LA Diary 2005: November

Nov 1st

Back in LA. At the Spanish border in Barcelona they gave me a special interrogation because of my Serbian passport. The Spanish were doing the dirty work for the US, and they hated it. The girl was sorry and angry for bothering me.

At the US border they took me aside into a small room. I had an interrogation of the first grade from a Mexican American with a heavy accent. I could hardly understand him, but he could understand me. I was telling the truth, that I was a writer, writing books published even in US, but he found my truth suspicious. He said, they must be interesting, I wish you would send me an autographed copy…

I wondered how much was written in that computer in front of him, about my public work in the US. Would he approve of any of it? I remember in Spain, many years ago during sanctions, when the Spanish police were supposed to be controlling me, they would actually support me.

I just got off a violent and cheap flight to LA, on KLM, with no space and lousy service. We passengers might as well be holding each other’s hands: an American guy on my right, on my left a dark, silent woman.

The American guy starts drinking heavily, extorting drinks from the unpleasant Dutch stewardess. I am on his side until he starts speaking; he is US military coming back from Iraq. He is full of praise for his mission and troops. He is the hope for Iraqi people, he is drunk and hopeless. He is about to retire and he has done many wars before: married to an American Indian woman, they have many sons, he is full of praise for his Native American wife and he is giving me compliments, too…

I am silent. I always like to hear sincere voices even if they are losers; I only wonder how many people he killed. He went to high school with Jimi Hendrix in Seattle, he repeats many times. I wonder what made him this dumb bully that he is. Is this the same force that drove Jimi Hendrix to premature death?

The dark woman on my left is hardly moving while the guy is shouting and expanding in volume: she says sorry every now and than. I look at her, she looks like a woman from Iraq. Instead, she is from Iran, but she claims she is French. We are filling out visa forms, she has the same form I do even though she claims she is French. I ask her a question or two, but she is too embarrassed to answer, so I stop.

At the US border in LA, she too is taken with me, into a small room, without her luggage. Then they move her into yet another, more secluded room. She waves kindly to me as they take her away. The Mexican officer in front of me, talking to his colleague and ignoring my presence, says: send her back. No way she can come in. Her papers are no good.

Her luggage is somewhere on the moving board. They didn’t let her pick it up. In the plane, she was redoing her make up from scratch, looking sideways at me, shyly at me, while the American soldier was rambling his head off. The picture of an occupational war; I wonder who is paying her trip back to wherever she comes from.

I am happy it was not me: as a Serb, I am better off these days than an Iranian. The American soldier is telling, in a convinced, loud voice, all those lies and indecencies we hear everyday on TV, here in US, from Bush and his men. At the border the customs officers perform all the rituals that were performed on them, some years before, when they too were immigrants and not citizens. And Jimi Hendrix is dead. The American officer is misquoting him: ‘scuse me, while I kiss this guy… Something went wrong somewhere in history, to produce this transition to nowhere.

Nov 2

Happy to be back in LA among my derelicts. There were so few in Barcelona, though I did see some in the bushes in the parks. Barcelona even more than LA/USA has this multinational-visual and political mix and appeal; only ten years ago, Barcelona was a closed nationalist province, with an aggressive Catalonian mentality. They were given money and the Olympic games. Then they had to pull down the walls, face the sea and the world. The fortress city became a Babylon. I wish the same fate to this fascist version of the USA.

Novem. 4th, 2005

At a Code Pink meeting last night, parallel elections were planned; an initiative of concerned citizens who don’t want to be cheated at the ballot-box. So every citizen will vote in the box the civilians are offering them, asked to vote the same way they voted in the official place. I will hold that box myself.

My new dear friend here told me her life story. She came out of drugs and a lousy marriage, leaving behind two daughters, and seeing only her son. She is a trauma survivor, similar to me. I survived wars, my own and other people’s.

She talked about an emptiness inside her that made her take drugs or drink, a spiritual void. Once she managed to overcome that, she was able to start a new clean life. Her lack of love made her an addict. At the lowest point of her life she was sleeping in a shelter with derelicts, near a place where she once used to work. Nobody, friends or family, wanted anything to do with her. Strangers
helped her…

I talked to a sister of Cindy Sheehan. I didn’t know she was the sister, but we both spoke of trauma as a first trigger for rebellion and survival. I wish things could be easier than that.

My father talked to me, deaf as he is, on the phone. He preached his end of the world tale: every evening when the darkness falls, we don’t know if we will see the sun rise. We might be killed before morning, robbed by criminals. From Belgrade I hear only desperate sad stories. Here also… the richest country and the poorest have desperation and war trauma in common.

6th November, 2005

Rolling Stones in LA. After 40 years they reappear in that same arena where, in 1966, The Rolling Stones gave one of the biggest and best rock concerts in the world. It’s exciting even to sit here in Pasadena and listen to the radio as the crowd gathers in Hollywood Bowl.

Last night, Saturday night fever here. Screams, helicopters, police sirens, police loudspeakers… What on earth was going on? Were they hunting some teenager speeding in a car? Whatever it was, I really felt that I was living in LA: the film-noir version of LA, where people try to sleep in a city that never sleeps.

November 8th

Parallel elections in East LA

Jo and I, women activists from Pasadena, are assigned a table in front of the polling place on Soto Street: a poor Mexican neighborhood. Some inhabitants don’t speak English, we can hardly speak Spanish. We are two middle-aged blondes but we look OK.

We hold a parallel election ballot list with 8 questions that the Governor of California is asking the people. We also have a notebook where voters are supposed to sign their names, stating that they are doing this parallel voting voluntarily. We also have a handmade paper box where the
parallel voting list is cast.

They are supposed to vote the same way they did it in the official place some minutes before. Inside the building they have computers and officials. We with our cardboard box are standing a hundred feet away from the official site, as the law requires.

Our purpose is to make sure that the computers don’t fake the election results. Rumors have been going on that such a thing already happened when Bush was elected in Florida. I ask the guy inside, how come you don’t have ink to put on the voters’ fingers, so that you make sure people don’t vote twice?

I come from Serbia, we have the exact same procedure except for the ink. This is democracy Madame, he replies, there is only so much one can do.

My friend is phoning me. She is laughing loudly. You know what the news is? It seems that the governor was told, when he went to vote, that he already voted once… and that apparently he did not. However, you can spread the story…

It is a citizens’ initiative, no partisans, no group names… A small Spanish-speaking woman approaches me: we speak with hands and noises, but I gather, she is from a labor union. She wants to bring us a guy who will help out the locals, somebody the voters may trust and understand. Twenty percent of the population is turning out here at the official site and we are getting only twenty percent of the twenty.

The elderly guy who helped us bring the table reminds me of my “reserve husband” as we feminists from Serbia used to call our Professor handyman; a guy who would come and fix everything that was broken in a household, an honest and clever worker, vox populi. The LA guy is trembling and shouting while telling me: I cannot stand this anymore, these peace protests which
change nothing. This is the first thing we are doing that matters…I was desperate, I nearly lost faith in the possibility to make a difference.

My Serbian “reserve husband” also used to say, after god knows how many
elections, stolen or abused by the regime of Milosevic: I don’t believe in anybody anymore, I would not even vote for myself.

Jo, who is a professional retired nurse, worked here some years ago. She says, I don’t know why, but only when I do this, do I feel at home. You are the first lady of parallel elections, I tell her, you were born to do this. Jo gives long, calm speeches on democracy and citizenship, public duties, the spirit of democracy, speeches which awaken the most indifferent upper middle class people in Pasadena and compel the poor to trust her.

Mary stands at the other entrance of the site. She tells me; I work in this school, I know these people, they are one of the least politically active — they are afraid of the authorities. A young girl with a newborn is not afraid: she steps next to us and boldly puts her name on the paper. The girls are braver and in control of their male companions.

A middle aged woman is smiling at us, but running away: I have to cook dinner for the family, she explains. A garbage woman asks us for a candy and tells us she already voted elsewhere… Women have a sweet tooth for politics, given the proper ingredients. I am sure, ruling this world would be a piece of cake for them.

Counting the ballots in the Warszawa restaurant in Santa Monica ’till midnight, a dozen of us: private video cameras are on for the sake of credibility and accountability. A historical moment, says the professor from UCLA who is in charge of all of this, who already did it in San Diego. We, from the streets, from the alternative elections, are telling our experiences, how things could be done better, and what went well. We laugh some, but we are nervous. In Serbia for days on end we did parallel counting of an election which proved to be stolen by Milosevic. Our efforts toppled him.

This morning the governor of California stepped down from his 8 proposed legal amendments: he lost in the official as well as parallel elections The victory the people of California won last night – against restrictions of human rights – are just a step in the US, against world fundamentalist aggressive politics against democratic individual rights.

The issues once again were: restriction of abortion policy, union rights, health and social security. A small step for the individual, but a big one for humankind…

November 10

The shop round the corner in Pasadena is run by some Chinese people, a couple who can hardly speak English. They are almost always open. They have everything one might need in the middle of the night, from cigarettes to bread.

I go there sometimes, but I stopped ever since I had a feeling that the husband wanted to grope me. I noticed he seemed especially eager when there was no one else in the shop.

Yesterday I went to buy cigarettes. I peeped in to see who was selling; the wife alone. So I entered, I gave her a ten dollar bill. I took my package and she smiled and gave me change for 5 dollars

I said, I think I gave you a ten dollar bill. No no no, she said, smiling hysterically, five five five five. Chinese people here tend to shout, frightened, when you ask them something they don’t understand.

I backed off; I was ashamed and afraid and hurt. I was sure I had given her a ten dollar bill, but fear and doubts started haunting me: I may be wrong. She may be frightened. She may be wrong. But then I am a coward who cannot stand up for her own rights…

I left the shop dumbfounded by my own inability to deal with such a problem. It is not the first time. It is not the amount of money that matters, it is my fear, the fear of a victim…
I stood unable to move. She did not come after me. She had no doubts. I thought, maybe she is getting back at me for some reason…

By the time my friend came to pick me up in her car, I was shattered with anger. I told her the story. She said: let’s park and think this out. If you want to go back there, I will come with you.

My legs started to tremble: what if this, what if that? We circled the block. Then we parked and bravely entered the shop, my ladylike friend ahead of me…

Ten dollars, ten dollars, the thief cried out, here five, I run after you… I snatched the money and I ran out of the shop, boiling. She was lying. She didn’t run after me to undo a mistake. She gave me back the stolen money, only because she thought my friend was a policewoman.

I shuddered. But then, what if she were right all along? What if she gave me that money out of fear?

At a film festival in Hollywood: I am sitting in a reserved spot with a pass from one of the sponsors. I got the pass by pure chance, but people are talking to me as if I were somebody who matters in the film industry. I am down, I have problems of my own. I went to a film festival to forget problems I have back in Belgrade.

Here I am surrounded by movie stars and producers from Hollywood. Their loud superficiality baffles me, it gets on my nerves… Movies stars are small and ugly compared to their screen images: they have a code of behavior all their own, all false amiability and fake happiness. They are a mafia, and a tough one…

The films are a mixed bag. If they are made well, then they are empty and violent. If they have some substance to them, then they are made badly. Financing, I guess. What a money-centered society this is, Hollywood in particular. Empty films of violence get all the money and make all the money. I wonder if that is true. Why does it happen, who makes it happen that way?

Novem 13

A half-built house on the top of the Malibu mountains, overlooking the sea, a red sunset in the polluted air. It is being built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson and his wife… The wife of the architect looks like my grandma used to look, a long white braid on one side, blue tender eyes, and shy intelligent body language.

I always wanted to grow old that way, like this Californian correction of a Serbian lady. We had a meeting. Most people spoke of spirituality as means of transformation. I spoke of action; when I talk in public about activism, my American friend says I am ‘activating.’ I learn a lot from their laid-back Californian way of being calm. My activists from Serbia could use some of this. The Californians, on the other hand, are amazed at my so called courage, though when it comes to our Balkan struggles I am not even the courageous one of the lot.

A half-built house on a mountain overlooking the sea. That is my dream house, one that never stops being constructed…

“* LA Times Fires Longtime Progressive Columnist Robert Scheer *

“The Los Angeles Times newspaper last week announced that it was firing longtime columnist Robert Scheer. Scheer has been at the Times for 30 years and was one of the most progressive voices at the paper. In recent years, his columns took on the Bush Administration and its justifications for the invasion of Iraq.”

Friends went to the LA Times to protest about the firing of Scheer, and wrote to me about their small crowd of protesters, the police, and the Times security. Scheer wrote about the slums in LA downtown, about those deported there from other, richer parts of the city, the derelicts and prostitutes, dumped by police in an area where the lofts have some of the highest prices in the world…

Two nights ago I attended a lecture by Robert Fisk, the British war journalist living in Lebanon for the past thirty years, and now covering the war in Iraq. Only after two hours of his moving political activism in journalism I realized, this man, Robert Fisk, is the friend of Nuha al-Radi, my Iraqi correspondent. I went up to him and told him my name: he knew of me, because he was Nuha’s close friend, too. I wondered what had gone on between the two of them. I was moved.

All of a sudden, in front of that crowd of his fans, Fisk shouted at me: “Svi americki novinari su ovce!” Meaning, “All American journalists are sheep.” He had once been a correspondent in Belgrade, too.

18 November, 2005

I tried to get married today, here at the LAX airport municipality. Pregnant women, refugees and poor people of all colors. Basically, loud and in love.

The clerks behind the desks are basically black and huge, but pleasant, especially when you call them Sugar. My friend is American and I am Serbian. This was our second attempt to get married.

He had a lecture to deliver. We had one hour to reach the LAX municipality for our wedding appointment. At the lecture, they were asking me, are you….? Yes yes I am… I was waving my hand impatiently since they were applauding him, and then never ending with their questions as time was ticking for our wedding license. LA traffic, I am sure, is some kind of destiny in LA people’s lives…

As we joined the traffic and fought our way across town, we were quite philosophical about it. Inside the courthouse, though, we were turned down twice by the security people inside the building — they kept finding metal objects in their scanners. Once again, black huge sugar people enforcing useless rules, I started panicking. I started breaking all the rules, going back and forth through the scanner gates. The young black security guy asked me: now ma’am, why are
you doing this? All the red lights were on, the sound sensor was hissing…

I am trying to be helpful, I said…

At the sixth floor, at our turn at the head of the line, we are missing a vital paper, the same one we were missing two weeks ago, but that we managed to obtain from Belgrade. The big black woman clerk slowly shook her head in disapproval. I looked around the room. Our document was on the floor, we plain dropped it. Thank God nobody threw it away or destroyed, this abandoned item no longer belonging to anybody.

The black woman asked us to spell, again, the names of our mothers. I was moved, but I guess it was merely a check of the authenticity of our documentation. After a few misspellings, we acquired the license to marry: but not the official leaflet for newlyweds, called YOUR FUTURE. Do we have a future?

The couple behind us, two big black people tenderly groping each other, started to laugh.

I had a new dress on. I had bought it on impulse, the day before. I was so
miserable and I went out for a walk. A young man was calling my name in the street: Jasmina Jasmina. I turned around and found it was a journalist who had once interviewed me.

He swiftly gave me 100 dollars cash. He said, you never phoned me for your money…

I put the cash in my pocket and trudged on. I was thinking of how my aging, cranky father makes my life miserable. The sun was so strong that I entered a shop, and my glance fell on a dress of thin Indian silk, the color of clotted blood.

I said to myself; I want to be buried in this dress. I tried it on. It fit me like my own skin. I bought it without asking for price: it cost eighty-four dollars.

It was a sign, ’84, the year of my daughter’s birthday, Orwell’s year. I wore it for my attempted wedding. We got all our documents successfully, but the crowd was too thick for us to find a judge that day. I will wear this new dress whenever I attempt something…

Nov 19th 2005

Code Pink is winning a peace prize. I am invited to sit at the table at a country club. Dinner costs 200 dollars for the peace fans; rich, famous old people, famous for their work in art and politics, and famous for being against wars through America’s dark history.

Martin Sheen is there. He gives a speech and they playfull call him ‘the President,’ since he played one on American TV. Daniel Ellsberg gives a powerful speech against the war in Iraq, but instead of saying ‘Iraq’ he says ‘Vietnam’ almost every single time. Nobody interrupts or corrects him.

Jodie Evans of Code Pink is nervous, she speaks of ‘the gals’ in her movement and about her stepfather. She reads her speech from her notes: she looks like a movie star and behaves like one. But she is not, she is a woman from the streets who has been marching since the age of 14. The movie stars try to look like street fighters, to prove that they are reciting their own convictions rather than a script. They are convincing. They convince me for sure, I am sitting as if the whole spectacle is made for me to enjoy it.

Dolores, the trade union legend, is talking as if for posterity: I cannot enumerate the things Dolores has done for farmworkers in the fields, people half a step away from slavery and peonage, and she is only seventy, or less. Democracy in US has been a slow process. And also a risky business. They speak of Bob Kennedy and how he was assassinated in California. Only few days ago the hotel where he was shot was torn down, but a documentary was made there in the last days of its existence. That is Hollywood.

Ten thousand dollar fund-raising checks are flying…Other less heavy donations follow, the last ones being 100 dollar checks, yet they all flying in…The food is lousy but abundant, food for people on diets. The wine is paid by tickets, glass by glass: a very stingy style, since nobody even drinks.

Hollywood does not drink or smoke in public. The movie clans are family people, and their children are successful clones. They are not convincing as everyday people, and neither are their children: the kids are dressed up as stiff as puppets, obviously not enjoying themselves, but putting up with the public’s awe about their famous parents. I don’t even know who these stars are, though I do recognize their faces from somewhere.

A guy from the parallel elections is here: he looked like a low key guy in the streets with us, but instead he is some big shot. Even the LA Women in Black here behave like first ladies or movie stars. When again will I have the chance to witness something like this again? Never, I hope. As Cindy Sheehan puts it: we marched together, now we are getting the prizes together. The language is conservative and slightly fake, yet brilliant and true at the same time.

A very small, and very old, but very energetic woman trips over the wheelchair of a war veteran. She falls head over heels, with a huge impact, right into my chair. Her eyeglasses are in my lap. She tumbles onto the floor under the banquet table. Everybody jumps to save her. She gets up and has her picture taken with Jodie Evans. She still seems intact, physically and emotionally. The nice girl sitting next to me is still trembling at the ruckus; all this accidental attention our table got, all of sudden… I decide to say nothing in public tonight, just to watch silently. Limelight is a risky business, and not only for pacifists.

21 November, 2005

Grand Canyon, the radio says, one of the seven marvels of the world…. WHERE, what world, they whole world, or the US world?

I could list some marvels I encountered in my life, those natural sites with light and air that made me cry.… too much beauty. As somebody said, there is too much beauty in this world and not enough love, that is why I cry… I cried in the Grand Canyon today: the names of the sites, Osiris, Isis, like my childhood in Cairo… the shapes of those Calvino’s invisible cities are Yemen…and the Canyon itself , well that was Crete and the Minotaur plain…the sky and the heights, that was Mljet the eden island of the Mediterranean…

I cried in those places, at the sunsets at the sunrises, and in the middle of the day when you see the half moon hanging above your head. A star, signaling to you. In the depths and slopes of the Grand Canyon an American bald eagle flies freely and busily.

On the scary edge of the abyss I feel turned to stone. You look at the abyss, says my American friend, and the abyss looks back at you… I dare not look, because I am afraid of being seduced by the power of the leap to nowhere. Is it worth a life to end it in a moment of glory and union with nature? The son of my friend leapt to his death from a high place… today I understood him.

24 November, 2005

Thanksgiving dinner at friends’ house in Culver City. American food: meaning turkey, raspberry and famous gravy… The hostess is Japanese, and some other guests are foreigners too… I ask: what does Thanksgiving mean? Whom are we thanking, what for… It is a family gathering, and we are thanking everybody for everything…

28 November.2005

In the Swiss consulate in LA: there is nobody waiting for a visa. I have my ducks in a row, my papers are in hand. I still have my old instinct to tremble in front of the counter but this silence makes me relax. The woman functionary is kind to me. Although there is an explicit paper saying that I cannot get a Swiss visa while using my American tourist visa, she is going to give it to me THIS TIME, she says. I cannot believe it: good things can happen as much as bad things.

Good things have very rarely happened to me with my passport in any embassy or police institution, but this time, it just flew. A wave of self confidence is embracing me. I notice how these political personal matters influence my daily self esteem. And of course the reverse: my long feeling of being invisible came from the fact that I was denied visibility.

In Pasadena, the castle is upside down, for a big film crew has got hold of it. They are shooting the film ‘Bobby’ about Robert Kennedy. The castle is standing in for the Hotel Ambassador, the place where Kennedy was shot, and which was demolished in November, here in LA. The son of Martin Sheen is directing the movie.

Only few days ago Martin Sheen spoke of the shots they made in the last hours and minutes before the hotel was blown up: allegedly with some material evidence in it. Now they are here where I live. A Hollywood set like any other.


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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