11 April 2013
Spring in Poland has finally come after a miserably long winter of six months. Buildings have had their colors returned to them. I can see that the building that hosts Alchemia is a faded daffodil yellow and the neighboring one is a lovely burgundy brick red. Winter was a grey slumbering fugue. Krakow has returned to life.
The flea market at New Place today was rather daunting. One stall sold anti-Semitic cartoons, art, and caricatures from the early 20th century while the neighboring one sold a mish-mash of Jewish memorabilia and dusty swastikas and various Third Reich artifacts. I wondered to myself whether Jewish tourists would be willing to buy questionably antique Judaica from the same person who is selling an authentic photograph of somebody hanging from the gallows in Auchwitz, one of the more shocking objects I saw for sale here.
I was not surprised at seeing swastika and “Jude” armbands available for just anyone to buy as I would have been two years ago. Living in Eastern Europe is not only an educational but a jading experience.
Out of curiosity, I asked how much these objects were. These two caricatures together cost 150PLN or 50 dollars.
The caricatures depicted a happy Rabbi carting home a keg of beer in the first panel, followed by an unhappy Rabbi in frum garb, looking down wistfully on the street at a broken beer bottle.
I asked the vendor what this all meant and he said, referring to the Jew in the caricature, that he “had many problems.” I wasn’t quite sure if he was referring to this particular Jew, or rather, the entire group.
I asked him where he acquired all of these objects and like many other vendors, he replied vaguely that he got them from “people”, in particular, “older people.” I felt that while I may have appeared tactless, and often am chided by my friends for asking too many “probing questions,” I wasn’t accusing this man of grave-robbing. I merely wanted to know.
Christmas in Sarajevo
My two friends Erik and D’juan and I arrived in Sarajevo, 6am on Christmas Eve to gift Bosnia with our loud American presence.
Christmas in Sarajevo is more of a secular multicultural event than my friends and I had ever seen before. Midnight mass was the opposite of a “silent night.” Instead, it was observed as a lower scale version of New Year’s with firecrackers being set off to the background of clanging church bells.
We chat with two local girls Amina and Sara. Amina is Muslim and Sara is Catholic but both celebrate each other’s holidays from watching people set off firecrackers and releasing balloons to exchanging traditional holiday cookies. Muslims, Amina said, had a different kind of holiday cookie than Catholics or Christians. She and her friends were excited about their pending exchange this year. But the firecrackers being set off is not a tradition–it is rather just a local habit that occurs from time to time, depending on how festive some people are.
Instead of there being your typical run-of-the-mill Christmas market like in other European cities, Sarajevo had a more modest “Holiday Market” that sold plastic toys to fake holiday ferns. After midnight, my friends and I heard the upbeat melodies of local ex-Yugoslav pop-folk. A huge white tent was packed to capacity and security guards were only letting in the same number of people who exited. While we waited for our turn and my friends were introduced to such classics by Halid Beslic, Ekaterina Velika, and other household names that may trigger yugo-nostalgia, they remarked that Sarajevo, and Bosnia was incomparable to any other European city or country they had ever been to. Figuring out how to enter this dome of a tent presented a challenge. We did not know where the entrance began and thought of climbing over some gates and sneaking ourselves in. One of the security guards looked at us inquisitively for a second and in a serious tone, warned us, “There”, pointing to the bushes we stepped over, “are mines.” We took him for his word at first but then he flashed a grin and started laughing. We had just encountered our first example of dark Bosnian humor.
Earlier that day, we began our day walking around in search of burek and cevapcici. For dinner, we went to a steakhouse and while D’juan ate steak, Erik and I nursed some of the local slivovitz or plum brandy. I believe our server was also the owner as she was very attentive and hinted to us that the restaurant had a trip-advisor page. This had happened during lunch at a “sausage restaurant” or “cevabnidza” when the owner took a picture of us and said we could find our pictures on the Facebook page, dependent on whether we “liked” his establishment or not. I’ve never before seen such a coincidental but clever use of social media before.
We followed this with souvenier shopping. We felt like we had potentially gotten ourselves into something akin to that Tarantino scene from Pulp Fiction when Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames’s characters enter a gun store for safety only to come across two twisted neo-nazis, when we saw several prominently displayed swastikas. There was also a commemorative wine bottle with Hitler on it. The owner said that Hitler was a “good man” who tried to make the “world calm” and also a very good businessman. We exchanged glances and I tried to whisper the word “Tarantino” but was not heard. When D’juan entered the shop, unaware of what had just been said, there was a pregnant pause for we did not know whether to politely leave or stay to look at the treasure trove of old Yugoslav currency that attracted D’juan. It was a hard call as it was hard to discern whether to take this owner seriously or not, especially when he said, “Mamma Mia!” and “Heil Hitler!”
There was a wine bottle with a wine label of Hitler’s picture and text “Fuhrerwein Schwarertaffel.” Erik surmised that this bottle may be a gag, or “maybe Nazis were just that cheesy.”
We will find out soon.
My grandfather writes:
Dear Maia:In sadness I must report that poor Linda of late just got worse and worse.She would lie down but then could not get up. she whined in pain veryfrequently despite all the meds. she could no longer navigate the doggy-doorso I was carrying her down and up the stairs usually at 11PM, Midnight, and then1AM and 3 AM … but in between she could no longer control herself so she wasshitting on herself and her bed and it was a sad mess.Her two Vets : Dr Michele Fuller and Dr. Zoe Ramagnano had bothbeen suggesting that despite all we tried for Linda they could no longer restore her to health and shewas in decline. and ” it was time ” Near 17 years is a long time for a little doggy.Sadly , and with many tears and pains I took her in at 6PM last night to The Village Vetand had her put down. Dr. Fuller handled it and there was no pain for Linda… I’m starting to crynow as I think about it. I kept putting this off, but finally … She was so much part of my life,I shall miss her terribly. she kept developing new habits. Towards the end she’d come up tome and put her nose under my knee — asking to be petted. She never did that before.Decided to have her cremated by an outfit Dr. Fuller recommended: www.veryimportantpetmortuary.com … Tracy Victor. They are giving us a nice little chest with her ashes plusa plaque with her two front paw prints and words mentioning Cathy and you and myself. — andLinda’s name, of course. should have all this come early January.Dr. Fuller was so kind and gentle and did all this for no charge. She is the best Vet weever had, my opinion. She asked me to drop in from time to time and say hello. MaybeI can do this …Sorry for this sad message, but TIME has her ways , does she not ?Richard Merrill bought me a book PROOF OF HEAVEN in which a Doctor who it seems diedand then came back did mention that he saw Dogs in Heaven … Let’s hope … Maybe Lindawill put in a good word for me ?
Latest article I co-wrote with my colleague Lana Ravel for New Eastern Europe
More posts on the Balkans to come.
Recently, far-right political party Jobbik caused an uproar in Hungary and abroad when Hungarian MP Marton Gyongyosi essentially demanded a list of all the country’s Jews for fear that they posed a “national security risk.”
Meanwhile, interestingly enough, Hungary rejected a Holocaust survivor’s defamation case against well-known Rabbi Slomo Koves. Gruner, in the article, accused Elie Wiesel of stealing the identity and story of a former concentration camp inmate. Rabbi Koves compared Gruner to Norman Finklestein and basically accused him of “falsifying history.” The entire news article is sad to read. There are no “winners” no matter what the outcome would have been. Gruner is essentially a tortured soul who endured and witnessed too much history for one lifetime.
A Jobbik lawmaker has demanded that a Hungarian MP step down simply because they were Israeli.
Index, a Hungarian news portal, later quoted Novak as saying, “Israel has more deputies in the Hungarian Parliament than they have in the Israeli Knesset,” and this caused the Hungarian Parliament to make “favorable” decisions toward Israel.
Novak sent an email to all deputies on Nov. 28 requesting that in the public interest, they make any dual citizenship public.
My grandfather’s wise comments on the overall political landscape in Hungary:
Ugly news for the Jews ….. I think most rattlesnakes have more fundamental soul and decent values than most politicians … obviously this is a ploy designed to get him a hate-based-voting-cadre ..I hope the bastard rots in hell and soon. How could he get such a list? does Hungary demand you declare yourself as Jewish and wear a yellow arm band. ?I so wish I had Grandfathered you into a much more decent socialreality. It would have had to have been someplace aside from one peopled by “humans” ..What does the Ambassador base his “quit worrying” statement on ?next they will throw him out of Hungary.
Reading Larry Hagman’s obituary provoked one question: do people tire of being friends with a professional biographer who may become too entrenched in their subject’s life to not talk about anything else?
For example, if I were working night and day on a biography and my job was to talk to hundreds of sources (friends, colleagues, bosses, family fo that person), the subject’s life would invade my own. A friend recently ordered someone’s travel journal of the former Yugoslavia from 1934. This diary is a self-described “old man’s” narrative whose itinerary starts somewhere in Serbia, and ultimately ends in Zagreb over the course of three weeks. The language is Serbo-Croatian and the style is poetic and casual. My friends and I become quite enchanted by this hand-written work and now it has become a core interest of mine.
Here’s to four more years of “hope and change” under Obama: a hangover, and a strong urge to stay in bed all day and spend tonight drowning my sorrows in a barrel of vodka. That’s what my id craves: to just resign itself to its primal instincts. But no, I groggily pulled my tired and sore body out of a spongey mattress one would call a “bed,” removed and re-applied more makeup, and barely squeezed myself into my usual black “skinny” Michael Kors jeans. The time. 8:30AM. Thirty more delicious minutes of freedom. At home. Warm. Dry. No draft except for my room.
I had a bittersweet dream. Sweet because in it, Romney won. Bitter because Romney won. Honestly, I would have voted for Gary Johnson.
As I wrote in my facebook status this morning:
Obama won: there may be false hope, but change? It will be the same. old. thing. And that is why I’m staying in Eastern Europe. Its so easy to simplify Obama as a socialist spendthrift and Romney as the candidate who would have cut taxes. Obama was a “safer” option because well, investors already knew what to expect. Stocks in the pharmaceutical companies are expected to increase. More here. and here.
Every day, my half-Russian Slovak friend has been sending parcels to my university address. Reason? She is in love with Polish shoe brands like Truffle. Thankfully she plans to pick them up or else my cross-dressing friend might steal them. They are intimidating looking but beautiful stilettos, minimum 12 inches high. I think the administration at CES is convinced that “my friend” is really me. A man behind m