LA Diary 2005: July

I am back in LA as this diary is running, and this photo is witnessing one of the happiest days in my life July 30. Don’t ask me why!

July 1 st, 2005

Last night I went to an art show in Hollywood. Among the usual LA artsy crowd I spotted a rather beautiful girl wearing an ankh around her neck. I asked her about it.

In a few minutes, word by word. we were deeply involved in a mother/daughter style of conversation. She was telling me about her cold mother, I was telling her about my dead mother…even colder… She told me about her broken heart, because the mother of her boyfriend was possessive. I told her of the Italian mothers being such by some unwritten law…

She said, I could spent the whole night speaking like this to you. I looked at her. She was probably some kind of actress, or supposed to be one. She spoke of rich Hollywood families in the movies for generations. She had big blue sad eyes and high heels…everywhere in the world I get these kinds of women talking to me, in rags, in silk, it doesn’t matter.

Then I went to a show, a pacifist show about US military in Iraq, a good show written and directed by two elderly men. The main character was a young American girl, a soldier in Iraq who rebels: it was an adaptation of Antigona really. Nobody from the LA audience had heard of or read the old Greek tragedy, except the authors, who did not deny it. Once again, from rags to silk, from Antigona to Hollywood or Iraq, the girls have the same sad bold eyes, and a readiness to give their lives for a doomed cause.

Maybe the cause is not doomed after all?

July 3, 2005

Often here in LA, when I say I come from Serbia, people do know where it is. A Moroccan guy offering me drugs at a concert said: oh yes, the wars for ten years…

I think I am becoming flaky here in the Californian sun. My IQ is falling day by day with this leisure. I dreamed I was a beheaded bird, last night, some endangered California species. I cannot establish if this is good or bad for me. It feels good but it must be dangerous. I am afraid of my own daughter and her apt Balkan ways when she comes here. She will crush me.

Two days ago a woman from Supreme Court here in US resigned. This woman kept the progressive leftist balance against the oncoming new fundamentalism in the US: abortion rights, feminist rights, gay and lesbian rights. In Spain and Canada there are legalized marriages between gays.

I may be living here in a falling empire. It would not be the first time I witnessed one fall.

Venice beach, 4th of July holidays

I lie down and watch the crowds. I like most a young black couple with three small kids, all of them beautiful. Only on TV do we see black people in Serbia. These upper-class blacks are prettier and nicer than the loud Mexicans, the stiff whites; they seem at ease with their children, beach clothes, and beach rules.

5 July 2005

Fireworks last night in LA. From our roof terrace we could see mushrooms exploding in all colors: people on the terrace drinking, eating, and smoking, even.

A celebration of the beginning of a seven-year war of independence, I was told. The end of that war is not celebrated, is practically unknown. So it is an international customs to celebrate wars.

I heard that demos were held somewhere in the US cities, with people singing ‘We all live in a terrorist state,‘ with the music of Yellow Submarine’ by the Beatles. I though fireworks were prohibited because of the antiterrorist laws.

Mosquitoes were biting severely, the Californian mosquitoes are small, quick and sly…I remember how I despised people who fussed over mosquitoes in Serbia during the bombings… Last night I did it during the fireworks…I am becoming a flakey Californian I guess: sun, no bombs in your courtyard, easy food and clothing makes all of us globalized idiots.

July 5th, 2005

A Code Pink party at Jody’s, Medea is here in LA, book promotion… I speak of Srebrenica, of globalized crime, of the Globalization of Balkanization. These people here seem to get me like nobody else. No one in Belgrade or here in the US understands me so well. These Californians are my people…

Tom Hayden tells me, ‘I am an Irish nationalist.’ I say, ‘it is easy to be a nationalist out of your own national bullshit.’ He laughs and calls me an imperialist girl since by now I live in LA. He is stubborn and funny. I wish I could laugh and joke on those issues. Maybe some day I will…

I only say it means nothing to be a Serb in Serbia, it is as ridiculous as being a Jew in Israel. We need to promote ourselves out of our nationalist shoes, too tight and, by the way, ridiculous…

Tom is happy that France voted against united Europe, he is also happy that “Milosevic won the war” against NATO. I guess he is a traitor to his own flock, as I am to mine. I am trying to explain to him that the communist language Milosevic used has nothing to do with the reality we lived. We both seem completely unable to convince each other, or to move on, though we both laugh all the time.

July 6th, 2005

Venice inside Las Vegas: it’s a convincing and creepy remake of dusk in Venice. Venice in the real Venice has a smell that in Las Vegas becomes a mere idea. Very Proustian.

In Utah when the bombs explode in London: my British friend writes to me: we are OK. We were waiting for it to come. Now we are relieved it is over.

That’s how we Serbs felt about our bombings, but when I said that at Code Pink event, some of my friends were scandalized. I don’t know if it right or wrong, but that is exactly how we felt. Why fake it?

Colorado, Buena Vista

7 July, 2005-07-10 A meeting of designers. I am a design idiot. I never knew design existed. I took it for granted as most people do: things, big and small things. But then hearing these people here, their frustrations, their ambitions and anxieties, I got an idea that design is everything. They talked like freemasons, as a lodge, how to change the world… I looked around myself and for the first time I noticed design. I noticed bad design. The whole world seem like a man-made mistake. A lot of work for those gurus…

10th of July

My daughter’s birthday. Women in Black standing in Belgrade, as usual…Again her birthday went without tears, and the standing was bombed with tear gas, eggs, insults by so called decent citizens… but the standing was never as big as this year.

I missed them, but I do not feel as bad as I thought I would. Usually I miss the crownings, the weddings, but I never miss what leads to the throne.

The roads in USA are free, the toilets also… some streets called DR, for “Drive.” The first days I thought it was all doctors. Given the other names of the cities and streets that would not surprise me too much. In this part of US, everything is possible.

In Santa Fe, people dress like cowboys. Houses are like Indian houses but made of concrete. Santa Fe is a city where the local radio plays music from all over the world: something that hardly happens in LA.

In June 1995, I was finishing off my book on refugees from former
Yugoslavia, “The Suitcase,” (University Press of California), onterviewing women and men of different nationalities, wherever they came from and wherever they had been displaced.

One of them was a young man from Srebrenica: displaced in Vienna. He
was a Muslim, very polite and kind to me, as a Serb writing for the
Americans; he invited me to his flat, offered me dinner and told me how
he fled the troubled country through the Red Cross in Belgrade. He
considered himself a Yugoslav and loathed the wars, according to him
made by politicians, not people.

At the end, he said something I will never forget, a sentence that at
the time sounded creepy and muddy: If something happens to my family
back there in Srebrenica which is a Muslim enclave protected by UN
troops, I swear to God that I will kill with my own hands the first
Serb I come across here, my co-worker in Vienna, and I don’t care that
he is not guilty, I don’t care if I go to prison forever…

Only few weeks later, the massacre happened in Srebrenica; more than
eight thousand people were executed in only a few days by the army of
Bosnian Serbs led by General Mladic: the UN troops looked the other
way… The bodies were buried all over the region, some even in Serbia
proper, with an unprecedented efficiency in Balkan wars. Even today, ten years after, some people, in Serbia and all over the world are
looking the other way. In Serbia the claim of the silent majority is
that crimes were committed on all sides.. In the big globalized
militarist world, the justification for such an attitude is: let them
fight it out in the Balkans, the splendid isolation of those who can
afford it.

I don’t know if that man’s family was killed in the massacre, I don’t
know if he killed his neighbor, I never managed to get in touch with
him later… After Srebrenica massacre of July 11, the Croats bombed
Krajina beginning of August, and two hundred fifty thousand Serbs fled
Croatia.

Only few months later, in Dayton, the peace treaty was signed between
the three warring sides (Serbs Muslims and Croats). I remember waiting
all night awake in order to see if they reached an agreement. I
remember my 11 year old daughter coming every few hours out of her bed
to ask me DID THEY. When finally I said yes: she went to sleep and I
started crying.

Those were not tears of relief but of despair. The treaty was signed by Milosevic and Karadzic. They shook hands with Bill Clinton, they acted as ‘peace makers’ and I immediately knew that eight thousand bodies from Srebrenica mass graves would come back someday, as sure as as Hamlet’s ghost father, because there will be no reconciliation and peace without truth and justice.

Every single year, all these years, we as Women in Black, Belgrade, we
as individuals who had friends in Bosnia, we who claimed Not in Our
Name, we paid our respects to the unearthed, the partially unearthed,
the identified and unidentified victims of the massacre. We went to
Srebrenica, we wrote about it to the world, we stood in Belgrade
Square, where they spat on us, physically attacked us, insulted us as
traitors, during Milosevic as well as after his fall.

The denial continues, even ten years after: the Serbian parliament
cannot adopt a resolution on Srebrenica massacre because of a
disagreement on wording. The Dutch military who were directly
responsible in the enclave are giving military medals to the Dutch
soldiers who survived the crime doing nothing. The main responsible
parties, Mladic and Karadzic, are still in hiding.

Recently, in Serbian media, a short video clip of the execution of some Muslim
victims was broadcast. It made no immediate impact on the world
politics, except for the unfortunate mothers and other relatives of the
missing victims.

What happened to the world in these ten years?

The whole world has become the Balkans. The efficiency has risen in the killings: suicidal bombings, terrorism, invasions and occupations, state crime and
paramilitary world terrorism are speaking the same fundamentalist
language against the single citizen and civil society all over the
world.

Ten years after, more than ever the non-governmental pacifist feminist
or similar grass roots groups are the only ones who see the necessity
to unveil the crimes, condemn the crimes, and face the international
responsibility for the massacre of Srebrenica done by Serbian paramilitary.

The chain of responsibility leads from those who actually pulled the triggers back to those who gave the orders there in Bosnia, back to those in Serbia who supported them, back to those in the greater world who made a peacemaking partner out of a criminal regime.

July 11, NGO groups all over the world will do exhibitions, standings
and writings. For me, reconciliation, truth and justice would mean hugging that man from Srebrenica I interviewed ten years ago, when we both still naively believed that there was hope for all of us in the world outside the Balkans. I would tell him: Forgive me, I will never Forget…

July 11, 2005

Srebrenica Day. I am driving on Route 66 through the desert; my only enemies are speedy trucks. My friends in Belgrade are walking to the mass graves in order to pay respects to the dead. They walk because their bus is stopped, they are trouble the police say, women for peace. I am walking through Indian lands, many signs of Indian culture still alive, yet I know many have been exterminated… What I see are malls made in the shape of Indian tents, Indian jewellery, words and faces…globalized in the western American culture…

Maybe Srebrenica, the ghost town, some day will raise the spirits of her massacred dead, and here I say, the dead of all ethnicities, and become a cultural museum. Mass graves should be turned into cultural sites: museums are also graves…In LA there is a ‘Museum of Tolerance.’ I wonder what is inside.

This route across the American West has something harsh and dignified.

July 14

Brainstorming with Code Pink women: Malibu mansion, what a treat. Women should storm their bodies and brains… after all the storms I went through, my ultimate desire is joy, and I mean it. I think joy is a political path which cannot go wrong as far as feminist and pacifist politics are concerned. Joy is not an easy goal to reach. Joy is not even a goal, it is a path. The way to hell is paved with good intentions — and vice versa.

At the Art Center in Pasadena, my film “The Diary of a Political Idiot” was screened: the audience was film students from the school. They hardly knew what had happened, only few years ago, on the other side of the world.

I talked about NATO and history; I talked about US contemporary military engagement and politics. They were surprised, but not resentful. The political idiot that lived in me, lives in them too. They are a generation of dark times in the US. They are bright and hard working, but they have no conscience that politics or world politics effects their work and life in an immediate way.

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe I am wrong.

With Code Pink women, talks and strategies run just as in Serbia with Women in Black. Their perspective and point of view is my global emotional safe place; somehow they transcend the class and nationality. The personal/political activism and emotional bonding makes the communication joyous.

July 16, 2005

Sixty years since the first nuclear explosion in New Mexico, only a few weeks before the tragedy in Hiroshima. The bomb was used in order to defeat Japan: I guess the consequences are still there.

Only a few years ago I heard that a woman wrote a diary on everyday life in Hiroshima after the bomb, very similar to my diary. I got a prize from her foundation last year. Now I was invited to New Mexico: I didn’t go, I don’t understand the celebration. Instead we should celebrate the NATO bombings, so precise in their targeting. Celebrating the Bomb — it seems to me a very primitive and dangerous urge to find a God where god does not exist.

July 17, 2005

Jazz concert live in Pasadena, a park, made by black people for black people: it doesn’t say that anywhere, but it just works that way. They are all black, young or old, family or teenaged groups… They see me as different, but I don’t feel different among them, because I come from a country where white people are black.

I remember how a South African woman had to explain to somebody that white people could be poor, even if they are from South Africa.

I remember how Nadine Gordimer coming to Belgrade during her dark time of apartheid and international sanctions and before our dark times and ethnic cleansing and sanctions (in Serbia) was refused a visa at the Belgrade airport and sent back home. Because she was from South Africa: nobody bothered to note that she was a white fighter against apartheid, she was white…

Even in Serbia her being white was unwelcome, there where all people are white, but not south African. Positive and negative discriminations have one thing in common, they are somehow always just discriminations. Whatever they intend to do, they cannot transcend their meaning.

July 21, 2005-07-23

Dinner in the castle: on the porch, it is hot. Mosquitoes are biting us as we bite the lobsters, crabs and salmon… We drink white wine, people of all sorts and occupations, our postman, the local doctor for poor, the art collector, the Serbian feminist, the artist in residence, the gay guy who is going to Holland to marry another gay guy and get the European citizenship.

Now that citizenship part is new, it used to be the other way round… My friend from the floor below is putting up an artist gallery in a former gallery, with a ready made publisher, for people not from the mainstream, for people without money but with ideas… Similar to what we do in Serbia, but here things are quicker and more eccentric… America is plain eccentric. I love that about America; I can imagine myself pretty soon tattooed and with dreadlocks, if only I stayed here…

July 22, 2005

I went to the Santa Monica beach and for the first time I went into the waters, together with other paddlers. This beach is low key and a popular place, families, kids, students, dressed in all kinds of gear, bathing eating, burying themselves in the sand… I looked like a duck paddling, like a mad woman burying myself in the sand…

After a few huge waves overturned me, I realized that I should surf. I started surfing without thinking… in order not to drown… I guess that is the metaphor for my life in general, not only life in LA…and not only for me…

In the evening I went to assist a film student from Art Center, from the women-in-design group, the ones who had my film screened at their school. This girl is the age of my daughter and is making a short film, just as my daughter did few months ago. The mother is financing the film to make a portfolio for her only child.

They came from Philippines 18 years ago, when the girl was three: because her mother wanted to give her an education. She is a single mother, and she said: all my life rotated around my daughter, but soon I will have to let her go…

I let go of my daughter, and she made a film I never imagined she could. I am not worried for the daughters. I was more sorry for the mother, this tiny, fragile and determined woman. The stories of mothers and daughters are so painfully moving, everywhere. They are somehow the pillars of the world.

July 23, 2005

The day of the Downing Street Memo here… In LA, opposition rallying all day in street protests, in church with public speakers, at parties and dinners in the evening…different groups with the same intent; to save America from the Bush American bubble.

At the dinner I attended, there was a reformed Republican, also reformed Hillary Clintonites… Young people, really well informed and energetic. I was interviewed about my views and actions.

Well, they do live in a bubble, but our bubble exploded and killed. Only then did the critical mass respond in the streets. Now they once again wrapped in their nationalism and chauvinism…

The strange thing is that American leftists are Serbian supporters, not for Milosevic, but for Serbs. I find this uncomfortable but funny. The dinner was at the house of two elderly people, he a lawyer, she a nurse. They write editorials and phone politicians every single day. They say it works.

In the Japanese/American museum: a monument of anti-American lamentation from American Japanese. It is an aesthetic remake of an Auschwitz, with suitcases piled up and houses of wood, rebuilt from the years when American Japanese were incarcerated in camps, far from their homes, during the war with Japan.

It was white America, white politicians, who did this. But as my American friend said, nobody killed them. This is a shame, but on the other hand, this show is unilateral: you don’t see what the Japanese did to the foreigners in Japan.

These Japanese in America were not foreigners, they were like Muslims in Srebrenica. Yet, there is something queasy about this permanent show in LA’s Little Tokyo. The museum guide is old enough to be a survivor. It is his personal show of I WILL NEVER FORGET.

He reminds me of my father, and those others who could not judge the new wars. because they had their standards from the old ones. They could not understand, yet they were stubborn enough to be judgmental.

In Little Tokyo people live as in Japan, it seems authentic and very solemn, probably more so than in Japan itself. I imagined those refugee suitcase museums that are springing up these days all over former Yugoslavia. They are patches of truths, which make the big picture of lies, the same lying claims made by the politicians who waged the wars. One-sided truths, pathetically and dogmatically presented. I’ve already seen those in Slovenia, in Croatia, in Kosovo, in Serbia… I never believed in truths or liked museums. Now I think they are dangerous.

July 30, 2005

Toilets and truths

At the Venice beach, don’t do this don’t do that signs. If you surf on the side of the beach where you should swim, the guard whistles at you… These divisions are sanctioned by obvious sign boards.

The beach itself is divided by type of people who are loitering there. On one side of the bridge, you have couples, basically heterosexual love couples who lie on one towel together, exchange kisses and caresses, under big hats without books or food, concentrated on each other with their bodies exposed to the sun. For no obvious reason, on the other side of the beach, you have loud families with food drinks small children, balls, toys…

Then there are gay sections, male ones, I didn’t see a lesbian couple in public ever since I’ve been in LA. Then, solo swimmers or sunbathers: those are guys more than girls. They often have binoculars with them, and a book.

At the Venice beach I wanted to go to the toilet. There were many restaurants around, all saying: no public restroom, The establishments that have toilets have them only for customers, locked… I am getting nervous… In Europe you cannot run a restaurant without a public restroom, by law.

In the evening, a concert by Michelle Shocked at the Museum on the top of the national cemetery hill. She is a feminist activist rock singer still in top form. Her pals are all over fifty, they are old rockers, they are all high… except that nobody smokes cigarettes. I have hard time getting a cigarette from a guy who is on crutches. He is the only one smoking: a painter of LA Lowbrow Art, connected to the Juxtapoz movement and magazine.

The waiter is a Albanian guy from Macedonia, from Chicago actually, here in LA, trying to get a role in Hollywood industry. I heard already that all waitresses here were actresses, and now I saw this works for men too. He said he was an actor actually, although he never studied to be one, or ever had a role. I guess you are who you think you are. Very rarely I manage to say I am a ‘writer.’ Usually I say I am ‘a woman who writes.’ God only knows what she writes. It is beyond me.

A few days ago, a new friend came to visit me; she is from Israel, but has lived in LA for many years. I was telling her my usual stories, stories of my life… She is an artist, a producer. and a scene director. So all of a sudden she said: why don’t you write about your life? I mean those stories, they don’t necessarily have to be true…

She said the book’s title: My Life Without Me. She gave me the first sentence: ‘Where was I when it all started?’

I started writing the very next day. I wrote a lot, what made me do it is that easiness which she propped into me: to shrug off the truth and highbrow art. To write about difficult stuff in an easy way. Just do it, she said. It seems to me very much the American model of art, and even more so, the LA model. It suits me.

LA Highways

For the first time last night, I drove in LA’s Saturday night traffic, in my friend’s car, a hybrid car without gears. She was too drunk to drive, so I just did it. Driving here is more natural than walking. So even though it was a mad rush of traffic, and I hardly knew my way back home, and the car was new to me, I made it without much trouble. It is as easy as to surf the waves, and as difficult as surfing, too…fun and tiring…a way of life.

I was not in the traffic, I joined it, I WAS the traffic… Highways are free, and real elaborate here, as if constructed by different rules, by different people, in different times.

An expert on LA architecture told me how the trains existed once, but were all pulled down for some political cultural reason, car industry demands… He also told me how the city is changing because the districts are not class divided as they once were. They are dolled up so that poverty does not show up visually, yet poverty still exists.

This LA highway construction seems more like armour more than the skeleton of this city, this sprawl of many cities… Without the freeways and their tortuous ways and signs I cannot even imagine LA. Can you imagine a knight without his armour? What makes him a cavaliere but his robe?

Ate at the hamburger and pie place, close to the Huntington library. Decent American food is more expensive than any other decent food here. The American cheese cake and apple pie, good as a mother’s goodnight kiss.

The public marriages that take place here in the castle are really boring. They are marriage ceremonies like good American home made pies, or hamburgers: women dress all the same, so do men… They work through the ceremony with same music and words … I wonder, is that what a marriage is meant to be? The photo albums are also very precious, and yet so similar. It reminds me of my mother saying how her own mother would always wonder at the first family photographs, taken at the beginning of the century. My grandmother could not tell who was who, because everybody was dressed the same then, and the photos were posed and taken in an identical way.

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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