by & © 2010 Miodrag Kojadinović
Last night, a presentation of the fellow resident whose residence is coming to a close in 6 days was held. It was his 45th birthday, which makes him just under four years my junior. The presentation, along with a discussion (“tribina”, a tribune/-al in the parlance of late Titoist pseudo-Socialism of my, and his, youth). It was held in the standard Gradska Kavana (City Café) of the Balkans, on the Central Square (Pjaca), a mix of faux-Viennese and functionalist pseudo-Scandinavian styles on a corner of the city fashioned under the brief French rule over the Illyrian Provinces in the Byzantine corner built on Antique Roman ruins and slightly refurbished under the Venetians. As multifaceted and multicultural as it is, the city of Split almost matches my post-modern vagabond existence between Southern China, Western Canada and the southernmost, norhternmost, and self-proclaimed “central” parts of Europe in the last two decades. Did I belong anywhere? Does Split belong to anything? To Croatia itself even, considering its strong loyalty to a local Dalmatian identity?
In the mornings a madman two apartments down the balconied corridor shouts about righteous, rightful Ustashi, Commie murderers, Croatian generals who betrayed everything. The first day his bout of possession was brief, the second day it went on for 15 minutes. Obviously he needs help and is not getting it, be it psychological guidance and medications, or/and financial assistance in his dire conditions that cause him to shout in despair and hatred. Indeed, I am not sure I feel his hatred towards me, as an alien from a country that many in the official discourse of Croatia, the one I am able to watch on TV in Serbia when I visit my parents (as I do not keep a functioning TV set in my apartment in Belgrade) consider an attacker that Croatia purportedly fought for independence, even though most inhabitants of Serbia were vaguely aware of a conflict that in Serbia was perceived as being between local Serbs in Croatia after being removed from the preamble to Croatia’s constitution and the para-state (before international recognition of Croatia pushed through by Germany) or the “rogue state” as most Belgrade media referred to Tuđman’s regime after the international recognition.
At the level of empathy, I cannot even begin to relate either to the yearning for an assumed freedom through belonging to a group (including, or indeed primarily not through national identity), or to the feeling of betrayal (by Croatian generals for the crazy short term neighbour in Split, or by “our allies of two world wars, the French who sold us for the dirty interests of Anglo-Saxon–Papist–Jewish (sic!) interests” in Serbia). Due to personal and family reasons, I had to learn about betrayal very early, and to unlearn every last word about human compassion, cooperation, tolerance and whatever else was stuffed into children’s books 40 years ago. Yes, such things did exist in theory, but never in practice. Never for me.
It took me a Norway, and being 40 years of age, to be able to think that perhaps humanity was not all vile and selfish as it had been in my perception until then. I think specifically of a fascinating experience I had in Oslo is about a family who had a few weathered apple and pear trees in their orchard. They picked the fruit one September afternoon, and put several baskets on their porch, but a few also in front of their yard fence. People would pass by and take an apple or a pear. It was unbelievable both that anyone would want to share out of their frugal “earnings” and that those it was shared with would not grab everything but just a “sample”. There was something very Mediæval about it (whatwith the fear of punishment in the beyond if one does not uphold the standards of morality), yet it went well with the Norwegian non-opulent generosity that makes them put 60% of the income made from oil exploitation in the Atlantic and the North Sea in a fund for future generations.
The Mediterranean is different. It has opulence — not unlike that in Southern China — that makes it flamboyant, which is to say if not stingy, than certainly showy (scattering beauty as a gift). There is an air of Sibyl of Cumæ about the Mediterranean, the pricy demand to be acknowledged: you won’t pay 5 ducats for a pomegranate today? Alright you’ll pay the same price for a meagre banana tomorrow. But, at the same time, there will be a banana, and a pomegranate, available for sure. And the tangerines that twinkle, yellow as they are, in the dusk.
I remember the tangerines from a slope next to Lisbon university and how, astounded, I asked someone why nobody picks them if not for anything else, than to use as compost. They are too sour, it’s not worth the trouble picking them for food, and as for any other use, they belong to the city — so let those poor bastards deal with it. To wit: the issue was not that something communal is not available to anyone just so, but that things communal are a nuisance become those who made the decision to deal with communal issues (and be paid for it).
As for communal things in Split, most people disliked the new theatre director who came to replace Štrljić, an erstwhile Belgrade actor who during the wars for ex-YU succession relocated to Croatia, leaving his daughter, also an actress, in Serbia. The reasons were various: incompetent, political apparatchik, weak person who is not so much corrupt as he is easily influenced and the like. I know nothing about the guy or about the theatre life in Split so far, except for the vague remembrance of “Mala (Little) Floramye” operetta. And the fact that a rather close friend of one of the organisers of my residence is an actress with finely chiseled features and rather good pronunciation and rhythm of speech, something that has been disappearing with actors of late. But then she is close to my age, and we a kind of stand between modernity and post-modernity, having at least the knowledge of, if not a taste for, things of bygone eras.
Day 4, November 20
When I was a child, I strongly disliked number 3 and loved number 4. It was not my intention to skip an entry on the third day in Split, but it somehow did turn out that way. There may be an imprint deep in my subconscious, even now, years later, when I have learned everything numerology (calling on purported secret knowledge handed down from Pythagoras) had to say about the good and bad aspects of all numbers, that makes number 3 less preferred and number 4 highly preferred for me. Even the years in China, just like previosu study of Japanese at university, never managed to shake my love for number 4. So here goes...
It seems I’ll be learning about theatre life in Split. Last night during a drinking bout after the poetry evening with three Slovenian poetesses, I sat at a table with a Chinese looking young lady to chat away. Turned out she was Japanese coming to volunteer pruning trees on the isle of Brač, couch surfing in Split with a young man originally from Subotica in Northern Serbia, with partly Croat ancestry who after vagabonding through Hungary, Italy, and Belgium established a home base in Split. So I had a chance to practice my mostly forgotten college Japanese with the girl and learn from her boy host of the forthcoming open theatre night today which I plan to attend.
I also met again the fellow resident M. again. A most fascinating man from a small town in Bosnia — not just in the usual sense that he came from there originally, but in the fact that he returned there — erudite, with eclectic almost polymath interests, and an open heart in his approach. I was also introduced to Ž., originally from Herzegovina, who makes a living as a dentist, but also writes and publishes, a Dinaric type with those exuberant and truth loving, in some aspects childlike, characteristics that Cvijić described very well, and later Dvorniković elaborated on with further details, whom I recognise all over Split in their tall, usually slim, frames, loud speeches with tones falling and rising, almost singing, but in that rustic style typical of the Herzegovina hinterlands of Dalmatia.
When M. had left and I was just about to part ways with Ž. and a friend of his, a group of rowdy youth, eight or nine of them in their early 20s, drunkenly shouting aloud through the stone paved winding streets. Probably hearing what they were “singing”, Ž. tried to keep me there on the corner for a few second longer, so that I wouldn’t step right into their world of the notorious Ustashi song glorifying the slaughter of Serbs by one Jure Francetić (I wonder if that person actually existed in that form, as a single organiser and facilitator of mass murders in WW II, or is all about him a mythologisation of the desires for murder hidden under a shallow veneer of civility, and certainly not only in the youth of Split, and the murderers in then Croatia, today’s Croatia, today’s Serbia where I was born, today’s Canada the passport of which makes it easier for me to travel than on the passport of my birth country, even today’s China where I lived the longest in the last 10 years, with its recent outbursts of children shooting/knife stabbing sprees).
The song went on, about Serbs whose bodies are thrown into the Neretva to carry them down to the Adriatic. But I had been ready to leave and didn’t even understand at first either what the drunkards were shouting or why Ž. tried to keep me there, and so I waved the two men of roughly my age goodbye and followed the boys a few short steps behind, as they were stumbling, inebriated, onto the open space under the gigantic statue of Gregory of Nin around 2 am, letting out their desperate, bloodthirsty cry of loneliness, no ideals left.
So in addition to nice women who were ready to chat away at the bakery, joke about me taking picture of them — as I waited for half a minute for the old lady to come nearer so I could catch her in the photo just under the street sign with the name “Babina (Old woman’s) ulica” -- give me guidance how to get through the crowded streets around the Palace or at the outskirts of the inner city core and the magnificent Marjan hill where I went yesterday and felt so utterly Mediterranean, as I only did once on Büyük Ada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, the women whom I defined as the target of my research in the proposal for the residence, there were men too.
The men, most of whom were probably homophobic, like in most environments, as “masculinity” whatever that may be is the last defence of those men in Split like in Vancouver, in Nanning like in Oslo, last identity trace before oblivion in Nothingness, stronger even that their, paradigmatically male (at the level of outward expression) chauvinism, the second strongest identity parametre of those who have little to lose. And also the men some of whom here in Split (especially the young, athletically fit ones, the ones with fewer social reins, and thus more easily prone to actually commit acts of violence, were, obviously, so full of hatred for “the Other”, incidently in this case “the Serbs”, that the neologism Serbophobia is way to weak to define it.
Was I afraid? No, probably not. Not more than faced with any group of drunken teens-to-men-in-their-early-to-mid-twenties anywhere and at any time before. Was I disgusted? -- Very much so. Disgusted, offended, and ill at ease. But was it really any different from the homophobic shouts to “Kill, kill the fag, the fa-a-a-ag, the fag” (i.e. “Ubij, ubij pederaa-a-a, pedera!” with the final “j” of the Imperative Mode usually omitted in the sociolect of the illiterate), chanted through the capital city by the thousands of male youth of Belgrade (and regardless of the weak excuse that out of the 120 arrested — out of allegedly 6000 vandalising the city out of their homophobia were from outside of Belgrade, or “from the innards” as is the usual, and idiotic term for non-Belgrader Serbs used by ignorami in Belgrade media)?
Would anyone have been safer on the streets of Belgrade on that day when the LGBT parade was held if s/he could for some reason been perceived by those youths as gay, their epitomised “enemy” (and indeed it goes for both men and women; on the first parade nine years earlier, several lesbians were brutally beaten by men twice their size), than one would be at risk if perceived as a Serb in the rather well lit streets of old Spalato at wee hours of the morning? On the one hand less than a dozen drunk self-proclaimed “Ustashis” are undoubtedly less dangerous than 6000 self proclaimed “defenders of Serbian family” with balaclavas in full daylight. On the other hand, one never confronts 6000 people alone, enormous open spaces would be needed for that, the size of several airport runways. Eventually, it is not the issue of numbers, three or four agile athletic young men could likely bludgeon a kick box world champion, let alone a middle aged person to death.
Yet, this ugly end to the evening which started very nice cannot deter the fact that I am enjoying Split, its wonderful vistas, its for the most part cultured and if not friendly, than certainly civil people, interesting literary events, and my stay so far in general. The poetry evening last night was quite interesting, with one of the six poems read especially remarkable, and another two rather good, and several ideas flown about worth pondering.
Day Six, Birthday
Mom called yesterday, so I didn’t hear from her today. I did get two dozen birthday best wishes on my Facebook account and another dozen or so automated circular messages from various sites which I joined in the early days when I thought I could as well give them the exact day and month of my birth (the year notwithstanding, of course). Did it make me feel any better? Perhaps slightly. I would have felt OK were it not for the madman two doors away who comes out to the balcony that serves as a corridor towards the door of the apartment I am staying at, shouting insults and abuse against “the Serbs” (for him obviously just a mythical figure of the paramount enemy), before he starts calling out on Croat government who has betrayed him, or so he thinks.
The permanence of his lunatic raving is annoying as much as it is offensive. His hatred is his own problem, that I am not in the least interested in (as I am not a permanent resident in Split), and his grudge with whomever (including people who self-identify as belonging to the same ethnic background that is the majority, though by no means all of my ancestry) is something I would choose to disregard were it not for his pacing across the balcony/corridor right to my door, and then the 25 or so metres to the other end, with incessant shouting. It lasts for between an hour and two, with each bout of shooting going for 5 to 7 minutes and being repeated every two to ten minutes.
At one point today only he became especially aggitated as someone below, perhaps the children from a nearby school or the people who rummage through the garbage bins for plastic bottles, or just another tennat in the building, tired of the noise, seems to have responded to him. He went on shouting for full for hours, with brief interludes of silence. And since it was raining heavily throughout the day, I didn’t go out today, so it became a real nuisance. Indeed I am not even sure if he was especially mean and vile today, or if it is perhaps his daily routine every day, as so far I have always spent at least a few hours walking the streets and taking photos.
Ah the advantages of digital camera technology! Not only everyone who can get a relatively cheap, decent quality camera suddenly becomes a photographer without having to master the technique of film developing an dprint making in a darkroom, something I did at age 16 in Serbia and then furthe perfected at a monthly magazine in Vancouver I wrote for in my early 30s, but also one can make tens of photos of the same object, scenery, even moment in time (like a plane flying over or a ship coming to dock) and discard as many as — say — 15 out of 16 without blinking twice. That would ahve eben unthinkable in the old days, and not even a Hasselblad in the hands of an expert photographer would have succeeded every time.
So with all its problems, digital i.e. virtual world does have its advantages over the standard “real” one, in some regards. But for the most part, I remain an old school kind of guy, which is perhaps not strange, seeing my age today. It was strange that I was nostalgic and an “old soul” when I was 12, now it has encroached upon me normally in a way. Let me tell you just one more thing, though: birthdays are not the best days for diary entries, especially when one is alone in a foreign country, a country where the hosts treat him with respect, some people on the street do treat him as a fellow-ex-citizen from the past, but some other obviously do not, but rather project all their hatred and ill will onto the identity one also belongs to. Even if one does have the privilege of a Canadian passport to stave off the worst possible effects of that hatred.
Ah well, was there enough cyphers in this birthday entry? I hope I am nott runing petty, just precise. And birthdays are about numbers, too. But I stubbornly refuse to write down the number of years that flew by, and from a perspective of money making or even house husbandry mostly wasted ones.