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I saw it coming, for the past ten years, at least. I saw small Trumps rising and tramping around, first timidly, then bravely, and finally boldly. Until Donald Trump got elected. I saw the same thing happening in Serbia and in Italy, at the end of the past century> They were called Milosevic and Berlusconi. These three guys that have impacted my life in the countries where I live have things in common: they are men, they are machos and they are so-called typical men of their nations: self-invented men who became potent, with money, with media, with fraud. But the bigger they are, the more false they became. Pundits call our era a post-truth time where politicians act without having to give an account to anybody: god or voters. This is nothing new really, there have been other such moments in history where truth was subjected to higher instances: religion, ideology, weapons. It is not new as a doctrine and some ruthless pundits even claim it is not all that bad to shake up this world of established truths with dysfunctional rules.
In this perspective I saw it coming. I never knew Trump even existed before he got political, though my daughter who grew up in Serbia under the Milosevic’s laissez-faire belligerent regime did know of him. He was loud on local junk private channels selling cheap thrills while other foreign media were forbidden to the Serbian population. Sanctions were imposed by the American government in the first place–those who put you in a torch, then sell you the goodies of survival, making profit out of your misery. That’s how bad guys make money on politically correct issues. Not that certain governments (not people, however) don’t deserve international community sanctions. On the contrary, we are lucky to have a community nowadays, bodies like UN, decent NGOs etc. But the downside of these measures or the abuse of them is that those who impose the sanctions will be the first ones to make a profit out of the new economic order. Same goes with wars. Wars are profitable. They make a few individuals rich while most of the population is miserable or killed, as collateral damage, even though they are the vast majority.
I expected somebody like Trump to emerge from the USA cultural and political environment because of the very restrictive rigid and hypocritical political correctness. The rule of politically correct law was imposed and sanctioned legally but even more frequently it was an unwritten lurking puritan law. At moments it felt like living in Soviet Union. But people are just persons and humans. Laws will not make you a better person, they will only make you an outlaw if you are not a strictly law abiding citizen. Even though democracy and laws are the best we’ ve got and political correctness is a code against discrimination, no doubt, the danger is to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Life is not linear, language is never fully politically correct. It is deeply related to the people who create it by using it everyday. And laws are an instance of regulating interpersonal relationships based on behaviour, language, etc. However when a gap is created between real life, everyday language, beliefs of the living people and the laws of a state, this vacuum becomes a dangerous playground for populists like Trump, Berlusconi, Milosevic, and, why not, Stalin and Hitler! Manipulative dictators open their dirty hearts stating the politically incorrect opinions present in many people. They act as leaders who speak the unspeakable truths about our imperfect human condition . Because people are often racists, sexists, selfish, violent, and unaware of it. When asked how does she want to be called, “gypsy” or “rom”, my neighbour answered wisely: you can call me as you wish, but I must have the same right to call you as I wish.
I saw it happen slowly while I was in USA in the past 10 to 15 years in small details of everyday life. My collaborators, family, friends were too much absorbed in their personal virtual lives, personalised diets, abstract political correctness instead of stepping down from their one-person universe and dirtying their hands with the world, with the Other. Wellness and some kind of pretentious self-care made me nervous. But everything was on their side except for the phenomenon Trump, who was hurling like a snowball getting bigger and bigger on the neglected side of the enchanted mountains of the isolated perfectionists. From Silicon Valley geniuses to laid-back hippies who never bothered to realise that the seventies are over and that holding hands, chanting, praying is not enough. And the money fetish in USA is a bonding file rouge between the rich and the poor. The rich because they are rich, the poor because they are poor: they all have excellent reasons to be money obsessed.
If you don’t have money you die in the streets; if you don’t have the money perspective you will have no money and you will die in the streets; if you don’t have the money rhetoric you will have no money perspective, you will have no money and you will die in the streets…
But you cannot solve the one-percent question/problem, without changing the question, perspective…Is it too much to ask for common sense?
Well, that’s what Trump has, money (or the appearance of it)…and he will not die in the streets, but people will…trying to solve the post-truth riddles old as humankind that are distracting them from their human condition. Be it called truth or post-truth, every day we live in a real world with real issues. And what we believe to be truth, love, etc. Believing in truth is enough to find the truth. But in order to believe things true one must perceive them as such, emotionally, intellectually, scientifically. In order for this to happen, one must be honest with oneself, be active, get out of bed, look outside the window, work, walk, study, think, emote…Americans, are you ready? To get out of your virtual worlds of gaming thrones… of eating disorders, emotional dependencies on cats and other pets… zombies and vampires. Another troubled non-beautiful world is waiting for you out there, you can reach it if you make an effort or it will reach you without any effort because it is here now.
In 1300, Dante wrote in so-called “vulgar” Italian his Divine Comedy. At the time, Latin was the official language of truths, but Dante challenged the official truths . He was of course exiled as punishment, but his visionary poem is a masterpiece of his time.
Dante was not politically correct or a man of power or money, just a poet. Same goes with Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright from the 20th century who from prison made it to the presidency. Living in truth is not comfortable or profitable but healthy and necessary.
He was walking here, I can almost hear his steps. A troubled, unhappy British scholar, a fake Brit. A parvenu American, a closeted gay, a mom-dependent womaniser, and a pulp fiction icon.
Raymond Chandler walked the beach of La Jolla, shopped in sleazy drink joints with names like “Dick’s Liquor,”and vomited all over the weedy decaying sea-grass. The noir of rich and flakey Californians: their big white dentist smiles, public warnings don’t do this don’t do that, sneering everywhere.
Police roundabouts, corrupted muscled uniforms, blonde invasive babes with prices in their rolling eyes. And then, finally, the Pacific sunsets, preposterous, relentless, eternal, punctual and unavoidable as death. Emotionally nerve wracking, sunsets that make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
The grey cruel infinity of the Pacific, with its fat whales, malodorous seals, murderous sharks, rapacious seagulls, ugly pelicans: a sea world unafraid of humans or material decay.
Raymond Chandler was watching all this as tears flowed by. The cruelty of the beauty, the stupidity of the glory, the charm of the evil under the sun. Romantic, far too romantic, he was killing himself all day every day, enjoying himself in blind self-destructive rage, in stupor, in delight, drunk and silly. Smoking and reading, smoking and writing, smoking and talking, smoking and bitching. A small weak angry multifaceted multitalented man to whom wealth and fame brought no happiness.
Just that flow, the Californian monotony, every pretty day with the same pitch, where small variations become the plot hints. Small but sinister changes in temperatures, in voice tones. There is beach sand in the hair, in the shoes, in the food, in the eyes.
Bad, beautiful, dangerous women who behold the world, the mystery of evil, the courage of transgression. Without misogyny there is no true love, no gunshots, no plot catharsis.
Bogart was the screen man but Raymond was the real deal, the raw deal. His writerly beach cottage, today gentrified by tech overlords, bears not a signs of his presence or his treasures. His worst moral vices and fictional excesses are the new normality, the rule of daily life, symbols and trademark of La Jolla, a beach turned metropolis. The wealthiest joggers in America dash through the fishy smells, the ants, the flies, the pet dogs and wild pigeons.
Anybody could be Raymond Chandler now, we all are, a collective pulp intelligence, a hooded monster without a face. Instead of being characters from Chandler’s BLACK MASK detective magazine, we’ve become tentacled sapient creatures from Lovecraft’s WEIRD TALES.
Today’s Californians don’t worship the sun as the ancient Egyptians did, they watch the sun come and go without counting days because they want to be eternal, immortal, cybernetic.
We still remember being human and having names, it’s sweet, funny, interesting but useless, since we’re numbers in the data stream. Now we are all unique and yet the same. The tentacle life is simple and good: its trembling vitality gives subdued pleasure which never ends.
We don’t sleep: we just rest or take it easy. We hear enormous amount of sounds but we select our personal music. We don’t love, we eat each other in the name of love, we absorb each other, we merge, we dismember, we are poets and nomads, lights and colours, temperature and weather: we hide and we emerge, we shine and we fade away.
We kill and eat, we don’t think. We fish and we swim and sing like mermaids. It’s like orgasmic joy which produces knowledge, and our lives thrive without permanent extinction. An ancient, extra-dimensional life persisting from eons ago… but we still remember the pulp noir fiction mags written by Chandler, cheap paper drowned and crumbling in the tides of La Jolla Beach.
The Four Girls
….and then they arrive, the four local girls going to Chandler’s beach. They are of their best age, still girls not yet women, they are beautiful with their budding yet undetermined shapes, colours, unaware of their beauty. They are the queens of the beach, they are ruling it but they don’t know. They have the secret strength and grace of those who are natural to power.
The girls giggle and hold hands, glancing around themselves with curiosity: what next, not even sky is their limit.
One is a curly blonde, a round faced girl with serious eyes. Then the black thin gazelle princess of the dark: her face is serious but her eyes are laughing violently. The third is an Asian girl. No smiles, no frowns, her body and her face are self-contained, but her mood is good. The fourth California girl is ethnically undetermined: strong, pretty, female, but so distant from any nation’s soil that she might be a Martian emigre or built by robots. She can speak several languages with a strange accent and she leads the group.
The four girls are strolling and chattering on the La Jolla beach. The sky is sunset red, the waves are big and the surfers ambitious, while seals mix it up lazily with the humans. The sharp rock cliffs above the moist sand smell of eternity.
The girls are naturals, natives, they move across sand like crabs, they don’t bother to jog or surf… They are not tourists here, mere onlookers, rich and fancy visitors… They are the four girls of the apocalyptic Pacific.
They reach a sharp rocky bluff rising from the sand, and walk along it. Young boys would leap off of it, yelling, but the four girls pause with care.
They all stop. The number-four girl sits on the edge of the rock. With a slight, dainty hop, she places her feet safely on the sand, then spreads her hands out for the other three.
The Asian girl immediately takes those hands in a swift embrace and in one second she too is down. The smiling eyes of the black girl seem to sing. Her movements are fluid and perfect. She bends, she stretches her long shapely legs, she scissors them after the other, she dances off that rock as if celebrating its prehuman shape with the spectacle of her human body. The girls all laugh merrily.
Now only the sad-eyed plump blonde is left behind on the rock. But all three of the girls are entirely interested in having her land safely. She hesitates, unsure she can manage, ashamed and afraid of falling off the rock. Her sad eyes are almost in tears for her physical and emotional inadequacy.
But then she starts moving, talking, about the sun, about the rocks, about the sea… The three girls in the sand are listening attentively, not touching her while she climbs down with great caution as if the rocks were Himalayas. But she feels fearless, having talked her girlfriends into her adventure. Finally all four of them gather again under the rock, cautious and intelligent. The girls are simple and forthright about their encounter with the stony world, enmeshed in the experience, asking no one for help. They are like Raymond Chandler’s killer muses descending from a pedestal.
They do not need the author anymore, they are their own inspiration and destination: once on the ground they mash with their own skills their poweful ideas killing the plots of evil under the sun.Chandler is not on the beach anymore.
The school kids were sitting on the pavement at the Roman fairground, eating their sandwiches, supervised by a few teachers and behaving really well.They all came to the Maker Faire to learn to do something with their hands, their days, their lives. Because the message from the press and the organizers is insistent and simple: the new Italy has to make its way in this world starting from scratch.Maker Faire In Rome is in its fourth edition, and it is huge, growing in fame and audience. It has outgrown downtown Rome and is off in a genuine fairground: it is the biggest Maker Faire in Europe, despite, or maybe because of, its very Italian regional character.This year a Maker Faire jury gave away the brand-new “R.O.M.A Prize” — a lavish 100 000 euros to the best Maker Faire project. Out of 2000 entries, ten were selected and publicly presented. The prize was won by Talking Hands, an instrumented glove that instantly translates the silent sign language of the hearing-impaired into audible spoken words.This inclusive and kind-hearted project was judged to have more “social impact” than its rivals, which were mostly start ups, one-man garage projects, and Internet platforms. Despite its huge size, Maker Faire is still a rather strange event with an electronic frontier sensibility. Any American event of that scale would have had hundreds of merchandise booths and much bigger food trucks.Maker Faire has begun to attract its own kind of celebrities, such as Grant Imahara, a TV star of the “MythBusters” series. This American TV show, where special-effects experts investigated folk mysteries and often blew them up on screen, was a famous demonstration of the Maker Movement’s technological populism. The American celebrity was happy to encourage his many Italian fans before rushing off to admire Rome.In Italy’s fertile cultural circumstances, a “Maker Faire” becomes two thousand European craft and technology projects spread across 100000 square meters. It’s a display of “The Future of Everything,” echoing the message of the recent gala issue of WIRED magazine, as guest-edited by the President of the United States. Barack Obama’s popularity is soaring as he departs after two terms, and Obama exits power as a forward-looking geek technocrat, telling the voters that it’s a fine thing to be alive today with so many publicly accessible technologies.Italy has its own ways of dealing with public technologies, and the Fablabs growing in cities across Italy have a campanilismo feeling of Italian urban patriotism. Where Americans might “do it yourself,” Italians will “do it in town.” Professor Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, the original creator of the “Fab Lab” concept, delivered a stirring lecture at Maker Faire, where he proudly described the way his digital fabrication laboratories have integrated themselves into European “Smart City” politics. Barcelona is probably Prof. Gershenfeld’s star pupil, but Rome’s Maker Faire is so big and charismatic that it attracts every Fab Lab in all of Italy, and even Makers from outside the Europe Union.Maker Faire Rome is like a catalog of shared open source research and development. It’s impossible to summarize an event that includes laser-cut plywood wheelchairs, 3d printed baby incubators, augmented reality zebra crossings for overcrowded streets, artificial ventilators for the polluted air of New Delhi, and paste-on digital microphones that can turn any physical object into a musical instrument. It’s clear, though, that the vitality here is not about conventional commercial schemes. It’s about human need — gizmos to console children who fear the dark, and arcane kitchen gear to defend nourishment from industrial fast food.Casa Jasmina from Torino had its own Maker Faire installation, designed and constructed like a fairy tale castle. This exhibit mostly displayed Maker prototypes and experiments, although Casa Jasmina is a genuine physical residence that can meet the needs of real people, the guests who eat, sleep, drink and experiment there.Without vision the people perish, and the best way to have a truly great idea is to have a thousand exciting ideas and to enjoy getting rid of all the silly ones.The daily life of tomorrow does not require genius or gigantic funding schemes. It requires sincerity and engagement, an honest willingness to place our own bare human hands right onto the quivering substance of the 3Dprinted plastic dream.If we ever alight on Mars some day, we’ll have to arrive on that alien surface without shipping up dismal tons of our contemporary hardware. I don’t understand everything that Neil Gershenfeld declaims, but a vision that’s merely a spreadsheet, a budget and a checklist, that’s not a vision I would share — I want a real one like his.
-You can’t tell who is craziest: the refugees, the police or those women, said a local shopkeeper. He made a cross over his chest, to express his sincere Serbian bewilderment.He had just witnessed ten shabby Afghan and Syrian refugees walking past, escorted by ten Women in Black from Serbia, Italy and Spain, themselves escorted by ten policemen and a police car.By the railway station in downtown Belgrade, the temporary citizens-from-nowhere are living their nomad existences in the the rubble of the so-called Belgrade Waterfront construction project. The refugees loiter all day, hoping for something to happen, between the city bus yards and huge trash-cans full of boxed food that the aid workers supply on a regular basis.Around five pm there is a kind of tea ceremony where about 800 people gather, most of them arriving from the organized camps where they sleep. They arrive to be heard, to be seen. We Women in Black went to join them to show this Belgrade political scene to our international colleagues.It’ s been now two years since the Syrian refugee crisis seized headlines, but the refugees are not entirely Syrians, but a global peoples’ market of Afghans and Nigerians as well. In the beginning there were many more refugees, and far less aid from the locals and the Serbian state. The migrants were simply collapsing on flat surfaces anywhere in Belgrade, urban nooks, parks and lots where they ate, drank and slept.Now the bus-station square, a favorite place to cluster for obvious reasons, has been fenced and organized. The police are everywhere and a routine has been invented for the nomads. Its scope is international: border walls are being erected around Serbia, blocking the paths into Schengen Europe, where of course the refugees long to go. They come from the perilous South, the imagine safety in the West, and Balkan Serbia is only a transit zone.I spoke to some : they are 90 percent young men. They aspire to reach France, Germany, Italy and Spain. They have addresses and phone numbers of relatives and allies in those countries, but they have no transit papers and no money.A Nigerian young man confided me: money is the only real problem. If I had the money for travel, trust me: no walls or police could stop me. I believed him, because, although money cannot buy you a happy life, it can swiftly bail you out of misery, in war and in peace.I remember how I myself smuggled chocolate into wartime Serbia from Hungary by handing cash to the customs officers. Chocolate was pure joy for Serbian children living under sanctions. The same applied to toilet paper, diesel fuel, gasoline, cigarettes, liquor…In the nineties in Serbia, my country was being punished, but nobody thought to build walls around our national borders. On the contrary, in those heady days they built shopping malls, instant ramshackle markets that welcomed the smugglers, mostly everyday people who crossed the borders and illegally brought back suitcases stuffed with subsistence goods for a population in dire straits.The entire economy had been de-legitimated, so we were all smugglers. The locals from countries around us made plenty of money, for their governments officially supported the sanctions while the population broke them.Today, by historical contrast, it’s Serbia is playing the warm-hearted good cop role. The former villains in the story are generously taking in the refugees, while the international community, morally pinched by the ever-growing breakdown of world-order, pays a lot of the bills. The refugees are not a novelty any more, they are escorted here and there to wherever some shred of bureaucracy or activism will take them.The official camps were packed long ago, overcrowded with women and children, so many of the more venturesome young men end up as street vagrants, lurking under the bridges, lighting trash-fires in barrels and building makeshift showers and latrines.I joined a Syrian group at their five o’clock tea-time. Very polite and neat brothers made us tea and poured it into genuine glasses, not plastic containers, as a sign of respect. Syrian refugees in Europe are particularly well educated, as my friend Faisa from Morocco told me: they are the elite. Here in Serbia the Syrians are the most envied by other refugees, because they are genuine war refugees and the official recognition of their dire situation is a kind of privilege.It follows that the Syrians sometimes get roughed up in the squats for other refugees and the Belgrade police have to intervene. I asked my tea-drinking hosts, and the other young men who gathered around me: where are your women?They could not understand my English or Italian, but they had learned some scraps of Serbian. They all knew the word “mamma!” Everybody’ s mamma was either back in the home country, or off in a camp. A few children were visible, but not many.Belgrade Women in Black never come empty-handed, so they brought the useful, lightweight treats that true refugees appreciate: cigarettes and bananas. We left the covert obscurity under the bridge and began a march with some sick to the local first aid.The women activists walked in the center, the refugees gathered around them and the police escort formed an outer circle. A police car was a kind of cavalry escort. The Serbian police were the same age as the refugees, but with somewhat lighter skin color and in uniforms.I talked to the cops: where are the refugee women, I asked. The chief answered me with a sly secretive smile: you noticed that fact, madame, he said, you are bright , he complimented me. Because these are men fit for army service. They came here to conquer Europe, they are on a secret Muslim jihad, they left their women safe behind!When I asked the refugees the same question, they echoed the policeman’s compliment : you are very bright madame. Our women are at home hungry, we are here to earn money to help them. But they won’t let us make a living; they keep us behind the barbed wire.The refugees and policemen had one great point of agreement in their paranoid stories. They knew that the same people who had destroyed their nations were the ones attacking them for being transnational. They were punished for the crime of becoming victims.I guess they blamed the big powers, those with the power to bomb them rather than their own militias and factions, but I didn’t want to inquire into the details. As a woman, as an activist, I’ve seen enough warfare to know its situations. It doesn’t take genius to see that a war-shattered society can’t integrate its men and women; the genders get scattered and there aren’t a lot of women around.Wars and refugee crises are business as usual for someone, just like the situations in stark situations in barracks, prisons, and hospitals. When there is money involved, it’s human trafficking; when even the money fails, then it’s sheer disaster.I have no recipe to solve a world with 60 million refugees in it, but I see more coming. The whole planet is becoming a nomad zone, for various reasons of war, oil, climate, ethnicity, religion, and everyone, especially including the most privileged, is scared that they might be next. The one percenters who own the hot investment money are perhaps the most nomadic among us, so they cannot play the geostrategic game properly any more. Their money cannot by them any security, while the refugees were ardent patriots until their burned their neighbors homes or had them blown up from above. Utopia and dystopia have the same postal code.So who are the craziest on the street? The refugees, women or the police? A good question, and I think I know the answer, do you?