Designing in San Diego

a talk show

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Women from East Europe

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“A Serb makes a good wife: she can pull the cart out of mud.”

That old Serbian proverb, its genius author has no name.    It’s like the earthy quip from a hospital that I once heard in real life; after her severe car crash, the emergency doctor told her worried husband: Don’t you worry man, those Herzegovinian vipers are hard to kill!

I’m personally half Serb and  half Herzegovinian, so I take these attitudes to my heart, half proud and half offended. But my American friend said: what about the Serbian and Herzegovinian husbands?   Are they pleased about their mud-carting vipers?  Is that the kind of proper home-girl that a local guy just has to have?

Good questions!   If enough years go by, a man gets used to the woman of the house, muddy viper or not.  But what about the opinions of the rest of the world?

Our world is a big place, so maybe a Serbian Herzegovinian woman is considered just one regional sub-class of East European womanhood. I might be called Balkan, from that mountain region of many fractured grooves, or a historical, fossilized ex-Yugoslav.   I was never “Warsaw Pact,” although that arrangement meant “Eastern Europe” in the eyes of the Cold War West.   I’m from a shatter-belt,  a corner cushion among conflicting empires,  a little regional federation that has vanished like the Austro-Hungarians and often resembled the modern European Union.   It broke up in blood, but that’s been the fate of most European alliances, eastern or western, northern or southern.

These days, though, in the fractious nation of Italy, a minor scandal has broken out.  A female TV talk-show host on the RAI national network suddenly recommended, more or less out of nowhere, that Italian men ought to marry “Eastern European women.”  She offered six good reasons, or rather six sexist stereotyped points, about how these foreign easterners made much better wives than Italian women.

They may be foreign, yes, but they stay in the kitchen and cook.  They’re women who clean the house.  They forgive adultery.  They become mothers but don’t get fat. They always dress decently.   They don’t whine, nag and complain.  And they obey a husband’s  commands.  These six female virtues make them great wives.

To tell the truth, I’ve been hearing these myths and traditions for decades now.   I grew up in Italy and can pass for Italian, although when Italians hear that my name is Tesanovic, they often assume that I must be a Slav off the factory-line or collective farm.   I was offended by that, but more as an East European than as a woman.

It’s annoying to hear that we non-Unionized Europeans are supposed to be poor, desperate and therefore obediently at the feet of the West.   After all, aren’t Italians aware that this same stupidity, ignorance and machoism is also applied to Italian emigrants?   If anybody’s women have the reputation of scheming gold-diggers, it’s those seductive, Machiavellian Italian women, and not us meek and lowly Balkan creatures, so blandly pretty and matrimonially faithful.   We’re wholesome.  We’re naively honest.  We’re tiresome and boring, we’re no trouble at all!

However, the traditional Eastern European concept of us kerchief-headed creatures has clearly changed a lot since Yugoslavia split up, the Soviet Union fell and the EU fortress hastily erected its own walls in response.   New prejudices always arise with new walls.   Nowadays, instead of being a communal peasantry, we’re becoming world-class sultanas and empresses.  Slovenian model Melania Knauss Trump is the First Lady of the USA!

Most of the current American President’s  harem women have a Balkan air about them, even American-born Ivanka, the daughter / heiress who seems to be managing the Washington palace while the current wife keeps her head down in her gilded skyscraper in New York.  We’re witnessing a modern psychological drama that closely resembles the intrigues of Hurrem, the abducted Ukrainian concubine,  who became the Ottoman Empress of Suleyman the Great.  Why her, why Eastern European Hurrem?  Because Hurrem was a viper, and she could pull that muddy cart, and also because Suleyman the so-called Great didn’t have any other real friends.

Melanija Knauss is an ex-Yugoslav, just like me.   She and I both sang patriotic hymns to Tito in our primary schools, with red kerchiefs around our necks.  Nowadays those Communist adornments are more ragged and forlorn than Janis Joplin’s dirty red bandanna:  freedom is just another word for losing your entire nation.   We thought Marshall Tito was our family more than our  leader.  The school song was: Comrade Tito, we  vow we will not go astray.  Now far-straying Melania is decked out in Ottoman jewels as an offshored one-percenter bride of a mogul.  Still,  this is modernity, so, presumably, that fate had to happen to somebody.

Hell has no fury like someone’s national womanhood scorned, so TV mayhem broke out over this Italian RAI TV talk show.  The commentator got promptly fired from the focussed social-media rage of vengeful Italian netizens, and even her boss was purged and her show was cancelled.  Italian women certainly don’t care for invidious comparisons.   But there’s nothing new about people making them.

Back in Italy in the 1970s, it was the Swedish girls who were cast as the ideal exotic brides. These Swedes were blonde and not dark, tall and statuesque and Nordic,  un-Catholic and sexually emancipated, ready to hop fully-clothed right into the Trevi Fountain, dolce-vita style.  But Italy survived that female threat somehow.

Now the entire RAI programme has been blown off the air scorched-earth style, as if Italian bachelors were in desperately short supply and all the girls have to scrabble.  Why are Italian women protesting about an Italian female talk-show?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if the women directly confronted their men?

And for that matter, why aren’t the Italian men complaining about their possible prospect of having to court and marry Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and whomever?

Plus — what about the grievances of us East European women who happen to be in Italy?  To think that we never complain and lament is absurd — we’ve got enough daily grievances to fill the Roman Colosseum.    We’re the women of a soulful people with vast intellectual conceptual fields of grief, sorrow and historical disappointment, and the near-infinite spectrum of the sorrows of a Russian woman is, in fact, shockingly different from the handwringing of any Polish one.  Right now the Ukrainian women are bitterly upset about Russia.  What if you’re an Eastern European woman from one of those small and awful “frozen conflict” zones, where your ethnicity doesn’t even have any proper nation for foreigners to get stereotypical about?

But, well, who cares about all that mess? RAI certainly doesn’t. The network has only one concept for all of us splintered ethnics, mostly because their TV programs are never about the many sorrows of women of the world, they’re mostly about young, prancing, pretty Italian women who are  half nude and seem available.   Berlusconi used to be the master-of-ceremonies for that kind of regional showgirl parade, but it goes on with him or without him.

Italian TV culture  ranks with the most blissfully vulgar TV in the world, because it really knows what sells on a glass screen.  RAI is second to none in kitsch, misogyny and casually racist sexism, but those values go unchallenged because Italian national TV is a closed moral universe.  It’s by no means  all about us East European women in Italy, we’re merely the occasional collateral damage off their NATO airwaves.

Besides, there remains the primal source of the real anxiety in this little scandal, which is that foreign people really, truly are alluring.  They’re hot.   Nobody mentioned this prospect:  but what about the Italian woman in bed with the Eastern European guy?  How scary could that be, really? What if this intimate encounter with the Other  turns out to be incredibly fun?

You never know what the night may bring to a woman, as my Mom used to say. But you see, I really can pull a cart out of mud, I am a Serbian woman all right, for better or worse. Plus I am a feminist pacifist who is always, Always Disobedient!

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Luxury Open Source

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Milosevic, Berlusconi, Trump

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.

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In Bed with the Exotic Enemy

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Chandler on the Beach

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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.

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Maker Faire Rome 2016

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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.
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