innocence

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Have I squirreled this beloved poem away, hoarding it only for myself? I mention poetry and poems, especially favorites, so often but have seemingly never mentioned this one from Vesna Parun. And it should indeed be felt, read, experience, shared. I fell in love with it when I was wandering through one of the most awkward periods of my life – early university. Feeling invisible and out of place in a way I had not since I was maybe five years old, I was clinging to emotional, often overwrought, poetry that embodied what I can only call self-pitying lamentations. This certainly falls into that category, but its pitiful mourning is beautiful regardless of its tone of dejected retreat. It reminds me not to trivialize what I felt, what I currently feel and, most of all, what others feel.

First encountered in the translation (ugh – we know how I feel about that) in the pre-internet era, I searched for some time and finally found the original Croatian when I went to Croatia for the first time in the latter half of the 1990s. It has long been what I do in foreign cities: seek out poems in their original language(s) and/or purchase anthologies of local poetry. Perhaps it was this time, locating this long-loved poem, falling in love with the dual harshness and beauty of Zagreb, that felt most triumphant.

You Whose Hands Are More Innocent than Mine
-Vesna Parun
You whose hands are more innocent than mine
and you who are as wise as detachment.
You who can read his forehead
and know his solitudes better than I,
and you who remove the slow shadows
of indecision from his face
as the spring wind removes
the shadows of clouds floating above the hills.

If your embrace encourages his heart
and your thighs abate pain,
if your name eases
his thoughts, and your throat
shades his bedside,
and the night of your voice is the orchard
still untouched by storms.

Then stay beside him
and be more pious than those
who have loved him before you.
Fear the echo that encroaches
the harmless beds of love.
And be gentle to his dream
beneath the unseen mountain
on the rim of the sea that roars.

Stroll on his strand. Let the sad
dolphins come to meet you.
Roam in his forest. The friendly lizards
will not harm you
And the thirsty snakes that I tamed
will be humble before you.

Let the birds that I have warmed
during nights of sharp frost sing for you.
Let the boy that I protected
along deserted roads caress you.
Let the flowers that I watered
with my tears be fragrant for you.

I do not await the best years
of his manhood. His fecundity
I will never receive between my breasts
that have been ravaged by the glances
of herdsmen at fairs
and lecherous thieves.

I will never lead his children
by the hand. And the stories
I so long ago prepared for them,
perhaps I will tell them tearfully
to the poor little bears
left behind in the black forest.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine,
be gentle to his dream
that has remained so unaffected.
But allow me to see
his face, before the unknown years
descend on him.
And give me news of him now and again,
so that I will not have to ask strangers
who wonder at my boldness, and
neighbors who pity my persistence.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine
stay by his bedside
and be gentle to his dream.

Original version in Croatian
Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih
i koja si mudra kao bezbriznost.
Ti koja umijes s njegova cela citati
bolje od mene njegovu samocu,
i koja otklanjas spore sjenke
kolebanja s njegova lica
kao sto proljetni vjetar otklanja
sjene oblaka koje plove nad brijegom.

Ako tvoj zagrljaj hrabri srce
i tvoja bedra zaustavljaju bol,
ako je tvoje ime pocinak
njegovim mislima, i tvoje grlo
hladovina njegovu lezaju,
i noc tvojega glasa vocnjak
jos nedirnut olujama.

Onda ostani pokraj njega
i budi poboznija od sviju
koje su ga ljubile prije tebe.
Boj se jeka sto se priblizuju
neduznim posteljama ljubavi.
I blaga budi njegovu snu,
pod nevidljivom planinom
na rubu mora koje huci.

Seci njegovim zalom. Neka te susrecu
ozaloscene pliskavice.
Tumaraj njegovom sumom. Prijazni gusteri
nece ti uciniti zla.
I zedne zmije koje ja ukrotih
pred tobom ce biti ponizne.

Neka ti pjevaju ptice koje ja ogrijah
u nocima ostrih mrazova.
Neka te miluje djecak kojega zastitih
od uhoda na pustom drumu.
Neka ti mirise cvijece koje ja zalijevah
svojim suzama.

Ja ne docekah najljepse doba
njegove muskosti. Njegovu plodnost
ne primih u svoja njedra
koja su pustosili pogledi
gonica stoke na sajmovima
i pohlepnih razbojnika.

Ja necu nikada voditi za ruku
njegovu djecu. I price
koje za njih davno pripremih
mozda cu ispricati placuci
malim ubogim medvjedima
ostavljenim u crnoj sumi.

Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih,
budi blaga njegovu snu
koji je ostao bezazlen.
Ali mi dopusti da vidim
njegovo lice, dok na njega budu
silazile nepoznate godine.

I reci mi katkad nesto o njemu,
da ne moram pitati strance
koji mi se cude, i susjede
koji zale moju strpljivost.

Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih,
ostani kraj njegova uzglavlja
i budi blaga njegovu snu!

broken record of our own sad age

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“We see again, in our own sad age, the stark extremes of political inflexibility and anarchic revolt, insuperable backwardness and a gaudy cult of progress.” -from Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra

“Karaoke supports less the democratic idea that everyone can have a shot if they want one and more the democratic practice that everyone wants a shot if there’s one on offer.” -from Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugrešić

-Yes… why not for the president of the United States as well? Or the “untied” states while we are at it?

Is there something more apt to describe where we’ve landed than Dubravka Ugrešić’s term “karaoke culture”? We have a reality TV star and national joke as an American president. He epitomizes the dumbing-down of culture, is the zenith of anti-intellectual, anti-Obama backlash and embodies the ‘problem of ideological manipulation’ that Ugrešić chronicles in her book – and others have explored at great length and in a more historical and philosophical context.

Ugrešić’s eerily prescient book, though, looks at the all-consuming, short-attention-span digital culture that saturates our lives and gives us the recipe for the toxic concoction in which we’re now dissolving:

 

  • The internet and other digital platforms/channels

 

    “The Internet is the final, most explosive powder keg strewn on the eternal flame of our fantasies. The Internet is the cornerstone of both the new democratic revolution and the computer user’s evolution into a free man, a man forever transformed (Never again a slave!), eyes fixed ahead on the screen (a “window to the world”), whose hands self-confidently control an emancipatory mouse: a proletarian-man, an amateur-man, a man finally worthy of the name.” – from Karaoke Culture

 

  • The rise of the “amateur expert” whose opinion is suddenly as valid as an actual expert

 

“Amateurs, Keen claims, devastate systems that are based on expertise and destroy the institutions of author and authorship, information (newspapers are slowly disappearing, blogs are taking over), education (Wikipedia, the work of anonymous amateurs, has replaced encyclopedias, the work of experts), and art and culture (amateurs create their own culture based on borrowing, expropriation, appropriation, intervention, recycling, and remaking; they are simultaneously the creators and consumers of this culture).”

“Maybe the problem is one of ideological manipulation? Today AA (the Anonymous or Amateur Author) is as untouchable as the teenager comfortably lounging on the tram seat. At sixty-years of age you stand next to him with bags full of groceries, struggling to keep your balance. Your legs hurt, and your single obsessive thought is how to give the uppity little schmuck a well-deserved slap in the face. You know it’s never going to happen, but the fantasy is good for your soul. If a little open hand communication isn’t an option, maybe a gentle word might help. But that’s not an option either, because, armed with his iPod and iPhone, the kid is both physically and mentally untouchable. And in any case, the kid is innocent, because he doesn’t see you. You don’t exist in his world. But he exists in yours.”

-from Karaoke Culture

 

  • The info overload plus short attention span that make this possible

 

“Scientists tell us that our brain’s ability to adapt to new experiences is called neuroplasticity. They claim that from an evolutionary perspective this elasticity can be useful, but that it also means that left unused, brain function simply atrophies.”

“At this very moment my neuroplastic consciousness believes that God is an octopus and that his name is Paul. Because that’s what happens when you’ve more-or-less become an Internet junkie.” -from Karaoke Culture

 

  • Alt facts: Using the dissolution of Yugoslavia as a case study for what we now see. We smugly thought former Yugoslavia to be so uncivilized and backwards, and patted ourselves on the back for our oh-so-democratic and stable ideals. But what do we face now but the makings of the same kind of thing only on a grander, more fractious scale?

 

“The metaphor of the “broken telephone” can be used in regard to all countries of the former Yugoslavia. Having entered every sphere of life, the language of the “broken telephone” is omnipresent: in the media, institutional life, politics, the way people think, their interpersonal relations, their everyday lives. As a result, many crimes remain un-investigated, many victims have been rendered silent, many criminals declared heroes, many thieves business people, many idiots intellectuals (and the odd intellectual an idiot), many perpetrators victims, many victims perpetrators, many crazies normal, and many normal people crazy. As we speak, Radovan Karadžić is playing “broken telephone” at the Hague Tribunal. He brushes off words as if they were pesky little thistles. Every word of the indictment that sounds like ravish, he coolly transforms into lavish.” -from Karaoke Culture

 

  • Suspension of disbelief: “I can’t really believe this is happening” and… yet it escalates

 

 “Unlike my neighbors, I didn’t take the alarms too seriously. Today I wonder where this “lapse” came from, this arrogance that doesn’t take danger “too seriously”? At the time I firmly believed that the majority of people wouldn’t follow their caricature-like leaders, wouldn’t destroy everything they’d spent years building together, and wouldn’t cast their childrens’ futures to the wind. Maybe this belief was to blame for my “lapse.” I refused to believe what my impaired vision had witnessed over the preceding few years. And so it was that in September 1991 I refused to believe the evidence that was right in front of me. Maybe it was actually down there in the cellar, with a small human sample for company, that I should have allowed the dirty little thought to sink in: that many people were actually turned on by the war. New, sudden thrills filled the vacuity of their lives; overnight, personal frustrations found an outlet, personal losses could be made good, personal intolerances hung out to air. There, in the cellar, an older neighbor with rat-like features scurried into my “deformed” field of vision. People said he had illegally moved into the five-bedroom apartment of an old woman who died soon afterwards. The square meters of the apartment thus became his. That very first day in the cellar, he appeared wearing a red armband, a pistol buried in his back pocket. Nobody asked him about the armband or what it meant, or where he got the pistol; we listened intently to his garbled instructions. The very next day the neighbor had a deputy, complete with matching red armband and pocket pistol. The young deputy was unemployed and married to a diligent and hard-working neighbor. At some point her biological clock had started ticking, so she found the young man and bore him three children, after which he’d served and exhausted his purpose. The armband and the revolver gave the jerk his dignity back. Until then, he didn’t even know what dignity was.” – from Karaoke Culture

 

  • Media war and complicit silence. The media smear campaign, vilifying people who are not the real villains. Everyone who should know better remains silent.

 

“When the media lynching had reached its most vicious height, a neighbor stopped me and asked: “Well then, neighbor, when are you getting out?” The “out,” I assumed, referred to when I was getting out of Croatia. “Why should I be getting out?” I asked. “Well, you keep writing those lies about us.” “And you’ve read what I write?” “Why would I? Are you saying that everyone else is lying!?”” – from Karaoke Culture

 

  • Sexism. Sexism. Sexism.

 

“My sensitive literary nature can’t resist exhibiting a selection of the insults (which refer both to me and the witch’s cell) proffered by Croatian journalists, writers, and critics, the literati among the literate. I recognize that any psychoanalyst could here accuse me of taking exhibitionist pleasure in the repeated—and this time voluntary—exposition of public insults. But you know what? “Victims” also have a right to narrative pleasure—particularly so if narration is their profession. All in all, in my fellow writers’ scribblings I am described as: A woman with “deformed vision”; A woman who has no understanding for a “people celebrating its own state and freedom of speech”; A woman who has “neither taste nor sense of proportion”; A woman who has opened her mouth “in the wrong manner, the wrong place, and at the wrong time”; A woman with a “limited perspective”; A woman writer with a “specific talent,” whose writing is “scrappy knitting”; A “murderess of the Croatian nation who kills with her pen”; A “broad persecuting Croatia”; A broad who “big mouths, gossips, and denounces”; A woman worthy of “contempt”; A woman in need of a Croatian bonfire “to warm her heart”; A member of “one of the organizational nuclei of international resistance to and defamation of the Croatian Homeland War”; A member of a crew of “slightly unhappy, and at any rate frustrated women”; A “dirty liar”; A “Yugonostalgic”; A “national Daltonist”; A “salon internationalist”; A “spleenful and spiteful surveyor of freedom”; A “squealer offering recipes for freedom from the long-tainted kitchens of the European pseudo-left and pseudo-right”; A woman with “mental problems”; A woman who is “mixed-up”; A woman who “drops her dress in a storm”; A woman ready to “sell her homeland for a hundred German marks”; A woman who for “a little cash, but with obviously great joy, denounces and spits on her homeland”; A “plume of the failed communist regime”; An “informer for the European Community”; A “carefully chosen interlocutor of Brussels and the European Community”; A woman of “dubious repute”; A person “not in the least subjected to harassment”; A “homeless intellectual”; A “grande dame of Croatian post-communism”; A self-immolator (who if she returns to Zagreb “needs to be immediately surrounded by a dozen fire engines, have 300 hoses aimed at her, and whose every word needs to be doused in water”); A “furious woman”; A “Yugo-nostalgic sicko”; A woman who was ready for “a better psychiatric clinic”; A member of a group of “exalted daughters of the revolution”; A “traitor to the homeland”; A “lobbyist who has lost her voice”; A woman “conspiring against Croatia”; A “feminist”; A “feminist raping Croatia”; An “anti-Croatian feminist”; A member of a group of “self-centered middle-aged women who have serious problems with their own ethnic, ethical, human, intellectual and political identities”; A “public enemy”; A woman with a “miserable destiny”; A woman who has “committed moral…” -from Karaoke Culture

 

  • Anger: The anger, and helplessness, of the masses leads many to embrace the “strength” of dictators and totalitarianism.

 

“The urban public space has become a field on which to exercise repressed sadomasochism. The stronger have their way, the weaker suck it up.” – from Karaoke Culture

A fit vehicle for the weak, in their helplessness, to reach for not only self-exploitation but the exploitation and torture of others, rampant and venomous nationalism, and worse, as the book Age of Anger points out again and again:

“It isn’t just that the strong exploit the weak; the powerless themselves are prone to enviously imitate the powerful. But people who try to make more of themselves than others end up trying to dominate others, forcing them into positions of inferiority and deference.”

Nietzsche:  ‘Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overwhelming of the alien and the weaker, oppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own form, incorporation, and at least, at its mildest, exploitation.’” -from Age of Anger

Constructing category – Ugrešić

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“Do we have any other choice? We wanted freedom, we got the freedom of a game, and we even thought the game was the freedom to just clown around. We wanted individual freedom and achieved the freedom of imitation.” -Dubravka Ugrešić, Karaoke Culture

In a long ago period during which I spent my life devoted to studying the (parts of the) former Yugoslavia – its history, its literature, its music, its politics, its divisions, its being knitted together haphazardly and unraveled again, its personalities, I naturally read everything I could get my hands on from writers there. Naturally this included the modern ‘classics’ like Krleža and Andrić (which, now how can we place geographically, and do we need to? As most writers and residents of former Yu will tell you, you may have been born in what is now Croatia, or Bosnia, but you had relatives from all over and these divisions were more artificial – and often economic – than political or ideological) but also contemporary fiction and poetry along with the slew of critical thinking and journalistic angles on the breakup of the Yugoslav union. I don’t want to be as crass as saying that this exercise – that the reaction to and observing of the war – ‘separated the wheat from the chaff’ in terms of writing ability. But in looking at the breadth of it now, I read Dubravka Ugrešić’s writing – whether essays or fiction – with joy, with attention, not being able to put the books down until I finish. Meanwhile, some of her contemporaries, notably Slavenka Drakulić, I still read (whether descriptions of life in Yugoslavia before its end or perspectives on its demolition) but not with as much zeal. Perhaps it is a matter of style or tone, but Ugrešić (for me) is the better writer by far.

It would also be crass for me to say something about how Ugrešić may have written about the dissolution of Yugoslavia and what the world did or did not do in response, may have written about the experience of leaving, may have written about the peri- and post-war damage to her own career that came at the hands of supposed friends and colleagues who didn’t approve of her criticisms or at least who chose to remain silent so as to not make waves – but her writing never felt forced, like she felt she had to unveil all of these things as a self-exploitative act. (What else could a writer of the place and time do, though, than write about what they saw, what they knew?)

She has always been keenly aware, and keenly vocal, about forging an identity as a ‘writer’ without the adjectives that are inevitably attached. Many would argue that we need to know that she is a woman from former Yugoslavia, who left during the war, and thus she will always travel through literary circles as THAT woman, with THAT voice and THAT perspective. But do others get saddled with this, in equal measure, responsibility and limitation?

My point was, though, that Ugrešić always feels relevant and transcends geopolitical events in a way that, for example, I don’t find Drakulić does. But then, Drakulić has made a career on writing about geopolitics and the issues inextricably tied to the former Yu. It’s not that this is not valid, it is just that I prefer Ugrešić’s writing. And I don’t feel that there is any reason we should lump them together; I choose these two writers – and lump them together – primarily because I started reading them both at the same time. They are contemporaries, and both left Yugoslavia as it fell apart – Drakulić to Sweden and Ugrešić to the Netherlands. In the cases of both women, they left largely because they were denounced by the Tudjman government in Croatia as “witches” (along with a handful of their contemporaries) and began getting threats that were not related to the war itself but to the frenzied, unquestioning nationalism that rose up on all sides in the convoluted breakup. One could argue that Croatian nationalism was never too far under the surface for many.

I’m not out to malign Drakulić – in fact, this is not meant to be about her at all. She’s fine. I like her. This instead is meant to ask why, at least in superficial treatments of a writer like Ugrešić, we veer toward easy categorizations. We put her into a specific box, representing a specific country, region, gender, point of view. Is it that we just cannot understand things unless we categorize and contextualize them? I guess labels are required – or else how would we discover these writers? On a larger scale, how could we find anything? We have, as Ugrešić herself has written about at length in Karaoke Culture, access to more information than ever – but we are also more deeply beholden to the technologies that allow us to find/discover all this information. We have some modicum of control – SEO and keywords and all those little tricks, but ultimately a search engine is going to be the gatekeeper, and our search terms are the terms of victory or surrender. Without categorization, I either discover Ugrešić – or I don’t.

Constructing the category

Ugrešić has written about this at length elsewhere: the construct of a ‘category’ in which certain writers, from certain places, will always live. In Karaoke Culture, she specifically writes on “the profitable exotic” – the exilee, who is all the more interesting by adding on other sub-categories, such as Croatian, ex-Yugo, post-communist, woman, etc. But then she asks: is everyone subject to these same categorizations? (In a search engine, sure – but in terms of framing the context or lens through which the reading is filtered and interpreted?):

“Exile is literally a change of context. Exile implies the personal experience of every exilee, which would be difficult to subsume under terms that are stubbornly endorsed by literary critics from both worlds, the writer’s home base and the host environment. The terms—émigré, immigrant, exile, nomad, minority, ethnic, hybrid literature—discriminate, but they are also affirmative. With these terms the home base expels the writer, while the same terms are used by the host environment to relegate the writer to an ethnic niche, and at the same time affirm his or her existence. The home base makes assumptions of monoculturalism and exclusivity, while the host environment make assumptions of multiculturalism and inclusivity, but both are essentially working with dusty labels of ethnicity and the politics of otherness. Even if I were to write a text about the desolation of frozen landscapes at the North Pole, I would still be chiefly labeled as a Croatian writer, or as a Croatian writer in exile writing about the desolation of the frozen landscapes at the North Pole. Reviewers would promptly populate the frozen wasteland of my text with concepts such as exile, Croatia, ex-Yugoslavia, post-communism, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Slavic world, Balkan feminism, or perhaps Balkan eco-feminism, while journalists would ask me whether I had the opportunity while up in the frozen wasteland to run into the Yugoslav diaspora, and how I perceived the situation in Kosovo from that frozen vantage point.”

“…an English writer writes his or her version of a visit to the North Pole, Englishness will not likely serve as the framework within which his or her text is read. This attitude of the host environment to writer-newcomers springs from a subconscious colonial attitude—just when the larger literary world is doing its best to reject this—in a market which relishes any form of the profitable exotic, what with the always vital relations between the periphery and the center.”

“The real center of power is America, or rather Anglo-American culture, whose cultural domination marked the twentieth century. We are still looking to that center with equal fascination today. Anglo-American culture is the dominant field of reference, while, at the same time, it is the most powerful, if not the most just, mediator of cultural values. In other words, if certain Chinese writers are not translated into English, it is unlikely that any Serbian or Croatian reader, with the exception of the occasional sinologist, will ever hear of them.”

And will any of this mean anything at all one day in the not-too-distant future when culture – all culture, not that divided by geopolitical lines – is something akin to the fast-food, digitized “karaoke culture” Ugrešić observes, or that, for example, tv shows like Black Mirror threaten? This is a topic I will come back to.

here in berlin world cup

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staying for a wee bit in mitte/prenzlauerberg, in berlin, watching opening match of the world cup (brasil and my beloved croatia).

berlin always amazes me.

“you’re still not in it.”

“i am just looking at you because you’re bossy.”

more soon. i need to get my hands on some sweet rice flour and some xanthan gum.

Random thoughts and cookie dough

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Grooving on loud music at 5 a.m. Hot Chocolate – Every 1s a Winner (not a whiner!)

I am going to make a bunch of cookie dough today and stick it in the freezer to bake next weekend. Time before the holidays is short. Must bake!

I am thinking about ways to give my 2014 the best possible chance for success, and more importantly, happiness and fulfillment. PLAY WITH BABY TIGERS! Build a treadmill desk! Knock down the superfluous upstairs walls! Fall in love with some lovely Parisian (even though s/he won’t have a Scottish accent!) and host next Thanksgiving in Paris! Go to more live shows – have more music in my life in general! Build my business up (either the web-based one or the bakery tank idea)! Find the perfect shade(s) of pink lipstick! (And I’m a sucker for the reds!) Learn more about wine! Finally take a real vacation somewhere far away that I often dream of! Get a Roomba! Take more walks in the forest, as gave me such joy two years ago! Enjoy every minute of being at home! When I worked at home, no matter how much I worked then, it always felt like I was on vacation – or at least that vacation did not matter. I was relaxed and organized. I miss that. I don’t know that all these things are possible, probable or even that they would contribute to elusive happiness. But they are fun ideas – it’s giving me some joy to think about it right now.

Soundtrack to giving in to the joy of now. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

 “And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be in the arms of all, I’m keepin’ here with me”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

More randomness

A friend posted an article on her Facebook wall that encouraged a return to some old-fashioned dating practices. When I reposted the article on my own Facebook wall, I stated that I might not need all the old-fashioned stuff (“I want all that stupid old shit, like letters and sodas…” Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”), but one of the points touched a nerve – that we should call what we’re doing by what it is. Calling dating/courting/a relationship “hanging out” is an act of clinging to a juvenile and awkward period of not knowing who you are or what you want. I am almost 40. I might not want, as the letter says, to define a relationship as “exclusive” or a “Greg Brady-going steady” thing, but I am not “hanging out”. I don’t know when the shift happened between steps progressing into a relationship to this casual, non-committal, “we’re hanging out” vibe (and yes, it does seem like a “vibe” more than something grounded in reality).

As I lament the winding down of my vacation, I watched a handful of movies – mostly not memorable. But it was entertaining to rewatch a few – I am not normally someone who watches the same movies over and over, but I decided to watch Wall Street again after… 20+ years. Charlie Sheen had a sliver of talent then, beautiful, hopeful, full of vitality – all flushed away long ago to give way to the troll/demon he seems to have become. I loved all the “high-tech gadgets” that look so laughable now – the briefcase-sized cell phones and the two-inch-screen portable tv. Let’s not overlook Daryl Hannah’s ridiculous wardrobe or the unthinkable way she decorated the Sheen character’s apartment. Oh, the 80s.

A few weeks ago, a few women in my office and I took our young Spanish intern to lunch for his birthday. The women and I are all in the late-30s age bracket; the intern was turning 24. On our walk to the restaurant, the intern was questioning me about how I manage to walk around outside without covering my legs or wearing a real coat – +5C is cold for him. I don’t “winterize” until -20C. I did explain that I don’t keep my house like an icebox, saying, “In my house, the heat is on.” My three similarly aged female colleagues and I, in unison, burst into song, as if on cue, “The heat is on… it’s on the street…” Way to date ourselves, relics of a bygone era! The intern had never heard the song, apparently, but when we got back to the office, he wanted a full education in 80s music and all things American because I am, in his words, “his American bible”. Hmm.

As if it were not abundantly clear already, I am one of those nerds who holds on to details. While my colleagues could not remember who performed “The Heat is On”, I could immediately “(dis)credit” Glenn Frey and rattle off his career history with The Eagles (who blighted – yes, I exaggerate – 70s music about as much as Frey and his Eagle partner-in-crime Don Henley inflicted their solo careers on 80s music). I suppose “The Heat is On” was only as popular as it was because it was also associated with the Beverly Hills Cop film franchise, which is also a quintessential part of 80s pop culture. While schooling this intern in 80s horrors for the ears, I also managed to share the dubious 80s songs/hits of Starship while also sharing the history of how they came about – rising from the ashes of the drug-addled remnants of other related 60s and 70s has-been bands, much like a lot of the stuff that filled the 80s music charts. All supposedly reformed (in both senses of the word) and “Just Say No” – HA. (Starship managed also to supply one of the worst songs, as well as churning out mediocrity for much of the decade – for one of the era’s worst movies – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin – highlight of Andrew McCarthy or Kim Cattrall’s careers? Almost no 80s movie could have been complete without Andrew or James Spader, who was in both Mannequin and the aforementioned Wall Street. Both also figured prominently in the 80s classic, Less than Zero, which was also a very true-to-life vehicle for the then very messed up Robert Downey, Jr. And both McCarthy and Spader were in 80s teen favorite, Pretty in Pink – along with Jon Cryer – who has not done much other than that and, of course, the role of the aforementioned Charlie Sheen’s brother on the dismal and crass TV show, Two and a Half Men.)

Nothing can make someone feel old like imparting all this “popular culture” knowledge – when the “popular” culture her reference points are attached to were popular 20 or 30 years ago.

The same young intern came and said to me, “Did you know they had a war in Croatia not that long ago?” when we were talking about football (my beloved Iceland was playing Croatia for a chance to get into the World Cup at the time. They lost, but at least my Icelandic underdogs gave it a go). Yes, Croatia did have a war, young man, when you were in diapers and learning to walk. I was there (well, in Bosnia anyway) monitoring post-war elections.

I can forgive a young boy for not knowing “The Heat is On” – but a major war that took place in recent history within Europe…? God save the Spanish education system?!

Then again, that is what life is for – you do learn something new every day. Sometimes totally useless stuff. I, for example, learned that Liverpool named its airport after John Lennon. I sort of doubt Lennon would have liked that (not that I know what he would have liked). I wonder what Yoko thinks. (Yoko’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland somehow strikes me as something both of them would have approved of more than an international airport that seems to primarily take British tourists to get drunk and sunburned in Spain.)

Anyway, I started that tangent to say that I was watching movies. I rewatched Brokeback Mountain again – this is probably the third time I saw it, and I am still moved by Heath Ledger’s performance. Actually all the performances were outstanding, especially when contrasting it with Wall Street, which I watched immediately before. Even the secondary characters in Brokeback seem to have some depth and reality – you can feel for the wives of the two main characters. They are more than just one-dimensional props. The girlfriend and wife – all secondary characters – in Wall Street are hollow.

I went in an entirely different direction after that – watching Rêves de poussière, a film from Burkina Faso – the cinematography was beautiful, the story simple and arresting.

As the remaining minutes of vacation tick by, I do laundry, get middle-of-night, belligerent phone calls and wonder how a drunken person I have not seen in a decade or more (but have known now for 20 years) thinks he misses me. How do you miss someone you have not seen in more than ten years? Especially when that feeling has always been a one-way street. You don’t. You’re smoking nostalgia, you’re drinking a memory of something that never was. It’s imaginary.

“What a beautiful face I have found in this place
That is circling all ’round the sun and when we meet on a cloud
I’ll be laughing out loud, I’ll be laughing with everyone I see
Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”

-Neutral Milk Hotel