LA Diary 2005 : March

photo by Stephanie Damoff

March 2, 2005

In NY, what a change of pace: snowing and severe atmosphere here: people are not smiling, even if you stare at them; they are hurrying and looking at their feet as they walk. It reminds me of Belgrade really, life is hard in NY, and there is a permanent survivor’ s war here.
At the Bowery Poets Club I read my ‘Letter to an Imaginary American Friend.‘  I speak of the parallels of the Milosevic’ s regime and Bush’ s. I speak about the polarization, militarization and silence of a political idiot now American. I get a big applause; then other people mostly young speak the same way, performing dancing singing ridiculing seriously their grim reality. 

    Finally we drink beer and life goes on in the snow.  Four hard years yet to come, they say. 

    But I have confidence, I don’t know why, maybe because Bush is the business of the whole world, Serbia was just a small country that was treated as ‘let them fight it out’.  Until we started disturbing the whole world we were not a global issue.

I am going to the UN building for the feminist conference Beijing Plus 10.  Security resembles airport security. I don’t remember security that high in Geneve UN building. Seven thousand women, lobbying, talking…

Bush’s administration wants to pass two amendments to the platform; against abortion and women’s rights to be implemented in the millennium goals. The official Americans are also lobbying the satellite countries to vote for and instead of them. With all our might and rights we are fighting back to stop them/it, to stop the flow of the history backwards. It is happening everywhere and women’s rights are more vulnerable than ever.

I still have the innocent eye of a European observer, but here less than in California, because here among women I feel I belong to the world, wherever it may be.

March 3rd
US protesting against women activists, who are undermining their initiatives; we had two spies, two creepy guys with ties, silent in our meeting. I thought they were some security, somebody asked them their opinion, they started muttering, then I said we should kick them out…
No spies today.
I wonder could I smuggle the nail scissors through the security scanners.

I insisted that my ID UN photo should  be pretty.  The Indian guy who made it said, of course.  My sister’s name is Jasmine, he said, you don’t want to look like a terrorist.   I asked him, so you know how they look?

Here they call him the BOOK, the same person they call HE in California, guess who…we are writing petitions and protests  in UN against THE BOOK.
Yesterday I saw a man on the railway tracks while I was waiting for my metro. He was fully dressed in uniform strolling slowly…he smiled at me, I smiled back, he said, have a nice day… I said you too…then I heard the sound of the train and a wave of panic overtook me, I shouted at him, get up on the platform… he just smiled at me… the train was getting louder. I grabbed a young man sitting next to me and reading, we must pull him out of the tracks, the guy just blinked, annoyed… I saw the train coming…I closed my eyes… the train instead just went some other tracks today…  I thought I will faint when I opened my eyes: my guy was still smiling at me, real amused.  I wasn’t mad at him, I was wondering about my neighbor who, annoyed, turned to the other platform and entered the train. Wow, it is easy to commit suicide in NY, but not easy to get on the right tracks.

March 4, 2005
Big victory yesterday, Bush’s government gave up on amendments to our Beijing platform, basically women from the eastern countries made it happen… The US officials were lobbying the countries all over the world one by one, the countries were calling their delegates and we from the NGOs were unlobbying the lobbying other way round… and the mechanism worked: now it is a patent, I called it a women in black strategy really.
Wifi-ing in a bar called Pop something, Coca Cola is not sold here, it is punk anarchist leftist intellectual and feminist…music is great, people are friendly but on their own, the sun is shining, the snow is glittering…last night I danced until very late to the Balkan music, I belly danced, I danced with boys and girls, I sang in the mic oh bella ciao bella ciao in Italian…after the UN business, after a lecture I gave, I needed to become a body, just a body.  But you cannot be a body all the time…

7 th March,
My birthday
Last year I was with 300 women in Leskovac, inner Serbia, this year with 6000 in New York at the UN conference. What next?

Workshop with women from former Yugoslavia living here: about our feminist experiences and expectations. Some speak Serbian with a heavy American accent, some speak English with a hard Slavic accent.  How interesting the nowhere-land is.  What they say is even more weird, including myself: welcome to the twilight zone.  It is hard in the beginning, but somehow it feels all right, not to have one country, one language, one flag…

     We are guinea pigs, we are experiments, but those who make it are doing pretty fine.  We will make a new constitution one of these days, the laws of globalistas; women are excelling in that, being already second class citizens in their own homelands. One, originally an Albanian from Kosovo, wants to go back when Kosovo becomes a republic.  She wants to become a first class citizen by taking up a political career. I say, for me one nation is not enough anymore.   I don’t care if Serbia joins Europe or the African union, as long as it does not stay alone, Serbs in Serbia.

In the evening Code Pink event: I am invited, I am meeting the founders.  Gosh Medea is so powerful, she reminds me of my WiB friends.  I am talking on the stage, so fast, that the comedian after me is imitating me, she says she never heard a foreigner speak that fast, with a slavic accent too….  I am making parallels between our Milosevic story and their Bush menace… about the silent majority, about the political and American idiots.  People out of information, out of public limelight. I get a huge understanding.

At the end we belly dance and drink.  No smoking.

8th of March

 US mission briefing early at 9 a.m: I am there, together with Code Pink girls. The woman in charge claims she won our last week’s battle over the US amendments regarding abortion: she lost the battle of course, they dropped the amendments.  But, she is saying, we will win the war: president Bush here, president Bush there. 

   She offers a lovely example of how they ‘empower women’ in the world: women from Iraq or Afghanistan can order their wedding dresses over the Internet, giving their measures and picking up their model.  I can’t believe what she is saying, it is not only stupid, it is in bad taste.

    Prostitution and sex trafficking, for US is all the same, big old issue, feminists spent ages to separate those, habeas corpus issues…. they want to bring back the time, the Christian fundamentalism in US is of a Protestant puritan brand, it has a new vigor, and color.  They sound as if they are against sex too, or at least pleasure in sex, and they are not hiding that.
     I ask a provocative question, the linkage between militarism, the military and sex trafficking.   They treat it as a lovely thank you question, answering  in a silly besides the point way.  A technique to void the meaning. Then the Code Pink girls stand up, unroll the banners, more money for women, less money for wars: WiB banner too…
Off we go to the streets, before we see President Bush raving with glowing eyes.  He claims, US will free you, the trumpets are loud…  He is referring to the Yankee civil war…  He seems on drugs, as if he really believes he is liberating people he is killing.  I kind of believe in his conviction.   Code Pink girls ask me: did you feel that way listening to Milosevic?   No, it was worse, I said, he spoke in my language. 

We hit the streets.  It is snowing.  The wind is  a blizzard really.  We are only 50 women but many groups: I heard from Belgrade the manifestation just finished, they carried a new banner:  ‘We are bad, you don’t like us but we can get worse…‘

I carry the WiB banner.  We all get interviewed by one free radio, but no mainstream press there: low key publicity, but the weekly press release shows there is some, and it is good.

After one hour of walking and singing, along with two police vans, we arrive at a square.  It is too cold to give speeches.  Our loudspeaker breaks.  We try to get to the UN building. 

That very day the US administration has nominated a guy who publicly despises UN, Bolton. But the police do not let us cross the street, legally they have no grounds to do it, but they are just doing it. Women police, too. 

I ask a policewoman, do you know what day it is today?   She says she has never heard of International Women’s Day.  I believe her. Most  people here didn’t know. 
    Finally the police let us go in, one by one. An elderly woman with us started screaming: I survived a concentration camp in Dresden.  You are just like that.  She was trembling so badly that she embarrassed the police.  They let older woman go by, they kept the young ones. 

I was glad they didn’t arrest and deport us. It did look as if they could, with the terrorist paranoia and security laws. My zippered shoes fell apart in the wet snow.   I entered the UN, barefoot and smuggling some girls.

Inside we are defrosting: a fifteen-year-old beautiful black girl is telling me how she became Code Pink: how she used to drink, use drugs, whatever, and then she found herself. She is way too bright for her age, I think.  Then I realize that I plain forgot myself at her age.

My shoes are completely wet through and damaged, delicate Spanish shoes that cannot endure harsh NY speed. I don’t have time to buy new ones.  I tie my broken shoes with laces so that they don’t fall of my feet: here people dress in many ways.  Nobody cares.

9th March
Today first thing in the morning I hear Haradinaj, the Albanian president in Kosovo is going to Hague as indicted.  I can’t believe it; on BBC we in the Balkans are the lead news for half an hour. 

My Albanian girlfriends from Kosovo here are very distressed; they fear violence, they say it was all planned for March, always in March things happen.  My friend from Belgrade says, no, it will be OK.   Kosovo will be independent. Hague is the best way to get independence. 

I cannot see any sense to developments.  I just don’t understand things happening as supposed major historical trends.   I understand only the small talk of my friends, and our emotions. Tonight we will get drunk and brainstorm it. 

11 March, the last day of the UN feminist conference

We spent nearly two weeks, trying to fight back the Americans, their threats… a waste of time and energy…as an Indian activist put it, UN is not a good place for feminisms.

   Charlotte Bunch the NGO coordinator thinks  we should be here anyway.  After all it is her country, this America…  I heard that some activists from the Third World were not given visas because US was afraid they will stay.   Because they are poor.  Even UNIFEM guarantee could not help. 

Some American feminists tell us, thank you for coming now that you are leaving; sorry we are not coming with you… I am staying on with them Americans, but I am not sure I want to fight this American war, I had my fair share in Serbia, I am tired and not only tired, kind of bored.

I fought with a delegate in the hotel.  She says great progress in the official meeting…  What I heard and saw was a tremendous regress.  We managed to stop some major issues, such as keeping free abortion intact ,but the language I heard here is a conservative Christian fundamentalism.  They are baffling, these young educated attractive American women who seem never to have heard of feminism: not only do they make no distinction between prostitution and organized sex trafficking, but it is the idea of sex per se which bothers them:  especially, female sex. They are dressed in neutral suits and colors, and they have big fake smiles. 

     “Komesarke” (communist apparatchiks) are their equivalent type.

    The US official woman said again: the US helps Iraqi women and other women throughout the world: they can order through Internet their wedding dress with their measures.  It is the most important day of their life after all.  I must repeat that their bad taste is almost worse than their stupidity.

12 March 2005

Anniversary of Zoran Djindjic’s death, back in Serbia. 
End of UN conference here in NY.

In New York’s Chinatown I am taking a bus to Philadelphia, yes,  a bus, like good old Serbia.
The buses, the prices, the people.  The ways everything seems on the edge,  yet everything works.   The instinct to live  boils in me, I feel better.

Last night dancing and  singing with Macedonian gypsies and some from Belgrade, in the uncoolest club in NY, called the Hungarian club. We spoke a language between Serbian English and Macedonian, and danced just about everything we knew, for hours.  People from the streets were cheering us.  I ate burek and ajvar and drank sljivovica.  For some reason it tasted good, even though it was really bad food. I saw a gypsy girl playing the drums, and I felt homesick.

This morning in the metro, I saw a beautiful blonde black three year old with her black beautiful dad.  This girl spoke some Nordic language to her blonde mother, who just had another baby.  The three year-old was dressed in pink with a woolen cap: when she took her cap off, her fuzzy hair spread like an aureole around her face.  I was so stunned by her globalized beauty that I had to force myself to look elsewhere, as if I were staring at the sun.
It hurt, it burned, but I feel love for this place once again, and I am not homesick: this multiethnic courage, this reality is the only world worth living in today; I don’t miss my nation, my nationalist state.  As my daughter used to say as a kid: Mom, why are all the black and yellow people gone from the movies?  Where did they go?

16. March 2005

Nobody walks in LA, but nobody smiles in NY…I am back to walk in LA after the feminist conference.  We left with huge smiles, completely exhausted, in hysterical nervous breakdowns as usual, viper-tongued women from all over the world,  paying accreditation to each other. 

Women’s intellectual work is invisible as much as cooking: we managed to halt the Bush administration’s effort to damage to the whole world for indeterminate number of years.  Just as an eaten lunch is digested and forgotten, this work of ours will be taken for granted. We don’t even complain.  Such is a mother’s love: it is the gray economy of humankind.

Yesterday in the Barnes and Nobles book store in Union Square, NY, after all the bitching and brainstorming, I attended an innocuous, mind-boggling conversation between two lovely women in their thirties.  One was planning the budget for her future wedding, trying to please all, from friends to family.  The other was consoling her the laments of her own.   How you can’t please them all on this very important unique day of your life.  They were buying books of advice on weddings as if it were cooking or a baby’s  upbringing, as if they never heard of feminism. They were either too young or too WHAT…

    I exchanged glances with my friend from the third world, in transition to nowhere, former Yugoslavia.  We both felt at the same time sorry for them and for us. The generational, cultural, political gap is an abyss; it demands a postmodern bridge over gender waters. 

March 18, 2005

Back to my Pasadena castle: entering it I walked right into a Hollywood shot: with my suitcase, without a warning.

 The next day there was a board meeting at the castle: how to avoid entering the Hollywood shots, or Hollywood shots entering our flats. The major issue was the second one.  People in this castle live with Hollywood crews on their backs. 

Cinema basically is a drag and a boring business, waiting, catering, dressing…doing the same thing every single day, from dawn to dusk. Be it in Hollywood, be it in Belgrade. 

March 20, 2005

I marched yesterday with Code Pink women for peace; ten miles, the last ones to the rally, two years after Bush intervened in Iraq.

 I remember two years ago, I was in NY, I remember the frightened faces of the American people in the street, I remember how I refused to comment on the parallel between bombed Belgrade and bombed Baghdad, how I insisted on the parallel between Belgrade in 1991 and NY in 2003, the side of the aggressors, the political idiots… Now Bush is reelected, but marching with Code Pink women, many people on the streets supported us: not in our name, not with our money, the principle we used in Belgrade against Milosevic regime.

    I see even a bigger parallel today, though things are never the same. All over the world pacifist groups had those rallies: I was in San Diego, a small rally in a Bush’s military city: old hippies singing Dylan  songs and smoking joints. I noticed that almost everybody who was there had a flyer, something to sell, something to tell… those who voted for Bush were sitting in their homes, military bases… war zones…

I am glad we wore pink instead of black, even in Women in Black from Belgrade new activists are colorful: I find black sad or pretentious…

I don’t notice English as a foreign language anymore.  I don’t feel as if I am living abroad anymore,  I hardly remember my home. I wonder:  did I lose my innocent eye of an observer?  My understanding of people and things has become intuitive.  I like people more and more, and myself as an individual less and less…  I don’t even see myself as one person anymore: I deconstructed my essence and I became an essentialist of nothing. Is that Amerika?

March 24, 2005

Sixth anniversary of bombings in Serbia. Trying to find signs of it somewhere in the media, here or there. Nothing: the world has changed so much in these 6 years.  That episode was just a first chapter of world political disasters to follow. 

    I am no futurist.  I still look, like Benjamin’s angel, backwards.  The time distance dims my sight, but my emotions are sharpened by it.  People here in US are measuring immediate future and past in Bush’s years: now we are more than half-way done, I heard today a decent middle aged father say with  relief to his teenaged son. I understood him with a pang of deja vu.

25 March 2005
I saw a man this morning hurrying…he was walking on the street and brushing his teeth at the same time…welcome to California.  I hope he reached his appointment in time.

At the Californian Institute of Arts, sneaking through the corridors, entering theatres, assisting films and rehearsals, yoga classes… Everything is huge and free at this school, young artists in disarray and messy, carrying always a cup, a tray… They are  lying on the dirty floors, laughing loudly, weeping, shouting…  the library has music, books, films computers…  I could spend a lifetime there.  I fly out nervously.  Too much information.

31 March 2005
I am repeating, English is not a language that I hear as foreign.  An American accent is one I understand without thinking. and the American pitch, once so unpleasant to my continental ear, all of a sudden sounds like music.  I not only deconstructed my being a foreigner, I became an insider. It took me two months.

 I still notice things, maybe as an insider now. The castle is being renovated, its well-known ghosts are being exorcised from the basement to the roof.  I see everywhere doors open, men with paint and brushes… I notice the inside of other people’s flats here: mine is bare and it will stay that way, as a matter of choice.  The other flats are full of things that make people cosy. 

    The flat next to me is white walled, white carpeted with white cushions: people who inhabit it leave their shoes outdoors and walk like cats… I’ve seem similar white rooms elsewhere. It is classless style, it looks to me as American as a flag.

    My neighbor says: Americans are great collectors.  Even the hobos, the trash people are famous for their collections of rubble, blobjects, objects…  That is why they are often so fat, because they believe in collecting and consuming. 

    I think also because almost everything I eat here in America is sweet: I tried a salty cracker and it was sweet too. 


About jasminatesanovic

Jasmina Tešanović (Serbian: Јасмина Тешановић) (born March 7, 1954) is a feminist, political activist (Women in Black, Code Pink), translator, publisher and filmmaker. She was one of the organizers of the first Feminist conference in Eastern Europe "Drug-ca Zena" in 1978, in Belgrade. With Slavica Stojanovic, she ran the first feminist publishing house in the Balkans "Feminist 94" for 10 years. She is the author of Diary of a Political Idiot, a war diary written during the 1999 Kosovo War and widely distributed on the Internet. Ever since then she has been publishing all her work, diaries, stories and films on blogs and other Internet media.
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