Women Who Loot

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.

Pasolini’s Death: My Life Without Me

Reading Belgrade 24 December, 2013
in serbian, english subtitles

Pasolini’s Death: My Life Without Me from Jasmina Tesanovic on Vimeo.

In Memory of Franca Rame 1929-2013

a true anecdote from my forthcoming book, My Life Without Me
Dario Fo honoring his wife and lifelong collaborater Franca

It is a literary party, in Iowa, inside a big house which resembles a barn. It is an event for foreign writers thrown by the sponsors of the Writers Program at the Iowa University, in 1997. I am one of these foreign writers, and our hosts have prepared such a huge amount of food and drink that I am expecting a crowd from the streets to show up and join us.

But no, it is all our business, and it is actually businesslike. Very “what’s in it for me.”

– So, you are a writer! A huge American woman, dressed with Midwestern bad taste, approaches me in her wheelchair.
– No, no, I am a woman who sometimes writes.
A Polish poetess intervenes. – Oh come on, don’t be so modest, this is our hostess! The Polish poetess beams violently at our benefactor.
– Where do you come from, asks the hostess, edging her wheelchair closer to me.
– Serbia, I say, apologetically.
She stares at me blankly. Gosh, I dote on Americans, because they just don’t know so many embarrassing things. Such as where Serbia is, and what it means to be Serb.
– Europe, bounces in my lively Polish translator. ( She was married to a much older Polish poet, and during the Cold War she had learned all the survival tricks of the East-West literary life).
– And you write poetry? relentlessly goes on the hostess.
– No, no, I just write whatever comes to me, God forbid poetry, I say modestly.
– My ex husband was a poet. I add.
– He said that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky could not live under the same roof.
Why is this hostess picking on me? There are 11 other foreign writers with their spouses from the same program in this house. Did I dress badly? Am I not eating enough of her food, or drinking enough?
– My friend is very modest! crows the Polish poet. She writes incredible stuff! She is a Nobel prize winner.
– Oh my God! my hostess exclaims startled and puts her hand over her mouth.
– Oh my God, I cry, startled too.
The Polish poet takes another glass of wine, looking at me ready to kill if I stop her performance.
– She is a feminist writer.
I feel relieved: at least that part was true.
My hostess seems relieved too. Her face lightens up and she spreads her arms up towards me.
– I am so glad to hear this! I want you to give a speech to this crowd here. I worked all day to make this feast happen, and not only me, all the women from the family worked while the men played cards.
I look at the idle men of the family, who are not in wheelchairs. More

My Dad’s Funeral

Today is the 3rd anniversary of my Dad’s funeral who died March 30, 2008. This chapter is from my unpublished book “My Life Without Me”

4. Dad’s Funeral

- All these years he really treated you badly, said my good friend attending my dad’s funeral.
And thus I didn’t give him an open coffin funeral. So many years of his mortal fear, rage and fantasized abandonment of life, and here he was, at his life’s end at last. Would that rage kill me, too? When my mother died, he had turned to me to care for him. In his last decline, he had become my child. Two family traumas for the price of one.

When he died, on March 30, 2008, I lost a father, a husband and a son. Oh, nothing incestuous in our relationship: only culturally perverse. But when the whole nation behaves in one way, feels strongly about it , as a tribe, what’s perverse about it? Even I, who felt weird at first, accepted it quickly. We play the games we are taught to play by our parents, peers, enemies, frenemies. And I love games. More

My Birthday

My Life Without Me

To My Late Father and Fatherland
To Gojko and Yugoslavia

1. My Mother

Where was I when it all started? In the hospital, some fifty years ago, but not in the delivery ward, where most children get their umbilical cords cut. No, I was in the cancer ward, where my mother worked. She was a cancer ward pediatrician, and that night, the 7th of March, after a long game of cards with her friends, she went to work on her night shift.

You must understand that my late Mom was a historical communist, one of those who risked her life when she was seventeen for ideals of justice and truth. An activist pediatrician she chose to work at the toughest places, with dying children alone in the ward without their own parents. My mother was all they had, and she loved them more than herself. More

My Life Without Me (My Father)

Today my Father would have turned 87. This is the chapter from my new book, My Life  Without Me, dedicated to him, Gojko Tesanovic (1923-2008)

3. My Father

Gojko and Jasmina, 2001 - Photo by Stephanie Damoff

- Never make decisions out of fear, he used to tell me.

I didn’t know how else to decide, so I stopped making any decisions.

- Take care of yourself, don’t give a damn what people demand from you if you don’t like it or want it.

He called me Jale when we were alone and intimate: and he talked to me as a man to man. It was  a shame I was not one: I could tell from the way he talked to me.  On the other hand, my father was pleased with my stubborn character and independent traits. That seemed manly enough to him.

I always hated my never born brother. I could only imagine him: small, tender, a sissy, getting all the privileges I didn’t have just because he was a man. If I loved my brother, perchance, that would have been even worse for me. It was easier this way, to turn into a man when necessary to pick up all the male wisdom my father was willing to share with me. God forbid that my mother heard any of that:  the selfish advice, about economic and emotional independence, options to avoid marriage and children, free sex/secret sex, fast cars and an engineer’s technology instead of girlish pets and flowers. More

My Life Without Me

ovo je pocetak knjige koju zavrsavam ovih dana…ja je zovem laznom autobiografijom…

Where was I when it all started?

In the hospital, some fifty years ago, but not in the delivery ward, where most children get their umbilical cords cut. No, I was in the cancer ward, where my mother worked. She was a cancer ward paediatrician, and that night, the 7th of March, after a long game of cards with her friends, she went to work on her night shift. More

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