Easter/communist holiday in Belgrade, Serbia: a stupor more than a feast, confusion more than a celebration, a falling apart more than a dolce far niente. But it is getting better. It used to be a negative euphoria, a way of getting drunk, overfed, sentimental and collectively delusional. The combination of two opposite opiums for a pagan nation. For the Serbs, it was like a bad cocktail.
Two women friends and I found a place to dine. Most places were closed for the holidays, or occupied by some sad alcoholic clinging to his bottle, remembering the family that forgot him, forgetting that this life was his own choice.
We dined in a nice family restaurant: people of all ages who didn’t believe in collective feasts. Afterward we had a drink at the bar. Six tattooed gangsters from Zemun burst in with gypsies, booze and a lot of money. They sang, pulled off their shirts, and hugged each other. They got us free drinks and bowed deeply at our womanhood.
My new drinking companion, a handsome young dark guy, looked like a gypsy and a criminal from the notorious Zemun gang, who killed many rival criminals, various famous people, and our premier, Zoran Djindjic. He told how bad it was for me to live in USA, and how I should return to Serbia, where he will teach me to dance the kolo, a national Serbian dance, so that I will never feel lonely again in my life.
I looked at him carefully: I never had such a young, handsome, polite and rich beau in my whole life, even when I was young and daring. I’d never met one as stupid and outspokenly nationalist as this guy was. I could hardly answer him: he was beyond help. Sincerely, I think he was gay, like the other six gang male machos were in that room. Probably they didn’t know this.
May 6, 2005
In Italy, Bologna: a huge new mall outside the walls of the city, just like in LA – except that there are no hobos, and one can drink beer everywhere.
I smile at people, as I learned to do in LA after initial difficulties: the Italians look at me suspiciously. Especially women. I know that feeling.
In Serbia everybody touches you. People push each other in the streets. In Italy everybody shouts. They yell intimacies into their cell phones, their food, sex, everything.
In LA everybody loiters, in eccentricities of different kinds. They try to be invisible to each other.
Identity? Who needs one?
May 7th, 2005
A reading of the Pasolini novel ‘Il Petrolio’, 30 years after Pasolini the author was killed. Literary interpretations of Pasolini’s poetics of violence. It’s organized by gay lesbian association in Bologna and the university: few people, mostly academics, critics, gays… and me.
I once did an academic paper on Pasolini with great difficulties in the university. I met him afterward, I talked to him. He believed in me, the first person who ever did.
I translated him, I wrote about him and on him… These people spoke about his incomprehensible genius in a way that I could not comprehend… I remember Pasolini as a rather simple genius.
Tonight, an interview with his killer, thirty years after the fact. He finally admits publicly that he did not kill Pasolini. Back then, we all knew it, but nobody wanted to acknowledge the true nature of the crime, which was not homosexual but political.
Reading his diaries, talking about his films. When he was my age, he was already dead, and today he would be eighty.
I wrote this for the Belgrade magazine Yellow Cab:
Almost thirty years after, the official murderer of the Italian poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini changed his official version, publicly in TV, in a soap-opera journalistic broadcast: instead of pleading guilty, he is pleading innocent.
Nobody believed him back then, nobody believes him today, nobody seems to care about innocence and guilt after the Crime and Punishment Novel by Dostoyevsky, certainly not in Italy.
I passed an exam on Pasolini at Milan university in the Seventies, with some problems, because he was considered by the mainstream a problematic thinker. Today he is considered a non-comprehended genius. I met him a year later and he became my patron. He believed in me and loved my silence and I was in awe of his religious joy of creativity. Then he was killed, in front of my eyes, then I wrote about it; translated his poetry and novels and finally only yesterday, I realised that I am already six months older than him; I have the age of his murderer, a funny guy whom I remember seeing as a boy, who in the meantime made a heavy criminal record, 22 years of prison, least of all for the murder he was convicted of conventionally, and that nobody ever believed he really committed, at least not alone.
Pino Pelosi lamented last night in TV, he asked for sympathy and understanding for his false confession, because his family was threatened by the real killers, he asked for understanding of a 17 year old that gave in to a few paid caresses and a blow job back in 75, and ended beaten up by the anonymous killers who massacred the poet in front of him, and whom maybe he really finished off, rushing with the car over his still bleeding and breathing body on the Roman beach, the night in November 1975.
Pelosi is nervous and seems innocent of the big crime, but guilty of the small lies. He cannot tell the difference, he is emotionally distressed and at the same time beautiful. Pasolini loved his ragazzi di vita: I never believed that Pasolini staged his own death. He claimed that you have to die in order to give some sense to your reality and that you cannot speak of it without living it; maybe that goes for everybody, not only a damned poet.
The seminar, organized in his native city Bologna by the local university and the gay and lesbian association, is discussing his last unfinished novel Il Petrolio, a post-modern patchwork of poetry, diary stories from the big perspective of sexuality and body. Thirty years later it is less scandalous than mysteriously mystical and magical.
May 9, 2005
Back in LA: last night I arrived at LAX airport. The air smelled of the ocean, and the cars, lights noise and fuss. I felt I was returning to a safe place: nobody walks in LA, but I do, dragging my huge European suitcase, actually a Balkan one, full of history.
You really see I am European. I ask a kind guy who is helping me with my luggage, a nice young black man explaining the details about my long trip by train back to Pasadena: four changes, four lines… You look tired, he says to me…
That’s it, people here don’t look tired, not at least tired of centuries of wars and migrations. Their war is underway or yet to come, they are lively and loud, not yet sure what side they are fighting for, or why.
I manage my day ticket for the trains with my pocket change. I enter the train, it is the last train to Pasadena. Two Californians sit next to me: a black woman and a guy with black and blonde features equally represented, like a miracle, like that stunning white baby with fuzzy blonde hair whom I saw in New York City. Nobody asks for my ticket. My travel companions start talking.
The guy talks like a Tarantino actor: he is witty, weird and fast, and his stories have a melody and a point, gosh, some oral history… Two weeks ago, he says, he got stuck in LA’s Union Station, with his luggage and the computer. He missed the last train to Pasadena. So he decided to wait for the first train in a couple of hours. He sat at this nice station in coloured tiles, full of derelicts sleeping on the benches.
He pulled out his computer and a cop came to him: no loitering at the station, he claimed, you must pack and go. My guy explained the situation, but the cop explained too; Union Station was on the red line not the Pasadena gold line, and no loitering could be tolerated.
So my guy closed his computer and slept on the pavement outside. The fine for not having a train ticket is 250 dollars plus 40 hours of community work, such as collecting trash. The community charges you an additional 50 dollars for the privilege of doing this. And where does that money go? asked my guy. It goes to clean these real clean tiles here where the derelicts without computers sleep.
The derelicts do collect trash all the time and behave really decently, always waiting for the right train at the right spot.
The black woman told her own story: she commutes by train, every day, 4 hours to work and back home. When the police comes to check people’s train tickets, it is always her they ask, nobody else. So one day she refused this treatment, she told the sheriffs: be consistent, you ask all the people or you ask none, you cannot pick me out of the crowd, that’s discrimination…
At very same time moment a young girl said to the cop: I didn’t have any ticket, I have the money but I didn’t have time. So the cop pressed the red emergency button, stopped the train, made the girl buy a ticket and then the train left with all of them happily ever after rolling to Pasadena.
She says to me: so you come from Italy. What a nice country. I went to see the Pope, otherwise I was in Vicenza…
The NATO base, I ask?
Yes, she says…
The guy says, I did my service in the Marines back in 1969…and the last time I was there, before I embarked, I visited my mom in Pasadena. I jaywalked and the Pasadena cop gave me a ticket.
I left the country, I finished the academy, I met my wife, I married her, we had a daughter, and after five years, we came back for holidays here in Pasadena by car. A cop made me pull over, I made a minor infraction. He checked my name and said: oh, I have a warrant for you… You must come with me to the police station. My wife started panicking, my daughter crying… The cop took us there, I had a warrant for never paying 400 dollars for my jay walking: I pulled out my vacation cash, and he let us go. The LA cops fine people at random, and all that money goes to the cleaners.
He is a nice guy, so is she. I wonder why they like the military. They are my age and my state of mind, they like me and I like them. We said good bye, we said see you. They asked me what are you doing in LA. I said, loitering, loitering in LA.
At the US customs office border, they gave me the maximum visa of six months. What are you doing here, they asked. Writing a book I said: ‘Loitering in LA.’
May 14, the 2005-05-14
I could not believe it: last night, coming back to Pasadena in the car, we were stopped by a cop. We were fined for an infraction we hardly knew existed. We were happy we got away with only one fine.
The cop was the same one that fined me few months ago for jay walking, a few blocks away. This time he didn’t wear dark glasses, this time he didn’t address me, the whole business was far shorter since the driver was my American friend. He is a polite cop, I was told, they can be harsher and then things get hairy: difficult to bear. Sincerely, I don’t mind cops, I mind their ridiculous unjust fines. But I was told, people all over the world just hate cops, because of their power to interfere.
May 17th, 2005-05-17
Today I went to the German consulate in LA, for information about getting my Schengen visa here. Why are embassies all over the world the same? Shouldn’t they differ from one part of the globe to another? Why are the clerks so uptight and non-cooperative?
Of course, they never had a case like mine. They doubted every word I said. They accused me of making problems by not going to Belgrade and taking my visa there.
In Belgrade the Germans told me that it would be just fine to present them my case in LA. My case being: I’m a Serb on a tourist visa in USA, trying to get a European Community Schengen German visa in the LA consulate.
Finally we talked my case out, and the chief said: I cannot promise you anything, but you may try… I promised myself I will try, since this effort I made to go on foot and speak to a person cut off many required papers and opened a possibility.
I saw an Indian family thanking humbly the clerk for getting a day more of a German visa. I saw them proudly leaving the consulate for having achieved something they should be able to take for granted, given their documents. I will feel just the same in a few months, if I manage to walk away with a German visa.
The power of prison is to deprive you of taking freedom for granted. It’s the power of a globe made into a prison for Serbs, who without great-power visas are non-existing entities.
Off then off I go the library, where I translate a Nadine Gordimer book. Oh yeah. Nadine Gordimer. she knows something about this discrimination. As a South African in apartheid days, she was denied a visa so many times all around the world. Even in Serbia, former Yugoslavia, because of sanctions my ex country applied to her country. Even her Nobel Prize didn’t help her.
I talk to the kind librarian here in Pasadena who says, you work so hard. I say, I am translating a book into Serbian. She doesn’t know where Serbia is. Finally I tell her, former Yugoslavia. She praises my Serbian effort to make Nadine Gordimer understandable. All of a sudden, I feel good. I don’t mind being a Serbian. At least I can translate books, if I cannot travel.
News from Belgrade. Three people were killed in centre of Belgrade in the middle of the day. Banks robbed… My daughter is scared, I am scared…
My street where she lives now, alone, as I used to say, has the highest rate of death in Serbia. Casual killings, bombs… and still it is one of the fanciest streets in Beograd.
I live in a gated community here in LA and it gets on my nerves. I never experienced fear in Belgrade, though scary things happen all the time. I feel other’s people fear here in LA, the way they lock doors and respond to strangers.
For the sake of my lack of fear, I miss every single killer in Belgrade.
May 20th, 2005
Code Pink party at Arianne Huffington’s house last night, in Brentwood.
A letter to a friend who could not come inside that house:
Well yes, her house was packed up. But if I knew that was the issue, I would have waited for you at the door. Some other of my people could not come in either; the four of us, all women were screaming ( no mike) in attempt to save the world.
I heard I have a woman Mayan cult-goddess artist from New Mexico who is a big fan of mine! She sent me some stuff. (I wonder if it is some kind of
I got an offer to be the ghostwriter for a woman politician’s autobiography.
I met some Hollywood people from Nazi Austria who identified with my speech, where I was giving Nazi Serbia support to Nazi USA.
The wine was abundant. I got a nice Code Pink t-shirt. Also an offer to publish my book of correspondence with Nuha al Radi. (I never believe such things until they really happen.)
I heard a lot of gossip about Hollywood people and politics (that was the audience, they told me). I don’t know them at all. I went back to Pasadena in one piece. Wow, I am glad it is over.
Until next time in Jerusalem, maybe literally, where this summer there is a Women in Black international conference,
May 23, 2005
A house (not) meant to be lived in: an Antonioni film house on the top of a Pasadena hill, a private Modernist house emptied and inhabited by prisms installed by the artist Olafur Eliasson.
All the house rooms are dark, and all of them have some kind of rainbows… plays with light…images inside out. There is a fridge, and there is a stove, but no bathroom… I already live in such a place, I thought. We all do when alone. But then when other people come to mingle with us, we need chairs, tables, and bathrooms.
It is called civilization then.
May 26th, 2005
We returned to the house not to be lived in: I am sitting in it now, with my computer , typing whatever under the scattered lights of rainbows. I already live here. My head is full of rainbows. They are the best I can produce, whether I am happy or unhappy.
Today we got another parking ticket, in front of the natural history museum. Inside, we got a free present in the gift shop: a rainbow prism, worth 40 dollars. Outside we got hit by a ticket worth 40 dollars. It is civil kindness balanced by civil control: positive zero, the story of life in society.
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day, here in US: I’ve heard of it before, I’ve seen it in films, but now I experience it: what a treat for an American idiot.
People are barbecuing, staying at home with families, much like any other American holiday: an opportunity to get families together and possibly avoid big family fights.
But these years US is in war; so Memorial Day means to celebrate the military who died, or are dying for the country. Why should we die for our countries? Why shouldn’t we live for them? Isn’t that an act of patriotism worthy of respect?
American patriotism has the best and worst elements of patriotism: it is worst because it is blind, sentimental, bossy and ignorant. People are proud to be American and to enforce their concept of justice, rules… But on the other hand, people of different nationalities are living together in America in complete respect and tolerance of each other: a concept that can hardly pass in Europe, divided in nation states and not willing to give up for a federation with European constitution.
Just yesterday France, the wedlock of European nationalism, voted a big NO to the European dream: the constitution.
We are heading towards the Yosemite national park. On our entrance, the warning Californian signs are getting more intense. The radio is playing patriotic country music and even a patriotic Chuck Berry song.
I ask my American friend: how are Californians considered by other states in US? He says: they’re considered flaky, nutty, and brittle, with no values of substance. And this concept crosses over ethnicities and gender: even an East Coast dog would claim that a Californian dog is not substantial.
The description reminds me of the discriminatory rules of Serbs and Croats. And if I myself were a US citizen, I ask, which state would I come from?
You would be Californian, says my friend with conviction: hippies, political activists, feminists…Yes, because I have no substantial values. I have no essence. I deconstruct all the rules.
Compared to the Serbian three days of holidays, these holidays seem more active: Yosemite Park is full of traffic, people on bikes, in trucks, in sports cars, on motorbikes, on foot; couples, with children and pets. Camps are full, motels too…
Our hotel sells rooms with a fancy story about ghosts: it is a two century old hotel, with a big, pretty hostess who is flirting and charming the guests with her nutty ghost stories, which people here tend to believe: so do I, really.
The other night, I spoke to a nice, intelligent and educated Californian woman, when she suddenly switched the topic to ghosts. She meant spirits, real voices in her life. I decided not to go out to dinner with her. Even though she was fun, she wasn’t substantial.
We drink beer out of a plastic cup in the woods because it is prohibited to drink in national parks. We are loitering. Our car is full of rubbish because of the 1000 dollar fine for littering. There are not many trash baskets around.
We reach the Bridal Veil Falls: the Bride is an angry bride today, because of the climate change: she spouts water all over the place. People are wet and the water is knee deep at the tourist signs, but we are persistent, padding through it: the flood is cathartic, it feels like a warning.
A thin blonde girl with her Indian big boyfriend is reluctant to approach the angry Bride. He is dragging her. She looks at my wet clothes with sympathy… but she follows him.
She comes back in a few minutes completely soaked with her runny make up streaking her face as an Indian chief. Is this all one gets? she asks me. Her newly-washed face is full of acne, I notice suddenly, her body seems even thinner and she is trembling with cold and fear.
Her boisterous Indian boyfriend is happy as a clam, as if he won a war against the gods. People are hunting for excitement on Memorial Day.
A local native American Indian radio station is interviewing a barely-literate native Indian woman whose nephew was killed in Iraq. She is coaxed by the journalist to make some big patriotic speech out of that loss, but she can hardly speak, least of all explain why it all happened. Her innocence is as moving as the history of her fellows, who lost their lands to the white gold diggers. Now she lost her nephew to the white oil diggers.
At a tufa beach, I sit in the sun on a warm rock, and watch the blue colours and shapes of an inland lake, mysteriously and powerfully shaped. The taste of the water is chemical and sour; it is neither fresh nor sea water. I am still.
All of a sudden, I see a flock of seagulls circling around my immobile body. They are screeching loudly and approaching me from all sides. I am alarmed. There are no other people to be seen… I move, but that does not make the birds leave. I am running now, jumping through the tufa rocks in the marshy water in order to reach drier land. The birds are following me as if trying to tell me something: I look back at where I was sitting; it is swarming with seagulls pecking the uneven rock. As if searching for a dead body.
Nature is a cruel business I suddenly realize; the ecosystem is not a heavenly fable. We animals survive through each other’s dead bodies. Is civilization any different?