I still have Indian dust on my shoes from the city of Bangalore, where I spent almost a week at the international literary festival.
I was mind-boggled at the scale of this national Indian event: literature, politics, activism, feminism. There was music and even street art, but what a crowd. Sixteen thousand highly literate participants, roaming from one outdoor stage to another, and engaged with every atom of their souls.
Literary culture persists in this part of the world, where people still believe that leafing through books is a transformative spiritual experience that can change the world.
Authors of the first world, beset with Internet and economic crisis, often seem like plastic vanity-toys kept past their sell-by date, but maybe what they lack most keenly is a creative readership. As a passionate reader, I often claim it is more difficult to read a book well than it is to to write one. As a less passionate writer, I know that even one ideal reader is enough to motivate a decent book.
The beautiful literary carnival -- held on the broad, leafy grounds of one of Bangalore’s finest hotels, an oasis of glamor and privilege -- contrasted with the crooked streets of Bangalore where the sacred cows, pariah dogs and torrents of honking traffic live with a passion for survival. This was not my first visit to India, so I was ready for the epic scale of grandeur and abject poverty, but it was still a culture shock.
The jet-set’s digitized skyscrapers tower like phantoms over vast bazaars seething with a seize-the-day human vitality. Read the rest
A friend asked me to follow the flow, and write this hashtag #metoo. Cavafi, the Greek poet who lived all his life by the sea and wrote about everything but the sea, before dying he said: Let me too say something about the sea. Read the rest
“A Serb makes a good wife: she can pull the cart out of mud.”
That old Serbian proverb, its genius author has no name. It’s like the earthy quip from a hospital that I once heard in real life; after her severe car crash, the emergency doctor told her worried husband: Don’t you worry man, those Herzegovinian vipers are hard to kill!
I’m personally half Serb and half Herzegovinian, so I take these attitudes to my heart, half proud and half offended. But my American friend said: what about the Serbian and Herzegovinian husbands? Are they pleased about their mud-carting vipers? Is that the kind of proper home-girl that a local guy just has to have?
Good questions! If enough years go by, a man gets used to the woman of the house, muddy viper or not. But what about the opinions of the rest of the world?
Our world is a big place, so maybe a Serbian Herzegovinian woman is considered just one regional sub-class of East European womanhood. I might be called Balkan, from that mountain region of many fractured grooves, or a historical, fossilized ex-Yugoslav. I was never “Warsaw Pact,” although that arrangement meant “Eastern Europe” in the eyes of the Cold War West. I’m from a shatter-belt, a corner cushion among conflicting empires, a little regional federation that has vanished like the Austro-Hungarians and often resembled the modern European Union. It broke up in blood, but that’s been the fate of most European alliances, eastern or western, northern or southern. Read the rest
I saw this coming, for the past ten years or more. I saw small Trumps, rising and tramping around, first timidly, then bravely, and finally boldly. Read the rest
"You can’t tell who is craziest: the refugees, the police or those women," said a local shopkeeper. He made a cross over his chest, to express his sincere Serbian bewilderment.
He had just witnessed ten shabby Afghan and Syrian refugees walking past, escorted by ten Women in Black from Serbia, Italy and Spain, themselves escorted by ten policemen and a police car.
By the railway station in downtown Belgrade, the temporary citizens-from-nowhere are living their nomad existences in the the rubble of the so-called Belgrade Waterfront construction project. The refugees loiter all day, hoping for something to happen, between the city bus yards and huge trash-cans full of boxed food that the aid workers supply on a regular basis.
Around five pm there is a kind of tea ceremony where about 800 people gather, most of them arriving from the organized camps where they sleep. They arrive to be heard, to be seen. We Women in Black went to join them to show this Belgrade political scene to our international colleagues.
It’ s been now two years since the Syrian refugee crisis seized headlines, but the refugees are not entirely Syrians, but a global peoples’ market of Afghans and Nigerians as well. In the beginning there were many more refugees, and far less aid from the locals and the Serbian state. The migrants were simply collapsing on flat surfaces anywhere in Belgrade, urban nooks, parks and lots where they ate, drank and slept.
Now the bus-station square, a favorite place to cluster for obvious reasons, has been fenced and organized. Read the rest
I was clumsy, and I spilled some beer on the keyboard of my Mac Air laptop, bought July 9, 2014. I immediately started drying my precious computer, overturning it, and my greedy Mac didn't gulp all that much beer, but.... Read the rest
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