My handbag was stolen two months ago. It happened in seconds in a mall in Turin, Italy. I never saw the thief, and neither did my husband, sitting two meters from the scene of the crime a fast food Japanese restaurant.
How is such criminal skill even possible? There was almost nobody around. Now, after two months, I do vaguely remember though a nice young woman, sitting with a child, next to my table. Was it she who grabbed my bag off the back of a chair and escaped with it?
A week later, I read that a gang of four women, convicted of serial handbag thefts in Italy, was finally put behind the bars. Even though found guilty several times, they were always released from custody because they had either small children or were pregnant. So maybe they relied on the handbags of other women to feed their numerous children?!
But that would be a topic for a novel, and not what I want to write about. I will focus on this accident from a different angle. Because it can only be compared to an accident, a personal disaster, as if a truck ran over me. No use asking, was it my fault? Should I blame myself for leaving my chair to order a second beer to go with my sushi? And why on earth did I center my earthly life inside one rather small handbag? Why did I visit a shopping mall taking with me all of my traveling documents, credit cards, checkbook, USB backup, health insurance card, Iphone, address book, prescriptions, etc. Read the rest
Once I was a refugee, too. During the fall of former Yugoslavia, I visited many refugees camps all over the war-torn region. I edited a book of refugee stories. Read the rest
The people who hit the streets in Italy's major streets on the first of May wanted to celebrate the day of labor. They also wanted to express their worries about unemployment (which is now 43 percent among young people). Their credo: more work for everybody, less work per person. Read the rest
On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated in Sarajevo the Austrian Archiduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (heir to the throne) and his wife Sofia. This act allegedly triggered the World War One. Read the rest
Recently I saw a movie on the life and death of Aaron Swartz, who is nowadays often called a martyr for the freedom of the Internet.
People, nations and governments like martyrs. They love them, they need them. Martyrs are part of our bipolar, black and white society constructed from good and bad guys, who always do good and bad deeds. Martyrs are those who have escaped our human condition, of being judged by people as people. Martyrs are beyond judgement, they become the scapegoats for our biggest failures, for the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt phrased it.
[Editor's Note: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been expelled from Italy's senate after two decades in government.]
My American friend wrote me this morning: How does it feel to live, free of Berlusconi? Are the people of Italy rejoicing in the streets?
Here in Turin, the news was hardly noticed, because although it is good news, it is also old news. It was expected, a fully foreseen turn of events, part of the long goodbye of an Italian ruler who came in power in distant 1994 and is still clinging to authority with all his histrionic might.
Italian politics have never lacked for stage histrionics, but Berlusconi is very likely the most ridiculous Italian state leader ever. Beppe Grillo, the leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, is a television comedian, but Grillo is the picture of sobriety and decency compared to Berlusconi. Read the rest
There is something perverse and voyeuristic about visiting the private homes of famous people. Yet, as time goes by, I find the grand fame of public figures less interesting than their personal doings. I once visited the house where Kafka died, near Vienna. The barrenness of that sanatorium was so like the bareness and modesty of his existence, as opposed to Kafka's phantasmagoric, paranoiacally complex writing.
Next to Kafka's humble bed was a small door where one would have to bend one's head to enter: on a white sheet of paper, attached with clear tape, was written: "Kafka WC." Not being British, I had no idea what those mysterious letters meant.
The Golden Quadrilateral in today's Milan is composed of haute couture shops, jewelry emporia, and nouveau riche tourists. It's the geographic square that once sheltered the novelist Alessandro Manzoni, the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the physicist Albert Einstein, the socialite Clara Maffei. Severe battles raged for days in these streets as the riotous Milanese struggled to expel their Austrian imperial occupiers. Nowadays the blood-soaked alleys of the nineteenth century are luxurious windowfronts where bored, dolled-up sales girls loll inside, among the vidcams and the cybernetic security systems.
In this same Milanese downtown, a failed bank has been retrofitted into a hallucinatory five-star hotel: chandeliers like horror movie infestations, crooked plastic arm chairs in a nauseous green, tortuous, polka-dotted corridors that lead nowhere, and a psychedelic swimming-pool installation that might drown Olafur Eliasson.
First things first: oh, you world travelers, for pleasure or for work, never, ever fly Baltic Airlines. First they will stiff you by making you pay sixty euros to carry regular-sized hand luggage. You will note their particular eagerness to pounce on innocent non-Baltic travellers, especially haplessYankees with credit cards.
During the flight you can expect to be charged for the air you breathe, since they don't even give free water.
Finally, god forbid if something goes wrong with your flight and ticket, for Baltic Airlines will gladly maneuver you into buying a heavily-priced new one. Fleeing home via Baltic Airlines beats prison and deportation, but not by much.
I must start with a tweet from my wise friend Xeni Jardin:
"Some of you have asked why I'm not at SXSW: as a person with cancer, have I not suffered enough already?"
Well, some of us still are there at South By South West every year, among hordes of nerds, geeks and unnoticed celebrities in a magnificent carnival of tech in Austin, Texas.
This year, I had Stendhal’s syndrome after day two: I risked a stampede while fleeing the endless queue for Al Gore’ s keynote. At a festival of this size, people queue like in war zones where any queue means available goods. It's only after you get a firm place in line that you ask: what are we waiting for?
Individualism in armies is not tolerated, and by day three the entire army itself seemed as crushed by the challenge as I was. The geeks walked aimlessly, tired, with dark bags around their eyes, dirty clothes, undone laces. Austin is a besieged town in these ten days: with thirty thousand paying attendees and an un-numbered horde of locals and curiosity-seekers, roaming the streets of this proudly weird city.