LA Diary 2005: October


October 2, 2005

Fires, earthquakes and mudslides threaten this city of angels.  The rich have a lot to lose from natural catastrophes, those whose mansions are in Malibu on the hills.

In the bus to Santa Monica, poor Mexican mothers didn’t seem so poor as they can get in Serbia where they dressed in the rags of what once used to be fine clothes. A black guy entered the bus with tags all over his hands.  He looked like an escaped slave from a illegal shop where big black handsome guys are sold.  Instead, he had just come out of a hospital.

The wildfire had been captured here around Pasadena, less smoke but a romantic fog this morning. It is even chilly. I felt cozy with one day off from the blazing sun.

     I dreamt I had a gun and that I shot the sun twice and that it fell to earth, scorching its surface. I survived in my dream. I feel guilty about climate change; how come all these people in LA don’t?

    The bus driver of the red and white line, a nice young black guy said to me:  It is all political; money makes trains and kills them. We have no public transportation here in LA, somebody killed it. For money.

I heard the story from a historian who wrote a book on LA: how the trains were killed.
The other day I came back in a train from Palmdale, where only few months ago a station was established.  I triumphantly boasted to my friends there that one does not have to drive in California. Then the train stopped. The brakes went off.  We stood in the desert, on the top of a mountain, without water,  for one hour.

    After what happened in Louisiana and Texas, I have no faith in the emergency skills of the most developed country in the world. A human category is missing: compassion, solidarity.

October 3

Hannah Arendt  In Disneyland

The shame is hard to bear, the horror less. We lose the whole day, queuing for nothing much, with angry middle class childish Americans. They become hysterical and   aggressive if you step one foot
ahead of the invisible line that divides their bodies from yours. It’s an invisible system of justice where all of us get a sparkle of the Disney sun.

You must know that I come from a country where we queued for years for just about everything: from bread to underwear. As soon as you spotted a queue you joined it.  Only after did you ask your neighbor, what are you queueing for?

The fat elderly woman in shorts, standing in front of me in a one hour queue for tasteless hamburgers and frozen sandwiches, turned around to me, with her freckled face red, edging toward blue.  You have been touching me with your bag FIVE times! she yelled at me.

     Sorry sorry sorry, I muttered.  Mickey Mouse is a bad tempered character really. I hearthat Disney brothers were really hard on their
employees, demanding and cruel.

     Give me space, the fat woman went on screaming.  We all backed away from her, as much as we could. The young parents of three hungry screaming children, along with an elderly couple, abandoned the food line for   good. I felt like doing the same, but the fat woman didn’t let me go.  She went on: Don’t you know what a queue is? (Granted, I was speaking a foreign language to my daughter at high speed.)

    But your backpack is huge, I rebelled mildly, just
to make her happy.  She looked like one of those angry
characters from Disney cartoons. I remember some
cartoon figure in  particular,  lamenting in the theatre that he cannot see the cinema screen because the woman in front of him has a huge hat. Then the woman removes her hat, and her huge bushy head of hair
spreads all over the screen.

    My angry daughter came to my side, ready to fight in three languages; I told her, we are foreigners.  All of a sudden the fat woman left the queue.

    In another queue, this one for the train, a tall woman reprimands her small husband: this is NOT a place for children.  He is muttering something I cannot overhear. I turn my head, she smiles at meanxiously:  Tell him, that this is not a place for children. Actually   I think it is, I say, though I never agree with men fighting women, on political grounds. Ohhhh, she is taken aback. I look at the
children.  They are dozing off. The sun is blazing, the children are thirsty  and bewildered with colors and noises. The horror house, the rides, the strangers, the nervous parents.

    The grownups that are here without children all share a common face;  they seem to believe every 50-year-old  dream of this Disney Promised Land. They seem conservative and badly dressed, not the Americans I like to see. I feel particularly foreign in Disneyland, even though I live in LA and most
of the visitors don’t.

    I’m struck by the vulgarity of the Disney cast staff, who are trying without success to be witty and efficient, aggressively marketeering at their  gift shops, looming at the exit of every ride in their costumes:   dressed for jungles, dressed for space ships…  They herd the consumers  through cheap thrills at high costs; belly-tumbling, dizzying, nauseating rides like bomb-damaged airplanes.

    I have an insight:  maybe all those people in my hometown of Belgrade were not genuinely afraid of bombing.  Maybe they really feared that they were stuck in Disneyland, living a cartoon.

    I remember the Serbian national TV, broadcasting Disney films all day  instead of war news.  People survived psychologically through  watching Disney and refusing reality. I called them ‘political idiots’; maybe it is an international phenomenon, the common ground of dictatorships.

    I see  an office selling a yearly pass to Disneyland. Some people come here on regular basis.  I try to think like Hannah Arendt at  this point: her lesson of tolerance and boundless sharpness at denouncing social injustice and demanding justice, notwithstanding political correctness and mainstream politics.

     I like to go on a regular basis to the library and botanical landscapes of the Huntingdon  Gardens. What am I getting from those gardens and fine art
that these people  are getting from Disneyland? By the way, I don’t much like the museums. I  feel that the art they contain is trapped and prostituted there. But
still I enjoy seeing it, because WHERE ELSE? I enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of people who saw things I did not see or could not see.  I feel at my ease THINKING there.

    Well, here in Disneyland, the experience is completely the opposite: thought is physically abolished‚ thought is impossible. Your  body is stimulated to a hysterical scream, so that tolerance is also impossible; only uniformed non-thinking. It is a military situation, like a soldier fighting and obeying orders without questioning them; no time, no knowledge to doubt. If you doubt, you get killed. The adrenaline is high, the thrilling fear of dying makes you feel really alive. It is not that banal everyday fear of slowly dying in peacetime, losing your hair, your loved ones, your strength, THINKING of your past and future.

    Yes, I think I got it about Disneyland and his ‘love for the world’ (amor mundi). So much like Bushland.
Will Harrypotterland be any better?

October 6, 2005

LA downtown, to see the studio of Anne Hars, my castle neighbor; she paints huge paintings of “valkyries,” as she calls them. Her valkyries are ceiling fans with chandeliers: so Californian, the light of her paintings, the boundless blue sky, the airy huge space,  hovering above fiery flames, earthquake cracks, black mudslides and floods.

    Anne is not Californian; that’s why she sees it. She and I are fake Californians who assimilate the local culture. She told me that last night, round the corner, here in Pasadena, a huge ancient building caught fire, a mansion that Paul McCartney had just bought: the flames rose to the sky and it burned to the ground, except for its brick facade. The helicopters flew above it trying to contain the flames, the fire station right behind our castle was all there, and quite a few spectators: Pasadena was a famous promenade last night, with fireworks. She got all inspired.

      I asked her to paint me an earthquake. I’ve tried to write about the earthquakes I have survived, real big ones with a lot of dead, like the one in the seventies in Italy, but one cannot describe that feeling in words: words speak of victims and objects, not of cracks in the core of your life. A crack in the wall, which generated mushrooms after the torrential greenhouse rains during the bombings in Belgrade: that was my mental picture of an earthquake. Anne said that paintings have to convey concepts visually. I agreed, but I am no painter.

    LA downtown has a sign, which says, Arts District: painters have their lofts there, until they become famous. Then they leave it, because it is too hard to live there. It is an abandoned area, full of derelicts, prostitutes and drug dealers, with big dirty warehouses and some light industry. Lately LA Times has written about it, because derelicts from other parts of the city have been secretly transported here into the Arts District order to make their own parts of town clean and inexpensive.  They live on the streets like abandoned dogs, on crack and selling blow jobs to truck drivers. There are pimps and prostitutes: ugly, fat chauvinist pimps, and thin, wrinkled women of all ages, dressed in second-hand Victoria’s Secret underwear.

    For the last few weeks, one of the top hit songs in USA is by a female group named the “Pussycat Dolls.” They too dress in Victoria’s Secret burlesque lingerie drag: they call that girl power.  “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”

    Pasadena has a Victoria’s Secret lingerie shop. The sexy fancy colored underwear, with pictures of top models all over the walls, and then the customers: fat and small women with miserable but greedy faces, giving up their savings in order to, WHAT? Pepper their marriages, get thinner, fake it? Maybe, when you think you are a pussycat doll, you are one.

   LA downtown is falling apart: the garbage is rarely cleaned, by trucks which pick up trash and derelicts. But repeated attempts are  made to make downtown fancy. Downtown lofts can sell for half a million dollars, and their rich inhabitants support nice cafes with wifi and good coffee. It reminds me of drowned New Orleans and the fears of poor evacuees.

   I went to a film shooting at a Starbucks coffee house.  The set was not in fact a new Starbucks, but a perfect replica of one. They told me that the owner of the property lives within his fake Starbucks, and does pretty well at it, since every American movie needs a Starbucks shot. LA downtown is the perfect set for filming crime scenes for movies made in America. Despite all that, it is still real.

October 8,

A peace march with a Vietnamese monk.  He is eighty, and famous for going back to Vietnam after 40 years of exile in Tibet, France, USA. He made it up with the communist regime, from some kind of hotel imprisonment to the biggest square in Saigon. He speaks of hic et nunc, of peace in peace actions, such as walking in silence and eating a meal together.

LA downtown, Mc Arthur’s park, only 2000 of us, mostly people over 50, ex hippies I guess, and some young ones with babies. Monks and nuns too, Buddhism allows it. Cindy Sheehan is here: I walk between her, the monk, and another mother whose son, a soldier, was recently killed in Iraq.

    The new Mexican-American mayor of the city sent his deputy to give a prize to the monk in the name of the city; lots of TVs and reporters.  I have a feeling this is an isolated event, in this new, war-waging America. Cindy is a taller, happier person than I imagined her from the photos; her energy is that of an old peace activist, not only that of a grieving mother: she did unite the American anti-war opposition, but I wonder if she can make them move.

October 9th, 2005

Brentwood theater. A British-Iraqi woman wrote a show, Nine Parts of Desire.  Heather Raffo plays  different Iraqi women, some in exile, some artists, some old some young.  Her one-woman show is a shattering experience, so crudely true and real. When the sirens went on I started to tremble.

     She read Nuha’s diary, she knows of mine.  She wants to visit her father in Iraq, but they won’t let her do it. We embraced without too many words. Other people who came to embrace her had a whole lot of hollow exclamations, wonderful, fantastic, amazing; gosh, how false this praise sounds when issues really touch one’s heart. And it is such an American way; I never doubt Americans have real emotions, I only wonder why do they do such things to them.

October 10th.

Columbus Day, a national holiday.

The Hearst castle is bigger then Citizen Kane’s; it’s full of tourists eager to admire the magic kitsch. The guy had a lot of money, and good sense, but poor taste compared to other tycoons such as Huntington and Getty.

October 12th.

In San Francisco.  As usual, this American city proves to be just as real in reality is it is in the movies.  Other cities in the world are not filmed so heavily, so there is a surprise element to living in them. US history is Hollywood.  LA seems personally close to me, like Tito’s face on the Yugoslav TV in my childhood, so constant that he could have been my grandfather.

   San Francisco Bay, Haight Street, Ferlingetti’s bookstore, the invisible Golden Gate bridge hidden in fog, they inspired me more than Disneyland.  The no loitering signs are just about everywhere, though hippies do nothing but loiter.  The public toilets are closed, out of order, or nonexistent, just like in LA.

October 14, 2005

In front of the  Well Fargo bank, where I am about to try to cash an American check for the first time ever, two ancient ladies are standing with banners saying STOP THE OCCUPATION IN IRAQ.  One is in a wheelchair, the other has a cane. It is hot and misty, but they are heavily dressed and persistent.
  The cars are honking to them and they are waving back majestically.

    So which group are you? I ask them.

    We are just people, says one of them.  Every week we stand for two hours. Soon others will join us.

     Do you know of Code Pink? I ask them.

     No, they shake their heads.

    Of any other groups that do the same?

    They don’t know of any.

    Now I am afraid for Bush that this is the critical mass against him. Dictators underestimate people, street people, and common people, people without ideologies or leaders or groups. Besides neglecting authors and intellectuals, they foolishly underestimate the power of non-political thinkers, as these two old ladies.

     Only when millions of people stepped down on the streets in Serbia with kitchen tools in the so called revolution of noise, the army with weapons set against them had to back down or join them.  You can’t fight anonymous masses, your own people, your cousins, kin, neighbors‚ not even if you are the toughest guy in the world. It is simply not right; said one Serbian paramilitary who abandoned his military car and joined the people on the street, October 5th 2000 when Milosevic was toppled.

   In the bank they asked me for two documents: my passport and a credit card, and furthermore, my signature, and also my fingerprint on the check: but I got my money in cash. The Wells Fargo bank was a cowboy transportation enterprise a hundred and more years ago.  It protected the goods transported to the West against robbers like Butch Cassidy. Now Bush is taking my fingerprints here, to fight Osama Bin Laden.

   In the bank I spot a woman who looks incredibly like Hillary Clinton: her face, her dress, her body language. Tomorrow I will see the real Hillary Clinton. I wonder which one is better.

15 October 2005

In front of the house in Hollywood where Hillary Clinton is lunching, 25 000 dollars every meal for 200 Hollywood stars, there supporting her as a candidate for the next presidential election.

   Code Pink is doing a protest action because Hillary supported US troops in Iraq. A cute middle aged blond woman dressed in a man’s suit, two sizes bigger than herself but all filled with guns and phones, comes to us, who are all gay, pink, and ludicrous. I am Hillary’s Secret Service agent, she says, please don’t cross the street, I can’t control the situation if you do.

   Sure, we say, although we planned to distribute leaflets to the guests saying: don’t give money to Hillary for ten different reasons.

    The police cars come around us and stand in front of us neatly lined up: the cops are all of different ethnicities, black Mexican white‚ very cute.
Our new protesters are two very old ladies and two very young fancy girls, dressed in pink underwear.
Nothing much happens. The press is there. We shout. They ignore us. We leave. The police leave too.

   My American friend said: I thought so. A presidential candidate would never meet Code Pinkers. I would have, if I were Hillary. I would send us some banquet food for free. We could have had a nice picnic on the grass.

October 17, 2005

    An earthquake in the sea during the night, but an incredible storm right now, darkness at noon…  Then all of a  sudden the sun comes out…  My head is spinning, it’s like an eclipse is happening… An astrology fan told me: in California one must start believing in astrology and ghosts.  What else?

   Right now pellets of hail are hammering my roof.
I’ve seen this kind of storm in the mountains in Serbia.

21 October

LAX airport, heading to Seattle: my e-ticket has my name misspelled. The kind clerk of Alaska Airlines asks me: what is the name of your country?  Chetchoslovakia? No, I say, it used to be Yugoslavia, now it is Serbia and Montenegro. The clerk has dark skin, like half Mexican half Indian, and he has a accent I can hardly understand.

     Oh I like it when it used to be Chetchoslavia: I have not the heart to tell him that such a country never existed. He is rebooking me onto another flight under my real name: I wonder if this favor of his will break hell loose with security. I cannot pray, I don’t believe in god; I think, and I try not to fret.

     The flight goes well, except that my plane is late, and my event/reading is not in Seattle at all, but in distant Olympia, the capital of Washington. Olympia looks like a village and has no airport.  My American friend commented: it is very strange to give an entire state the name of a president.

      I can hardly understand my cab driver, an Arab I think.  He drives me across the state to Olympia, for big money. The hotel I am booked in is under construction: I can pick any room, since they are all half way done.  The fax payment has not arrived, but the Indian owner is kind, he will let me have a room anyway, he trusts me.  My name is Yasmina, he likes that name.
     The wifi is not working. The phone in the room is defunct.  On top of all the malfunctioning door locks me into my room.  I cannot open the window, so I just knock at my window until they notice me and force the door to set me free.

      There is no food in the hotel. At the barbecue joint next door are two girls, dolled up like twins, but obviously not sisters.  They look Mexican and African, some racial melting pot. They try to speak to me as they prepare some food. but, once again, I can’tt understand their accent. I ask them to ‘speak like a robot,’ a favor I ask of  all Americans I don’t understand.

      As I sit at the table I glimpse a tall stranger in a electric blue T shirt, lurking beyond the door. While I eat, this same guy enters the joint with two uniformed policeman, an elderly cop and a young one. I  suppose that they are all friends, and I’m glad to be eating in a place where the local police eat, for they say such places are the best.

     However, the stranger’s hands are handcuffed behind his back. I am the only customer here. I eat steadily and calmly. They are arresting me,  says the stranger to one girl.  The other girl runs straight out of the shop.

      BUT WHY? the girl says quietly in dismay. He says nothing.  Finally she snatches the cell phone from his belt. He is bravely silent.  The police are polite and waiting for something.  The girl looks desperate.  She uses his cellphone, and begs her mom to pick up her daughter from school…

      Outside the window a police car arrives. The two cops throw the electric blue guy inside. Now the girl is now trembling uncontrollably.  She phones somebody else and announces: he just got arrested. Big tears are rolling down her pretty dolled-up face.  A few minutes ago, she was so happy.

    I look straight into her eyes and say: don’t worry. She smiles shyly.  She is ashamed. All of a sudden I understand this girl to the marrow of her bones. She is poor and hardworking and pretending to keep up appearances. She knows that her husband is a half-criminal, her family is whatever, but surely not a big support to her. Her children have no future, but every morning she puts on a brave face and comes to this joint where she makes sandwiches. She makes salads and speaks to the customers as if she worked in a Hilton, not this small shabby barbecue joint for poor people like herself. He world has crumbled right in front of my eyes.

      I saw that face somewhere else, when my daughter had to part  with me in the war, when she lost her favorite expensive blouse, knowing she will never be able to afford a new one. I know the pretense behind these faces, which put on the airs of rich girls and want to be sexy and tough. I wanted to hug her.  Instead, I finished my salad and left. I left  with the calm that I left my daughter at the airport: as if that was all normal, that was life.

    No, my girls, that is not what I think life should be about.  I mean to fight for a better one.

Oct 22, 2005

After my reading, the shuttle from Olympia back to Seattle does not show up.  I have to ask for a cab again. I get one.  The new cab driver has silver braces over his teeth, a shaved head, and two days’ beard. He is very tall,  dressed entirely in black, with tiny dark eye glasses and pants covered with zippers and strips. He asks me for 150 dollars of deposit.  Yesterday the drive from Seattle cost 105.

    It is dark. Despite my lack of deposit, he starts driving anyway. As we go, he politely explains to me his personal theory of human evolution.  His theory involves dinosaurs, Freemasons and aliens.

      He says, my dad worked for Boeing, and I am not an educated guy, but…  His theory, based on observation rather than book learning,  was long, very elaborate and involved Nostradamus.

     Finally my cab driver gets to the subject of the war in Iraq. He thought of joining the army, but then his pals who came back from the war told him a few stories. One story was about  killing a child, the other about killing a pregnant woman, who was not pregnant at all, but was a suicide bomber with an explosive belt.  I imagine that he read both of these stories rather than hearing them, because I myself knew them already.

    Then he told me: My motto is: save the environment, kill yourself. Only perfect genocide can ecologically save this planet.  That is why I don’t care for these small petty wars. My pals returned from Iraq, shattered and traumatized, but they still listen to the same music. And Bush, he is not alone; although Bush is dumb he is driven by others, he is a puppet.

    At my reading event last night, I heard from my audience that Olympia is the most progressive place in the US. Some true pacifist rhetoric and thinking came up. At the same time, round the corner, probably, my cab driver was sitting with his pals and drinking beer, while exposing them to his pacifist evolutionist theory, based on a successful total chemical genocide.

     He  delivered me to the Seattle airport in time, and took all the money I could scatter from my pockets.  Then he shook my hand and said, have a  nice day.

23 October, 2005

In LA

I gave a speech last night at a book store.  I called my speech: “Love Your Enemy Because It Is Good for You.”  Loving the enemy  is a rational thing to do, because people who don’t give or receive love plain die. It was very Californian and spiritual speech by my standards, though delivered in a completely non Californian rhetoric.

    A guy from my audience remarked: I think you have accelerated karma.  Things just happen to you, he observed. So don’t think too much, just sit down and write.

    That’s exactly what I am doing here in LA. I can feel my IQ is going down every single day, but my art is doing just fine in California.  No wonder the underground art scene in LA is the strongest one in the world.

28th  October .2005

Barcelona

  In Amsterdam, the Schengen visa guy at the European Community border was unhappy to see me, from California, with my German visa, heading towards Spain.  He had a right to turn me down, that is the law.  Yet the unwritten rule in all these years has been that people can do that: once you have a Schengen visa, you can fly through European countries in any order you want.

    He was young and severe with me.  I suddenly became keenly aware of my precarious political condition in Europe: the Balkans are in Europe, but not of Europe. I guess I am better off being American. I already feel a lot like a Californian.  Nobody there cares that I am a Serb. Nobody even knows what “Serb” means.  In California, I even forgot the meaning myself. Ignorance can be really blissful sometimes, especially my own ignorance.

      The hotel in Spain is next to an old bullfighting arena, suspended in mid-air by a weird steel construction.  The Spanish are transforming the arena into a mall.  The hotel is extravagant, futuristic and half-ruined; it looks like it was made for the future and failed to meet it. Internet computers are everywhere in this hotel, and nothing in it user-friendly and simple.  Random tourists of all nations are baffled by its intentional dysfunctionality.  I cannot make the lights work. The light react to the number of seconds in which your fingers press the main button.  The bathroom faucets are a gruelling intelligence test: they wind and unwind with no logic except touch and perseverance. The tub overflows straight into the carpet of the room.  Bathers are exposed through glass windows. Taking a shower here is like performing a shower.

    The roof terrace features a swimming pool.  This pool overlooks the suspended bullfighting arena, so the swimmers can be seen by a host of construction workers, fully dressed and busily building the new Barcelona. The pool’s roof has a low glassy edge; it is forbidden for children under 14.  I would guess that most grown ups over 14 would not dare a roof swim, unless they are flirting with suicide.

    In the dining room, people are particularly intimidated by bad design. The utensils are cunningly hidden in obscure places; the drinking glasses are  under the table, while the food is in covered trays perched on high narrow shelves, along  with the cloth napkins and the coffee mugs.  The coffeemakers have buttons all over them, but no obvious spout from which they could leak any coffee.
    I’ve seen elderly people enter this dining room and then simply leave, too ashamed to ask the waiters how to find the food.  I do not wonder about the designer, who is bad.  I do wonder about the investor who paid for the design.  Maybe these two people are the same person.

     I only hope my books don’t sound this disorganized.

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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