LA Diary 2005: June

June 2, 2005

Srebrenica and Michael Jackson

Wars and pornography have a lot in common. Today the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic was shocked. He saw the film of Serbian paramilitary troops executing Muslim civilians in 1995, in Srebrenica, after being blessed by Orthodox priests.

The film is a documentary, it is evidence in the Hague tribunal. It is no big deal for all of us who, all these years, knew it was true without seeing it. We went to Srebrenica to talk to the family of the missing. Even last year, we were there, wondering why President Boris Tadic didn’t come with us.

On the other hand, here in California, Michael Jackson is thanking God and the jury for his acquittal of the charge of child abuse. All these years, we all knew, we his fans and those who wondered what has gone into him to try so desperately to become white and straight; that he was a pedophile. A tender one though, he never battered his kids. On the contrary, he covered them with gifts: and it took all these years, ten to twenty years, to put up a case and say no to his abuse of power, fame, money and glory.

The common issue in wars and pornography is the crime element, the crime against the body of the Other. The other common issue is the way the societies tolerate both of these crimes, considering them ‘Natural,’ ‘Human‚’ ‘Normal.’ One can easily sense that this is incredible, if one imagines oneself in the position of the victim: the Other, the Powerless.

Crimes of Power crumble the Power itself. Yet the perpetrators often go unpunished. Karadzic and Mladic are still considered heroes. Michael Jackson is a star. Punishment is not enough in these cases. It is only the beginning of understanding, that something one cannot believe is possible. Thus the Serbian people shut their eyes. Thus, Michael Jackson fans listened to his music.

June 4th, 2005

Dream houses, mirrors and spaces. Our inside turns out, and vice versa. I visited the Chemosphere house today. It was a mansion I dreamed for so many years, without ever knowing it was in LA.

I must have seen this house as a kid in some film. It went on as a dream space, sometimes a nightmare, throughout my life. The Chemosphere is not as big as I imagined. It is not much bigger than a flat in Belgrade. I’ve heard its original owner could not sell it. I am amazed that there are no similar such houses around it, since the Chemosphere fits so perfectly well in its steep mountains and dark trees.

The house is not accessible by car. ‘Armed Response’ is threatened against intruders. Yard workers were climbing the rocks around it, trying to do some gardening.

We climbed around the forest park, though thorns and broken gates, in order to access the Chemosphere. Alarmed glances from the local inhabitants. They must know that we have the right to access the public space of the forest, but they also must wonder why on earth are we doing it; is the game worth the candle? We might be shot by some unthinking guard.

We give up the effort, all in a sweat, with thorns in our shoes. To see my dream house from the top of a mountain in LA, even a house like a space ship, isn’t worth my life. Exactly as it was in my dreams, this house is connected to danger and mystery.

Mysterious, it is not. Like the danger of loitering in California, the Lautner Chemosphere is just plain silly. We might as well go see the giant lettered HOLLYWOOD, up in the mountains: I ask myself, why is it there?

Other houses next to the Chemosphere are plain and kitschy. I am told that it is because they can be sold that way. People don’t build houses to live in, but as a real-estate investment.

We reach the beach, a public beach where people can loiter with more success. Some are smoking pot, some are sleeping, some bathing, some sun bathing. The helicopters are flying low. Somebody said so that they can see if we are drinking alcohol, prohibited on the beach. Although all this is extremely paranoid and repressive, I love California. Somehow this helicopter repression shows the true spirit of the place. It shows the fact that Californians want to be free, and loiter all their lives.

June 5th, 2005

The yearly tourist visit to the castle, where I live: most of the flats will be opened to the public. They pay 20 dollars per person to enter the castle, and hear all about it from the locals.

I join the other castle visitors, who are in flocks and of all sorts: curious, bored, couples and even some children. It is very much of an ‘Americanata,’ as the Italians would put it. Yet, as usual, Americans do have some point in the funny things they do: here, they make a point of housing, and even more, of private property.

I like the castle’s solidity, as compared to a Serbian nomadic way of living. Serbia’s nomads, in tents on the road, make Belgrade seem like a chance occurrence, an accident from somewhere to nowhere. Belgrade is the ugliest city in the most beautiful site in the world, as Le Corbusier said.

But that second part, the money-centered ideology of life and property, violates my sense of decency. The owners of the flats sit in their armchairs, or their wheelchairs. All the castle’s flats are more or less fancy, extremely well presented, on public display, as if in a shop for sale. Enjoying this is hard work.

We don’t open our doors to the public. We work behind our doors. We don’t own our walls, and even if we did, our intimacy would not be for sale. Intimacy is like a shadow: the moment you cast light on it, it disappears. And intimacy is priceless.

During the castle tours, the castle pets are upset. The cats have stricken fur, the dogs hide under beds. We, all of us, drank a lot of wine and ate fast food when our horde of guests left. I drank wine, but my fat neighbor, who complained of compulsive obsessive eating, couldn’t stop eating the bad sandwiches after the stress of the show. Her apartment is one of the best looking, even though it’s small. According to her, she can hardly afford it with her teacher’s pay.

I understand the eating disorders, so present in the USA, much better now.

June 8, 2005

I was sitting on the porch of the castle drinking wine and eating barbeque with my inmates, of my side of the castle. We live on the fancy side of the building. There is another entrance to the back part of the same building, which I never explored. It is a home for elderly and sick, so I hear, mostly black people. I didn’t see even one black person in my part of the castle.

All this time I was curious about the issue. Why divide the castle in two? Why such a difference? ‘Old Town Pasadena’ used to be a dangerous quarters, with high rate of crime. Now it is mostly a fancy tourist and shopping district.

I am walking down the street to buy some cigarettes. On the steps of the rear side of the castle, a young black woman and an elderly man are sitting and chatting; they are smoking. She offers me a cigarette, as if she knew me. I take one and I sit next to her.

All of a sudden she starts getting uncomfortable. She stares at me in paranoia. Who are you? Why are your shoes so red? Why is your hair so blonde? What is that bat in your earring?

I am uncomfortable myself. I don’t want to bother you, I say. I am leaving. No, No, she is screaming by now, you are a lesbian, you are evil, leave us alone.

She hurriedly stands up, props up the elderly guy. They move swiftly away from me, as if they saw the devil herself. I am upset: her lips were trembling. She doesn’t seem deranged. Neither does the elderly guy. But she does not want to take back her matches, or hear my thanks for her cigarette, or hear my lame excuses that I am a foreigner, from a poorer and more dangerous country than black America. My red shoes and blonde curls triggered her. The invisible dividing line between the two parts of the same castle suddenly became a frontline.

There is always some way of constructing the Invisible frontline, the mirror of the Other; it doesn’t require a different color of skin. When I published my books here in USA, on the wars in the former Yugoslavia, civil wars, religious wars, nationalist wars, or none of these‚ I was often asked this question: how many black people do you have? None, was my answer, I am the black person there.

Well, that approach didn’t work in Pasadena. I feel better for discovering something I was only sensing, or hearing about: I am grateful to the angry woman and the elderly man. As Hannah Arendt used to say, the first step against racism and discrimination is not to pretend we are all equal, but to acknowledge the discriminating difference.

June 12, 2005

Earthquake, early in the morning, 5.6 Richter scale.
A mild one, felt in LA too, and in the castle as well.

I got shivers. An earthquake in LA is just what we expected. I stood under the door, as we used to in Milan in the seventies, in Belgrade in the eighties. Nothing much happened. The birds were not upset. The people strolling this early Sunday morning down the street didn’t seem to notice the tremor. One has to know in order to feel fear.

I remember how my editor in Philadelphia Inquirer once called me ‘an expert on bombings and earthquakes.’

June 15, 2005

Another earthquake last night, but we didn’t feel it here. It was stronger, but in northern California in the Pacific Ocean. People live here as others do under the volcano. Cool.

We drink beer often at a Pasadena place called Lucky Baldwin’s. Lucky Baldwin was a famous California gambler, womanizer and fortune maker. A typical Californian history, they tell me, but it sounds very exceptional to me. Lucky Baldwin was sued by many of the women he seduced.

Editorial letters were written against his lustful habits, from such a conservative women’s point of view, in the name of women’s honor. I wonder what was feminism all about in those distant times: I know it wasn’t consistent with today’s ideas. I know it cannot be, since men are not consistent, or history either.

When I look back at these historical leaps from left to right, from honor to liberties‚ I become more interested in future feminism and its future strategies.

At our pub, big fat men come, to drink one beer after another: all kind of beers, all kind of men. Women come, too; the women drink, smoke, and have babies with them. Lucky’s is considered a low-profile place, but it is not cheap, and never empty. It’s my favorite place in Pasadena: the waiter, a pierced and tattooed young guy, sat with us yesterday, after his shift, and had a glass of wine.

A friend of mine wrote to me today about the similarities between Montenegro and USA: big ad signs, beer drinking‚ and quite professional loitering, day and night. It is a craft to loiter well. In Montenegro, loitering is considered an ultimate art. In LA, loitering is fined almost everywhere: but the climate, the sea and the beer make loiterers sprout like mushrooms.

June 16, 2005

Bloomday from Joyce’s Ulysses

Two earthquakes today. The first one blew the laptop out of my lap in the library. The second was out in the ocean during the night. I was sleeping; I did dream, however, that we had an earthquake. I thought it must be our refrigerator. We are exiles, so earthquakes make us bewildered.

Yesterday I gave an interview at the LA Pacific radio. She asked me about my literary work. I spoke of Srebrenica. Whatever she would ask me, I spoke of Srebrenica, guilt and responsibility.

17 June 2005

News today. Caltech Pasadena seismologists said: the big one is coming. We don’t know how, we don’t know when. Just be prepared for it.

I guess preparing for an earthquake is the same as preparing for bombings. I still have the same leather bag I used for the bombings: Swiss army knife, money and documents in it, a torch‚ etc etc.

I can’t believe I am writing this here in California, where I came to relax.

June 18, 2005

Last night a party, at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art. Fancy people, young. extravagant, famous artists and corporation people. I looked at the moon, the same moon we have in Belgrade. I looked at some young drunk girls, the same ones we have in Belgrade. So what’s the difference, I asked myself?

I met Christina Aguilera’s retailer, who has something to do with Christina’s shoe ads. She hated Christina’s music, and she didn’t like her ads. She was nice: she smoked and talked to me as if we knew each other for ages, then she switched to another beautiful and impersonal young model and talked to her in exactly the same way.

The DJ played great music. The dancers were very talented. The drinks ran out fast and the moon was still there, the ascending moon, which my daughter was probably watching from some other terrace in Belgrade.

When I was on alternative radio and said I am from Belgrade, everybody asked me about the bombings. In this art party, nobody even knew where Belgrade was. That is the difference I guess; the same difference, however, all over the world.

June 18, 2005

Another party, at Xeni Jardin’s; her La Dolce Vita party. I never ate such good food in US, cheese, cakes, wine, soup, champagne, one after another. I met a few new people, journalists, art managers, artists. The music was discreet, the place crowded with Mayan objects from a silent elderly host, dressed in white. Xeni herself looks like a tall and thin Marilyn Monroe: my favorite icon.

This is LA, this is Hollywood. In my purse I carry a fake Marilyn Monroe driver’s license, a gag gift, instead of an American driver’s license, which I don’t have. Xeni genuinely looks like Marilyn Monroe, and I don’t. Xeni, by strange coincidence, has the name of my daughter, Ksenija. My daughter is dark-haired however, and on the other side of the ocean.

My new friend Yael, originally from Israel, said at certain point: how weird. If we were back at home, everybody would have been dancing now, like crazy. Yes, said I, the same in Serbia. People at Xeni’s party did not get drunk, or stuff themselves, or generally lose it; they talked, and that seemed the point, and a good point too.

I tasted a very heavy spice. My tongue started to burn. I gasped for water. I got three cups of wine from different sides: after regaining my power of speech, I uttered: wow, that hurt more than an abortion. My new friend from the Middle East was the only one to laugh.

I spoke to some people about Serbia and Srebrenica. Most of journalists here, people from the progressive radio, know only of the NATO bombings. I spoke and spoke and spoke, and today, I wondered to whom and what I said. I have not the US communication skills to be targeted, short, and precise. For me, from the Balkans, speaking and socializing is like drinking and dancing.

June 19

I went to tour the American Apparel factory with some students of design. A big blue building in LA downtown: a factory. A huge manifesto is hanging from its windows: AMERICAN APPAREL: AN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.

I am triggered by the political implications. Years ago, I made a promotional documentary film about the most successful clothing firm in the former YU; it all looked perfect, until I entered the factories. There women, and ALL of them were women, sewed and sweated and cursed. When I was young, I remember saying to myself: how lucky I am not to have to do this to survive.

American Dream factory has almost 99 percent employed Mexican workers. The guy who is showing us around the factory is not Mexican. All the time, he says ‘we and they,’ meaning We the bosses and They the Employees. At a previous factory we visited, it was different. The boss immediately told us that his family ran his factory, and he never used that divisive language; on the contrary, his language was bonding, kindly and paternalistic. This new guy was obviously not an owner: he had no sense of guilt or propriety. Instead, he had a need to belong to the managerial class.

The entrance of the factory is covered with photos of the American Apparel products, worn by models. These models looked underage. Not only that, but their photos had the stark look of pornographic photos of sex workers and sex trafficking; the poses, the faces, the interiors, the lighting. I was amazed and shocked; I asked around. The girl standing to me explains that the owner is a big fan of photography, and that he makes those photos personally.

As we visit various floors and departments, the variety of owner’s photographic flair expands. Nobody seems to notice this. A young girl is stalking us as we cruise this mysterious apparel of the industrial revolution. She is silent, young as the girls in those photos, and thin, with heavy make up, dressed in American Apparel underwear and colored boots.

The Mexican workers at the sewing machines are as fast as Charlie Chaplin in his movie MODERN TIMES: they are deft and angry. They are paid per item. They are young and fat. All of a sudden, as I listened to the voice of the young yuppie boasting at their pay and their efficiency, something came to my mind: the definition of a ‘lackey of capitalism,’ used by Mira Markovic for us dissidents who were against Milosevic. All of a sudden I understood another expression, ‘putrid capitalism.’ My mother, an avowed communist, used to say that in distress.

These words were not my own language; I even used to make fun of them. But all of a sudden, panic entered my bones. I wanted to leave that place of industrial revolution, swearing to myself that I would never buy an American Apparel item.

The clothes looked so good, though.

23 June

More factories toured, yesterday. More capitalism, more American flags. Some were small, successful creative enterprises of family business. Convaid, for instance; they make pediatric wheelchairs. Their wheel chairs look like prams, since modern prams look more than ever like motorbikes: heavy black tires, vivid colors, security gadgets…

The motto of the Convaid factory is CRASH TESTED,
MOTHER APPROVED. The window of the office features a Barbie doll in a wheelchair. Six hundred and sixty-six times a wheelchair is dropped by machines in order to pass its security tests. State healthcare pays for those wheelchairs… I only wonder who pays whom, since I heard that so many Americans have no healthcare at all…

Every wheelchair has written on it ‘Made in USA,’ so as not to be illegally copied overseas, where they have been copied. USA is a big brand for care of the handicapped… I heard a European complain that he felt discriminated against, for not being handicapped once in USA. The handicapped certainly seem out of the closet here in USA. I wonder if the numbers of handicapped are really numerically or politically growing. Why is it that in my country you hardly see any?

In LA most things are on wheels: the catering
for workers in factories comes in a truck, with food. The
factories themselves are prone to move overseas, or to
the next town, if necessary to survive. The mobility of
capitalism, of competition, it’s cruelty and
vitality, strikes me more now, than in all the Marxist and
anti-Marxist studies I’ve done for years.

The bus driver of our factory tour never stops talking about himself and everything he sees around us. He has a paranoid anticommunist streak: speaks and asks of eastern countries as of a taboo. I speak out, I say, I come from an eastern country. We have your MacDonald’s. Ours it is better than yours, but extremely expensive.
Nobody can afford it.

He stops talking to me about communism. Something
has frightened him, or triggered his imagination. He seems like a character from an American propaganda film, the other side of capitalism. He is a successful survivor. His bus has painted space aliens landing from a spaceship. I guess I was one in person.

In the MotoArt workshop… pin-up pictures of half-nude women all over the place…huge, busty… MotoArt is a new enterprise, dating from 2002, when two ex hippies decided to pick up parts of scrapped and wrecked planes, and make furniture out of them.

The got publicity from all over the world. Playboy has them on the cover page, of course. A table made from a bomb makes me ask one of the two founders, do they have real war planes, and their dates? Yes, they boast. When I further ask them about Serbia and NATO planes, they quiver. They speak of the beautiful Croatian coast and seem embarrassed.

Wars and pornography have something in common, I always thought. I see it without resentment, here in
this art factory. But yes, here are nude women, planes, bombs, guns… boy’s toys… As long as they make furniture out of bombs and planes, I call it repurposing of the tools. I wanted to touch their political conscience, but there was none really: an empty space of fear, boys afraid of death, thus playing with it.

Wars and industry

In the Pelican factory, which works for the military:
business flowering, a factory where we are guided by
two big women smiling…

Women also sitting at the plastic injection machines, but they don’t seem exploited and hysterical, and their work seems paidmwell.

Women working in the Chinese American electronics factory also seem not exploited, at least to my eyes, so innocent to pure capitalism.

Pelican has a neat and dignified working atmosphere, although the bosses do boast in their own ways, and talk shop exactly as my father used to do as the boss of a communist enterprise.

The technocrats of the world: my father, a world
businessman, used to say: love is important, but once
your wife gets hungry, you cannot put her lovely ass in
a soup and eat her.

In another factory, where old fancy sports car are being
restored. My American friend, who is used to paranoid security measures, notices something abnormal here. This hot-rod machine shop is clearly the most dangerous place we have ever visited in Los Angeles, but it has no measures of security, no safety glasses, no safety gloves, no silly safety notices… The owner
is 82 years old. He belongs to those times of manhood
when danger was, if not welcome, then palpable… His
wife is still driving racing cars, and his workers are
making new ones…even though racing is almost everywhere impossible for common people with common income.

Thirty years ago in Italy, sull’ autostrada del sole,
every morning a lot of middle class Italians would race
their cars from one city to another: now the speed
is limited, the cars have grown heavy and expensive.
The Italiano vero is still riding his Vespa, however.
Here in LA an Italian Vespa is an object of retro-art.

June 26, 2005

Last night we sat in the castle garden, a ‘gated
community’ as they call it here, a mentally gated community…I could not find matches. Nobody smokes in this gated community. Even if someone does smoke, it’s never in public.

My last European boldness is wearing out, since
every search for matches gets me into trouble. I came
across two strange guys in the castle dining room. I
asked for matches. They seemed surprised, but had the
matches. One of them asked me for a cigarette. I gave
him one…

Ten minutes later, he comes after me and asks
me for another cigarette. I give it to him. Then he asks
me for cocaine. My friends say, we have only
alcohol… He seems unwilling to abandon his original
demand. He sits with us. I ask him, how did he enter
the castle? He said, I just came in. I wonder if he is
from that other part of the castle, where they kicked me out because I was white.

My email pal Robert, a writer from LA,
claims that violence is random here, that every eye
contact is an opportunity to be violent…

Once, at the Malibu beach, a young Indian man, dressed very elegantly in long pants and white shirt, said Hello to me while I was sitting alone on the beach. I
learned to say hello as a way of dealing with hellos
in LA, but he takes this as a invitation, and wants to
talk to me and sit with me. He has a cell phone in his
hand. He does not seem violent, only a wrong guy in
the wrong place.

The Malibu beach seems like a Montenegro beach, and his making a pass at me makes me wonder what have I done wrong…
A few meters away, two gay guys are kissing and fondling each other: they are muscled and very masculine… Many gay male couples are walking along the Malibu beach, I hardly see any lesbian ones… A Mexican family with three kids is very loudly spending their Saturday hours in the sun. The kids are pampered, the big young father is tender and smiling, the wife is small, sullen and fat. Everything is rotating around her, but sheseems angry and bored.

We all sit close to each other, but nobody is paying
any attention to each other; to one another, we are culturally invisible.

June 28th, 2005

A concert by Rashid Taha, at the Knitting Factory club in Hollywood. Only 50 yards away, the road is blocked. I asked a conscientious policeman, big and serious: so, what is all this about?

It is the opening of War of the Worlds; you just missed the stars, Madame. Oh, say I, how terrible; did it all go well? The policeman looks at me very seriously: no water shots this time‚ he says.

I wonder, did he try to be funny, or was he serious? Mr. Tom Cruise, the lead star of War of the Worlds, is planning to sue the Channel 4 television crew for sprinkling him with water unexpectedly. The Hollywood boulevard press is all worried about this. The Hollywood movie opening looks rather miserable. All of Hollywood looks miserable, compared to what one expects from films: Hollywood is low key, dirty, touristy and somehow uninhabitable.

The opening night of the same film would be more fancy in Belgrade, I am sure. The LA Times is saying that cinema is becoming dead media. People don’t go to movies anymore. Movies are expensive and uncomfortable. We have DVDs, computer games. Books are dying too‚ like movies. Children here don’t read books, they play video games. They surf the Internet.

Rashid Taha is good: his audience is mostly Arabs from North Africa. We all belly dance. Some of us get on the stage. Rashid keeps falling over all the time and letting his mike fall out of his hands. But he is good, he sings in the right tones, says the right things, supports pacifism, gays‚ and belly dancers of all sexes and colors.

A shaved guy from Morocco offers me cocaine if I will dance on the stage. He says, my friend Rashid had too much, that is why he is falling all the time. Rashid is in that big tradition of falling stars, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison. Rashid can’t speak English. He speaks Arabic and French to his LA audience. Nobody seems to mind.

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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