Faire Roma 2014, and now, come what may, I want to try things out.
05 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
Chapter from My Life Withut Me
October 5th, 2000, a historical day for Serbia. Where was I? The invisible? I was on BBC, CNN, local TV etc… All day, every hour, with the subtitle: citizens looting the Serbian parliament.
Yes, that was My life with me in it, alive and kicking. That day, when the Serbian people in the streets of Belgrade toppled Milosevic, I was in those streets together with a million people. The streets and squares in Belgrade were not big enough to support a popular revolution of that size. Knowing that too well, the people had to cling together in dense crowds, just as they clung when three Belgrade generations lived in a single small flat. Like people jammed into a rusty Belgrade tram. Like people huddled in a queue for oil, for pensions, for everything the war had denied us.
I stood glued to other people in front of the Serbian parliament, October 5th 2000, daring not to move or speak, because if I jostle or yell, the others will, and the vast million headed beast may get angry, and explode, or implode.
We all feared the beast we had become part of, the beast we had made after years of silence and suffering. This King Kong organism was slowly moving towards the center of government, and my position was slowly getting closer to the bolted doors of the politically gated clique that had looted our lives.
The first row of people approached the steps of the parliament, as in the Eisenstein film “Battleship Potemkin.” Individuals peeled from the million headed beast. As a bold and dashing political adventuress, I was safe in the second line
Then I realized that the first line no longer existed. There I stood, holding hands with my best friend, so as not to split and be shoved apart. We are meandering in front of the evil building, which falling under the attack of protesters turned rioters. Glass is shattered, furniture flung out out the windows, flags torn down and new flags hoisted, screams and tear gas…but the Bastille is falling…
Suddenly, flames and smoke…the police become firemen, revolutionaries become looters, journalists become historians… As we pick our way through the burned overturned cars and smoldering furniture, world media is filming us. Jasmina appears on the screen that night as a Belgrade scavenger and looter.
My father sees me on the TV: he is happy I am there. He does not care if I am the good guy or the bad guy, he cares for the winning side. I am winning there alright, he’d better stick to me, he thinks.
His nation is still burning, and I am saving what can be saved out of the flames. Forty years ago, his generation did the same thing to the predecessors of the communists. He was one of them; he always claims he never looted or killed anybody, and that he earned everything through civil service to the new government. I believed him. But I know that there were no borders between civil servants and the revolutionary Communists. Their system was set up to assure the total power of a party vanguard. And he was one of them, the rebels turned the privileged, who did their best to nail the casino wheel of history into place
Of course I was not a looter, the CNN camera makes all rebels into looters by definition. But my historical battle was that of yet another Balkan looting raid, against one’ s own parents and history. Not one Balkan war was ever won with clean hands. We all had to scavenge to clear the dirty backyards of our parents; every Balkan woman is a rubble woman. Today the revolutionaries, tomorrow the derelicts. A turbulent graveyard of other people’s empires and religions, where every firm foundation is a polyglot and multiethnic mass of rubble.
My mother died in time to preserve her illusions. She died eleven months before my revolution, and did not want any of my rhetoric. Her firm allegiance to her ideals, to her big utopian realm of social freedom, was never lost to her, and was warm in her heart until her last days. On her deathbed she offered us speeches of justice instead of departing kisses. She died with a light and free heart, asking for lemon cake. My mother was a looted soul.
Crossing through the gates, the invisible borderlines; Pier Pasolini wrote about prostitutes, going through the front-lines of war safe and happy, because as women, they were considered loot, trade-goods, by both sides. The camp-followers never bothered with causes or allegiances; for them it was just Rosa and Maria versus the armies of anonymous clients.
Whenever you trespass, and you escape apprehension and punishment, there, you are invisible.
Better sometimes to become visible, and face the punishment.
My daughter as a small child used to plead for attention:
– Please Mom , tell me it is all my fault and that I am guilty!
– It is all your fault, honey, and you are indeed guilty. But before you, it was me. And before me there was your grandma, and then before her Mom, great-grandma Zivana, and then her sick Mom with asthma in a wheelchair… and then I don’t remember those women anymore, but that is how it works.
Women, always doing something they should not have done. Grandma Zivka for example, dressed as a true lady, telling her husband she was meeting a lady friend for coffee, then sneaking to a military parade where she hoped to catch one glance of the awesome Tito.… The nowhere man, the self made leader, the self-named rebel who fooled his enemies with his parallel lives. Rumours flew that there were many Titos, all living and ruling under that name.
Well, my grandma Zivana didn’t read much… but oh, those big shining tanks that seemed never to have fired a shell. Those fine young men dressed so neatly in ironed uniforms. We women love uniforms, men say… but I think women like men in uniforms, as opposed to men in the raw. Just as women love women in cosmetics and gowns, as opposed to raw women, like themselves.
So dear old Zivana would stand well behind in the front row, jumping to peek over the shoulders of the taller guys and girls before her, with her handbag banging them. Until they lost patience, and so did she, and she elbow her way to the front of the crowd and once…
Just once she even crossed the great parade to the center of the road, where she could see the vehicles better, by crouching on her knees and her forearms, under the tires and treads. She emerged scratched and dirty, but with her dainty handkerchief and a little perfume, she restored herself. Zivana’s transgressions were those of a woman who never fought for political rights. Instead, she just performed them.
12 Sep 2014 2 Comments
05 Sep 2014 3 Comments
Crossing the border from Serbia to Kosovo is easy. Serbian citizens can get by with daily ID, as if they were EU citizen inside the EU Schengen fortress.
If you are, for example, a globetrotting American, it gets interesting. The Kosovo border officers admire your travel stamps and ask jolly questions such as: why on earth did an American go to Brazil? Everybody wants to go to America but we Kosovars are not allowed.
As one of our friends in the region put it, being an American in Kosovo is like being a Pope. You will be asked all kind of questions, told all kind of injustices. Nobody in Kosovo has forgotten 1999 so the papal Americans are like angels of mercy with airborne bombs.
Being a Serb, in a region that looks quite like Serbia, I walked around thoughtlessly talking in Serbian. In Yugoslavia, Serbo-
Croatian was naturally a much bigger deal than English ever was: until recently Serbian population has lived here too and before the Kosovo war, Serbian language was widespread much more than english. With almost every Serb ethnically cleansed, there’s nobody left to speak it; just empty Orthodox churches turned into tourist attractions while the town abounds with English language menus for pizza and burger joints.
There’s nothing new about dismal slaughters and expulsions in Prizren — it’s been the capital of a medieval Serbian empire and the capital of an Albanian nationalist league, too. Every village in Kosovo has some act of fame or infamy; a monastery, a war crime, a battle. Especially notorious to me are the war crimes committed by Serbian military forces against the Albanian population which led to the bombings by NATO in 1999.
It’s the globalized life in Kosovo that is really new: the crammed life of young population stuck inside a frozen conflict, an ethnic canton, a tiny, not yet internationally recognized, European republic. Tensions abound in this little fishbowl of a country where all the great powers can look in, but none of the locals can escape. Unemployment, alcoholism, and corruption, smuggling goods, smuggling people: the critical locals name their troubles.
There is even a treaty underway between official Serbia and official Kosovo: they may speak Serbian and Albanian now, but with any luck they can join the EU together.
The shadow of another lost international regime lies heavy here: the Ottoman Empire. There are still a few households where people speak old-fashioned Turkish, and besides, Turkey is nearby: NATO Turco-globalism, with Turkish soap operas, Turkish coffee, Turkish food, Turkish architecture and construction companies. Istanbul is the aspirational capital in southern Kosovo, if something is fancy, it’s in big town Istanbul style.
The pride and joy of the locals is the major mosque built by the famous architect Sinan in the heyday of Suleiman the Magnificent. Muezzin towers abound in Prizren, and every one of them has a taped recital of the daily calls to prayer. Since they are out of phase with distance, when they go off together they sound rather like some Brian Eno tape-loop composition.
Dokufest in Prizren is becoming a famous film festival, since it specializes in short documentaries of an alternative bent http://dokufest.com/2014/. There are also music events during nights of Dokufest, and this year the festival also ventured to host its first technology conference, together with Share Foundation from Belgrade.
The organizers met through the good offices of Peter Sunde of “the Pirate Bay,” so it shouldn’t be surprising that the topics were surveillance, investigative journalism, activism, hacking, making, electronic arts and the fact that Peter Sunde is currently in a Swedish prison.
The geeks of Kosovo are like geeks from all over the world, brilliant young people of a hackerly bent, but with a particular disdain for official borders rules and documents intended to contain them.
The narrow streets of Prizren swarm with tourists, eating cheap excellent street food paid for in euros. Kosovo is a NATO EU Moslem enclave: the “KFOR” units have been guarding it for the past two decades. Uniforms and jeeps mingle with the SUVs of wealthy local bosses, expensive private cars whose drivers despise the pedestrians. Modest Prizren has the pace of some much bigger city; locals seem tense and busy, and even the beggars are antic.
Some new-built parts of the city have the raw brick and cement of Brasilian favelas. Some streets could double for Mexican open-air markets. Istanbul, Cairo, Baghdad are the urban shadows over this town which is ninety percent Moslem. The broad, stony ruin of an ancient hilltop fortress surveys every bridge and street.
The locals don’t seem overly impressed by left-wing Western political documentaries, but a projection about the Turkish soap opera industry stops them in their tracks. There’s a documentary running in a little impromptu theater that bridges the local river. The coffee-drinkers stop to cluster and marvel.
Who knew that Turkish soap operas, watched by women and about women, are actually written by Turkish women? These television dramas have fans in Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Serbia even… every district where Ottoman rule once held sway.
I myself have watched these serials, amazed and dazed. As an ex-Ottoman, ex-Yugoslav, ex-whatever dies next, it’s astonishing to see how much the Ottoman culture of unwritten laws, food and history persists in the 21st century Balkans. The women in these soap operas don’t have any mild “first world problems” — their dramatic conflicts involve child marriages, grandfathers who are tribal mafia, gangland honor killings. Some are cosmopolitan because they leave their state, others turn cosmopolitan because their empire bloodily crumbles around them.
Today’s soap opera, of the globalization of Balkanization, is a woman’s tale of pain and glory where the last will be some day the first — at least in certain places, maybe in some tiny no man’s no name’s land in a brisk transition to nowhere. Europe has never lacked for unions, some willing, some unwilling, some in the fortress, some outside it. You can do anything with bayonets, as Napoleon used to say, except sit on them while you watch television.
On the way back to Serbia there was a 5 hour queue of cars on the Serbian border. Polite officers were deliberately slow as if saying: you wanted a border and now you have it. I remembered how 100 years ago my grandfather survived the Thessaloniki front, retreating through Albania with very few other Serbian soldiers who took part in that war, far far away from Serbia. A famous song sprang from that tragic retreat that later on was used as a Serbian favorite anthem of lament. My grandma never forgave my grandpa for fighting wars far away from his homeland, as an idealistic fool. If he hadn’t come back my mother would have never been born, thus me too.
Time has come to quote Max Frisch, the Swiss writer in this Serbo/Albanian useless never-ending conflict: I want to live for my country not to die for it!