Satrapi vs. Nafisi. 1:0.

The Mind and the Heart of Iranian Women

Two stories about lives of women in Iran have been loudly heard in past years: Reading Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis. They are interesting for their similarities and contrasts.

Two female Iranian voices have been loudly heard in the world of literature during past few years: first came Azar Nafisi in 2003 with her bestselling book Reading Lolita in Tehran. And then, in 2007, came Marjane Satrapi with the award-winning movie Persepolis based on her book of memoirs from 2000. There are a lot of similarities between the stories of these two women: Both grew up in Iran, both have studied in a western country, both have returned to Iran, just to flee the country for one last time. And finally, both of them have put a pen to paper to write about their lives in Iran, about the country and its people, about the revolution, the war with Iraq and the oppressive regime. But this is where the similarities end and the differences start. The first and most obvious difference being: one wrote her story and the other one drew it.

Further differences show up right upon starting to read the books. It is this game of comparing and contrasting that makes parallel reading the work of those two women interesting. Whereas they are both criticising the Islamic regime in their home country and showing a painful picture of what it means to be a woman under such a regime, there is one major difference: Nafisi does this with her mind and Satrapi with her heart.  Maybe this is the reason why Nafisi faced strong criticism - much can be forgiven to the heart.

Reading Lolita in Thehran has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages. The fact that Nafisi is an academic and that she had studied literature explains the complex construction of her book. Her book works on three levels: descriptions of every day life in Tehran, stories about meetings of her book club in which she discussed with her students the western literature forbidden in Iran, and finally, the analysis of those books. The book is divided into four sections, each with its theme. In Lolita, the main theme is oppression –and it describes how revolutionary guards assert their authority. Gatsby chapter is about the dream, in this case the Iranian dream of revolution and the way it was shattered for Nafisi. The James chapter is about uncertainty which totalitarian mindsets have a strong aversion towards. Austen is about the women’s choice.

The book covers Nafisi’s return from the studies in the USA to Iran in 1981, the years of teaching at the university in Tehran, the years of her book club and finally how she fled the country in 1997 to start a life in USA. And as much as Satrapi is bound by her medium, a black-and-white cartoon, to keep herself short and simple, Nafisi’s 343 pages of a book allow her descriptions to be detailed, analytical and colourful. She will take you, tuck you directly into a scene by describing it precisely and then still analyse the same scene for you. You will read about how it is to be arrested and spend time in an Iranian jail, how a house-raiding looks like, how it is to dare and reject wearing a headscarf. These in-depth descriptions of life in Iran will give you a feeling you are learning all about the life as a woman under a regime.

Still, despite its success in attracting many readers in the west, Reading Lolita in Tehran has not been successful with Iranians who believe Nafisi unjustly caricatures the country. The book has earned some strong criticism by Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi, who saw it as propaganda for the Bush administration. Literature professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, who wrote a book entitled Jasmines and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran, blames Nafisi's book for allowing for "many damaging misrepresentations" of Iran and its people. Nafisi’s second book, Things I’ve Been Silent About, which talks about her growing up in Iran, has not followed the success of the first.

Satrapi has not been silent about anything. Persepolis is a graphic memoir recounting her rebellious childhood in Iran, her high-school education at the Lycée Français in Vienna and her short return back to Iran after which she based herself in France in 1993. The memoir is divided into two books: The first is told from the viewpoint of a young girl making sense of a difficult world around her, and in the second book, she is a young woman trying to make sense of herself. After the unexpected success of the book, which sold in millions of copies, in 2007, Satrapi turned Persepolis into a film with the help of the French director Vincent Paronnaud. The film won numerous awards and was nominated for the Oscar in the category of foreign film, and won a jury prize in Cannes.

Satrapi’s charm lies in her simple, childlike-style mixed with honesty and self-criticism. And although she draws in black-and-white, she does not, in contrary to Nasifi, show the world in black and white. While she is scathing about the hypocrisies and cruelties of Iran's theocracy, she is equally critical of George Bush's Christian fundamentalism. In Persepolis, she will tell about the history of Iran, the problems with the regime, the meaning of war, the search for own identity. All of this is served directly, from the guts, without much construction or analysis. This is why her book has the power to touch emotionally and provoke both laughter and tears. Instead of feeding the reader a reality, she will open a space for the reader to create his own experience of a situation. Her talent for distilling complex stories into strongly moving, beautiful vignettes tend to inspire self-examination in her readers.

Following the success of Persepolis, Strapi went on to write two more books: Embroideries and Chicken with Plums. Embroideries is a Persian version of Sex & the City – it describes a group of nine women drinking tea after lunch. One story leading to the other, these no-nonsense, witty, honest Iranian ladies start discussing sex and relationships. The book is a hilarious read. In Chicken with Plums she talks about what makes life worth living through the story of her great-uncle Nasser Ali Khan, who takes to bed after realizing that he'll never be able to find an instrument to replace his beloved, broken tar.

Two different voices, two different lives, two different approaches, one main topic: women’s lives under an Islamic regime and finding a way to freedom. Let more of them be heard!

Wiens Andere Ausländer - the original

Wer sind Wiens Ausländer? Türken, Serben, Kroaten, Bosnier ....  Aber Wien hat ein Geheimnis: eine große Ausländer-Gruppe, die man nicht sieht, nicht spürt und über die man nie redet oder diskutiert. Niemand fragt sich, wer diese Ausländer eigentlich sind, ob sie integriert sind, und was sie für diese Stadt bedeuten. Obwohl diese Community von ca. 20,000 Menschen einen sehr starken wirtschaftlichen und kulturellen Einfluss auf diese Stadt hat, ist sie unsichtbar. Wer sind Wiens „Andere Ausländer“? Bereits wenige Jahre nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg begann Wiens Aufstieg als Sitz internationaler Organisationen: 1957 kommt Atomenergie-Organisation IAEO nach Wien. 1965 übersiedelt OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries). 1967 übersiedelte der gesamte UNIDO-Stab von New York in die österreichische Bundeshauptstadt. United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV) gründet 1980 in Wien ihren dritten Sitz - nach New York und Genf und vor Nairobi. 1978 begann der Bau der Zentrale im Kagran. Die Baukosten waren mit acht Milliarden Schilling (580 Mio. Euro) enorm. Diese teilten sich der Bund (65%) und die Stadt Wien (35%). Die UNO bezahlt lediglich eine symbolische Jahresmiete von heute 0,07 Euro. Vermietet wurde das Gebäude der UNO für 99 Jahre.

Was wenige Bewohner Wiens wissen, ist dass Heute in ihrer Stadt insgesamt 25 internationalen Organisationen, wie z.B. die Europäische Raumfahrtorganisation ESA (European Space Agency) und Europäisches Institut für Weltraumpolitik (European Space Policy Institute, ESPI), Organisation für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa (OSZE), ihren Sitz haben. Hier arbeiten ca. 5000 Menschen. Viele Länder haben spezielle diplomatische Vertretungen bei diesen Organisationen, bei den größeren Ländern arbeiten bis zu 20 Diplomaten in diesen Vertretungen. Stadt Wien schätzt, dass internationalen Organisationen insgesamt ca. 11,000 Arbeitsplätze generieren. Man muss noch die Familie und Angehörige sowie die internationalen Schulen und Universitäten dazurechnen, um eine ungefähre Größe dieser Community zu schätzen.

Diese Menschen sind gebildet, sprechen mehrere Sprachen, sind Experten in ihrem Bereich, und wurden durch ein sehr striktes Verfahren für ihre Positionen ausgesucht. DieDiplomaten sind  nur „auf Besuch“ in Wien, da sie meist jede vier Jahre das Land wechseln. Die anderen, die Mitarbeiter bei den internationalen Organisationen, von denen ca. ein viertel Österreicher ist, bleiben meist bis zu der Pensionierung in Wien. Diese Jobs sind hervorragend bezahlt und bieten neben Sicherheit noch Extras – unter anderem sie Befreiung von Steuern.

Die erste Generation dieser „anderen Ausländer“ ist in den Siebzigern nach Wien gekommen ist, mittlerweile ist schon die dritte Generation dieser „anderen Ausländer“ auf der Welt – und das ist oft die erste, die fließend Deutsch spricht.

Offizielle Sprache in den internationalen Organisationen ist English. Gearbeitet wird auf Englisch, im Freundes- und Bekanntenkreis ist meistens Englisch die dominierende Sprache. Kinder besuchen englischsprachige  Kindergärten und Schulen: 1959 wurde Vienna International School gegründet. Die Schule hat 1400 Schüler, von Kindergarten bis Gymnasium, von denen 80% Kinder der UN-Mitarbeiter sind. American International School, im gleichen Jahr gegründet, ist mit 730 Studenten die zweitgrößte internationale Schule in Wien. Weiters gibt es noch Danube International School, Vienna Christian School, und Lycée Français.

Und wer bis zum Studium noch kein Deutsch gelernt hat, auch kein Problem: Auf die Uni geht man meistens in ein anderem Land.  Die Einstellung, in einem neuen Lebenseinschnitt in ein anderes Land zu ziehen, haben diese Jugendlichen von Beginn an mitbekommen. Zum Beispiel Ravin. Seine Mutter ist Kroatin und sein Vater Inder, beide arbeiten bei der UNO. Geboren ist Ravin in damaligem Jugoslawien, aufgewachsen in Wien, studiert hat er in den USA und arbeitet jetzt in England. Zu Hause, in Wien, wird Kroatisch, Englisch und Hindu gesprochen.

Wenn die nur Englisch sprechende Jugendliche in Wien zum Studium bleiben wollen, haben sie mehrere Möglichkeiten – die amerikanische Webster University öffnete vor 28 Jahren ihren Wiener Campus. Hier studieren 500 Studenten und arbeiten um100 Professoren und Angestellte. Man kann aber auch zwischen Christian University, MODUL und Krems wählen.

Das Englisch, das diese internationale Community spricht ist ein eigenes Vienna-International-Englisch. Es beinhaltet viele Deutsche Wörter und hat eine Mischung aus dem britischen, amerikanischen und österreichischen Akzent. Dazu hat noch jede Organisation, sogar jede internationale Schule in Wien, ihren eigenen Akzent – wenn man mit den Menschen aus dieser Community spricht, weißt man gleich, ob sie oder sie bei OSZE oder UNO arbeiten oder auf welcher internationalen Schule in Wien sie waren.

Deutsch spricht man genug um das Essen in einem Restaurant zu bestellen und einzukaufen. Mehr braucht man auch nicht. Was wenige Wiener wissen, ist dass ihre Stadt alles auf Englisch bietet: drei Kinos zeigen Filme in Originalfassung (ohne Untertitel); English Theater und International Theater spielen ihre Vorführungen ausschließlich auf Englisch; Es gibt Buchhandlungen wie Shakespeare & Co. und British Bookshop, die auf englischsprachige Bücher spezialisiert sind. Und seit 23 Jahren gibt es Pickwicks, eine Videothek in der alle Filme auf Englisch sind - was in den Zeiten vor DVD auch wichtig war.

Grosse Banken in Wien bieten spezielle Betreuungen für Diplomaten und Mitarbeiter der internationalen Organisationen.  Das „Vienna Service Office“ bietet als Außenstelle der Stadt Wien kostenloses Service für Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter der UN-Organisationen und deren Familienmitglieder. Neuankömmlinge finden hier eine große Anzahl an wienrelevanten Broschüren und Prospekten. Das Magazin „Cercle Diplomatique“, in 1971 gegründet, hält das diplomatische Corps im laufenden.

Diese Community hält fast hermetisch zusammen. Man arbeitet zusammen, die Kinder gehen zusammen in die Schule, und am Abend trifft man sich in Pubs wie Charlie P’s. Sie vernetzen sich auch durch Institutionen wie „American Women’s Association“. Und jedes Jahr vor den Weihnachten organisieren die UNO-Frauen einen Internationalen Wolltätigkeits-Bazar, auf dem Folklore und Produkte aus allen Ländern präsentiert werden.

Wien gibt diesen Menschen viel – die beste Lebensqualität auf der Welt, seine Geschichte, seine Kultur, und unzählige Privilegien. Schaffen es diese „andere Ausländer“, Wien genug von dem „anderen“ zu geben und Wien dadurch zu einer wirklich internationalen Stadt zu machen?

Oder sind sie dafür zu unsichtbar?

Meet Louis Begley

What’s the Hurry?Louis Begley has managed to live two parallel lives, both very successful: attorney and author. At his reading in Vienna, he explained how he did it: Without nay hurry. by Ana Tajder for The Vienna Review, March 09

When it comes to living parallel lives, all successful and all different, few have out done attorney and novelist Louis Begley. Begley was a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, a distinguished New York Law firm, when he surprised the literary world with his first novel Wartime Lies, about a young Polish Jew caught up in the inferno of the Holocaust. The novel appeared in 1991, when Begley was 57, and was very well received, winning the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for a First Work of Fiction and the Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize. Begley continued writing and practicing law for 16 years, working during the week and writing on weekends before finally retiring in 2007, at the age of 73. On Feb. 10, Begley was invited to read and discuss with the audience at the Hauptbücherei am Gürtel, in Vienna. After presenting several excerpts from Wartime Lies, he was asked about the autobiographical aspects of this book. He got quite annoyed, presumably because he had been asked this very question hundreds of times in the past 18 years. He later on specified that on principle, one should not confuse the literary merits of a book with the biographical facts concerning the author. By the same token, though, some parallels cannot be overlooked. Just like Macek, the main character in Wartime Lies, Begley was born in 1933 in Poland to a wealthy Jewish family, and both escaped the Nazi army. Begley’s family fled Poland in 1941 and after a long odyssey, settled in the United States in 1947. Seven years later, Begley graduated from Harvard College in English literature, summa cum laude. In 1956, he entered Harvard Law School on a scholarship, graduating in 1959, magna cum laude. Begley still resembles a lawyer, in his dark blue jacket and red tie; reserved and quietly authoritative. But the audience in Vienna quickly succumbed to his boyish charm. “Why did it take so long to write your first book?” the audience asked. “What was the hurry?” he joked. Later during the discussion, he did explain that initially he had lacked self-confidence and wasn’t actually sure that he had had anything to write about. His life in the United States didn’t seem interesting enough to him, and the wartime experience was, as he said, “unmentionable. I didn’t think anybody wanted to hear about it.” Well, everybody in the room did. He read from the book in a low and soft voice – a trademark technique that the rumours say he used in court to grab attention. Although Stanley Kubrick bought the film rights for Wartime Lies and invested $11 million in pre-production, the film never got made. The director decided to let the media hype about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List calm down, and do Eyes Wide Shut first. He died soon after the movie was finished. But another film based on a Begley novel was made: All About Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt who is forced to deal with an ambiguous future as he enters retirement. Soon after, his wife passes away and he has to come to terms with his daughter's marriage to a man that he does not approve of, and the failure that his life has become. Originally set in the Hamptons and Manhattan, the movie version was reset to the Southwest, angering many Begley fans that found that this completely changed Schmid’s character. With all its commercial success, Begley sees the limitations. A movie can only resemble a novel, he said. But it can never be as good, simply because a film and a novel are two very different things. But Hollywood, he found fascinating. “There is money flowing like a huge vast river, and you only have to stand by with a little cup.” In the last two decades, Begley wrote several more critically acclaimed books, including the novels The Man Who Was Late and A Matter of Honor and The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay. For years Begley and his wife, Anka Muhlstein, have made Venice their favourite European destination. At one point, his German publisher asked them whether they would write a book about the city. At first they refused. “We are not travel or restaurant writers. Also, I write in English and Anka in French, so we found the idea absurd.” But then he wrote a speech for a charity event to save Venice and Anka wrote an essay about its restaurants and their owners. The publisher was delighted and asked for one more short story in order to complete the job. Trusting the book would only come out in German, Begley wrote a story he described as “very pornographic.” Soon after it came out in Germany, however, the book was also published in the UK and then in America. “And now I have to avoid all those women in the States”, he smiles. Begley’s charm faded as he began talking about his latest book, The Dreyfus Case: Îles-du-Diable, Guantánamo, History’s Nightmare (to be published in German by Suhrkamp in May). Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer of Jewish descent who was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having been a spy for the German Army. The case against Dreyfus was so weak that French counter-intelligence manufactured evidence against him. In 1894, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island in French Guiana and placed in solitary confinement. “You put yourself at danger when you write a polemic book,” he says. But then he brightened: “But I never enjoyed writing a book this much!” When Yale University Press asked him to write something about “Why the Dreyfus case matters”, he was not interested at first. But as he researched the case, he realised that it was not only a fascinating detective story about how dishonourable behaviour was used to protect honour, but also a compelling parallel to what was going on in Guantánamo. By the end of the discussion, the audience came full circle: how did he actually decide to write his first book at such an advanced stage of his life? “I never had the nerve to say, ‘Now I am going to write a book,’” he said, “I just did it.” And how did he feel when it was finished? “I was surprised.” Of course he was – he had just embarked on a new life.

Consuming Love, or What is Left of It

From The Vienna Review, February 2009 In two seminal books, Eva Illouz analyses the influence of modern capitalism on love and romance. A perfect topic for Valentine’s Day. Ana Tajder met Eva Illouz in Vienna.

Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism

Will you be celebrating Valentine’s Day? Will you buy roses, go for a dinner in a luxury restaurant, buy a little teddy bear with a big red heart? Or will you boycott that kitschy capitalistic product of American culture, condemning it as a crass celebration consumption? Or will you simply be ambivalent? Well, don’t be. As Eva Illouz shows in her two books about the impact of capitalism on romance and love, the topic is too interesting for ambivalence. Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Center for the Study of Rationality Eva Illouz is ready to challenge the most intrenched cynic. Her earlier book, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1997) created a milestone in research of love and romance in capitalism. Following up on the topic was the 2007 Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, a sampling of her 'Adorno' lectures. Whenever you finally meet a person you had found fascinating by reputation, you will be surprised about how much bigger you often imagine them than they really are. Our brain projects the size of our fascination with the person on their physical dimensions. When I meet Eva Illouz, this surprise stretched even further, to the nature of her personality. Her books are so well researched, so strong in their analysis, conclusions, theories and findings that you expect a very powerful, maybe even insistent personality. A rock. The reality is quite different. Eva Illouz is petite, gracious, and with the most gentle expression in her huge blue eyes. Contrary to my expectation, she does not project, in fact, at all; she absorbs. Still, the gentleness of her appearance cannot hide the immense intellectual power working in the background. A lot has changed in the ten years between the two books, Illouz confessed, and with it, a major shift in perspective. “Choice!” she exclaimed. In her first book, she explained how the economic ideas of choice emancipated human relationships and gave them new possibilities. Commodities did not corrupt relationships and feelings, she believed but served as a way of enhancing and transmitting those feelings. But then came the Internet and a culture of choice. “The problem is, people don’t know how to deal with choice,” she said. “Studies have shown that choice creates confusion, apathy and a shift from being a satisfier, a person who is happy with good enough, to a maximizer, a person who always wants more and better. “The problem is that we do not have a natural mechanism to stop the processes of maximizing our life choices.” In her lecture on Jan. 26 at the Bruno Kreisky Forum, Ambrustergasse 15, in Vienna’s 19th District, Illouz analysed the disenchantment and rationalization of love that were central to the discussion in Cold Intimacies. Three cultural phenomena are principally to blame for this, she said: The Internet technology of dating sites and social networks that has exploded choice; the emergence of popular science that influences our picture of love, and second-wave feminism that blames romantic love for deepening the divide between men and women. “Feminism tore down male chivalry and female mystery, taking the enchantment out of love,” claimed Illouz. So is it back to pre-18th century mode of arranged marriages? No, modern rationality is different, Illouz said. Two hundred years ago, parents made the decisions, based on a few basic criteria: good health, social class and an ability to provide. Sentiment and reason were kept safely at arms length. Today, this rationality comes from ourselves and hinges on a long list of criteria – including emotional compatibility, sexual compatibility and social compatibility. It is ideal that cannot be reached, one that gets us stuck in a rut of endless refinement. “We don’t have the cultural resources to reach the ideal.” Illouz says. The problem of choice cannot be emphasized often enough. While in pre-modern times, love was accidental and the object of love not subject to substitution, now the sheer volume of choice forces rational and analytic criteria. Choice also gives potential partners the characteristics of consumer goods and partners can always be “upgraded” for someone newer and better. So while choice has given us freedom, especially improving the position of women in our society, now that freedom again puts women at a disadvantage. While men still have the socio-economic power and love is still the way for women to gain a piece of this power, the disadvantage lies in the dimension of time. Men can profit from the choice their whole life long, especially if they are well situated. Women have a choice up until their early thirties. But at that point, if they want children and family, they must take the first choice that is “good enough”. Eva Illouz is currently a researcher at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. The topic for next book is “Why love hurts.” Now that’s a perfect Valentine’s present.

Feeling a War, The Vienna Review Feb 2009

Through reported numbers and bloody pictures, the media makes us believe we know what a war is. But the real tragedy of war you know only when you and your family have been in one.

CNN just announced that until now, 680 people were killed in Israeli attack on Palestina. This number made me angry. Not because it was high, but because it meant… well, nothing.

I am angry of the use of numbers to describe suffering. What do you do with this number? What does 680 tell you? Does this mean the conflict is bad? Or not so bad? We are constantly bombarded with so many numbers that they already made us immune…. Tens of Millions died in WWII, 110,000 in Bosnia and Croatia, 2974 in the World Trade Center. And now there is 680…

The numbers do not matter. We learned this lesson few weeks ago when the financial crisis taught us that numbers can be very different from reality. After millions, billions and then trillions were lost and the world was still turning, the numbers proved their true nature: they are virtual, invented.

We believe that numbers are a picture of reality. They are not. They are our attempt to rationalise reality. And in the same attempt at rationalisation, we think we know war because we know this “680” and because we take time to look at the pictures the media is feeding us. But that is not war. The horrors of a war cannot be rationalised. You only know the reality of war when you’ve been in one.

I remember the moment USA began its attack on Iraq. I was sitting on the floor of my living room, glued to my TV set, watching the black screen lightning up with green explosions. Each of those explosions was drilling a hole in my heart. I was weeping. I was thinking of Iraqi children sitting in their dark clod basements, pressed close to their parents’ bodies, trembling with fear, wondering what was happening – and why.

I know how it feels. I have been there.

I was sitting in the basement of my house in Zagreb in 1991, as Yugoslav war planes flew over, low over our heads, threatening to kill us in any second. I remember the fear literally freezing the blood in my veins and making my whole body shiver and my heart pump so fast I couldn’t catch a breath. I remember looking at the ceiling wondering if a bomb were to hit, which pipe would break first and if we would all die from suffocating or from drowning. I remember wondering about the explosions near by and wondering when the same thing would happen to us.

I remember sitting there wondering if we would starve to death in that basement and if not, how our world would look when we got out. I remember imagining our house in ruins and watching something horrible happening to my mother. I imagined being alone.

I was impossibly lucky. For me, those images stayed in my imagination – right after the strike, we were able to leave Zagreb. We had a choice and we took advantage of it. But it took years to get those pictures out of my head and stop jumping at anything that might have been an explosion. War is not just about the dead. War is about the living.

And this is what you cannot grasp by watching CNN. You can look at endless numbers of pictures, live reports of exploding houses, warm blood running out of massacred bodies and parents carrying dead children. You can say (and feel), “How horrible!”

But unless you have been there, you have no real understanding of what war really means. The number of 680 dead is horrible. But even more horrible are the millions who survive this tragedy, living through the years haunted by the horrors they have seen.

What matters are the children who sit in a basement, hungry and scared and ill and wonder if the bomb dropped just a few meters away has just killed a best friend. What matters is not only the dead body on the street but also those who witnessed him lose his life while struggling holding on to theirs. What matters are all those people who lost a beloved person, children who lost their families and homes.

What matters are all those who did not die, but carry the fear, the hatred, the bites of aggression sunk deep under their skin. What matters are the pictures and the sounds and the fear that haunt them for the rest of their lives. What matters is the indescribable humiliation of those who make it out of the basement and come into the ruined street, look at their destroyed house, face their dead relatives, face their ruined lives and crushed spirits and start their miserable life from a scratch. No one deserves this. And you will not see this on CNN.

Death is one thing, suffering another. The suffering of the survivors is mentioned briefly, if at all, and then forgotten. Maybe it is so deep and so painful that they are not able to talk about it. After surviving a war, many lose their minds. Many kill themselves.

The the real horror of war today is that through media, it is banalized. We see it, and we think we know it. We feel involved; we think we feel compassion. We think we feel 680.

But to us it is only a number. To those in the pictures, this war means the loss of a life, people and a world they knew and loved, and will never know again. A loss from which they will never recover.

Boys without Balls

Because I heard a complaint that I am currently writing too much about politics, I would like to share here some newly gained knowledge about – castrati! I am inspired by yesterday’s concert by Max Cencic, a famous countertenor in Theater an der Wien.

Most of you will know (most probably through the 1994 movie “Farinelli”) that castrati were worshiped by whole nations, adored by both queens and kings. Still, it is interesting to learn that castrati were not, like many will believe, men who could sing as high as women. They were more: They (and their voices) alchemically embodied a combination of manly, womanly and childish aspects. Reports say that Farinelli’s vocal range was 3 octaves and he was able to sing any pitch effortlessly in both pianissimo and fortissimo. He could sing for five minutes without catching a breath and his coloraturas were so lively that often, the orchestra was not able to keep up his tempo and would sometimes just give up playing and listen to him sing in bewilderment.

But when you learn more about the medical aspects of castration and its consequences, you cannot but be disgusted of the human obsession with freaks. In 18th century, castration was already forbidden, but the public, or aristocratic, adoration of castrati never ceased. This is why many poor families had had their boys castrated in hope to secure them a life of fame and fortune – in spite of high death rates of this procedure. From Wikipedia: “Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence shared by both sexes is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his bone-joints did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice, as well as higher vocal ranges of the uncastrated adult male.”

So what really surprised me is that the oh-so-adored Castrati were actually freaks. They were growing slower but longer, sometimes still in their forties. Very frail at their early age, they later grew higher than average, with too long arms and legs and then often became strongly obese, with female curves. Hmmm, I am very happy that Max has his balls - he is both nice to listen to and look at. 

For those who want to hear a castrato sing, here you will find a recording of the last castrato Alessandro Moreschii : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castrato

Coming Home for Christmas

I still have to decide if being back in the civilisation, including all its technical blessings, is good or bad.

Well, the good thing is that coming back felt a bit like coming home for Christmas. On 5 August, before I left, I wrote (and you debated, thank you!) about starting to save the world by switching off the financial markets. I came back and “swoosh!” the markets are trying to switch themselves off! Mr. Bush and his bailout plan are trying to stop Santa from fulfilling my wish, but even the fact that the system stripped itself down to show its starved-to-death-and-decayed-with-disease body felt like receiving a big Christmas present. Yes, now we all officially know that the system is NOT working. And hey, this happened much sooner than I expected! The funny thing was hearing about how “we need to save the financial system” for the past few days sounds like singing Halloween songs during Xmas. Wrong! Sweethearts, it is so clear now that it is not the financial markets that need to be saved and changed – it is the whole socio-political system. Yes, I know it would be like having 100 Christmases in one. One big orgasmic blast. I will not be that impatient.

So, off I am to vote (Austria is selecting a new parliament because ours is also not in the best shape). And guess who I will vote for?

Santa.  

Startas

I am writing an article about Startas, tennis shoes worn by everyone who grew up in Yugoslavia. They were white and affordable to everybody. Together with our blue school uniforms, they were a part of the socialist ideology of equality for all. Nobody had much, or different for that matter of fact, but everybody had what they needed. When we wanted to be different, we had to use our own creativity.

The shoes used to be produced in Vukovar, the city that was totally ruined by the Serbian army in the attack on Croatia in early 1990s. The production started in 1976, in a factory that employed 22,000 people. 5 millions of pairs used to be produced a year.

And now M.Massarotto, a Croatian designer who used to work for Gucci and Custo Barcelona, decided to re-launch the famous shoes. He created 16 cool models, with prices varying from €28-70. And I was thinking about what a brilliant symbol those shoes are for the transition from one socio-political system to the other. All it takes you now to be different is money. And the more money, the coolest your “difference”. You don’t need to waste your time inventing and creating anymore. All you need to do now is – pay.

www.longlivestartas.com

Ana's plan (forget Marshall)

First six steps of Ana Tajder’s plan to save the world:

  1. Switch off the financial markets. Just like that. They are anyway nothing but legalised crime. OK, softer version: tax them, but heroically! No, I changed my mind again  – switch them off!
  2. Put all big companies under state control. What is that shit about Coca-Cola buying water wells and Time Warner deciding about what we think?
  3. Limit wealth (500 million [€ or $, I don’t care] should be enough for any rich person. More is not doing anyone any good. And definitely is stolen. The rest should be given to state for the projects that will benefit ALL
  4. Wake the governments up (!) – only princesses are allowed to sleep for 100 years!
  5. Remind those sleeping princesses about their job description: serving, protecting and guiding their people and assuring well being for ALL. Not: licking capital’s ass. If they are not capable of doing that, do what you do with every employee who is not capable of doing their job: fire them. No golden handshake – employment office. Eventually retrain them into… don’t know…gardeners or something similar, where they can’t do much damage.
  6. Find someone who is capable of being the government and serving the people. Ooooopssss! I know, it is going to be a hard job. But maybe they exist.

OK, that should be enough for the start.

1968 & us

I am invited to present my book in Dubrovnik, which is a big honour. To pimp the book presentation, we will incorporate it into a discussion about the generation of 1968ers (my mom, who will discus with us, belonging to the movement in Croatia) and their children. It is the 40th anniversary of 1968 and everyone is wondering how and if that movement can be compared to the times we are living in.

I discussed this topic with my friends because I am desperately searching for a title for this book presentation/discussion. My standpoint was that we are just a generation of lobotomised princess not willing to revolt or change things. But then someone said this is not right – we are revolting, but in a different way: we are exiting the system. In German, there is a nice but a bit scary word for this called “aussteigen”. And actually, it is true - three out of four people in the group left their corporate jobs to open up their own business or to free-lance. The fourth never was in a corporation. We also talked about our awareness of our power as consumers and our boycott of big brands in favour for smaller, local producers. And I wondered when was the last time I saw a Hollywood blockbuster…..

And then I wondered what will happen with the system (or concretely, the corporations), when all young intelligent, free spirited and brave people leave it. Will it be ruled by robots? Can it survive like that? Ouch, are we back at the Matrix scenario?

LifeBall 2008

Last night, I attended the grand opening of LifeBall, the biggest and most glamorous AIDS charity event in this part of Europe (www.lifeball.org). I was especially looking forward to see the fashion show by Agent Provocateur. But instead of leaving me feeling sexy, it left me with many thoughts: Is a lingerie show a good choice for a big public event? Is it ok to play with the aesthetics of S&M and pole dancing on an AIDS (which is, let’s not forget, a sexually transmittable disease) charity event? Is it ok to feed the audience female models wearing I-want-sex lingerie when we know that most of newly HIV infected Europeans are heterosexual women? I wasn't sure what to think….

121111134117081200_12.jpg

Sexism & Advertisement

I was asked to write an article about sexism in advertisement. I am a bit scared of this article because I am not sure myself what to think about this topic. What is sexism in advertisement? Why is it bad? One thing I am afraid of is that we could, by trying to turn this world into a perfect politically correct place, create a sterile world with no joy. The same effect that the sexual harassment frenzy had on USA offices – I heard that male colleagues are now too scared to give compliments or show sympathy to the ladies. Not a place I would like to work in. And hey, if we wanted to be really correct we should ban advertisement all together - and instead of spending millions on advertising budgets and buying stuff we don’t need, spend the money to save lives and make this world a fairer place. If you ask me, I don’t think we should strip the world of advertisement off of pretty ladies (but do add some handsome gents as well, please). Art has always tried to fill the world with beauty. And (unfortunately) today, advertisement is the commercial art form par excellence. Images of beautiful people inspire us to look our best and to appreciate the other sex. The only concern I have is how natural and healthy their beauty is. As long as they don’t make me want to skip my dinner or consider the silicones again – great!

But then there is also the whole debate about the roles of women vs. men as presented in advertising. And the “sex sells” topic. Hmm, will be a fun article to write….