The Diary of an American Idiot
January 17, 2005
It is not true that nobody walks in LA. I do. There’s a metro I can reach on foot from my flat in Pasadena.
Off at almost every metro station, wasting time until the next train arrives. Not much to see, except real nice hippie hobos giving speeches almost everywhere, from trains to parks. They seem as if they know a lot, and have as much to deliver. They don’t seem neurotic or geeky. They do seem out of their time and in some particular political space.
Three days of holidays. One belongs to Martin Luther King. He was killed April 4th, but Americans don’t like death dates, I was told. So they celebrate him today, which makes no sense to me. Except that every day is good for pacifist marches. As a Woman in Black, I honor this date wherever I am.
A dry fountain at metro station Mission says: “Women built this for men and horses.”
I notice that people here, even the retired people, are ashamed not to work, even if they have nothing to do.
In Serbia, in Italy, it is a shame to work, so even when they do work, they pretend not to.
In Europe everything is smaller, and the fattest people are never so fat as they can be here. I found an abandoned eye liner on the metro seat. Wow, I will paint my face here in LA.
I cleaned the bare, unfurnished flat. What a beauty it is, white and empty and full of Californian light, which reminds me of Spain and Greece and Rome. I cannot understand the American broom though, its handle is way too long and the brush is not even. It is an ordeal to fight this broom while cleaning. Maybe I could ride it.
Today Steph told me, ‘just write anything that comes across your mind.’ I am not too keen on writing. Writing here is different, to be a writer, a novelist here is a job, just like any other job, to earn money…
In the post office, kind Indians, less kind but still gentle black people help me mail my stuff, half-blind and half-American illiterate as I am. I have no credit cards still, my country got sanctions once again a few days ago.
Then, on my way back, a Mexican cop, young, in black leather, dark glasses, on a motorbike, stops me with a gentle, “ma’am.” Ok, I think, he is going to ask me for directions. Instead he says he wants to talk to me. Lord, I wonder what this is all about. He starts very mysteriously asking me how I managed to cross the street. I explain to him in detail that I pressed the button and waited for the green lights… etc., etc…
Very mysteriously and slightly more loudly he tells me that I blatantly and slowly crossed the street with the red hand telling me to stop. I am confused, I tell him, I am European, we don’t have hands, only traffic lights… Oh, that triggered him. Je got really excited: my passport, my address, when where what… I had no passport, no ID with a photo, and a lot to explain… I am not really following his police small-talk, I am more interested in the meta-event, he notices that, it gets on his nerves… At that point he pulls out his notebook and starts interrogating me…my birth date, the color of my eyes, my height in inches… I don’t know inches, he measures me with handfuls, I have to take off my sunglasses off to prove the blue color of my eyes… What this is all about? I cannot pull out, I cannot find the right tone, whatever I do or say makes him want to do or say more.
I know my address, a street around the corner, but I don’t know the zip code of California for that street, he is upset… I don’t know how long this goes on, maybe twenty minutes by now, a mini show… I notice he has the dark glasses without reflection and really hip leather jacket that young kids wear in Europe to imitate LA cops… I felt like taking a photo of him with me, for my daughter…
So my first LA cop says, you will be cited to the court in a month or two. WHAT, I say, can’t I pay the fine…no, no says he, not now, in court… This guy is breaking my heart and making me really paranoid now, I don’t know what he asked me, what I said. I told him the truth about everything, and he is doubting everything he claims…Maybe he is only performing his job, though Bush does come into my mind immediately…
To break the spell, I ask him, now you tell me something, where can I buy some food around here, he answers nicely, what kind of food, oh all kind of foods, oh a supermarket you mean, yes I mean that…
Four lights ahead, he points out.
Four blocks, I ask.
No, four lights, he insists.
Ok, I am leaving, he takes my arm, hey ma’am.
Here is your piece of paper. It is yellow and scribbled…
Ok I say…
All right, ma’am, he says.
All right, I say, waving my hand to him.
I don’t like him anymore, I don’t like myself, I am positive I didn’t cross against the red lights.
I explained to him we didn’t have those buttons and hands in Europe, and even if I did, there were other people doing the same thing with me… He picked me out, he waited for me and I walked into his trap.
All of a sudden I am shaking, I remember our policemen during Milosevic, how they tried to harass us, how we managed to talk them down politically with words: this is my country too, you are my police too, you have to protect me, not to harass me…
Well, this is not my country, and these people behave as if people from abroad are their worst enemies… I don’t want to preach to a young Mexican-American policeman who didn’t want foreigners crossing against the traffic lights on his beat…I felt like an Albanian, a Bosnian, a whatever Other in Belgrade during Milosevic. Probably all those cops, I managed to coax into reason in Belgrade depended on the fact that I was a Serb, that it was my hometown more than theirs since they were often from inner Serbia. I think of the political activity I imagined I might do here, suddenly I am frightened, I don’t like the feeling.
At the next block, I see my supermarket, I am crossing the street with no traffic lights, a black security guard told me to do so…laughing when I told him I got a citation to the court for my infraction… The Mexican girl in the market helps me find things I need. She is his female replica, a laughing humble and bright second-generation American, probably the cop’s girlfriend. I need a beer, just like in the good old times of the civil war we had in the streets during Milosevic in Serbia, which really never stopped; it is called racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Wherever it may be.
Summer in winter
Through my window, standing on the ledge, over a roof, fishing with my laptop for a solid free wifi signal which will bring me together with my faraway people, I see a hobo staggering with dignity down my street. He is dressed heavily in green Italian alternative coat from the seventies, wears a woolen red cap with a Santa Claus top, and has boots…though it is really, really hot…In the seventies in Milan, it was the fashion to dress according to the calendar and not the temperature.
A few hours later: I met a Bosnian woman talking in public, on her cell phone, to somebody in our language. She was saying in a miserable voice, alone of course I am alone, I am taking a walk, with whom on earth could I be… She didn’t know I understood her speech. I looked at her. She was well-dressed, well-fed. Everybody in her country I am sure would have envied her looks and possessions, and they sure still do…but she was miserable in California, she missed her gossip over a cup of Turkish coffee, her music, her dirty roads, her small half-broken household… or maybe she had none of those, gone with the wind in the war.
January 28, 2005
In a jazz club in San Diego, downtown: inside it is forbidden to smoke, outside it is forbidden to drink. Inside you can drink, and outside you can smoke: balancing on the threshold one can manage both…or neither…
1 February 2005
Today I received my first letter here in LA, from the local court, a citation to the court, bail $114, six months in prison or $1000 fine if I don’t appear or pay… To pay one has to use a credit card or a check, which I don’t have. I have two months’ time to bail myself out. I can’t believe it, I am furious. I don’t feel guilty, I was mistaken, yes, but not guilty, and my even bigger mistake was not to show fear in front of the ridiculous policeman. I feel like writing a book to ridicule him and his xenophobic law, his tight pathetic leather uniform, his shiny bike instead of a girlfriend, his inability to spell my name properly: Jasmina Tesanobitch, his chicken handwriting on the yellow paper…and his law of fear and reprisal which he calls democracy: I always knew democracy stinks, Socrates told me so, and of course the silence of all those women at his time did, too… the political idiot from Serbia may as well be the global political idiot…
February 7, 2005
Old people in Pasadena
Last week I went to a writer’s workshop here in Pasadena, for women, in an old library, next to a college. I saw the ad in the local newspaper: the women there were few and old, never published. They had games of their own, they knew each other for ages, maybe they were even neighbors. It was like playing bridge. I felt ashamed that I had been published, they immediately told me I should go to a college. I said, but I’ve been there…they indifferently blinked then. The woman in charge told me, we have no criticism here, no discussions, we just write and read… and I did it with them.
Compared to our old women writing, or just anonymous women writing, these American women know how to write. But they write like mainstream writers. I wonder what kept them from publishing. They interrupt their writing in order to talk about pets. I liked that too, I liked their pet talk, the how-to-roast-chicken talk, in the midst of an elaborate murder plot. What these women lack compared to our women in the Balkans is the rebellious streak: women’s writing in Serbia is undermining: it is eversive if not subversive and they know it; it is forbidden, it is blasphemy, and they transgress.
My neighbor here has a small old dog: she is white-furred, bowlegged and has big blue eyes. He is tall, good-looking and well-dressed. I could not tell his age. One evening, I was upset: I read the news about my homeland, news of crime and non punishment, news about people getting away with it, an old story which sounded dramatic here.
Sitting under a palm, smoking a cigarette, I felt miserable. My neighbor sat next to me and told me his story: I am eighty, I am at peace with my life, I just watched the news. HE is ruining us. I will be dead by the time everything is lost, but I feel sorry for the young people, not that I have anybody, no, I am alone. I have only her, my little dog, and a cat, up there in my bed. And a big house, in the hills in LA. I put away some bucks and I am lucky, I can live in peace until my day comes. But HE will ruin us all.
I don’t ask him who is HE, I know it. Bush is HE, I’ve heard it before, Americans I’ve met here are not political activists or politically outspoken, but they speak in metaphors. I wonder what kind of fear that is. It is different than it was in Serbia, people were loud nationalists there. These guys are concentrated on keeping their wealth and appearances and aware that it will be hard to manage that for much longer. They will have to become political, and they are procrastinating.
February 9, 2005
A lecture by Vito Acconci last night. He seems like his own video, 30 years after. He is lively and witty, creative as usual. I like his stammering, I like his movements, compulsively obsessive, and I remember seeing him live at Fabio Mauri’s place in Rome in the seventies.
Last night he said: I was an artist only because conceptual art existed. I never knew to do anything properly, I cannot draw, and I cannot paint, I cannot mold… Well, yes, and I am a conceptual feminist.
February 11, 2005
If you walk down the streets and you glance at the passersby, you get a hello, a smile, a question: looking for a contact?
At a party last night a guy asked me, do you have citizenship? I said, of course I do, who doesn’t… I did it on purpose. Why should citizenship be American?
The girl sitting next to me said: I was ashamed for the Americans when the September 11 happened. I didn’t understand what she meant.
Americans are swift and self-sufficient. They don’t ask for help, and when offered help they feel very grateful. I am clumsy. I keep asking things I should not, and refusing things I should not. I am trying to explain to everybody that I am European, but that doesn’t make things better. They feel responsible for my feeling good or bad. They identify with their being American. I am trying to palpate the American being…
The sweets in the campus of the arts centre are there on the shelf, exposed without glass protection, yet nobody snatches them… Instead from locked offices, the jackets and sunglasses of the professors are missing. In Serbia, in Italy, it would be the opposite…
In America all Americans smile at each other when they speak, even if they say sad things. It is like a mask, a twitch, it chills me…I put up a serious face then.
St. Valentine’ s Day, people craving love are buying and selling it today and mostly faking it. In Pasadena, there is a window, I am outdoors, on the invisible side of the window…I see tight well-dressed couples of all ages eating and drinking.
Then… four teenaged black girls, fattish fat and one huge, just huge, cross my way: loud and wild. I could not understand a word they said. Even though black people in LA are more sophisticated than anywhere else in the US I have seen, these were not. While playing, dancing, whatever, the huge one lost her balance, lost her footing and hurtled against the pavement, hitting her head on the edge of the wall in front of the St Valentine’s window.
Blood gushed. Her head hung loose. Her huge body, flaccid, crumbled, her eyes turned upside down… her friends were hardly aware of what was going on, they went on playing…I ran up to her…I held her head, her eyes rolled back in place.
A waiter from the restaurant came to move her away from the window. The famous question, what happens when you fall on the pavement in U? A foreigner will help you, a local will call an ambulance and the ambulance will charge you. No wonder nobody reacts.
Well the girl is back, the bleeding stopped. We managed to put her back on feet and she rolled on with her huge body without thanking anyone: here where everybody says sorry or thanks for nonsense. I felt relieved. She was ashamed and eager to forget.
16 February 2005
We paid my fine today. I was eager to go to the court, if only to see why he wrote TesanoBitch instead of Tesanovic. My fellow neighbors from LA urged me not to pay. My fellow foreigners urged me to pay and shut up if I need to stay here.
President Bush, the He, has a gay scandal in his staff, but the bigger scandal is the new CIA director, a notorious politician in Latin America. I am ashamed even though I am not American. I always feel ashamed when stupid things are done.
February 20. 2005
It is not true that nobody walks in California or that it never rains here. I just walked in the rain in California. It has been raining now for days…gusts of wind…patches of blue sky here and there, and then the storm.
I saw a teenaged boy, a black boy dressed up neatly in MTV clothes, pulling from his pocket a roll of hundred dollar bills, and playing with them as a magician. Then he rolled a one-dollar bill to his finger, tucked the rest in his large pocket and dozed off…
My neighbor says: look at these stitches I got, three of them. I told the doctors, don’t do it, can I just stick the finger together? No way, they wanted three stitches in me and now they want 700 dollars. I don’t have that money. I won’t pay them: we have to pay nowadays for the doctor’s insurance, not only for our cures… She is a painter, her father Hungarian her mother Russian Jew. She says, only when I went to Europe did I feel American, because they called me American. Nobody is American, Americans don’t exist.
I felt the same, I say. The Balkans don’t exist and yet, they call me a Serbian Balkan patriot in the American press. Compulsive patriotism is a global phenomenon. People need to belong and to make other people belong.
I was websurfing with wi-fi on the roof today. A guy passed by and severely commented: ‘what a strange place to work.’ I said, I have an Apple with wifi here. Oh yes, said he significantly, so you are stealing somebody’s wifi. Really, I asked, even if it is open and free? It might be mine, says he. Well is it yours, ask I… Somebody is paying for that, he insists… I close my computer and off I go… He is paying for something, and I am not. But it is like trying to control a well, really.
24 February 2005
Nice day in LA, no rains…after days of floods and mudslides.
Did Bush declare an emergency state in LA? The Germans behaved as if it were an emergency state because of Bush’s stay in town; my German friend tells me the police closed the roads, they sent people home in order to make sure everything is under control.
In Serbia, Berlusconi’s guy Fini, the right-wing politician, was met with public protests, and on the other hand welcomed by the government which makes weird coalitions in order to cross the European threshold… The worst will be the first… Climate change is the first human enemy. Responsibility for that is the worst policy of those same men.
27 February 2005
Leaving LA, going to NYC for the international feminist conference. Beijing Ten Years After, with a lot of pacifist activism, readings, lectures.
Today a metro station in Hollywood will be closed because of the Oscar awards. I haven’t the faintest idea of what is going on there. I know more news from Europe than from Hollywood only a few miles away. I am much more interested in alternative cultural events. I was at a Mark Ryden exhibition in Pasadena in the local arts museum, an alternative artist who managed to get into the mainstream gallery. It was a very picturesque crowd; I was more interested in the audience and their outfits than in the paintings, which are impressive. It seemed to me like an Andy Warhol event, eccentricity, good and bad taste and absolute freedom from any social, political or fashion codes, even aesthetic ones.
I feel much more free that way about my own image, and yet I am puzzled as to what my freedom looks like in the eyes of the Other: my codes, my words do not speak here with the meaning they used to have.
American flags often decorate the private houses: I protest but somebody told me, this is America after all. Yes, it is and every day more so, here in LA life is so easy and sunny and lazy that it is difficult to go crazy as in war zones: here one can lose it, the contact with reality, and just one day kill your neighbor without any good reason.
Redondo Beach: signs all over the place, forbidden this, forbidden that. Cannot find a place to eat fish, and drink beer, and sit in the sun; you can do any two of these together, rarely all three. We just surf on those rules, like mermaids surfing the waves.
March 2, 2005
In NY, what a change of pace: snowing and severe atmosphere here: people are not smiling, even if you stare at them; they are hurrying and looking at their feet as they walk. It reminds me of Belgrade really, life is hard in NY, and there is a permanent survivor’ s war here.
At the Bowery Poets Club I read my ‘Letter to an Imaginary American Friend.‘ I speak of the parallels of the Milosevic’ s regime and Bush’ s. I speak about the polarization, militarization and silence of a political idiot now American. I get a big applause; then other people mostly young speak the same way, performing dancing singing ridiculing seriously their grim reality.
Finally we drink beer and life goes on in the snow. Four hard years yet to come, they say.
But I have confidence, I don’t know why, maybe because Bush is the business of the whole world, Serbia was just a small country that was treated as ‘let them fight it out’. Until we started disturbing the whole world we were not a global issue.
I am going to the UN building for the feminist conference Beijing Plus 10. Security resembles airport security. I don’t remember security that high in Geneve UN building. Seven thousand women, lobbying, talking…
Bush’s administration wants to pass two amendments to the platform; against abortion and women’s rights to be implemented in the millennium goals. The official Americans are also lobbying the satellite countries to vote for and instead of them. With all our might and rights we are fighting back to stop them/it, to stop the flow of the history backwards. It is happening everywhere and women’s rights are more vulnerable than ever.
I still have the innocent eye of a European observer, but here less than in California, because here among women I feel I belong to the world, wherever it may be.
US protesting against women activists, who are undermining their initiatives; we had two spies, two creepy guys with ties, silent in our meeting. I thought they were some security, somebody asked them their opinion, they started muttering, then I said we should kick them out…
No spies today.
I wonder could I smuggle the nail scissors through the security scanners.
I insisted that my ID UN photo should be pretty. The Indian guy who made it said, of course. My sister’s name is Jasmine, he said, you don’t want to look like a terrorist. I asked him, so you know how they look?
Here they call him the BOOK, the same person they call HE in California, guess who…we are writing petitions and protests in UN against THE BOOK.
Yesterday I saw a man on the railway tracks while I was waiting for my metro. He was fully dressed in uniform strolling slowly…he smiled at me, I smiled back, he said, have a nice day… I said you too…then I heard the sound of the train and a wave of panic overtook me, I shouted at him, get up on the platform… he just smiled at me… the train was getting louder. I grabbed a young man sitting next to me and reading, we must pull him out of the tracks, the guy just blinked, annoyed… I saw the train coming…I closed my eyes… the train instead just went some other tracks today… I thought I will faint when I opened my eyes: my guy was still smiling at me, real amused. I wasn’t mad at him, I was wondering about my neighbor who, annoyed, turned to the other platform and entered the train. Wow, it is easy to commit suicide in NY, but not easy to get on the right tracks.
March 4, 2005
Big victory yesterday, Bush’s government gave up on amendments to our Beijing platform, basically women from the eastern countries made it happen… The US officials were lobbying the countries all over the world one by one, the countries were calling their delegates and we from the NGOs were unlobbying the lobbying other way round… and the mechanism worked: now it is a patent, I called it a women in black strategy really.
Wifi-ing in a bar called Pop something, Coca Cola is not sold here, it is punk anarchist leftist intellectual and feminist…music is great, people are friendly but on their own, the sun is shining, the snow is glittering…last night I danced until very late to the Balkan music, I belly danced, I danced with boys and girls, I sang in the mic oh bella ciao bella ciao in Italian…after the UN business, after a lecture I gave, I needed to become a body, just a body. But you cannot be a body all the time…
7 th March,
Last year I was with 300 women in Leskovac, inner Serbia, this year with 6000 in New York at the UN conference. What next?
Workshop with women from former Yugoslavia living here: about our feminist experiences and expectations. Some speak Serbian with a heavy American accent, some speak English with a hard Slavic accent. How interesting the nowhere-land is. What they say is even more weird, including myself: welcome to the twilight zone. It is hard in the beginning, but somehow it feels all right, not to have one country, one language, one flag…
We are guinea pigs, we are experiments, but those who make it are doing pretty fine. We will make a new constitution one of these days, the laws of globalistas; women are excelling in that, being already second class citizens in their own homelands. One, originally an Albanian from Kosovo, wants to go back when Kosovo becomes a republic. She wants to become a first class citizen by taking up a political career. I say, for me one nation is not enough anymore. I don’t care if Serbia joins Europe or the African union, as long as it does not stay alone, Serbs in Serbia.
In the evening Code Pink event: I am invited, I am meeting the founders. Gosh Medea is so powerful, she reminds me of my WiB friends. I am talking on the stage, so fast, that the comedian after me is imitating me, she says she never heard a foreigner speak that fast, with a slavic accent too…. I am making parallels between our Milosevic story and their Bush menace… about the silent majority, about the political and American idiots. People out of information, out of public limelight. I get a huge understanding.
At the end we belly dance and drink. No smoking.
8th of March
US mission briefing early at 9 a.m: I am there, together with Code Pink girls. The woman in charge claims she won our last week’s battle over the US amendments regarding abortion: she lost the battle of course, they dropped the amendments. But, she is saying, we will win the war: president Bush here, president Bush there.
She offers a lovely example of how they ‘empower women’ in the world: women from Iraq or Afghanistan can order their wedding dresses over the Internet, giving their measures and picking up their model. I can’t believe what she is saying, it is not only stupid, it is in bad taste.
Prostitution and sex trafficking, for US is all the same, big old issue, feminists spent ages to separate those, habeas corpus issues…. they want to bring back the time, the Christian fundamentalism in US is of a Protestant puritan brand, it has a new vigor, and color. They sound as if they are against sex too, or at least pleasure in sex, and they are not hiding that.
I ask a provocative question, the linkage between militarism, the military and sex trafficking. They treat it as a lovely thank you question, answering in a silly besides the point way. A technique to void the meaning. Then the Code Pink girls stand up, unroll the banners, more money for women, less money for wars: WiB banner too…
Off we go to the streets, before we see President Bush raving with glowing eyes. He claims, US will free you, the trumpets are loud… He is referring to the Yankee civil war… He seems on drugs, as if he really believes he is liberating people he is killing. I kind of believe in his conviction. Code Pink girls ask me: did you feel that way listening to Milosevic? No, it was worse, I said, he spoke in my language.
We hit the streets. It is snowing. The wind is a blizzard really. We are only 50 women but many groups: I heard from Belgrade the manifestation just finished, they carried a new banner: ‘We are bad, you don’t like us but we can get worse…‘
I carry the WiB banner. We all get interviewed by one free radio, but no mainstream press there: low key publicity, but the weekly press release shows there is some, and it is good.
After one hour of walking and singing, along with two police vans, we arrive at a square. It is too cold to give speeches. Our loudspeaker breaks. We try to get to the UN building.
That very day the US administration has nominated a guy who publicly despises UN, Bolton. But the police do not let us cross the street, legally they have no grounds to do it, but they are just doing it. Women police, too.
I ask a policewoman, do you know what day it is today? She says she has never heard of International Women’s Day. I believe her. Most people here didn’t know.
Finally the police let us go in, one by one. An elderly woman with us started screaming: I survived a concentration camp in Dresden. You are just like that. She was trembling so badly that she embarrassed the police. They let older woman go by, they kept the young ones.
I was glad they didn’t arrest and deport us. It did look as if they could, with the terrorist paranoia and security laws. My zippered shoes fell apart in the wet snow. I entered the UN, barefoot and smuggling some girls.
Inside we are defrosting: a fifteen-year-old beautiful black girl is telling me how she became Code Pink: how she used to drink, use drugs, whatever, and then she found herself. She is way too bright for her age, I think. Then I realize that I plain forgot myself at her age.
My shoes are completely wet through and damaged, delicate Spanish shoes that cannot endure harsh NY speed. I don’t have time to buy new ones. I tie my broken shoes with laces so that they don’t fall of my feet: here people dress in many ways. Nobody cares.
Today first thing in the morning I hear Haradinaj, the Albanian president in Kosovo is going to Hague as indicted. I can’t believe it; on BBC we in the Balkans are the lead news for half an hour.
My Albanian girlfriends from Kosovo here are very distressed; they fear violence, they say it was all planned for March, always in March things happen. My friend from Belgrade says, no, it will be OK. Kosovo will be independent. Hague is the best way to get independence.
I cannot see any sense to developments. I just don’t understand things happening as supposed major historical trends. I understand only the small talk of my friends, and our emotions. Tonight we will get drunk and brainstorm it.
11 March, the last day of the UN feminist conference
We spent nearly two weeks, trying to fight back the Americans, their threats… a waste of time and energy…as an Indian activist put it, UN is not a good place for feminisms.
Charlotte Bunch the NGO coordinator thinks we should be here anyway. After all it is her country, this America… I heard that some activists from the Third World were not given visas because US was afraid they will stay. Because they are poor. Even UNIFEM guarantee could not help.
Some American feminists tell us, thank you for coming now that you are leaving; sorry we are not coming with you… I am staying on with them Americans, but I am not sure I want to fight this American war, I had my fair share in Serbia, I am tired and not only tired, kind of bored.
I fought with a delegate in the hotel. She says great progress in the official meeting… What I heard and saw was a tremendous regress. We managed to stop some major issues, such as keeping free abortion intact ,but the language I heard here is a conservative Christian fundamentalism. They are baffling, these young educated attractive American women who seem never to have heard of feminism: not only do they make no distinction between prostitution and organized sex trafficking, but it is the idea of sex per se which bothers them: especially, female sex. They are dressed in neutral suits and colors, and they have big fake smiles.
“Komesarke” (communist apparatchiks) are their equivalent type.
The US official woman said again: the US helps Iraqi women and other women throughout the world: they can order through Internet their wedding dress with their measures. It is the most important day of their life after all. I must repeat that their bad taste is almost worse than their stupidity.
12 March 2005
Anniversary of Zoran Djindjic’s death, back in Serbia.
End of UN conference here in NY.
In New York’s Chinatown I am taking a bus to Philadelphia, yes, a bus, like good old Serbia.
The buses, the prices, the people. The ways everything seems on the edge, yet everything works. The instinct to live boils in me, I feel better.
Last night dancing and singing with Macedonian gypsies and some from Belgrade, in the uncoolest club in NY, called the Hungarian club. We spoke a language between Serbian English and Macedonian, and danced just about everything we knew, for hours. People from the streets were cheering us. I ate burek and ajvar and drank sljivovica. For some reason it tasted good, even though it was really bad food. I saw a gypsy girl playing the drums, and I felt homesick.
This morning in the metro, I saw a beautiful blonde black three year old with her black beautiful dad. This girl spoke some Nordic language to her blonde mother, who just had another baby. The three year-old was dressed in pink with a woolen cap: when she took her cap off, her fuzzy hair spread like an aureole around her face. I was so stunned by her globalized beauty that I had to force myself to look elsewhere, as if I were staring at the sun.
It hurt, it burned, but I feel love for this place once again, and I am not homesick: this multiethnic courage, this reality is the only world worth living in today; I don’t miss my nation, my nationalist state. As my daughter used to say as a kid: Mom, why are all the black and yellow people gone from the movies? Where did they go?
16. March 2005
Nobody walks in LA, but nobody smiles in NY…I am back to walk in LA after the feminist conference. We left with huge smiles, completely exhausted, in hysterical nervous breakdowns as usual, viper-tongued women from all over the world, paying accreditation to each other.
Women’s intellectual work is invisible as much as cooking: we managed to halt the Bush administration’s effort to damage to the whole world for indeterminate number of years. Just as an eaten lunch is digested and forgotten, this work of ours will be taken for granted. We don’t even complain. Such is a mother’s love: it is the gray economy of humankind.
Yesterday in the Barnes and Nobles book store in Union Square, NY, after all the bitching and brainstorming, I attended an innocuous, mind-boggling conversation between two lovely women in their thirties. One was planning the budget for her future wedding, trying to please all, from friends to family. The other was consoling her the laments of her own. How you can’t please them all on this very important unique day of your life. They were buying books of advice on weddings as if it were cooking or a baby’s upbringing, as if they never heard of feminism. They were either too young or too WHAT…
I exchanged glances with my friend from the third world, in transition to nowhere, former Yugoslavia. We both felt at the same time sorry for them and for us. The generational, cultural, political gap is an abyss; it demands a postmodern bridge over gender waters.
March 18, 2005
Back to my Pasadena castle: entering it I walked right into a Hollywood shot: with my suitcase, without a warning.
The next day there was a board meeting at the castle: how to avoid entering the Hollywood shots, or Hollywood shots entering our flats. The major issue was the second one. People in this castle live with Hollywood crews on their backs.
Cinema basically is a drag and a boring business, waiting, catering, dressing…doing the same thing every single day, from dawn to dusk. Be it in Hollywood, be it in Belgrade.
March 20, 2005
I marched yesterday with Code Pink women for peace; ten miles, the last ones to the rally, two years after Bush intervened in Iraq.
I remember two years ago, I was in NY, I remember the frightened faces of the American people in the street, I remember how I refused to comment on the parallel between bombed Belgrade and bombed Baghdad, how I insisted on the parallel between Belgrade in 1991 and NY in 2003, the side of the aggressors, the political idiots… Now Bush is reelected, but marching with Code Pink women, many people on the streets supported us: not in our name, not with our money, the principle we used in Belgrade against Milosevic regime.
I see even a bigger parallel today, though things are never the same. All over the world pacifist groups had those rallies: I was in San Diego, a small rally in a Bush’s military city: old hippies singing Dylan songs and smoking joints. I noticed that almost everybody who was there had a flyer, something to sell, something to tell… those who voted for Bush were sitting in their homes, military bases… war zones…
I am glad we wore pink instead of black, even in Women in Black from Belgrade new activists are colorful: I find black sad or pretentious…
I don’t notice English as a foreign language anymore. I don’t feel as if I am living abroad anymore, I hardly remember my home. I wonder: did I lose my innocent eye of an observer? My understanding of people and things has become intuitive. I like people more and more, and myself as an individual less and less… I don’t even see myself as one person anymore: I deconstructed my essence and I became an essentialist of nothing. Is that Amerika?
March 24, 2005
Sixth anniversary of bombings in Serbia. Trying to find signs of it somewhere in the media, here or there. Nothing: the world has changed so much in these 6 years. That episode was just a first chapter of world political disasters to follow.
I am no futurist. I still look, like Benjamin’s angel, backwards. The time distance dims my sight, but my emotions are sharpened by it. People here in US are measuring immediate future and past in Bush’s years: now we are more than half-way done, I heard today a decent middle aged father say with relief to his teenaged son. I understood him with a pang of deja vu.
25 March 2005
I saw a man this morning hurrying…he was walking on the street and brushing his teeth at the same time…welcome to California. I hope he reached his appointment in time.
At the Californian Institute of Arts, sneaking through the corridors, entering theatres, assisting films and rehearsals, yoga classes… Everything is huge and free at this school, young artists in disarray and messy, carrying always a cup, a tray… They are lying on the dirty floors, laughing loudly, weeping, shouting… the library has music, books, films computers… I could spend a lifetime there. I fly out nervously. Too much information.
31 March 2005
I am repeating, English is not a language that I hear as foreign. An American accent is one I understand without thinking. and the American pitch, once so unpleasant to my continental ear, all of a sudden sounds like music. I not only deconstructed my being a foreigner, I became an insider. It took me two months.
I still notice things, maybe as an insider now. The castle is being renovated, its well-known ghosts are being exorcised from the basement to the roof. I see everywhere doors open, men with paint and brushes… I notice the inside of other people’s flats here: mine is bare and it will stay that way, as a matter of choice. The other flats are full of things that make people cosy.
The flat next to me is white walled, white carpeted with white cushions: people who inhabit it leave their shoes outdoors and walk like cats… I’ve seem similar white rooms elsewhere. It is classless style, it looks to me as American as a flag.
My neighbor says: Americans are great collectors. Even the hobos, the trash people are famous for their collections of rubble, blobjects, objects… That is why they are often so fat, because they believe in collecting and consuming.
I think also because almost everything I eat here in America is sweet: I tried a salty cracker and it was sweet too.
April 4, 2005
Three days in Salinas with Code Pink girls, and local, mostly Spanish speaking inhabitants. Twenty-four hours of reading but there was music and dancing too, these sit ins are similar all over the world. Let’s see if they close the library after all: the reason given is no money for small libraries. The protestors declare: more money for books, less for wars. Names of soldiers killed in Iraq were lined on a fictive graveyard with candles.
Political writers from all over US came to read bits and pieces of their writing. Some were intelligible, some not, some were pertinent, some not. It made me wonder about books and writers: why on earth were they always considered important? Other jobs very often pay much more.
I did hear some sense there: people who did not go to schools read books, and managed to grow thus. That convinced me. Otherwise, as somebody who is writing all the time, as a vice, and reading as an addiction, I often wonder if my life would have been happier if books were classified as weapons.
Women for peace here are similar to women for peace everywhere I meet them: except that here they have more personal money, and more colorful clothes. I am amazed how much information is tossed under the carpet here in America, how many newsworthy things that are quite simple and clear to foreigners, concerning US official misdeeds. Americans are proverbially more pragmatic, except that their plans come late and are too complicated. Watching them do their work, once again it proved to me that the meanders do work out, those alternative invisible paths of politics: being late at the mainstream event often means that you are in time for some off-stage calamity.
April 5, 2005
Strange, this country where people are as free as birds when it comes to social behavior. They dress as they please, they sit almost everywhere, they eat while walking down the street. They laugh as loudly as they feel. Poor people in the US are richer than most Serbians. Yet, the police are everywhere. Warning signs preach everywhere, don’t do this, don’t do that… The ban the most basic things, some are ridiculously prohibitive.
At the college of Pasadena, police patrol all the time. It’s unpleasant see cops so constantly, in such numbers. My friend from Code Pink told me, she wanted to protest against police patrolling around a school. She does not want children, her amongst others, to grow up with cops and guns.
What are they protecting, and from whom? I come from a war zone; I have nothing to fear and almost nothing to lose.
April 8, 2005
I met a writer, half Mexican, big, young, and dressed in fur, high heels and shiny robes. She had the typical Yankee shrill voice and boisterous, energetic laughter.
She came up to me after my reading and said; this is serendipity, I am just writing a book where my character is named Jasmina and she comes from former Yugoslavia. Can you help me with her? I don’t want to write anything stupid…
What kind of things do you write? I said. Chick lit, she replied. Oh how nice, I said; can you teach me to write that?
Her books sell half a million copies. She wrote the first one in 15 days.
Chick lit is a major issue here; these books are the big moneymakers nowadays. American romance novels are more old-fashioned; they have less attractive covers than chick-lit, while their authors seem to be fat, elderly, provincial women living with many cats or adopted children. Now my daring chick-lit author plans to write a book about a soldier who came back from Iraq, refusing to fight there.
I have my doubts about American commercial fiction for women. Maybe it’s men writing those books, under pseudonyms? From my experience, wherever money is, men come; wherever women come, money leaves.
April 11, 2005
Two days ago, I hugged the biggest living thing in the world. Steph said, what is it, an elephant?
No, it is a tree. It lives, and it belittles you in a nice way: it does not talk or walk, it just exists. It has the colors of human hair, the living tissue of our books in paper. It grows, God knows why, there in the Sequoia wood, that big.
It was snowing. My shoes once again, as in New York, fell apart. I saw a guy walking around with a plastic bag around one of his legs. I tied up both my feet inside plastic bags, like those shoeless, frozen soldiers who trampled the whole continents on foot. I climbed up to hug the biggest living thing on earth. Then I climbed back down the mountainside before the snow froze and the roads were closed for traffic.
Bears live in those woods. Bears often attacked the parked cars, breaking into them in order to reach food. They smell food, and feel its presence if it is not well packed in massive, unbreakable containers. Bears do it persistently and repeatedly. They do remind me of male hunters, who kill, but only for food.
The next day: Malibu beach. Again, all over the place, signs crying don’t do this, don’t do that. The police helicopters enforce these prohibitions. Police beach cars cruise around the few of us lying innocently in the sun. Always, but always, there is something wrong going on; I was lying in a place on the sand where I was not supposed to be.
I’m getting used to avoiding arguments here. People just don’t argue with the authorities, who act rather nicely, if one just obeys. It costs me a lot to hold back my questions and comments, but I am here as a tourist. I need to leave and return.
LA Code Pink fundraising party; a restaurant in Santa Monica called Warszawa. The patio is full of elegant pink women. Their pink outfits verge on witty ridicule; a deliberate esthetics.
Five of us perform, three singers and two speakers; I speak first, then Tom Hayden. Wow! I speak about women and peacemaking. I speak against the feeble practice of prayers and holding hands. I get applause and a lot of laughter. I give examples. They think I am ‘amusing and funny and brave but eventually they do hold hands, and they pray, and even sing.
On the way back to Pasadena, a smashed Rolls Royce on the highway: the most expensive thing in the world crushed like a tin can. It is not a living thing like the largest tree on Earth, but living human beings were being extracted carefully from the tinned Rolls. I didn’t dare look at them.
I learned that firemen here in LA rescue not just people in fires, but also respond to heart failures and car accidents. These firemen are omnipresent and often very good looking men, treated as national heroes and objects of desire of many American women who read or write chick lit. The dashing figure of a cavaliere, I guess.
April 13, 2005
Somebody said that today is the birthday of the devil.
In California to have a pet or a ghost is the best gambit for a decent conversation. If one does not have pets or ghosts to boast of, then one can speak about ‘serendipity,’ a word I had to look up in the dictionary in order not to misuse it.
Well, I can always fake a love for pets; basically it is like having children, only applied to non-children and with more tolerance. Ghosts, oh well, my friends talked about them, my favorite women authors, so even though I never bothered to find my own ghosts, I can always borrow some. ‘Serendipity?’ Lets say “synchronicity,” that theory of coincidence would suit me better. The cranky Arthur Koestler tried to put this theory into scientific language and convince Albert Einstein of its validity. Why should 21 and 22 always be 43? How much better if we could creatively bend these rules and theories, so that the sum is sometimes less, sometimes more.
Stories are born from beliefs of all kind. The bigger the beliefs, and the bigger the misunderstanding, the better the fables. I never understood philosophy. That’s why I write about it and read it. Human nature, poetry, it’s way too easy. We live that, we understand it. Making a coherent system of it is impossible. Yet philosophers do it and some even manage to succeed. I take my hat off to them.
A lovely elderly couple lives in my castle. The first day I met the man, he said, my wife is Scottish, we live half the year in California, half in Scotland. That evening, alone in our flat, we read Robert Louis Stevenson aloud, the most famous Scot in California. I said to myself, why all this synchronistic Scotland all of a sudden?
It didn’t stop there. Every evening we read Stevenson, his travels, his stories, and I enjoyed them as if I had never known them before. Only last night, I finally met the Scottish woman, the wife. They live exactly beneath my flat: I asked her, are we too loud? We read Robert Louis Stevenson every night, aloud.
She nearly fainted with excitement. It turns out to be that she is a very significant collector of Stevenson. She wrote a book about him. She is not merely a fan but a member of a Stevenson mania club, people who live to research him and his travels.
I don’t know why we read Stevenson, but when we don’t I miss him. I miss his bold boisterous spirit, his hard and yet lovely life, his fantasies and truths. I tried reading Hemingway before going to sleep. Hemingway got on my nerves.
This morning, a mass of white foam gargled out of my kitchen sink. The ghost of Stevenson, in those vertical pipes?
April 18th 2005
Loitering in LA
I was in the San Gabriel canyon, a beautiful spot for sight seeing. Among other usual forbidding public signs, Don’t do this, Don’t do that, was new one: NO LOITERING.
Nobody was there. There were traces of litter next to the sign announcing a thousand-dollar fine for littering. Somebody obviously both loitered and littered, then spent the night well hidden under the bushes overlooking a beautiful sight with the dam and the water reservoir.
Loitering is heavily monitored, and prohibited just about everywhere in LA. If you walk too slowly you look suspicious to the cops. If you look too long at people or objects you become suspicious to everybody. I do both, not because I want to, but because that is the way I do things. In Europe, that is the way I move, think and live.
I notice however that I have shortened my times and gestures in order to avoid trouble. As soon as I relax, though, I do loiter. My proclivity to loiter is spontaneous. Once unrestrained, now it is labeled; to find a pejorative term for one’s way of life is halfway to understanding it. Do not squat, do not drink, do not light fire, do not swim, do not fish this or that.
On the other hand, people are in fact loitering all the day and everywhere; very elaborate and well equipped, nicely behaving hobos are seen all over the city; with wheel devices, back packs and other strange gear. A toothless elderly American gypsy pair with a tiny poodle sitting between them in their car… the dog barked fiercely at me while they sold me their pass into the national forest. I guess buying crumpled paper passes from gypsies was prohibited too, but we just bravely did it.
I watched from my window an American marriage, publicly performed in the garden of the castle. The bride was blonde, thin and pale, while the groom was sturdy and Chinese. They held hands and sang before saying yes: the bride’s father and the groom’s father both cried at the wedding, while the mothers were self-contained and extremely serious. The bride seemed happy and the groom tense.
Americans have big talent for rituals: social or personal, public or private, existing or original. They believe in them, and make other people believe too. I only wonder: does that change any reality? Marriage is a concession to the church. It is a burden to a true love commitment. Marriage should have its place and form for the sake of the lovers, for the sake of their love. I ve never seen such a ceremony anywhere. In marriage, there is always some ritual public concession to a god other than love.
April 20, 2005
In Little Tokyo. I’ve been in Chinatown. I guess a small Belgrade exists somewhere around here too. Though small, these ethic whatever enclaves in LA are far more amiable and Californian than anything else.
I saw a shop in one of those little urban replicas, an international military toy shop: boy’s games, boy’s dolls: of Bush, of Hitler’s staff, of American civil-war generals, of James Bond, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Weapons, uniforms, games, military video games. Nobody’s land, nobody’s victims.
I hear about the danger in some LA quarters. Downtown doesn’t seem too dangerous to me, more like a poor, southern Balkan city. People are selling something on the pavements, others smoking, some even publicly drinking. A guy is cruising around a fountain with a bundle of money in his hand, like a wasp around its prey. A policeman watches him. They are both local.
That seems familiar too. I cannot sense real danger in LA. Generally speaking, I feel the paranoia of the American white citizens who see danger everywhere except in their gated communities, where checkouts and firm rules are implemented.
April 21, 2005
It is so difficult to hide that you are different. It is like hiding one’s growing baldness; it draws attention. In LA, I have a feeling everybody is different and eccentric, the most normal people are actually the derelicts and hobos. Their eccentricity is somewhat bland compare to the loud statements of the so-called normal people.
My diversity is quite invisible until I open my mouth. Then it shouts, a different voice, a European neurotic body language, an indefinite accent between British, Latin and Slavic. Finally, my incessant philosophical quotes. My postmodern river of narrative with digressions and free associations. I say things, I do wrong and that is not very American. I claim I am guilty and not guilty in the wrong places, and that is not very wise. I openly claim that I don’t believe in the local religions and ghosts. May both of them help me.
April 23, 2005
A book signing party last night: Jonathan Safran Foer‚ in Venice, in a nice literary house, a lot of nice drinks and extremely sweet food: meat, shrimp, corn. I’m accustomed to these foods being salty. I keep asking people in US, why is all food sweet here? Nobody seems to know. Some even deny it.
It was a party of writers, agents and literary fans, very much like any such party in the world. Here, though, writing is a job, it makes a living, it makes an identity. In Europe to be a writer is mostly just a title, like being a count in Italy, where titles are abolished yet still highly respected. It does not pay the rent or feed your children.
At a meeting/workshop on digital culture, an anthropologist spoke of his research on computer games in Indonesia. Then he switched to gay lesbian marriages and how gender relationships are changing, not because of gender but because of deep changes in daily life, life-changing cultural issues. He sounded very reasonable to me. Being here in California is not like being elsewhere. Human decency and spirituality are the stuff of rather untouchable and invisible sciences. Loitering in LA makes makes me a transcendental derelict, a spiritual hobo.
April 28 th 2005
I am back in Belgrade: in a religious communist stupor. Long days of holidays, one after another, for people to stop working in a country where there is no work anyway. Here we feast, here we are pagans, here loitering is not prohibited but recommended. I claim, though, not everyone can loiter well.
The weather is menacing, dark clouds with bright patches of sky. The society changes too fast for the human body; these days are a weird combination of Orthodox religious Easter and the communist May First holidays, which is sinister and depressing. I don’t know why, but the days of bombing come back to my mind, that end of April in 1999, when every night we would look at the sky wondering what might save us, good weather, bad weather… God, science, or precise targeting.
1st May, 2005
Easter/communist holiday in Belgrade, Serbia: a stupor more than a feast, confusion more than a celebration, a falling apart more than a dolce far niente. But it is getting better. It used to be a negative euphoria, a way of getting drunk, overfed, sentimental and collectively delusional. The combination of two opposite opiums for a pagan nation. For the Serbs, it was like a bad cocktail.
Two women friends and I found a place to dine. Most places were closed for the holidays, or occupied by some sad alcoholic clinging to his bottle, remembering the family that forgot him, forgetting that this life was his own choice.
We dined in a nice family restaurant: people of all ages who didn’t believe in collective feasts. Afterward we had a drink at the bar. Six tattooed gangsters from Zemun burst in with gypsies, booze and a lot of money. They sang, pulled off their shirts, and hugged each other. They got us free drinks and bowed deeply at our womanhood.
My new drinking companion, a handsome young dark guy, looked like a gypsy and a criminal from the notorious Zemun gang, who killed many rival criminals, various famous people, and our premier, Zoran Djindjic. He told how bad it was for me to live in USA, and how I should return to Serbia, where he will teach me to dance the kolo, a national Serbian dance, so that I will never feel lonely again in my life.
I looked at him carefully: I never had such a young, handsome, polite and rich beau in my whole life, even when I was young and daring. I’d never met one as stupid and outspokenly nationalist as this guy was. I could hardly answer him: he was beyond help. Sincerely, I think he was gay, like the other six gang male machos were in that room. Probably they didn’t know this.
May 6, 2005
In Italy, Bologna: a huge new mall outside the walls of the city, just like in LA — except that there are no hobos, and one can drink beer everywhere.
I smile at people, as I learned to do in LA after initial difficulties: the Italians look at me suspiciously. Especially women. I know that feeling.
In Serbia everybody touches you. People push each other in the streets. In Italy everybody shouts. They yell intimacies into their cell phones, their food, sex, everything.
In LA everybody loiters, in eccentricities of different kinds. They try to be invisible to each other.
Identity? Who needs one?
May 7th, 2005
A reading of the Pasolini novel ‘Il Petrolio’, 30 years after Pasolini the author was killed. Literary interpretations of Pasolini’s poetics of violence. It’s organized by gay lesbian association in Bologna and the university: few people, mostly academics, critics, gays… and me.
I once did an academic paper on Pasolini with great difficulties in the university. I met him afterward, I talked to him. He believed in me, the first person who ever did.
I translated him, I wrote about him and on him… These people spoke about his incomprehensible genius in a way that I could not comprehend… I remember Pasolini as a rather simple genius.
Tonight, an interview with his killer, thirty years after the fact. He finally admits publicly that he did not kill Pasolini. Back then, we all knew it, but nobody wanted to acknowledge the true nature of the crime, which was not homosexual but political.
Reading his diaries, talking about his films. When he was my age, he was already dead, and today he would be eighty.
I wrote this for the Belgrade magazine Yellow Cab:
Almost thirty years after, the official murderer of the Italian poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini changed his official version, publicly in TV, in a soap-opera journalistic broadcast: instead of pleading guilty, he is pleading innocent.
Nobody believed him back then, nobody believes him today, nobody seems to care about innocence and guilt after the Crime and Punishment Novel by Dostoyevsky, certainly not in Italy.
I passed an exam on Pasolini at Milan university in the Seventies, with some problems, because he was considered by the mainstream a problematic thinker. Today he is considered a non-comprehended genius. I met him a year later and he became my patron. He believed in me and loved my silence and I was in awe of his religious joy of creativity. Then he was killed, in front of my eyes, then I wrote about it; translated his poetry and novels and finally only yesterday, I realised that I am already six months older than him; I have the age of his murderer, a funny guy whom I remember seeing as a boy, who in the meantime made a heavy criminal record, 22 years of prison, least of all for the murder he was convicted of conventionally, and that nobody ever believed he really committed, at least not alone.
Pino Pelosi lamented last night in TV, he asked for sympathy and understanding for his false confession, because his family was threatened by the real killers, he asked for understanding of a 17 year old that gave in to a few paid caresses and a blow job back in 75, and ended beaten up by the anonymous killers who massacred the poet in front of him, and whom maybe he really finished off, rushing with the car over his still bleeding and breathing body on the Roman beach, the night in November 1975.
Pelosi is nervous and seems innocent of the big crime, but guilty of the small lies. He cannot tell the difference, he is emotionally distressed and at the same time beautiful. Pasolini loved his ragazzi di vita: I never believed that Pasolini staged his own death. He claimed that you have to die in order to give some sense to your reality and that you cannot speak of it without living it; maybe that goes for everybody, not only a damned poet.
The seminar, organized in his native city Bologna by the local university and the gay and lesbian association, is discussing his last unfinished novel Il Petrolio, a post-modern patchwork of poetry, diary stories from the big perspective of sexuality and body. Thirty years later it is less scandalous than mysteriously mystical and magical.
May 9, 2005
Back in LA: last night I arrived at LAX airport. The air smelled of the ocean, and the cars, lights noise and fuss. I felt I was returning to a safe place: nobody walks in LA, but I do, dragging my huge European suitcase, actually a Balkan one, full of history.
You really see I am European. I ask a kind guy who is helping me with my luggage, a nice young black man explaining the details about my long trip by train back to Pasadena: four changes, four lines… You look tired, he says to me…
That’s it, people here don’t look tired, not at least tired of centuries of wars and migrations. Their war is underway or yet to come, they are lively and loud, not yet sure what side they are fighting for, or why.
I manage my day ticket for the trains with my pocket change. I enter the train, it is the last train to Pasadena. Two Californians sit next to me: a black woman and a guy with black and blonde features equally represented, like a miracle, like that stunning white baby with fuzzy blonde hair whom I saw in New York City. Nobody asks for my ticket. My travel companions start talking.
The guy talks like a Tarantino actor: he is witty, weird and fast, and his stories have a melody and a point, gosh, some oral history… Two weeks ago, he says, he got stuck in LA’s Union Station, with his luggage and the computer. He missed the last train to Pasadena. So he decided to wait for the first train in a couple of hours. He sat at this nice station in coloured tiles, full of derelicts sleeping on the benches.
He pulled out his computer and a cop came to him: no loitering at the station, he claimed, you must pack and go. My guy explained the situation, but the cop explained too; Union Station was on the red line not the Pasadena gold line, and no loitering could be tolerated.
So my guy closed his computer and slept on the pavement outside. The fine for not having a train ticket is 250 dollars plus 40 hours of community work, such as collecting trash. The community charges you an additional 50 dollars for the privilege of doing this. And where does that money go? asked my guy. It goes to clean these real clean tiles here where the derelicts without computers sleep.
The derelicts do collect trash all the time and behave really decently, always waiting for the right train at the right spot.
The black woman told her own story: she commutes by train, every day, 4 hours to work and back home. When the police comes to check people’s train tickets, it is always her they ask, nobody else. So one day she refused this treatment, she told the sheriffs: be consistent, you ask all the people or you ask none, you cannot pick me out of the crowd, that’s discrimination…
At very same time moment a young girl said to the cop: I didn’t have any ticket, I have the money but I didn’t have time. So the cop pressed the red emergency button, stopped the train, made the girl buy a ticket and then the train left with all of them happily ever after rolling to Pasadena.
She says to me: so you come from Italy. What a nice country. I went to see the Pope, otherwise I was in Vicenza…
The NATO base, I ask?
Yes, she says…
The guy says, I did my service in the Marines back in 1969…and the last time I was there, before I embarked, I visited my mom in Pasadena. I jaywalked and the Pasadena cop gave me a ticket.
I left the country, I finished the academy, I met my wife, I married her, we had a daughter, and after five years, we came back for holidays here in Pasadena by car. A cop made me pull over, I made a minor infraction. He checked my name and said: oh, I have a warrant for you… You must come with me to the police station. My wife started panicking, my daughter crying… The cop took us there, I had a warrant for never paying 400 dollars for my jay walking: I pulled out my vacation cash, and he let us go. The LA cops fine people at random, and all that money goes to the cleaners.
He is a nice guy, so is she. I wonder why they like the military. They are my age and my state of mind, they like me and I like them. We said good bye, we said see you. They asked me what are you doing in LA. I said, loitering, loitering in LA.
At the US customs office border, they gave me the maximum visa of six months. What are you doing here, they asked. Writing a book I said: ‘Loitering in LA.’
May 14, the 2005-05-14
I could not believe it: last night, coming back to Pasadena in the car, we were stopped by a cop. We were fined for an infraction we hardly knew existed. We were happy we got away with only one fine.
The cop was the same one that fined me few months ago for jay walking, a few blocks away. This time he didn’t wear dark glasses, this time he didn’t address me, the whole business was far shorter since the driver was my American friend. He is a polite cop, I was told, they can be harsher and then things get hairy: difficult to bear. Sincerely, I don’t mind cops, I mind their ridiculous unjust fines. But I was told, people all over the world just hate cops, because of their power to interfere.
May 17th, 2005-05-17
Today I went to the German consulate in LA, for information about getting my Schengen visa here. Why are embassies all over the world the same? Shouldn’t they differ from one part of the globe to another? Why are the clerks so uptight and non-cooperative?
Of course, they never had a case like mine. They doubted every word I said. They accused me of making problems by not going to Belgrade and taking my visa there.
In Belgrade the Germans told me that it would be just fine to present them my case in LA. My case being: I’m a Serb on a tourist visa in USA, trying to get a European Community Schengen German visa in the LA consulate.
Finally we talked my case out, and the chief said: I cannot promise you anything, but you may try… I promised myself I will try, since this effort I made to go on foot and speak to a person cut off many required papers and opened a possibility.
I saw an Indian family thanking humbly the clerk for getting a day more of a German visa. I saw them proudly leaving the consulate for having achieved something they should be able to take for granted, given their documents. I will feel just the same in a few months, if I manage to walk away with a German visa.
The power of prison is to deprive you of taking freedom for granted. It’s the power of a globe made into a prison for Serbs, who without great-power visas are non-existing entities.
Off then off I go the library, where I translate a Nadine Gordimer book. Oh yeah. Nadine Gordimer. she knows something about this discrimination. As a South African in apartheid days, she was denied a visa so many times all around the world. Even in Serbia, former Yugoslavia, because of sanctions my ex country applied to her country. Even her Nobel Prize didn’t help her.
I talk to the kind librarian here in Pasadena who says, you work so hard. I say, I am translating a book into Serbian. She doesn’t know where Serbia is. Finally I tell her, former Yugoslavia. She praises my Serbian effort to make Nadine Gordimer understandable. All of a sudden, I feel good. I don’t mind being a Serbian. At least I can translate books, if I cannot travel.
News from Belgrade. Three people were killed in centre of Belgrade in the middle of the day. Banks robbed… My daughter is scared, I am scared…
My street where she lives now, alone, as I used to say, has the highest rate of death in Serbia. Casual killings, bombs… and still it is one of the fanciest streets in Beograd.
I live in a gated community here in LA and it gets on my nerves. I never experienced fear in Belgrade, though scary things happen all the time. I feel other’s people fear here in LA, the way they lock doors and respond to strangers.
For the sake of my lack of fear, I miss every single killer in Belgrade.
May 20th, 2005
Code Pink party at Arianne Huffington’s house last night, in Brentwood.
A letter to a friend who could not come inside that house:
Well yes, her house was packed up. But if I knew that was the issue, I would have waited for you at the door. Some other of my people could not come in either; the four of us, all women were screaming ( no mike) in attempt to save the world.
I heard I have a woman Mayan cult-goddess artist from New Mexico who is a big fan of mine! She sent me some stuff. (I wonder if it is some kind of
I got an offer to be the ghostwriter for a woman politician’s autobiography.
I met some Hollywood people from Nazi Austria who identified with my speech, where I was giving Nazi Serbia support to Nazi USA.
The wine was abundant. I got a nice Code Pink t-shirt. Also an offer to publish my book of correspondence with Nuha al Radi. (I never believe such things until they really happen.)
I heard a lot of gossip about Hollywood people and politics (that was the audience, they told me). I don’t know them at all. I went back to Pasadena in one piece. Wow, I am glad it is over.
Until next time in Jerusalem, maybe literally, where this summer there is a Women in Black international conference,
May 23, 2005
A house (not) meant to be lived in: an Antonioni film house on the top of a Pasadena hill, a private Modernist house emptied and inhabited by prisms installed by the artist Olafur Eliasson.
All the house rooms are dark, and all of them have some kind of rainbows… plays with light…images inside out. There is a fridge, and there is a stove, but no bathroom… I already live in such a place, I thought. We all do when alone. But then when other people come to mingle with us, we need chairs, tables, and bathrooms.
It is called civilization then.
May 26th, 2005
We returned to the house not to be lived in: I am sitting in it now, with my computer , typing whatever under the scattered lights of rainbows. I already live here. My head is full of rainbows. They are the best I can produce, whether I am happy or unhappy.
Today we got another parking ticket, in front of the natural history museum. Inside, we got a free present in the gift shop: a rainbow prism, worth 40 dollars. Outside we got hit by a ticket worth 40 dollars. It is civil kindness balanced by civil control: positive zero, the story of life in society.
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day, here in US: I’ve heard of it before, I’ve seen it in films, but now I experience it: what a treat for an American idiot.
People are barbecuing, staying at home with families, much like any other American holiday: an opportunity to get families together and possibly avoid big family fights.
But these years US is in war; so Memorial Day means to celebrate the military who died, or are dying for the country. Why should we die for our countries? Why shouldn’t we live for them? Isn’t that an act of patriotism worthy of respect?
American patriotism has the best and worst elements of patriotism: it is worst because it is blind, sentimental, bossy and ignorant. People are proud to be American and to enforce their concept of justice, rules… But on the other hand, people of different nationalities are living together in America in complete respect and tolerance of each other: a concept that can hardly pass in Europe, divided in nation states and not willing to give up for a federation with European constitution.
Just yesterday France, the wedlock of European nationalism, voted a big NO to the European dream: the constitution.
We are heading towards the Yosemite national park. On our entrance, the warning Californian signs are getting more intense. The radio is playing patriotic country music and even a patriotic Chuck Berry song.
I ask my American friend: how are Californians considered by other states in US? He says: they’re considered flaky, nutty, and brittle, with no values of substance. And this concept crosses over ethnicities and gender: even an East Coast dog would claim that a Californian dog is not substantial.
The description reminds me of the discriminatory rules of Serbs and Croats. And if I myself were a US citizen, I ask, which state would I come from?
You would be Californian, says my friend with conviction: hippies, political activists, feminists…Yes, because I have no substantial values. I have no essence. I deconstruct all the rules.
Compared to the Serbian three days of holidays, these holidays seem more active: Yosemite Park is full of traffic, people on bikes, in trucks, in sports cars, on motorbikes, on foot; couples, with children and pets. Camps are full, motels too…
Our hotel sells rooms with a fancy story about ghosts: it is a two century old hotel, with a big, pretty hostess who is flirting and charming the guests with her nutty ghost stories, which people here tend to believe: so do I, really.
The other night, I spoke to a nice, intelligent and educated Californian woman, when she suddenly switched the topic to ghosts. She meant spirits, real voices in her life. I decided not to go out to dinner with her. Even though she was fun, she wasn’t substantial.
We drink beer out of a plastic cup in the woods because it is prohibited to drink in national parks. We are loitering. Our car is full of rubbish because of the 1000 dollar fine for littering. There are not many trash baskets around.
We reach the Bridal Veil Falls: the Bride is an angry bride today, because of the climate change: she spouts water all over the place. People are wet and the water is knee deep at the tourist signs, but we are persistent, padding through it: the flood is cathartic, it feels like a warning.
A thin blonde girl with her Indian big boyfriend is reluctant to approach the angry Bride. He is dragging her. She looks at my wet clothes with sympathy… but she follows him.
She comes back in a few minutes completely soaked with her runny make up streaking her face as an Indian chief. Is this all one gets? she asks me. Her newly-washed face is full of acne, I notice suddenly, her body seems even thinner and she is trembling with cold and fear.
Her boisterous Indian boyfriend is happy as a clam, as if he won a war against the gods. People are hunting for excitement on Memorial Day.
A local native American Indian radio station is interviewing a barely-literate native Indian woman whose nephew was killed in Iraq. She is coaxed by the journalist to make some big patriotic speech out of that loss, but she can hardly speak, least of all explain why it all happened. Her innocence is as moving as the history of her fellows, who lost their lands to the white gold diggers. Now she lost her nephew to the white oil diggers.
At a tufa beach, I sit in the sun on a warm rock, and watch the blue colours and shapes of an inland lake, mysteriously and powerfully shaped. The taste of the water is chemical and sour; it is neither fresh nor sea water. I am still.
All of a sudden, I see a flock of seagulls circling around my immobile body. They are screeching loudly and approaching me from all sides. I am alarmed. There are no other people to be seen… I move, but that does not make the birds leave. I am running now, jumping through the tufa rocks in the marshy water in order to reach drier land. The birds are following me as if trying to tell me something: I look back at where I was sitting; it is swarming with seagulls pecking the uneven rock. As if searching for a dead body.
Nature is a cruel business I suddenly realize; the ecosystem is not a heavenly fable. We animals survive through each other’s dead bodies. Is civilization any different?
June 2, 2005
Srebrenica and Michael Jackson
Wars and pornography have a lot in common. Today the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic was shocked. He saw the film of Serbian paramilitary troops executing Muslim civilians in 1995, in Srebrenica, after being blessed by Orthodox priests.
The film is a documentary, it is evidence in the Hague tribunal. It is no big deal for all of us who, all these years, knew it was true without seeing it. We went to Srebrenica to talk to the family of the missing. Even last year, we were there, wondering why President Boris Tadic didn’t come with us.
On the other hand, here in California, Michael Jackson is thanking God and the jury for his acquittal of the charge of child abuse. All these years, we all knew, we his fans and those who wondered what has gone into him to try so desperately to become white and straight; that he was a pedophile. A tender one though, he never battered his kids. On the contrary, he covered them with gifts: and it took all these years, ten to twenty years, to put up a case and say no to his abuse of power, fame, money and glory.
The common issue in wars and pornography is the crime element, the crime against the body of the Other. The other common issue is the way the societies tolerate both of these crimes, considering them ‘Natural,’ ‘Human‚’ ‘Normal.’ One can easily sense that this is incredible, if one imagines oneself in the position of the victim: the Other, the Powerless.
Crimes of Power crumble the Power itself. Yet the perpetrators often go unpunished. Karadzic and Mladic are still considered heroes. Michael Jackson is a star. Punishment is not enough in these cases. It is only the beginning of understanding, that something one cannot believe is possible. Thus the Serbian people shut their eyes. Thus, Michael Jackson fans listened to his music.
June 4th, 2005
Dream houses, mirrors and spaces. Our inside turns out, and vice versa. I visited the Chemosphere house today. It was a mansion I dreamed for so many years, without ever knowing it was in LA.
I must have seen this house as a kid in some film. It went on as a dream space, sometimes a nightmare, throughout my life. The Chemosphere is not as big as I imagined. It is not much bigger than a flat in Belgrade. I’ve heard its original owner could not sell it. I am amazed that there are no similar such houses around it, since the Chemosphere fits so perfectly well in its steep mountains and dark trees.
The house is not accessible by car. ‘Armed Response’ is threatened against intruders. Yard workers were climbing the rocks around it, trying to do some gardening.
We climbed around the forest park, though thorns and broken gates, in order to access the Chemosphere. Alarmed glances from the local inhabitants. They must know that we have the right to access the public space of the forest, but they also must wonder why on earth are we doing it; is the game worth the candle? We might be shot by some unthinking guard.
We give up the effort, all in a sweat, with thorns in our shoes. To see my dream house from the top of a mountain in LA, even a house like a space ship, isn’t worth my life. Exactly as it was in my dreams, this house is connected to danger and mystery.
Mysterious, it is not. Like the danger of loitering in California, the Lautner Chemosphere is just plain silly. We might as well go see the giant lettered HOLLYWOOD, up in the mountains: I ask myself, why is it there?
Other houses next to the Chemosphere are plain and kitschy. I am told that it is because they can be sold that way. People don’t build houses to live in, but as a real-estate investment.
We reach the beach, a public beach where people can loiter with more success. Some are smoking pot, some are sleeping, some bathing, some sun bathing. The helicopters are flying low. Somebody said so that they can see if we are drinking alcohol, prohibited on the beach. Although all this is extremely paranoid and repressive, I love California. Somehow this helicopter repression shows the true spirit of the place. It shows the fact that Californians want to be free, and loiter all their lives.
June 5th, 2005
The yearly tourist visit to the castle, where I live: most of the flats will be opened to the public. They pay 20 dollars per person to enter the castle, and hear all about it from the locals.
I join the other castle visitors, who are in flocks and of all sorts: curious, bored, couples and even some children. It is very much of an ‘Americanata,’ as the Italians would put it. Yet, as usual, Americans do have some point in the funny things they do: here, they make a point of housing, and even more, of private property.
I like the castle’s solidity, as compared to a Serbian nomadic way of living. Serbia’s nomads, in tents on the road, make Belgrade seem like a chance occurrence, an accident from somewhere to nowhere. Belgrade is the ugliest city in the most beautiful site in the world, as Le Corbusier said.
But that second part, the money-centered ideology of life and property, violates my sense of decency. The owners of the flats sit in their armchairs, or their wheelchairs. All the castle’s flats are more or less fancy, extremely well presented, on public display, as if in a shop for sale. Enjoying this is hard work.
We don’t open our doors to the public. We work behind our doors. We don’t own our walls, and even if we did, our intimacy would not be for sale. Intimacy is like a shadow: the moment you cast light on it, it disappears. And intimacy is priceless.
During the castle tours, the castle pets are upset. The cats have stricken fur, the dogs hide under beds. We, all of us, drank a lot of wine and ate fast food when our horde of guests left. I drank wine, but my fat neighbor, who complained of compulsive obsessive eating, couldn’t stop eating the bad sandwiches after the stress of the show. Her apartment is one of the best looking, even though it’s small. According to her, she can hardly afford it with her teacher’s pay.
I understand the eating disorders, so present in the USA, much better now.
June 8, 2005
I was sitting on the porch of the castle drinking wine and eating barbeque with my inmates, of my side of the castle. We live on the fancy side of the building. There is another entrance to the back part of the same building, which I never explored. It is a home for elderly and sick, so I hear, mostly black people. I didn’t see even one black person in my part of the castle.
All this time I was curious about the issue. Why divide the castle in two? Why such a difference? ‘Old Town Pasadena’ used to be a dangerous quarters, with high rate of crime. Now it is mostly a fancy tourist and shopping district.
I am walking down the street to buy some cigarettes. On the steps of the rear side of the castle, a young black woman and an elderly man are sitting and chatting; they are smoking. She offers me a cigarette, as if she knew me. I take one and I sit next to her.
All of a sudden she starts getting uncomfortable. She stares at me in paranoia. Who are you? Why are your shoes so red? Why is your hair so blonde? What is that bat in your earring?
I am uncomfortable myself. I don’t want to bother you, I say. I am leaving. No, No, she is screaming by now, you are a lesbian, you are evil, leave us alone.
She hurriedly stands up, props up the elderly guy. They move swiftly away from me, as if they saw the devil herself. I am upset: her lips were trembling. She doesn’t seem deranged. Neither does the elderly guy. But she does not want to take back her matches, or hear my thanks for her cigarette, or hear my lame excuses that I am a foreigner, from a poorer and more dangerous country than black America. My red shoes and blonde curls triggered her. The invisible dividing line between the two parts of the same castle suddenly became a frontline.
There is always some way of constructing the Invisible frontline, the mirror of the Other; it doesn’t require a different color of skin. When I published my books here in USA, on the wars in the former Yugoslavia, civil wars, religious wars, nationalist wars, or none of these‚ I was often asked this question: how many black people do you have? None, was my answer, I am the black person there.
Well, that approach didn’t work in Pasadena. I feel better for discovering something I was only sensing, or hearing about: I am grateful to the angry woman and the elderly man. As Hannah Arendt used to say, the first step against racism and discrimination is not to pretend we are all equal, but to acknowledge the discriminating difference.
June 12, 2005
Earthquake, early in the morning, 5.6 Richter scale.
A mild one, felt in LA too, and in the castle as well.
I got shivers. An earthquake in LA is just what we expected. I stood under the door, as we used to in Milan in the seventies, in Belgrade in the eighties. Nothing much happened. The birds were not upset. The people strolling this early Sunday morning down the street didn’t seem to notice the tremor. One has to know in order to feel fear.
I remember how my editor in Philadelphia Inquirer once called me ‘an expert on bombings and earthquakes.’
June 15, 2005
Another earthquake last night, but we didn’t feel it here. It was stronger, but in northern California in the Pacific Ocean. People live here as others do under the volcano. Cool.
We drink beer often at a Pasadena place called Lucky Baldwin’s. Lucky Baldwin was a famous California gambler, womanizer and fortune maker. A typical Californian history, they tell me, but it sounds very exceptional to me. Lucky Baldwin was sued by many of the women he seduced.
Editorial letters were written against his lustful habits, from such a conservative women’s point of view, in the name of women’s honor. I wonder what was feminism all about in those distant times: I know it wasn’t consistent with today’s ideas. I know it cannot be, since men are not consistent, or history either.
When I look back at these historical leaps from left to right, from honor to liberties‚ I become more interested in future feminism and its future strategies.
At our pub, big fat men come, to drink one beer after another: all kind of beers, all kind of men. Women come, too; the women drink, smoke, and have babies with them. Lucky’s is considered a low-profile place, but it is not cheap, and never empty. It’s my favorite place in Pasadena: the waiter, a pierced and tattooed young guy, sat with us yesterday, after his shift, and had a glass of wine.
A friend of mine wrote to me today about the similarities between Montenegro and USA: big ad signs, beer drinking‚ and quite professional loitering, day and night. It is a craft to loiter well. In Montenegro, loitering is considered an ultimate art. In LA, loitering is fined almost everywhere: but the climate, the sea and the beer make loiterers sprout like mushrooms.
June 16, 2005
Bloomday from Joyce’s Ulysses
Two earthquakes today. The first one blew the laptop out of my lap in the library. The second was out in the ocean during the night. I was sleeping; I did dream, however, that we had an earthquake. I thought it must be our refrigerator. We are exiles, so earthquakes make us bewildered.
Yesterday I gave an interview at the LA Pacific radio. She asked me about my literary work. I spoke of Srebrenica. Whatever she would ask me, I spoke of Srebrenica, guilt and responsibility.
17 June 2005
News today. Caltech Pasadena seismologists said: the big one is coming. We don’t know how, we don’t know when. Just be prepared for it.
I guess preparing for an earthquake is the same as preparing for bombings. I still have the same leather bag I used for the bombings: Swiss army knife, money and documents in it, a torch‚ etc etc.
I can’t believe I am writing this here in California, where I came to relax.
June 18, 2005
Last night a party, at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art. Fancy people, young. extravagant, famous artists and corporation people. I looked at the moon, the same moon we have in Belgrade. I looked at some young drunk girls, the same ones we have in Belgrade. So what’s the difference, I asked myself?
I met Christina Aguilera’s retailer, who has something to do with Christina’s shoe ads. She hated Christina’s music, and she didn’t like her ads. She was nice: she smoked and talked to me as if we knew each other for ages, then she switched to another beautiful and impersonal young model and talked to her in exactly the same way.
The DJ played great music. The dancers were very talented. The drinks ran out fast and the moon was still there, the ascending moon, which my daughter was probably watching from some other terrace in Belgrade.
When I was on alternative radio and said I am from Belgrade, everybody asked me about the bombings. In this art party, nobody even knew where Belgrade was. That is the difference I guess; the same difference, however, all over the world.
June 18, 2005
Another party, at Xeni Jardin’s; her La Dolce Vita party. I never ate such good food in US, cheese, cakes, wine, soup, champagne, one after another. I met a few new people, journalists, art managers, artists. The music was discreet, the place crowded with Mayan objects from a silent elderly host, dressed in white. Xeni herself looks like a tall and thin Marilyn Monroe: my favorite icon.
This is LA, this is Hollywood. In my purse I carry a fake Marilyn Monroe driver’s license, a gag gift, instead of an American driver’s license, which I don’t have. Xeni genuinely looks like Marilyn Monroe, and I don’t. Xeni, by strange coincidence, has the name of my daughter, Ksenija. My daughter is dark-haired however, and on the other side of the ocean.
My new friend Yael, originally from Israel, said at certain point: how weird. If we were back at home, everybody would have been dancing now, like crazy. Yes, said I, the same in Serbia. People at Xeni’s party did not get drunk, or stuff themselves, or generally lose it; they talked, and that seemed the point, and a good point too.
I tasted a very heavy spice. My tongue started to burn. I gasped for water. I got three cups of wine from different sides: after regaining my power of speech, I uttered: wow, that hurt more than an abortion. My new friend from the Middle East was the only one to laugh.
I spoke to some people about Serbia and Srebrenica. Most of journalists here, people from the progressive radio, know only of the NATO bombings. I spoke and spoke and spoke, and today, I wondered to whom and what I said. I have not the US communication skills to be targeted, short, and precise. For me, from the Balkans, speaking and socializing is like drinking and dancing.
I went to tour the American Apparel factory with some students of design. A big blue building in LA downtown: a factory. A huge manifesto is hanging from its windows: AMERICAN APPAREL: AN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
I am triggered by the political implications. Years ago, I made a promotional documentary film about the most successful clothing firm in the former YU; it all looked perfect, until I entered the factories. There women, and ALL of them were women, sewed and sweated and cursed. When I was young, I remember saying to myself: how lucky I am not to have to do this to survive.
American Dream factory has almost 99 percent employed Mexican workers. The guy who is showing us around the factory is not Mexican. All the time, he says ‘we and they,’ meaning We the bosses and They the Employees. At a previous factory we visited, it was different. The boss immediately told us that his family ran his factory, and he never used that divisive language; on the contrary, his language was bonding, kindly and paternalistic. This new guy was obviously not an owner: he had no sense of guilt or propriety. Instead, he had a need to belong to the managerial class.
The entrance of the factory is covered with photos of the American Apparel products, worn by models. These models looked underage. Not only that, but their photos had the stark look of pornographic photos of sex workers and sex trafficking; the poses, the faces, the interiors, the lighting. I was amazed and shocked; I asked around. The girl standing to me explains that the owner is a big fan of photography, and that he makes those photos personally.
As we visit various floors and departments, the variety of owner’s photographic flair expands. Nobody seems to notice this. A young girl is stalking us as we cruise this mysterious apparel of the industrial revolution. She is silent, young as the girls in those photos, and thin, with heavy make up, dressed in American Apparel underwear and colored boots.
The Mexican workers at the sewing machines are as fast as Charlie Chaplin in his movie MODERN TIMES: they are deft and angry. They are paid per item. They are young and fat. All of a sudden, as I listened to the voice of the young yuppie boasting at their pay and their efficiency, something came to my mind: the definition of a ‘lackey of capitalism,’ used by Mira Markovic for us dissidents who were against Milosevic. All of a sudden I understood another expression, ‘putrid capitalism.’ My mother, an avowed communist, used to say that in distress.
These words were not my own language; I even used to make fun of them. But all of a sudden, panic entered my bones. I wanted to leave that place of industrial revolution, swearing to myself that I would never buy an American Apparel item.
The clothes looked so good, though.
More factories toured, yesterday. More capitalism, more American flags. Some were small, successful creative enterprises of family business. Convaid, for instance; they make pediatric wheelchairs. Their wheel chairs look like prams, since modern prams look more than ever like motorbikes: heavy black tires, vivid colors, security gadgets…
The motto of the Convaid factory is CRASH TESTED,
MOTHER APPROVED. The window of the office features a Barbie doll in a wheelchair. Six hundred and sixty-six times a wheelchair is dropped by machines in order to pass its security tests. State healthcare pays for those wheelchairs… I only wonder who pays whom, since I heard that so many Americans have no healthcare at all…
Every wheelchair has written on it ‘Made in USA,’ so as not to be illegally copied overseas, where they have been copied. USA is a big brand for care of the handicapped… I heard a European complain that he felt discriminated against, for not being handicapped once in USA. The handicapped certainly seem out of the closet here in USA. I wonder if the numbers of handicapped are really numerically or politically growing. Why is it that in my country you hardly see any?
In LA most things are on wheels: the catering
for workers in factories comes in a truck, with food. The
factories themselves are prone to move overseas, or to
the next town, if necessary to survive. The mobility of
capitalism, of competition, it’s cruelty and
vitality, strikes me more now, than in all the Marxist and
anti-Marxist studies I’ve done for years.
The bus driver of our factory tour never stops talking about himself and everything he sees around us. He has a paranoid anticommunist streak: speaks and asks of eastern countries as of a taboo. I speak out, I say, I come from an eastern country. We have your MacDonald’s. Ours it is better than yours, but extremely expensive.
Nobody can afford it.
He stops talking to me about communism. Something
has frightened him, or triggered his imagination. He seems like a character from an American propaganda film, the other side of capitalism. He is a successful survivor. His bus has painted space aliens landing from a spaceship. I guess I was one in person.
In the MotoArt workshop… pin-up pictures of half-nude women all over the place…huge, busty… MotoArt is a new enterprise, dating from 2002, when two ex hippies decided to pick up parts of scrapped and wrecked planes, and make furniture out of them.
The got publicity from all over the world. Playboy has them on the cover page, of course. A table made from a bomb makes me ask one of the two founders, do they have real war planes, and their dates? Yes, they boast. When I further ask them about Serbia and NATO planes, they quiver. They speak of the beautiful Croatian coast and seem embarrassed.
Wars and pornography have something in common, I always thought. I see it without resentment, here in
this art factory. But yes, here are nude women, planes, bombs, guns… boy’s toys… As long as they make furniture out of bombs and planes, I call it repurposing of the tools. I wanted to touch their political conscience, but there was none really: an empty space of fear, boys afraid of death, thus playing with it.
Wars and industry
In the Pelican factory, which works for the military:
business flowering, a factory where we are guided by
two big women smiling…
Women also sitting at the plastic injection machines, but they don’t seem exploited and hysterical, and their work seems paidmwell.
Women working in the Chinese American electronics factory also seem not exploited, at least to my eyes, so innocent to pure capitalism.
Pelican has a neat and dignified working atmosphere, although the bosses do boast in their own ways, and talk shop exactly as my father used to do as the boss of a communist enterprise.
The technocrats of the world: my father, a world
businessman, used to say: love is important, but once
your wife gets hungry, you cannot put her lovely ass in
a soup and eat her.
In another factory, where old fancy sports car are being
restored. My American friend, who is used to paranoid security measures, notices something abnormal here. This hot-rod machine shop is clearly the most dangerous place we have ever visited in Los Angeles, but it has no measures of security, no safety glasses, no safety gloves, no silly safety notices… The owner
is 82 years old. He belongs to those times of manhood
when danger was, if not welcome, then palpable… His
wife is still driving racing cars, and his workers are
making new ones…even though racing is almost everywhere impossible for common people with common income.
Thirty years ago in Italy, sull’ autostrada del sole,
every morning a lot of middle class Italians would race
their cars from one city to another: now the speed
is limited, the cars have grown heavy and expensive.
The Italiano vero is still riding his Vespa, however.
Here in LA an Italian Vespa is an object of retro-art.
June 26, 2005
Last night we sat in the castle garden, a ‘gated
community’ as they call it here, a mentally gated community…I could not find matches. Nobody smokes in this gated community. Even if someone does smoke, it’s never in public.
My last European boldness is wearing out, since
every search for matches gets me into trouble. I came
across two strange guys in the castle dining room. I
asked for matches. They seemed surprised, but had the
matches. One of them asked me for a cigarette. I gave
Ten minutes later, he comes after me and asks
me for another cigarette. I give it to him. Then he asks
me for cocaine. My friends say, we have only
alcohol… He seems unwilling to abandon his original
demand. He sits with us. I ask him, how did he enter
the castle? He said, I just came in. I wonder if he is
from that other part of the castle, where they kicked me out because I was white.
My email pal Robert, a writer from LA,
claims that violence is random here, that every eye
contact is an opportunity to be violent…
Once, at the Malibu beach, a young Indian man, dressed very elegantly in long pants and white shirt, said Hello to me while I was sitting alone on the beach. I
learned to say hello as a way of dealing with hellos
in LA, but he takes this as a invitation, and wants to
talk to me and sit with me. He has a cell phone in his
hand. He does not seem violent, only a wrong guy in
the wrong place.
The Malibu beach seems like a Montenegro beach, and his making a pass at me makes me wonder what have I done wrong…
A few meters away, two gay guys are kissing and fondling each other: they are muscled and very masculine… Many gay male couples are walking along the Malibu beach, I hardly see any lesbian ones… A Mexican family with three kids is very loudly spending their Saturday hours in the sun. The kids are pampered, the big young father is tender and smiling, the wife is small, sullen and fat. Everything is rotating around her, but sheseems angry and bored.
We all sit close to each other, but nobody is paying
any attention to each other; to one another, we are culturally invisible.
June 28th, 2005
A concert by Rashid Taha, at the Knitting Factory club in Hollywood. Only 50 yards away, the road is blocked. I asked a conscientious policeman, big and serious: so, what is all this about?
It is the opening of War of the Worlds; you just missed the stars, Madame. Oh, say I, how terrible; did it all go well? The policeman looks at me very seriously: no water shots this time‚ he says.
I wonder, did he try to be funny, or was he serious? Mr. Tom Cruise, the lead star of War of the Worlds, is planning to sue the Channel 4 television crew for sprinkling him with water unexpectedly. The Hollywood boulevard press is all worried about this. The Hollywood movie opening looks rather miserable. All of Hollywood looks miserable, compared to what one expects from films: Hollywood is low key, dirty, touristy and somehow uninhabitable.
The opening night of the same film would be more fancy in Belgrade, I am sure. The LA Times is saying that cinema is becoming dead media. People don’t go to movies anymore. Movies are expensive and uncomfortable. We have DVDs, computer games. Books are dying too‚ like movies. Children here don’t read books, they play video games. They surf the Internet.
Rashid Taha is good: his audience is mostly Arabs from North Africa. We all belly dance. Some of us get on the stage. Rashid keeps falling over all the time and letting his mike fall out of his hands. But he is good, he sings in the right tones, says the right things, supports pacifism, gays‚ and belly dancers of all sexes and colors.
A shaved guy from Morocco offers me cocaine if I will dance on the stage. He says, my friend Rashid had too much, that is why he is falling all the time. Rashid is in that big tradition of falling stars, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison. Rashid can’t speak English. He speaks Arabic and French to his LA audience. Nobody seems to mind.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
LA has a lively Lowbrow Art scene beneath the Hollywood glamour and rubbish. The ‘Maximilian’s Schell’ performance is a jewel, in the midst of nowhere, a small space marvelously arranged as an Outer Space Place.
‘In this month’s blazing heat, Maximilian’s Schell, an installation at
the gallery Materials & Applications, is casting the most buzzed-about
bit of shade in Silver Lake. The airy vortex-shaped canopy was created
by Benjamin Ball, an architect and former production designer, and Gaston Nogues, an architect and product designer at Frank Gehry Partners. They started developing the project over a year ago. They cut 504 pieces of amber Mylar with a computer-controlled machine, fitting them together to create a
structure that shades and defines the gallery’s outdoor space.”
August 2, 2005
Today Bush appointed Bolton, the guy who wants to blow up the UN building, but is not a terrorist; he just used that as his metaphor, as the American UN ambassador. This guy said, if the UN were blown up, nothing would change in the world. I guess he was proved right. I was in NY when he was first nominated, and inside the UN building, fighting guys like him.
Since then many opposition voices were raised in US, even from Bush’s party.
The other big political issue is that the US constitutional court may have different balance now, since the judges are changing, a right wing anti abortionist policy. The abortion issue will be the central one for the appointment of the new judges, since there is a big backlash here in fundamentalist US on that issue.
My young neighbor in the castle, an art critic, said, so how is your American diary going on? I said, well less and less political. He said, we Americans ignore politics. If something political happens, then we hire a comedian to explain it to us on TV.
Just this morning I read how in postcommunist Russia, talking politics was considered gross if not forbidden. I am post-post, post-feminism and post-communism, because I cannot stop seeing what I see. Besides, why would I stop? All this post- posturing is an old, evergreen method of escapism.
3 August, 2005
This is America: a lesbian couple here in LA made a new law. By common law verdict, domestic couples are as legal as straight married couples in sharing club facilities.
Now, that decision can spread to health insurance, pension, all the rest.
As for conservative America it is news: catholic Italy finally made natural and legal children equal some years ago. In Serbia common-law marriages are equalized with legal ones. But this is America, nothing was equalized and then once it gets there, it is one step further: gay natural marriages are legalized.
On the other hand Bush’s America treats women as follows:
“A brain-dead American woman has given birth to a girl in a hospital in Virginia. Susan Torres, 26, was being kept alive to allow her fetus to develop, after suffering a stroke on May 7 while four months pregnant with her second child.”
Corpses giving birth as new cannon fodder for the wars.
August 8, 2005
Last night I was at a party in LA proper; people from theater, from film, producers, artists. Also, a guy who fixes things after earthquakes. He told me about his job, of his multifaceted skills. He can fix anything from a pipe to a light bulb. Earthquakes are his trade. Earthquakes are his homeland.
In every country, in every city I like those home-repair guys best: in Belgrade I called Stamenko a reserve husband. In Rome it was a woman actually, a single mother with her son who took care of a decaying city and her decadent inhabitants.
The earthquake fixer told me that Pasadena cops are the rejected LA cops. That’s why the cops are bad, and so picky towards the citizens. It sounded like rival football teams.
Then he told me how San Francisco people don’t like LA. Other people joined his argument. Except for him, nobody was born in LA, but everybody lived here and wanted to stay forever.
We drank a lot of beer and wine and we even smoked. A Mexican doctor, still new in LA, was offering cigarettes to everybody. The host was celebrating his 39th birthday. There was a newlywed couple, hugging and kissing all the time. They told everybody how proud they were of their wedding, how much time and money it took them to plan it and execute it. They wanted it done in just their own way, cross-cultural, since they were of different ethnic and religious origins.
August 11th 2005
The end of the second term in Art Center, students exhibiting their works, anxiously, and professors trying to score their points in the academic ladder.
I am an outsider here. The more they see of me around Art Center, the less I am really there. I am repelled by the competitiveness going on, and the pragmatism. My social hypersensitivity is driving me nuts. Wherever I live, after few months I plain see through and behind the curtains, and my convictions turn into illusions.
American society is money-centered, said my friend, and not only that, it is emotionally decentered. There is something wrong with American society, my guts tell me. Not only because of the foreign wars the current president is waging, but also because of the pressures of the internal war that every American individual is waging… I wonder if there is anything like good healthy society today, when the planet’s ecosystem is crumbling. The nonsensical fall of Yugoslavia makes sense only in the global context of the fall of civilization. There is no civilization or country that is not falling. They all behave like suicide bombers, whether or not they have a gun in their hands.
I met a pregnant German woman. She told me how she went the beach with her small girl, and with some illicit beer hidden in her handbag. One day the police came to inspect people’s bags, searching for drinks. The German woman got really afraid because the fact that she was pregnant made her case worse.
But in Europe, pregnant women do drink beer, she told me. In the restaurant where we were sitting, the waiter brought her a non-alcoholic beer, though she hadn’t asked for one. She drank it sullenly. I gave her some of my beer when the waiter looked the other way.
A friend of mine from Belgrade lived in California for 19 years. He wrote an essay on the lack of toilets in California’s public spaces. He mentions in this same essay that a woman was arrested for putting quarters into parking meters. She did that in order to prevent strangers’ cars from being towed away. She did it as a volunteer, to help people she had never met and didn’t know. The police charged her with interfering in justice.
August 15, 2005
I went with Code Pink friends to drop a Cindy Sheehan banner from an overpass on an LA highway. The banner said: Bush, speak to Cindy.
We were four women and two men. The overpass trembled with the speeding cars and trucks, honking in our honor. Only a few reacted with insults and the finger, but those few were as loud as the majority.
Cindy united the opposition, one of my friends said. She has become a leader. Another war mother, Nadia, whose son was also killed in Iraq, is protesting all over the world. She said to me: he was killed like a fool. He enlisted, after September 11th, he wanted to do something useful. Then he was sent without warning to Iraq. He was killed the fourth day he was there.
My young neighbor said to me; if I were drafted, I would go, even though I am against that war. I don’t know how to say no. He reminded me of many men I heard speaking like that in Serbia. They speak of their honor, they speak of their duties, and of their shame. One of them fought two wars. When he was drafted the third time, his wife told him, if you go this time too, I will not take you back. At that point he said no, but it was as if he lost his manhood, he said.
In the castle, the professional wedding planners had their big day; they were selling a huge bulk of kitsch and dreams. A show of huge wedding gowns, which the amateur models barely managed to drag onto the stage. A singer in a Hawaiian shirt sang music from the ’50s that my mother used to play. Time does not exist for these archetypical patriarchal rituals: a 92 year old Russian lady said she was married 70 years ago, and it seems to her like yesterday when she sees a newlywed couple. There is something frightening in that collective daze, as frightening as a religious trance.
August 19, 2005
I saw a stag today crossing the street at Art Center. He was big and solemn. He stood at the side of the road, like a human being, politely waiting to cross the street, better trained than some pedestrians I’ve seen in Serbia. We stopped the car for him. Slowly, as if limping, he crossed to the other side; if I am not hallucinating, he gave us a short thankful glimpse. I don’t like domestic pets, but I do like wild animals. I identify with them.
“Fugitive L.A. Alligator becomes Local Folk Hero
USA: August 19, 2005
“LOS ANGELES – More than a week after a man-sized alligator stunned
authorities by surfacing in a murky Los Angeles lake, the fugitive
reptile has already become a folk hero in the gritty neighborhood
where he continues to outwit wranglers and elude capture.
“Dozens of residents gathered on the shore of Lake Machado on
Thursday, sitting in lawn chairs or scanning the water with
binoculars as park rangers with nets waited for the 7-foot (2 metre)
alligator to rise out of the muck.
“‘We’re pretty confident we’ll be able to catch him,’ park ranger
Albert Jedinak said as he stared at the calm surface of the lake. ‘He
was actually in the net once but unfortunately we didn’t have the
“Meanwhile one woman deployed her two young sons to work the crowd,
hawking $10 t-shirts bearing an alligator drawing and the words:
‘Harbor City You Will Never Catch Me.'”
I went to a pacifist rally in front of the CNN building in downtown LA. Different groups of black, white, Mexican pacifists. I was one of the speakers, in the name of Women in Black and Code Pink.
This Cindy Sheehan issue has united not only women, but all the opposition to the war; strange people at the rally were distributing or selling propaganda materials. Sometimes I have a feeling that nobody really knows what we pacifists are talking about here, but that the protesters, who seem like people of the 1970s even when they are young, have a general disagreement with the US today. They seem poor, upset and aimless. Cops went by in cars, very discreetly.
There were also several reporters with cameras and microphones, but not many people stood by. Cars saluted us, as well as a third finger every now or then. The police were very polite here, as compared to our police during the Milosevic regime. They escort the protestors, no charges, no accidental beatings, no personal insults. Not yet, anyway.
This is what I said at a rally in front of the CNN building.
I am Woman in Black from Belgrade, I am from Code Pink Women for Peace LA.
I am a woman, a peace activist from countries that were or are aggressors of other countries. And as such, we must all know that for every our dead soldier, in an aggressive war done IN OUR name by our politicians, there are 10 dead soldiers or civilians in the attacked country. And we should know that these two death rates are connected, interdependent and escalating. That there is no such thing as a JUST WAR or CLEAN war, that for playing war games there always are TWO sides.
Every dead soldier or civilian is somebody’s child and no victim of war is a legitimate death.
Nobody has the right to fight a war not ONLY IN OUR NAME but also in his/her own name because the consequences are beyond somebody’s personal life and convictions. They are global and historical, they affect the next generation.
We women for peace, all over the world for years have been protesting with out bodies, preventing our own sons, husbands and brothers, not only politicians to take up the weapons.
Women for peace have no other weapons but their own lives and bodies. And they do not want any other because the issue of life is here at stake: we don’t want to die for our countries and ideals; we want to LIVE for them.
Throughout this country and the world, pacifist are supporting Cindy. She is not alone and there is a big tradition to her brave political action: from ancient Greek mothers against war, through Gandhi’s non violent peace movement, to Srebrenica mothers in Bosnia… and many will follow her example.
We demand that the CNN reports what we have to say in OUR names in all those places that we are doing it every day… This Democracy is not enough for women and peace, this is not even democracy unless women get empowered: visibility is power, the word is power.
August 23, 2005
I heard on the classic rock radio station, that Jimi Hendrix’s childhood house, a shack of a small black boy, was being either sold in these last days of August, or demolished. It is already a wreck and the owners have no means of restoring it. Now, that guy is a classic, everybody knows it‚ here more than anywhere. Fame is money here, so I cannot believe that nobody in America wants to do anything about it. This is a missing part in my understanding; it that makes me still a foreigner, I guess. It’s like all these people that talk against Bush and never have time to do anything but shop and consume.
The price of oil is rising, and the pressure against US troops in Iraq is becoming more visible day by day… Empires fall. Almost 21 centuries ago on this day Pompeii was destroyed. I have a chilly feeling up my spine that while I am here in America I will see something big and bad. My neighbor here, a Swede, is preparing to leave for Stockholm, a place he left many years ago. He doesn’t like it there, but he is afraid of the future here. He has a bad feeling.
August 26, 2005
In the airplane, heading to Singapore, from LA 18 hours of air travel. Around the world, to the other side of the world. Singapore is eighty miles north of the equator, not even in 80 days; this is reality.
As usual, I am driving the planes, not riding in them: every turbulence makes me tremble. After the bombings I will never feel at ease when I deal with airplanes.
The crew is Chinese, they speak Singapore Singlish. I hardly understand them, they hardly understand me. Inside the plane I feel I am already in Singapore; attentive, quick, small attendants, dressed up in uncomfortable tights, with fancy clothes and shoes: they are serving us food, drinks, all the time, relentlessly. In the few moments when I manage to doze off, they are waking me to serve me. There is something hysterical about this: my Singapore stewardess reminds me of a woman I know from Belgrade, with the same workaholic, hysterical attitude. She is also small and thin and an overachiever.
My American friend tells me that people from Singapore have an ethic of never relaxing. My friend from Belgrade is just the same; when she relaxes, she doesn’t move out of her skin.
We are filling the customs document; on the backside it is written in red big letters: DEATH PENALTY FOR POSSESSION OF DRUGS. My American friend says; gosh, what if somebody has drugs on him by chance?
My little plane attendant insists on asking me: Madame, did you lose something? Madame, did you leave something? I am baffled, I deny it, I smile. Finally she tells me that they found my camera.
Arriving at Singapore, we accidentally abandon a duty-free whiskey bottle.¶
27. August, 2005
It is dawn in Singapore, heavy tropical rain, the cab drives in the left side, the green tropical streets takes us to a concrete jungle, a science fiction tall building; the Pan Pacific hotel is a construction of white false-marble rooms with green weeds between them. People here don’t talk, don’t smile, don’t say ‘have a nice day’ like Californians. They are so different from everything I know.
I feel culture shock, which is taking the power of words from me. I am interested only to observe, trying not to offend anybody, especially not the law. I read that the famous penalty against chewing gum has been abolished. I don’t smoke, I don’t even drink‚ I just watch.
In my panel at the Singapore writers’ conference, Chinese translators are speaking of English words, English poetry and the English language as superior rules, as gods, as something they have to reach with utmost work and dedication. They are breaking my heart with their colonial sense of duty. I never imagined it was so bad. Serbs were serfs for hundreds and hundreds of years, serfs to rich and powerful and educated foreigners and their rules and troops, but they never succumbed in spirit, on the contrary they got wilder. I wonder which fate is worse, or better.
I dare not interrupt my Chinese co-speakers, although I was asked to. I am their guest and they have so much to say and so little to hear. Typical of the oppressed. That is exactly what happens in Serbia too when foreigners come; the locals are kind, hospitable, but dying to open their hearts and their wounds. California seems many miles away now, because it is.
August 29, 2005
This is one of those places where west and east did meet with success. And every day more so, people from Singapore globalize the historical issue of First and the Other; their Singlish is a child of the biggest power of the past and of the present: you tell me which is which, between the Chinese and British. Their economy is growing. Their city-nation is clean and efficient. It is like LA on steroids.
A Singapore writer said: we will never get a Nobel Prize for Literature; because there is no political freedom to write what is really going on here. We are stuck between great economical freedom and liberalism, and no inner expression.
A cultural functionary from the government said: we don’t have even ONE literary agent in this country. Every year, several people phone me and ask me — can we help them become a literary agent? After they hear there will be no real money in doing that, they never phone me again. Nobody has the enthusiasm, nobody wants to risk.
But writing is risky too, I say, nobody got a Nobel without risk.
Only rich people write here, they tell me: and they have nothing to write about except their leisure, so nobody wants to read that.
Leisure is not emptiness, not in the countries I know. This wealthy country needs no Nobel, it needs a language first, to put its own life in a literary shape that resembles these buildings, these colors‚ smells and sounds.
They simply express their artistic flair by means other than literary. Food, for example.
Huge fines for wasting time in Singapore’s public spaces. The fine for loitering here is 500 dollars, much worse than in LA. No dustbins in the street, no rubbish on the pavements. People hurry as they stroll in the evening, they seem a people with purpose. Rather pretty people, no fat or deformed people. When a white person comes across the street, she/he seems a bulky animal by comparison, even when in decent shape. Shops are full of fancy garments, but few seem to wear them; they dress casually and gracefully. I seem Californian here, they tell me. I wonder if I would become slender and Chinese if only I stayed longer in Singapore.
August 30, 2005
In the poor part of the city, where retired and sick people live, there is a big artistic colony with their own goods for sale: cheap, beautiful and unusual. It is all packed up, too many goods in a small claustrophobic place, as if stored by some mayhem which happened to the true owners of those goods, now dispersed or dead. Why is it always that somebody has to sit in order for the other to rise?
In those concrete, serial buildings, the people live like soldiers; flags are stuck on their windows with patriotic messages. They sing and praise their forty years of liberation. I am told by very patriotic Singaporeans that freedom of thought is something that people cannot even imagine, far less crave. Even the regime concluded that a bit more creative thinking is necessary for the city’s maintenance. But it is hard to make people think and risk in a situation where such a thing was once unimaginable.
Old people drag themselves among decaying food exposed in the market: here they can spit and smoke, and nobody sees them, old, mutilated and dirty. I wonder if the recipe of soft dictatorship may be the right one, for cultures and countries suffering for centuries from poverty, colonialism, neglect and political abuse.
August 31, 2005
A big show in the centre of the city: based on a new book claiming that it was the Chinese not Christopher Columbus who discovered America. Cheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, supposedly sailed the world in 1412 and discovered America, bringing back goods to China.
This show is monomaniacal and baroque. It claims Chinese greatness and discovery; it sounds plausible, but it is not true. I heard that people lost their jobs here because of saying publicly that this theory was nonsense. All nationalisms looks the same, once in public: strong and stupid, and pathetic and weak at the same time. They long to be bold in a weak point, to make a boast of superiority from an inferiority complex.
What impressed me most in that exhibition was the collateral information. The King of the Forbidden City killed 2,800 of his concubines and eunuchs after his favorite concubine committed suicide. Then the Forbidden City burned. The oracle that predicted this mayhem himself committed suicide one hour before his prediction came true. This king must have been truly hateful.
This Admiral Cheng He, he who supposedly discovered the world, was castrated at early age. His precious, severed belongings were kept in a jar. His child fiancee waited for him all during her first life, and then passed to her next one. In the meantime, he was discovering the world.
Such male stories, so similar cross-cultural; it doesn’t really matter who discovered the world. They didn’t make the world any different.
Last night I dined with world writers. I met a Scottish Pakistani writer who once wrote a story about a Yugoslavian love triangle: a Croat, a Bosnian and a Serb. His Pakistani-Scottish story could have been my own life: the names, the details were taken out of my everyday context. I was dumbfounded: but then somebody told me: don’t be. Your life is exotic. It is history by now. Writers are entitled to that kind of material.
The more writers are entitled to my own life, the less I am. That feels good. Let the writers handle the happy ending, then.
No wine in Singapore, only beer and some kind of herb brandy. Cigarettes only in bars: switching from restaurants to bars seems like a yin yang experience. Childish faces from the daylight get dark, somber, dangerous. Singapore is tight with a hidden rebellious energy: very hidden and very strong. I wonder when will it burst?
A literary contest, in four languages: Chinese, Malayan, English and Tamil; fiction and poetry. The minister of culture insisted on literature, on high quality, to win the Nobel Prize one day. Freedom of speech was not mentioned, although the guy sounded real nice. People here notice you, but without showing they’re noticing you, the alien visible. Military victories and defeats are celebrated all over the city, as monuments, as museums, as flags. They made it: out of poverty, decadence, colonialism: they might be the role model for the East. Freedom of speech is of no use if your stomach is empty, an old Indian philosopher used to say. I wonder.
Sitting in the airplane, waiting fro the wheel to be repaired, typhoons in the air. Leaving Singapore, back to LA via Tokyo.
Last night I spoke of the war in Serbia, as a veteran, I said; back in my days: was it that long ago, that far away? People here hardly imagine it, a stable conservative society: toppling a dictator by doing street risky actions, WE women, must sound weird to them. They speak of literature here as politics, as religion.
Jasmine Khadra, an Algerian author living in France, took the name of his wife and called me Yasmina number 2; he used to be a professional soldier, now he writes about wars. He says he is a poet third generation, a dreamer and a lesbian and he thinks literature is above everything else, better, as much as good authors are better than any other people. Some of the audience loved him; people need to believe that somebody knows better than them. I was very skeptical at his attempt to become number one Yasmina; I didn’t stop him because I didn’t want to take his place; I tried to undermine the vertical structure from underneath.
In the plane to LA, already tanned flakey muscled Americans and similar Asians. No more modest nodding and bowing with clasped hands. Chinese people of the future.
Sep 2, 2005
Back in LA: seems like the third world compared to Singapore. People are loud, streets dirty, people big and fat and dressed with sloppiness compared to the tidy and elegant Chinese, Malayans, Indonesian and British. But I feel at home.
Singapore reminded me of Milan; city where money reigns, anonymous and big, as people on the streets are loaded, but whose money sees only those loaded like them. It is money for expensive anonymous objects and class taste; no kitsch, no exhibitionism. So typical of third world big money, US included.
Katrina disaster, a US tsunami in New Orleans: floods, displaced people, fallen houses, dead missing: real bad reporting, reminds me of Serbian bombing. It could be any catastrophe anywhere in the world: US press in concentrated on pathetic details, not on causes and effects of the real people in real world; a new fundamentalism based on brand new ignorance of climate change and global warming. As if refusing Darwinism in the name of creationism, American press and politics talk of this catastrophe as God’s will, not people doing and undoing: it is a pitiful shame.
Yet somehow I am more positive that US political idiots will finally understand the man made disasters in Iraq: the national guard is “rescuing” Iraqi people instead of being where they belong and really doing some useful work. As a young Serbian girl who went through the wars put it: their turn now. But whatever Bush does or does not, things have gone too far to change: Bush’s Christian fundamentalism has real support for what it is, the society here is polarized and the positions are real on both sides; credenti against non credenti, as in all religious wars.
President Bush urged US citizens to save the fuel, the petrol, not to buy if not necessary. How come he never said it before: the trail of petrol is the trail of blood and disasters. Oil made all this happen, Mr. President, and it will happen again if US does not sign Kyoto and implement it; if the American standards do not change when consuming is concerned.
Instead I hear nationalist talks against the Chinese and their productivity and productions: empires never fall gracefully and charitably. They end in mayhem and the most innocent people pay the biggest prices, as the black big poor New Orleans inhabitants. All bad rulers as a final warfare target their own people, those who are weakest and most vulnerable. The last and biggest war Milosevic waged was against Serbs dying of sanctions because of him. And then those same toppled him, although it took them years to put the two things together: somebody else’s skin never burns as one’s own.
The stampede happened on the bridge in Baghdad and 1000 people were killed in a couple of hours in the days of Katrina hurricane: the first is taken for granted, the second as a natural disaster: yet both are man made and almost by the same men.
Sacramento — The state Senate, in a historic vote watched across the country, approved a bill Thursday that would legalize same-sex marriage in California.
The vote was the first time a state legislative body in the United States had voted to approve same-sex marriage. Massachusetts issued marriage licenses to gays and lesbians only after a court order, while Vermont courts have allowed civil unions.
The 21-15 vote followed more than an hour of debate that included personal discussions about God, civil rights and family. The Senate’s three openly lesbian members spoke of their experiences, while another lawmaker spoke of his 50-year interracial marriage.
“At its core, this bill is about affording all Californians dignity and respect,” said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.
The bill now goes to the Assembly, where it failed by four votes earlier this year and faces an uncertain future as the legislative session winds down next week. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not take a position on the bill, but he recently suggested that a legislative effort to approve same-sex marriage could backfire.
Opponents of the measure said the Senate vote flew in the face of a 2000 ballot initiative that defined marriage laws as being between a man and a woman, and they promised to go to the polls next year with constitutional amendments that would ban same-sex marriage.
4 September 2005
LAX airport: waiting for the plane to Austin. I heard the city is full of refugees from the flooded Louisiana. Refugees again in my life; misplaced, badly treated poor angry miserable people. I’ve seen hundreds and thousands of them pouring in Serbia 10 years ago from bombed Croatia. I’ve seen them chased away by Milosevic because he didn’t want them telling everybody the truth of how he let them down. Those people never got papers or citizenships until this very day. They lost everything in their own country, which they had to flee.
Bush is behaving irresponsibly: he invokes prayers and patience, as if he didn’t know that people needed food and housing.
This is not the last disaster of this kind, annalists say; I wonder how long will American people put up with ridiculous and expensive antiterrorist measures which certainly will not stop a suicide bomber while thousands of people are dying unattended. This is a serious proof test for the American idiot.
Bats and refugees in Austin. Today at Barton Springs, in the park, I heard some Austinites speak behind my back, not noticing my loitering eavesdropping. They spoke of refugees with scorn and intolerance. It hit me to my stomach, I remembered Serbia, the word refugee was an insult, I heard seven year olds use it as an insult together with words like whore, lesbian: our city Belgrade was filled with refugees whom nobody wanted, who even today probably have no papers or houses. Some were rich yes, some were nationalists, that too, but most of them were just poor trapped displaced people from their home, running for their lives, a situation that nobody wants to witness.
Bats in the evening, female bats and their newborns live under the bridges of Austin since 1980; their males are in Mexico, these here cannot survive the winter; so they come in here and every night they fly in flocks, blind flocks. An attraction for tourists and locals who sit and sip wine on the grass waiting for the bats to come out. I wonder if those are the same Austinites that were today at the park.
Cindy Sheehan was in Austin; banners are all over the city, her photo and her mottos against the war. So many things in this town whose parliament is bigger than in Washington, whose ex governor is president now in Washington.
Sept 6, 2005
Black New Orleans in white Texas
Barbara Bush: Things Working Out ‘Very Well’ for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans
By E&P Staff
Published: September 05, 2005 7:25 PM ET updated 8:00 PM
NEW YORK Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated,
“This is working very well for them.”
The former First Lady’s remarks were aired this evening of National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” program.
She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present.
In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: “Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we’re going to move to Houston.”
Then she added: “What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were
underprivileged anyway, so this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.”
Find this article at:
We’re seeing the most awesome and heart-rending display of volunteerism and generosity this city has ever seen.
The donation sites are overwhelmed. The volunteer centers are completely swamped. Last night, at the Convention Center, there were between 1,500 and 2,000 volunteers registered and more coming every hour.
This afternoon, Carol witnessed a woman from Leander opening her home to three families, and another person writing a check to pay for any three families to FLY anywhere they needed to go.
It’s nearly unbelievable. A response to match the need. Austin has been truly incredible.
But we know we’re just in the earliest days of what will prove to be a long challenge for the city. We suspect that many of the people who have come to Austin to escape the ravages of Hurricane Katrina will not leave — they’re Austin citizens now. This is going to have a profound effect — as yet unpredictable in character — on our city.
I want to call your attention again to the news site we put up as a way to communicate about the relief effort underway, here:
I have just added a bulletin board for people to trade information and discuss various topics, and that’s here:
We’re also planning a fundraising event and we’re in communication with the City about adding more features to the Web site, like a centralized volunteer database.
I’d appreciate it if you would pass on the information about these resources, and sign up if you’d like to help.
Thanks, and I wish you and your families the best on Labor Day.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Katrina: Jasmina Tesanovic’s account, Austin Convention center
Writer, filmmaker, and Serbian native Jasmina Tesanovic is best known for her work documenting war in the former Yugoslavia. She visited the Austin Convention Center, where many storm victims are being sheltered, and has this to say about the people she encountered. Image: Warnetta and Johnnetta, shot by Jasmina.
I am entering the Convention Center in Austin. Unlike the refugees an police, I have no ID, no tag on my wrist, just my ragged handbag and my lap top.
Nobody asks me anything, though I notice, all the people inside the camp are tagged with different colors, and there are security men and women all over the place.
In this huge no man’s land, there are so many nobody people that a woman like me can pretty much become one of them. After few moments of my wandering I am offered a cheese sandwich, information on where to queue for food stamps, and a wif-fi hotspot for my computer.
“Do you have a number Ma’am?:
No, I say, I am from Serbia…
“Do you need some clothes?”
Well, I could do with some clothes…
Piles of clothes, in all sizes, in all colors…
Here people are mostly black, of all ages, of all sizes, of all shades of color, but there are some like me too… Middle-aged white women from nowhere, feeling at home almost everywhere, when it comes to disasters…
This center for refugees is well-organized, compared to my ex Yugoslav experience. It has air conditioning, abundant cooked food, extremely clean bathrooms and well-behaved people. Nobody is crying, nobody looks depressed yet, nobody is even fighting…
Information center desk, youth center desk, school information desk, jobs information desk, family elder members desk, computer desk, deaf assistance desk, farmer’s desk, unemployment insurance desk, alcoholic anonymous desk, church desk
Warnetta and Johnnetta are approaching me. Warnetta is simply dressed with long black braids, and Johnetta is all dressed up in red, fancy red make up, literally red long hair, jewels, she is gorgeous.
Johnetta says to me: I need somebody to take over my group tomorrow after school; I will not have time to handle them…
Oh, I say, tomorrow I will not be here.
Johnetta looks at me in disbelief. But you can tell me who can help me, you are the woman in green.
No, I am here just to see you and write about you. Can I take a picture of you?
They gently embrace and smile: Johnnetta says, we love it here, tomorrow I am starting to work, nine dollars per hour, everybody is so kind to us here, we have no home but I don’t mind, I have my five kids, four are taken care of in the kindergarten and this is Warnetta my oldest, but she makes me look old, I am thirty three and I don’t want to tell she is my daughter, she is 14… They will never fix my home town properly and we will never go back… because they all knew it was coming and it will come again… but they never do anything to build us good homes, to give people money to build them…
Barbara Bush, the wicked grandma, gave an interview only yesterday, chuckling how poor people will abuse the hospitality in Texas and never go back home. Is THIS what she meant? Her cynical remark was not meant to be cynical; it was a threat, for Johnetta and Warnetta who want to rent a place and stay in Austin until somebody fixes their town PROPERLY.
Both sides know pretty well what they are talking about; Barbara and Johnnetta are quarreling.
“Ma’am, how are you doing?” I am patted on my shoulder by a perfumed elderly volunteer. “I see you managed to rescue your computer.”
I’d better play the refugee after all, it is the safest place in this messy country I guess: not that I am far from that condition. I’ve been a refugee in my own country. This time I am refugee in somebody else’s country. I can tell the difference now.
Is there any? Fay looks just like me. Fay sits next to me, presuming I was just like her: somebody who only a few days ago had a great life and didn’t know it, who took life for granted. Well, how else, I say, one cannot always be a refugee? Or maybe yes, she says, maybe from now on she will always be a refugee: she is a journalist and now she will become a writer she says; exactly like me.
She will become the main character of her own stories. And it will feel good, I promise her. Here I am still feeling good about it and writing.
At a corner of the huge circular building, black male teens have a basket and are playing basketball; tall handsome swift and deft. Some will join the NBA some day. Around them are children perfectly healthy playing games in wheelchairs; there are also some people in the wheelchairs paying no attention to the bored kids. In the corner watching them a pretty girl is sulking. The basketball player comes up to her and cuddles her: she is angry with him… he is neglecting her… a new romance, for the black Romeo and Juliet in a refugee center. At least they are alive and will stay so; away from their parents it seems, I wonder if the parents are alive…
“My husband had to leave too; he stayed until the very end but then it became dangerous, looting and shooting and the diseases… the smell, oh the smell… dead bodies, the heat….” The old black woman’s nose is quivering: she is very well dressed and well-kept, everybody is fussing around her, but she seems to be alone and wants to stay alone.
Where is your husband, I ask?
She is silent, her eyes are blank… In my country too, old people preferred to stay at their homes, whatever may happen. Is there such a thing as homeland after all, I wonder? Or is it lack of courage and energy… why did she make it here and he didn’t?
Who is this old respectable thin woman staring out of the window in silence?
The other old woman is all dolled up; she is sitting in the terrace, chain-smoking, chain-talking. The chair next to her is empty. People come and go and listen to her, but she never stops talking. She has thin legs and a big belly, a pretty old face and fancy sexy clothes: everybody seems to know her. They are offering her stuff and want to help, to carry her, amuse her, bring her music. But she talks and talks only. She reminds me of a raped woman who compulsively talked after she escaped the war zone; she talked sweetly and mildly of everything, even of her rapist… This woman is telling us all how happy she is with life as such, happy to be alive, happy to be here…. I wonder when she will break down, from that chair, from that cigarette to which she is clinging to as if it were a pillar.
I guess she needs a drink, but nobody drinks here.
A desk with pretty young white girls has several posters: child and women abuse. I approach them, they give me their material, they have shelters, therapies for all situations. They are local feminist groups present in the center.
I hear live music, it is melodic and rhythmical as in films I saw from New Orleans, a black old man is singing with his guitar, joined by another younger one who has some kind of flute, the on lookers are stamping their feet and clapping their hands… some are joining in…. not many, but I hear they are planning a party… I wish I could be there…
But then, they start playing the American national anthem, people stand straight and a big applause ends it. Is that their patriotism? Is this America?
What about the global warming that made all this happen, what about Iraq?
A young man from New Orleans was telling this morning how he plans to go back even though his house is destroyed, and to MAKE sure that the city is rebuild in a proper way: that the politicians don’t steal and waste the money; that right guys get in charge and start anew, make a new go of it, this time on proper roots…. Everybody could tell this disaster was going to happen, why didn’t anybody do something about it?
Corruption, racism, classism…. Bush is a spoiled rich kid and behaves as such….
No, I say, he is a war criminal: all the money the world is giving now to US, money from the poorest countries in the world, may as well be used for the wars against the same countries that are giving the money. What a thought? You should secede… from Bush.
Somebody in a county of Louisiana already proclaimed secession, that to draw the attention of the press and the administration, as a trick of course…
What a thought! I really meant it…
The barber’s shop; finally I see how black hair is neatly and patiently done in braids, dreads, colors…. I myself may give it a try. Many years ago, when my white friend from Serbia was attacked by some black people because she was presumably white and rich, she said to them a historical phrase we all white refugees quote here in black US: I come from a country which is in civil war, even if we look exactly the same.
Some military guys appear behind a neatly set desk. Next to them is a desk with a sign; We Support Our Troops, veterans. Well, good thing that troops are supporting those people here, if indeed they are.
And the wifi Internet access I am using while writing this is called Tsunami, it is excellent and free. Kids are gathering around me to play with my computer. Boredom is the biggest killer in places like this. Even if you have your needs met, the definition of being a refugee is being left without your day; be it in a palace, be it in the gutters. Women cope better than men usually speaking, children best on the long run…. They may even realize Mrs. Bush’ s fears and stay in their new homes as if their own, making the old settlers run after their survivor’s energy and skills.
I am looking at a beautiful baby toddler, a girl, she is playing with my bag, smiling and chirping. I pat her, tickle her; her father is huge and angry, he takes her by her belt and picks her up like a mother cat. She is screaming her head off, she wants her doll back, that’s me, I want my girlfriend back, that’s her… but we will never meet again. I am taking a picture of her, one of those faces I will never forget…. Her mom is missing.
A pang; I miss my grown up daughter in Serbia: she used to be small and dark and a refugee too… About 4,000 people here, an Austin volunteer tells me, giving me his email so I can send him my text. More people are coming in but some are already leaving, to other places, relatives, new jobs, new homes… They are not called refugees, they are called “evacuees.”
Elderly well dressed couples from Austin show up in the afternoon, strolling among the evacuees smiling broadly and kindly at all of us. When they asked me, with the air of Princess Diana, “How are you doing? We see you managed to get your computer out,” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was from Serbia, and that I am doing fine.
September 10, 2005
East Texas, poor rich county; alcohol is prohibited, you can get a margarita only with your driver’s license which proved that you are over 21. Only few miles, in the next county a big store called The Fat Dogs sells alcohol drinks in tons, with discounts; reminds me of Serbia under sanctions and the big business going on right over the border with Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria. Only here it is permanent. In Tyler, Why is that? Do people really drink less? We under sanctions drank methyl alcohol if necessary, even we who never drank before. No, people drink even more, I am told, it is just a point made by the religious conservative parties.
In the oil museum, eyeglasses have the shape of the state of Texas; wow that kitsch is beyond nationalism. I could even wear them as a statement. But of what? What is a statement of people who have flags in front of their houses, big and several. As if they were governmental buildings.
One of the first oil pumps here; I am told that oil brings poverty wherever it hits the ground. A few people get rich and many get poor. Louisiana is just round the corner: the workers in the fat dog shop have Cajun accents and speak about the disaster; here in this gated resort community of mostly retired wealthy people no refugees are seen. No loiterers or unknown faces, like in my gated community in Pasadena: mentally gated communities.
September 11, 2005
In the airport, Austin, real special check this time; because of the date, because of my passport.
– Madame did you go through this?
– Oh yes
But what I undergo this time never happened to me before.
I tell them that.
The old woman who went between my legs from different position with a stick in the middle of the airport while I was my hand up on a carpet smiled satisfied. While she was doing it her colleague was going though my suitcase, pulling out my underwear, beauty kit, medicines.
He asked; are you European?
He asked me while he was handling my beauty kit.
I wanted to answer; I don’t know, a very bad but very true answer.
Then I thought better not; once I did it they kept me half an hour with questions.
But I asked him; why do you ask me that?
He didn’t answer.
To overcome the embarrassment of intimacy in public
I imagined I was a star in a serial of futurist spies where these lovely women dress to kill and kill and are killed.
Hey I was pretty well dressed myself, but the contents of my suitcase were rather disappointing, what kept his attention most was my crumbled package of Marlboro lights and my computer with stickers which was gently spread with some invisible glue and handled with utmost care as if it could explode.
Thank you, ma’ am, oh yes they always say that and have a nice day.
At my gate a crowd of women and children mostly is lined up in a semi circle.
I stick to two middle aged big women with short haircuts in shorts, no make up, no girlish traces: people in Austin I am told do dress shabbily.
What is this, I ask?
Soldiers coming back home from Iraq, says one with tears in her eyes
Directly from Iraq?
Oh no, they have their own ways, she looks at me angrily.
At that moment a soldier is coming out of the plane, dressed in sad colored uniform with bags all over him pending. He is received with applause, his small daughter runs up to him and the rest of the family is surrounding him. It is moving, flags are waving and he finally gets one flag in his pocket.
_ What about those who are not coming back home, I say moved.
The women look at me angrily and say; we came here to pay our honors.
And they leave.
At that point a black soldier is coming from the corridor; a much smaller applause is greeting him, most of the people have left and worst of all there is nobody to hug him, greet him; I feel like embracing him myself, his eyes are somewhat red and he looks around himself for several minutes before leaving. Somebody has not showed up, or he didn’t want to get here.
A third soldier is bordering the plane: he is looking in front of him; his eyes reverted to the floor.
He is big and somehow hunched. Nobody is seeing him off or applauding him.
I wish I had my shirt: STOP THE NEXT WAR NOW!
I hear that my report on Austin convention center is being spread and read in many places: Sweden, Spain, Serbia, Italy. I get hate mail from US patriots, Serbian refugee go back home, and also qualifications like global warming nitwit, feminist whatever: nobody better than your enemies can give you better and more precise compliments. In Serbia I could agree with every single accusation and bad word they called me: language is just a vessel, we fill it with meanings.
September 12, 2005
A lot of bitter comments from NPR national public radio broadcast a story of a guys who was sick and who managed to get out of the town by paying 100 dollars to be driven in stolen school bus out of the flood, and to be shot by the police. That sounds just like my refugee war stories; this is a never ending civil war because it is happening in peace, just as one of my refugees from Bosnia who escaped to US said about this country here, after tasting the segregation.
Back in LA: glad to smell the windy ocean weather and see these beautiful black people. The small shit dogs as a woman from Texas called the ladies’ pets in gated communities in Pasadena.
My daughter came today to US; she managed to get her visa without proving her DNA to the customs’ officer (her words).
I read in the news that LA is the next target of al Qaeda. Also a big earthquake is expected here somewhere: it is bound to come, but nobody knows when or where. I know now that if it does, we’ d better get ready by ourselves.
I must admit that only few months ago, before the New Orleans affair, when I thought of earthquake here I had a feeling that I would be rescued, that I am better off because this is America, the richest country in the world; well not anymore. Something in me is shattered.
Today a two hours power blackout in LA, I was in the metro with my daughter. The lights came back flashing weirdly and unpredictably, the cars behaved randomly, the train stopped and then started and stopped. I guess nobody could tell if the tracks were safe. I wonder if that lasted longer like in Serbia what would like life be in LA: I remember a literary agent from LA who refused to publish my war diary because it didn’t have those kind of instructions in case of disasters. Now I understand why.
September 15, 2005
Tools, Shoes and Misery
I am shopping my head off in LA and that’s what I see: some real ugly stuff costs so much and then the same stuff costs 4 times less, 4 blocks away. Some is even nice: but not by the Europeans standards, never as cheap and as dainty as shopping can be in Paris. But this weird LA between Target stores and hippie clothes is growing on me: I am already wearing black plain climber’s sport shoes with weird metal clip in the back, and feeling elegant.
I remember finding those kinds of shoes real bad taste and wondering how on earth American women wore male clothes, just to feel comfortable. I did that when I was young, as a punk, on purpose not to look sexy or feminine, but this is different, this is being comfortable and sloppy.
Today I went to the local police to ask for a locksmith; gosh how kind they were, the security guy left his desk and spent 20 minutes phoning the shops in order to make a double gate key for me and my mentally gated community. Finally I discovered that my key had on it a veto tattooed: no reproduction without authorization of the owner. I love security measures in US, they give us a false sense of security, like those security rules for flying: which will get tighter yet, as if suicidal bombers did not exist. Those guys are bombs themselves, they don’t need any weapons. Or keys.
September 19th, 2005
Last night I went to the All Saints Church for a book signing by Rushdie. The event was full, meaning the basement was full of local literati, not many Indians, they all seemed well educated and had the international air of people who suffer; it is hard to explain but I know that my impression is infallible and shared by other readers and writers. People who read or write have some kind of misery in them, some unveiled pain, or a streak of personality disorder. Nothing wrong with it, who doesn’t?
Well some people don’t, some are plain straight and happy: those go to cinema or to the chambers. The other ones come to the All Saints’ Church and instead of praying, they listen to a martyr reading his paragraphs of life and death, India and the rest of the world: LA precisely this time, since the plot is set here too.
So Rushdie the guy who survived his fatwa, married a Bollywood star, and stopped drinking, lost weight and gained newborn wit and brilliancy maybe through his VITA NUOVA: he spoke of survival, of being stubborn when the bastards want to get you, of how the streak he discovered in him was called bravery and he showed some of the stuff that martyrs are made of. Just raw human material we all have in us, it sleeps there and luckily enough it never has to wake.
I spoke that way of my common heroes, political idiots…Then today I got a letter from my friend who is bravely surviving her son’s suicide by visiting his suicide route and writing about that: well that is the same, and once again, hopefully we never have to prove to anybody that we are that brave. But if we have to, oh well, may all saints from all churches help us…but I know that doesn’t work that way: help comes out of the blue, a stranger’s glance… a sudden insight. As with writing books, a voice comes and wants to speak.
Rushdie spoke of good and bad literature, of fame and money and how it is not distributed according to literary merits and longevity, but how it is there and some day it eventually surfaces. It was weird for me to hear my own prayer recited by a celebrity, a martyr in a church. But it boosted me: I may even go back to my literary work, notwithstanding the fact that this is America, and America wants me to cut the crap and write stories which sell. I may even manage both: some did. It sounds like women who managed to have children and a career too, and not one at a time but parallel, just as men do.
The literati audience in pain was of different ages and backgrounds. The applause was huge and the signing of the book run as a lottery. The priest of the church was sitting next to the author, he wasn’t afraid of doing it. He wasn’t even ashamed of doing it.
Then during the night I woke up: I decided to forgive all my enemies. I will bear no grudge any more towards those I understand even though I disapprove of them, and am injured by them. I even pondered writing them such Gandhi like letters: but I will not. This is the real world we are talking about; open tolerance can bring me more open hostility. I wonder why inflicted pain causes guilt in the victim and only forgiveness can heal the wound.
A new hurricane is under way in New Orleans again and Texas. I wonder if these poor wretches will be better or worse off than the first set of refugees. My Code Pink friends are on the East Coast, today already in Washington, getting ready for the Peace March on the 25th. They were expecting arrests, and some have already started.
I didn’t go with them because I might be arrested and kicked out of the country. I miss the action: every peace protest is mine; I don’t like living in a gated community only, security gives a sense of being mentally gated. I don’t have a feeling of danger in the streets with other people. I plain like people. Somebody told me only today, but all people are racists, meaning all races are racists. I wonder if that is true, scary as it sounds. I don’t like my own best. I don’t even know what is my own…
September 22, 2005
Earthquake ten minutes ago. Here in Pasadena I felt it; the epicenter is north… I stood up from my writing desk, made my daughter go outdoors… she is complaining as usual, I am just making her do it… we are a team now, has been going on for years now, bombs or earthquakes or floods, makes no difference, in Europe or States… maybe there is some difference, after the Katrina event, I doubt it though; it may be even worse here in some aspects…
26, September, 2005
Cindy arrested in Washington, Sam from Code Pink tells me…It is in the news… good I am not with them, my friends say, but I feel lonely here in LA not even arrested.
I have a mouse or a rat in my flat. I call him Jonathan. He lives in this castle much longer than I do, and soon I will leave so I have no heart to kill him, even though I will try and kick him out of the rooms: he is too loud and scary. My Castle Green friends said, maybe it is the ghost: I said, well yes, maybe it is Jonathan the mouse’s ghost and not Jonathan himself. I am my ghost myself here in Castle Green; my heart is arrested in DC.
28, September, 2005
Attended a lecture at ACCD, the corporeal artist from France or maybe nowhere but speaking French, ORLAN. The woman who experimented with plastic surgery on her face and body, who open-ended the wounds, abolished the pain, and who calls her art corporeal art. She had the hairstyle of Frankenstein’s daughter movie and maybe from an African mask, half blonde half black standing straight upright. She is a hardcore feminist, her work quotes Derrida, Lacan…cocks and cunts… There was something unpleasant more than mad about her, although she was OK.
She talked too much and the translator into English was lousy although she, Orlan, was a bad girl and the translator a good one. The words didn’t match the images; the artist was refined and daring notwithstanding her spooky looks, while the translator was prudish and ignorant, notwithstanding her refined manners. That might be the encounter between generations and continents of two women. The old and the new continent. The old and new feminists/women,/artists as they were, as they are.
I stood in the audience, but I felt between them, as the dark future of old spooky looking ignorant Balkans waging global wars.
Sept. 29th, 2005
We went to Santa Monica beach by bus: two and a half hours, first two trains and then one bus. The bus was driving slowly though Wilshire Blvd, one of the richest streets in the world: with polite drivers, mothers with small kids in tow, hobos and innocuously deranged people. I realized that my daughter and I look like foreigners and rich ones, who are there by mistake. A tall white guy, with a bike falling apart and a bag full of trash got aggressive because we were standing too close to him. I felt on my skin the negative discrimination.
30 th Sept, 2005
The hills in LA are in flames, because of the drought. The polluted sunset is beautiful, the sky in flames, people evacuated, police helicopters circling…Foreign press is speaking about it, more than the local press, I have a feeling… Is that big or small politics I wonder? But it is like that all around the world, local elections for the same obscure ignorance are not connected with global issues, such as global warming, nuclear weapons, international peace politics…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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?
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…
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.
1 December 3, 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.
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
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.