LA Diary 2005: December

December 1, 2005

New York City

A rally against global warming in the center of the city: Saturday, gusty winds, cold… badges, sticker anti-Bush propaganda materials spread on a table.

Only a few people show up, and most of them are taking the loudspeaker and screaming something… in LA more people would show, but I am not sure in LA the weather is amiable, and so are the pacifists. These New York guys are angrier and older. Nobody really cares. Maybe times are over for this kind of political activism. Steph’s band decides to perform after all: they didn’t expect so few people. The street livens with their trumpets, drums and flags, as well as funny colorful uniforms, but overall, it feels sad.

Sunday, December 5, 2005

A fair for small publishers; close to 42nd Street. Flags all over the place, an event spread through three storeys of an old building. All over the place, the smell of books and coffee. The staircase squeaks, the audience has long hair and dirty fingernails, the writers are pale and overweight, the readers are pale and underweight. Maybe the readers are the writers, or vice versa.

The alternative underground scene looks the same all over the world: catalogues instead of free books, the happy and anxious faces of the authors and publishers, cakes and recitals…. My feminist small press from Belgrade could be there. These publishers are exposing feminists, leftists, underground books…no chick lit, whatever that means.

Monday December 6th, 2005

Sitting in a coffee shop, in the street where New York’s big publishers are concentrated. Their buildings are as big as banks. It is lunchtime.

Two girls are sitting next to me, one is heavily pregnant, the other one is slightly older, but they could be sisters. They are pretty, dainty, and dressed in black. They talk about books and book jobs.

The pregnant girl is angry, she is saying: if you look at the bestseller list, it is all the same books, I am fed up with that, bored…I want to get out of that. The other girl is concerned: you could be a great agent you know, there is a limit to everything, if you haven’t burned out…

But I don’t like the books they are publishing, insists the pregnant girl.

The friend soothes her: I am just saying, you would like your job I am just saying, you could be good at it.

The pregnant girl is hard to please. She raves and rants against her corporation.

Gosh, I’ve heard this complaining so many times from the author’s mouth, me being the first one to say it… but it is so consoling to hear it from New York insiders, from those who actually make a living from publishing. Even though I am on the wrong side of the loot, I am happy to learn that I am not crazy.

Everybody knows what I know, but it seems nobody knows how to change it or stop it. It is just as with wars, a few people impose on the rest, and the rest have no will or knowledge to stop the few.

December 8, 2005

For weeks, my American friend has been building a huge mobile for the Art Center. I was his only helper… ignorant, but interested in arts and crafts.

Today a cherry picker picked up the mobile and attached it to the giant ceiling. It was a success. It didn’t fall down or break, it swirled like centripetal atoms. It made tears come to my eyes. As I stuck wires, pulled ropes and painted tubes, I never envisioned this big-picture moment when the details come into order. A mobile is made out of wind like a Golem is made out of clay.

My American friend had the tired and empty face of that boy who faked he knew the secret, and yet proved to know the secret after all.

December 9th,

The silence is suffocating me. Give Americans pets and popcorn, and they will forget about their taxes being used for wars. They despise their government but disdain to make their criticisms public. Where are the writers who are honest American citizens, like Harold Pinter, or any John Doe?

Getting married at the LAX municipality: a very short ceremony, says the big black county clerk, it does not hurt, 25 dollars please. This is our third attempt, I plea … After you fill in those forms and marry, in 8 weeks you will get the certificate… The planes over our heads are like the confetti… The sun is emerging from the clouds… My American friend is wearing his Jhane Barnes shirt and a sweater bought on Ebay… I am wearing my leather jacket, bought 24 years ago for big money…. Our witness Xeni Jardin appears, with platinum hair and towering on heels, like Marilyn Monroe. She looks more of a bride than me.

The big black old judge in his long robe who performs the wedding is full of respect for Xeni’s shiny boots. He has jewels on his hands and sports an earring. I am choking with laughter and fun. Our judge thinks I can’t speak the language, so we speak like robots.

I could live in an airport. I already live in a suitcase, really. I write diaries instead of novels.

December 10th, 2005

Ecstasy show in MOCA, LA downtown, the artist district. I visited it some time ago, with its derelicts and prostitutes. Ecstasy is a big, fancy show with a typical LA art-scene audience. The art and its visitors have one thing in common, they love parallel worlds more than the mainstream. They see this and portray this in their work and bodies, but they don’t call it drugs. From ancient Egypt to Walter Benjamin and the seventies… alternative states and values have been a life of the mind: sometimes called escapism, sometimes truth… Black and white, yin and yang, if you abolish one side, the other will perish.

Karaoke bar in Burbank. At first sight it seems like a dive, not exactly a gypsy dive on the Danube in Serbia, but pretty much an American dive in Hollywood, a place to be with movie stars who are now waitresses, cowboys singers who are actually TV technicians. The Burbank area is the TV area in LA: all those American serials and talk shows we foreigners abhor (or adore) are produced here. These people in this bar, drunk and dissolute, are the employees: they talk of famous people they met.

One of them says: and he danced and sang karaoke with me here, as if he never had a show in his life, and he was seventy. I don’t bother to ask who this was: a comedian, an actor… I would not know the name anyway — some local TV celebrity without a private life.

An agent from NY said: in LA everybody goes crazy. It is all about plastic surgery and blondes.

The singing girls, half-nude, dance badly and lack elegance, but they seem really passionate, and somehow innately talented. When I was in Cuba, I realized that all Cubans can dance. Now I realize that in LA, all people are show people.

December 11, 2005

A farewell party at Code Pink for me. I feel alienated, as if cut off from the lymphatic flow of my future. Code Pink has a future. What about me? It will be either them, or Bush. By now I feel Bush is my enemy too. I want to go to New Orleans and work with the people of that wrecked city for their future, that will be my future too… We in wrecked cities who lost our futures…

They did him in, Tookie; it is my first capital punishment in California. They say, however, that Texas held the first place in executions while Bush was the governor.

Now Bush has the whole world to sample, to decree who deserves to live and who to die, who is a terrorist and who is a patriot, who can have scissors and who can have guns. Good and bad guys, it all looks like Hollywood and cowboy films. It not only looks like that. It really is like that.

This Tookie, this black Californian, I don’t care if he is guilty or not. I say when interviewed by TV, as if my opinion mattered: the death penalty is barbarism and a crime against humanity, like torture.

How do you feel? the reporter asks me with tender feelings. What does that matter, I scream, it is not about feelings, it is about human rights. In point of fact, I feel awful. We are standing in front of a federal building where we try to squeeze in, as if we were employees, in order to use their toilets during a protest lasting longer than two hours. I am bleeding, and it is not my heart. I am hungry, and it is not my soul. Six TV reportage cars are parked around us, only a few cops and a lot of free lance photographers.

People, not that many yet, but not as small as these crowds can be. Faces I know: pacifists, hippies, mostly middle aged people, just like those few I saw in New York City, dancing in the wind against global warming issues and Bush’s response to Kyoto. I feel awful because I come from a country where ethnic cleansing was done legally and in my name; I feel America is my country too by now, and I feel the worst side of my new patriotism. The guy was black, the guy was a writer, the guy seems to be a redeemed soul dedicating his book to radicals and pacifists.

Angela Davis is speaking in front of the San Quentin prison in San Francisco. Thousands of people are rallying there. Harold Pinter speaks on video at his Nobel Prize event, but where are those voices in the USA? What are my favorite American writers doing these days, Philip Roth, John Updike… If only one of them said half of the things Pinter said, American writers would be winning Nobels. Only a dying man from Old Europe, in a wheelchair, dares to name the facts with their proper names. Literature is dead, buried by corporate nuclear wars, depleted uranium and bombings. Oil is blood and writers are selling their souls, not their books.

What next? Democracy is not enough, free information is not enough, Internet is not enough.

A rally is scheduled in front of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s house up in the hills. We drive slowly. The view is beautiful and misty, the fancy Sunset Boulevard houses decorated with toys and Christmas lights. At the top a sparkling gate opens as sesame, we drive in; the two blondes from Code Pink. On our sides are black limos and SUVs, men in dark suits smoking and talking busily on the cell phones; we pass them and reach the top of the hill; a dead end street.

The Governor’s house is not lighted; nobody is to be seen. On our way back, the cars and people have vanished, only a few spooky man in black are seen here and there; we stop in front of the gate. One car approaches us.

Do you need something? they ask us, no thank you we answer. They scrutinize us and leave.

The next security SUV is more insistent: my friend here is not feeling well, Jo improvises. You can take her to the restroom, the guy offers with concern. I realize it may be that we have innocently entered a gated community, surrounding the Governor’s house. I am thrilled, but not happy to be dragged by the security and interrogated.

We have a friend on the other side of the street, Jo says. As it happens, this is true. You don’t live here? they ask, startled. They escort us hurriedly to the security gates, and make sure that we go up the other side of the hill. The friend is luckily at home. She opens the door, lets us in and gives us a drink and a phone. All the fuss with scissors and security and yet, we trespassed. Not only that, but we managed to get in with sticker on our car saying CODE PINK and STOP THE NEXT WAR NOW. We also managed to get out without being harassed.

It is sad evening to wait for a person to be publicly and legally executed, and then go to bed thinking that we have done all we could.Life stinks. How do executioners feel? The decision makers, how do they feel? Why don’t TV reporters demand to know their feelings? In any case, whatever we said and did will not be broadcast. Some of our photos with candles will be published, with captions saying stuff we didn’t say and didn’t mean.

I don’t believe in God or pure spirituality, I held a candle to make a difference in the dark. It didn’t make much difference, that candle. It barely warmed my hands.

December 17 2005

Good bye to my derelicts and artists.

The first things I noticed in Pasadena, in my LA, were the well behaved derelicts and artists. Sometimes they were both, sometimes quite split, but as compared to those in other big dirty cities. I like them. This city brought law and order into those elements of the society which are anarchic, random, unstable.

I was told that in NY some mayor, Giuliani I think, for some period of time hid and shut the NY derelicts. The city looked safer and cleaner. What did he do with the artists, I wonder? Here in LA, the last few days it has been cold, and the derelicts have grown bad: my last impression of LA will be that the bums are shouting after me, asking me for money, and even touching me. I dreamt this night that I was actually robbed, without my documents, without my computer…

Christmas is approaching; people are getting nervous. Especially the derelicts, who are homeless in the cold, and the artists, who prefer art and friends and drugs to piety and family values. I am one of them, both or split: I am fleeing LA, back to Serbia, and when the Orthodox Christmas comes to Serbia, I will be in Italy, where the Catholic Christmas will already be over.

In Europe we have beggars and prostitutes on the street; they have no shelters or common kitchens, they ask for money and sleep in the basements. My gypsy beggar and a prostitute neighbor, Mica, has her spiritual sister here in Pasadena. She calls herself ‘The Artist’ and performs with a shrilling voice and a discordant guitar on Colorado Boulevard, in front of the US Post Office. She wears wigs and a lot of make up. The other day another homeless guy came up to her and stared longingly while she was playing: he admired her. Most people just hurry to escape the range of her croaking voice.

I see her often in this district: she shops in the Target store, clothes and cosmetics… she shops food at Gelson’s grocery, and one evening, I saw her all dolled up going to Lucky Baldwin’s, for a beer and a cigarette. She seems always busy and determined, as if a day does not have enough hours for her. I wonder if she sees me, or anybody.

My Mica knows me pretty well, I made photos and performances of her and with her. This Artist woman I would not dare to touch; this is America, this is California: we live in gated communities, gated minds and class trenches here.

I tried to imagine how beautiful Pasadena must have been, before these gates and cars and cops and firemen had made these New Order rules. When the eccentric owner built the castle 104 years ago, it was surrounded by green trees, grass, and a bridge to the railway, to the other side of the almost nonexistent city… Carriages and horses and dogs and squirrels were all over the place, and their sounds would tell the difference between day and night or mark the time of the day. Homeless didn’t exist, they were pioneers, walkers… like Charles Fletcher Lummis, or John Whiteside Parsons, the two legends and faces of old and new Pasadena.

19th December 2005

Leaving LA

Christmas mania. I hope they really enjoy it: I don’t, and I never did. I hate when my favorite rock and roll radio station plays Christmas rock or K-jazz plays jazz Christmas. It pollutes and degrades the genres.

Yesterday I entered a shop in Pasadena, across the street from the castle. I never knew what they were selling in there; trinkets, it seemed. For Christmas the store expanded radically, they have an adjacent tent and salespeople dressed as Christmas trees or Santa Claus. They are selling trinkets, yes, but all trinkets for Christmas, trinkets for a one night stand: funny expensive, ridiculous, kitschy. A statue of Santa in Hawaiian shirt and sandals with sun glasses… the Hawaiian Santa beats them all. This is how a rich society celebrates Christmas.

The night before, at a private dinner, a Code Pink woman told me how black poor women attacked Code Pink girls for taking away from them the 8th of March, the international Woman’s Day celebration. According to them, Women’s Day was supposed to be for working class women, for single mothers, for marginalized women, and not a day for fancy, well-to-do white women, dressed for flower power in pink…

Our Armenian landlady threw us a farewell party. Her party was all about dancing and music and eating and drinking and smoking: gosh, I forgot that feeling, that you can come when invited, and never leave… The Communist or Orthodox hospitality… I don’t know… Her american husband left at midnight, but the Armenians went on for ever…. I danced…

The day before, an American hip farewell party; Art Center professors and students. Half-secret smoking on the terrace, scarce food, and wine you bring with you. And yet, it felt good. Ambitious academics rarely throw a party just to enjoy themselves, but to make a point, or fulfill a duty.

The dinner with my Code Pink activists and the dinner with my castle housemates, were both of them moving and sincere. I will miss them, and they will miss me.

Goodbye Pasadena, another goodbye to another place I once belonged to, that I will probably never see again.

Good bye my derelicts, as well as you pacifists, my friends, housemates and professional pals… you will be the ones I will remember, as soon as the strong personal emotions fade away. Pasadena California, the stage in my life when derelicts became jet setters, and vice versa.

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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