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.
I've been to tech conferences all over the world, but this one may be the most radical: Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand. It's about web designers as both stars of "new media" and as futurist philosophers. These web people, who normally talk in their geeky way about algorithms, can't resist preaching some morality and politics, all from a handsome wooden stage on which the Beatles once performed in 1964.
Their IQs are as high as boiling water, while their jargon is a multinational meta-language above all national cultures. They are traitors to the sacred values of corporate mainstream business, even when they are part of it.
Here are some Webstock philosophical homilies.
Why are women first to pay for every crisis? In every society, capitalist, socialist, or transition? It's because the bodies of women are expendable.
I always noticed how women over eighty in Turin looked incredibly well, beautiful and loved and taken care of: desirable, because old and valuable. I connected this to Italy's long-established and sophisticated health care system. Italian hospitals were famous for methods which preserved the dignity of the patients, in tumor cures, especially breast cancer: the "invisible mastectomy" was invented in Milan. Rather than simply intervening in crisis, they were good at illness prevention and attentive follow-ups.
The economic crisis and financial harassment of Italy has reached this safe haven of health and dignity. In Turin, one of the best clinics for cure and prevention of breast cancer is about to be closed. The patients are on the streets, their appointments cannot be scheduled, they are paying for their urgent operations because their doctors cannot help them. The doctors are on the streets too. Read the rest
A couple of days ago, the two former members of the Croatian military won a "not guilty" sentence in the Hague international war crime tribunal.
I was not present in the general headquarters of the Croatian army while they were deciding on their "Operation Storm" action of 1995. I don't know if the telephone rang there. I also don't know if President Bill Clinton personally told them to go ahead with the largest land offensive since World War II, because the CIA would help. That is what certain Serbian newspapers published recently.
I have a remarkable lack of knowledge about world paramilitary conspiracies, secret chambers in the Vatican, mysterious double-agents doing their jobs badly. Generally, the things I know are in the public domain, because people said these things publicly and I took notes, or because I was just personally standing there. Read the rest
When I myself was a protesting student, I remember vividly remembered the cold warning in the text by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He reminded us youngsters that the police we faced in the streets were also someone's children, that not all young people were fortunate enough to be in colleges rather than wearing uniforms, and that we should join all together against the general oppressor, the system, capitalism, the corporations, name it…
That was then, and this is now, and while the students and policemen still have the same interests, they are still on the opposite sides of the barricade. Austerity has driven Italy to its knees. Day by day the future of Italy's young people is vaporizing, and now the streets are flooded by torrential rains, to boot. Italian cities rocked by earthquakes might as well settle for witchcraft, rather than find responsible and competent government officials who can rescue the nation's casualties. Read the rest
Years ago during the reign of Milosevic in Serbia I wrote an essay called "Decent people". It was about that 80 percent of Serbian people, the classic silent majority, who lived in denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, the snipers in Sarajevo, the shelling in Dubrovnik.
These so called decent people who could not grasp cruel political and military reality. Eventually the damage to daily life became impossible; the decent people could not go through with their charade of normality as postmen, engineers and dentists. On October 5th 2000 a million people took to the streets in Belgrade and physically deposed the tyrant.
However, time stopped then in Serbia. An October 6th never dawned for a bewildered Serbia, not even 12 years later, on the anniversary. Milosevic died behind the bars in the Hague, my Yugoslav-era parents are deceased, my postman is on pension but the inhabitants of the Serbian parliament today are the next generation of those decent people. No painful truths were admitted and confronted; there was a rebellion of the decent, but not a thorough change in the society.
Typically, a few days ago the new elected premiere of Serbia forbade the Gay Pride annual parade. He claimed that 80 percent of the Serbian population is against gay manifestations, and warned against the risky and inevitable gay-bashing that would follow in the streets. This new premiere is an old member from the deposed Milosevic' s party. Crushing the aspirations of Serbian gays has become routine, and he has already handled the trouble successfully before. Read the rest
The International Space Orchestra in front of Vacuum Chambers, NASA Ames Research Center. Photo: Neil Berrett.
I never dreamed I would be in a NASA base in California, singing and playing music.
The Ground Control Opera performance by Nelly Ben Hayoun, presented the International Space Orchestra, 50 local technicians and scientists, playing in the city of San Jose at the Zero1 Biennial 2012. The opera reenacts the first minutes of Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon. It's dedicated to the memory of the recently gone cosmonauts and astronauts, and the endeavors of scientists at ground-control stations, still trying to make our 20th century dreams of spaceflight come true.
My daughter asked me when she mis-heard that I was singing for "NASA": Mom why are you singing to "NATO?" NATO bombed us in Serbia in 1999! I said my dear this is NASA, not NATO, they have planes and rockets but not bombers and missiles! They are searching for habitable planets with the Kepler space probe! Maybe there are other space controllers somewhere out there!
I used to say, "This will not be my war anyway" to my daughter, to my young colleagues, and friends feminists or not: to girls.
We fought in the seventies eighties nineties for freedom of choice, for divorce, for contraception, for women's human rights, against domestic violence, for peace in the world. We fought incessantly, ruthlessly, risking our careers, our private lives, our security and normality. And we accomplished a lot, all over the world; in Italy, in Serbia, in USA, name it.
The second wave of feminism was standing on the shoulders on the suffragettes from the beginning of the 19th century, who often gave their lives for women's rights. Then I got tired, and not me only. The world took a bad turn, not only in Serbia during the nineties, but everywhere after September 11!
The Globalization of Balkanization put at stake all the conquests of women and not only of women: terrorism, and raging war on terrorism, brought us police right-wing technocrat dystopian states where human rights became just another word for nothing left to lose. I told my young girls then: you must fight it now, this is your world, the one we inadvertedly left you. Learn how much you have inherited from your grandmothers, don't take it for granted because you are may well lose it, step by step, bit by bit. To the church, to the state, to the financiers.
A weekend of fear and mourning in Italy.
Early this Sunday morning, an earthquake struck near Bologna: at least six killed (ceramic workers, and a hundred year old person), and big material damage in the region. The US Geological Survey heard the tremor: a magnitude-6.0 quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers north-northwest of Bologna. Civil defence says that the quake was the strongest in the region since the 1300s. And the damaged building are valuable historical sites. In Italy such loss goes without saying.
We felt the earthquake in Torino, 260 kilometers from Modena at dawn. The apartment building shook and the late-night party people yelped with alarm in the streets. As I write this we hear the building crack and we tremble: I am checking on twitter. Yes, it' s an aftershock at 15.19.
Not unusual for Italy to deal with deadly earthquakes, but what comes afterward can be nearly as troublesome: state neglect and real estate speculation. Those who are not under earth may have the skies as a roof forever! The last big earthquake in Aquila in 2009 speaks about that.
This morning, The Hague tribunal commenced the trial of Ratko Mladic, ex commander of the army of the Serbian republic in Bosnia. Mothers of the slain gathered in front of the court.
Twenty years ago, Mladic started his criminal activities, while still an officer of the army of disintegrating Yugoslavia. A year ago, Mladic was arrested, after years of concealment, mostly within Belgrade. Today Mladic, aged 70, is sitting in the court neatly dressed as a civilian, without his legendary military cap.
As the judge reads the indictment, Mladic cheerily waving to the audience and even applauds certain parts of the recitation. "The wolf loses his hair but not his character," as the Serbian proverb puts it.
The indictment precisely proceeds as a short elementary lesson of the bloody fall of Yugoslavia.
Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)
When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.
My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.
But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.
"I haven't been so inspired since 1994," an Italian friend of mine posted on her Facebook page.
Well, I too can remember the year 1994, when I was in Milan, giving a public speech among some so-called intellectuals, soon after Berlusconi was elected. I had come there directly from Serbia, struggling in the thick of the Milosevic reign of terror.
I remember warning my Italian friends, feeling frightened, extremely emotional. I described a 'soft dictatorship,' how a small caste of oppressors gets into power legally, because WE vote them in, and then they steal and fake everything that WE, the people, never delegated them to do. And how, finally after waging wars against all the OTHERS in our own name, they finally turn on their ultimate victims and wage their war against US.
How they destroy every aspect of reality that stands in the way of a total exploitation: meaning the destruction, the ruin, of the people, ideas, customs, habits, prosperity, morality, of a nation and its history, of a time and a space. Afterwards, after the dreadful crash, who feels empty and responsible? We, the citizens who voted, we whose states were surrendered to the exploiters and profiteers, we, the participants, we are the ones humiliated in front of our children and the whole world.
Tonight, while Italians danced in front of the parliament, impatiently waiting for Berlusconi to officially resign, I remembered, once again among many times, how Milosevic was finally toppled after his miserable endless reign. Milosevic stumbled in the elections. Read the rest
Is this really the final end of the Berlusconi era, or just another pause for the Cavaliere to catch his breath?
Will he return on a fresh horse as the savior of an ever-crumbling Italy, as he has done repeatedly for the past 20 years? Will my Italian friends finally be able to travel abroad without a miasma of shame, and not be forced to explain to all what a bunga bunga orgy means? Will the numerous foreigners living and working in Italy, legal, clandestine, and semiclandestine, be able to face their children and say: we did the right thing to come here? Will they say: a new day dawns on the peninsula, the specter of crisis, gloom and crime has finally lifted! Work hard for your future!
These are open questions, and frightening questions today in Italy after yesterday's dramatic countdown, and Berlusconi's declaration that he will step down only after passing an emergency law on the Italian economic crisis. United Europe and its presses have closely followed the saga of the decadent emperor. They know that it was global economics and not his domestic scandals that pried the scepter from his hands.
Italians are wondering : whatever next? How badly off is the Italian political culture, which after all is to be blamed for many times that Berlusconi has managed to take and hold power? Where was the legitimate opposition, why were the counter-forces so weak? After the fall of Milosevic in Serbia, the deeply corrupted and dysfunctional state system was hard put to maintain any pretense of a normal government. Read the rest