August 2007

Thursday Thirteen

1. What is your first association about Serbia? From my experience while I was traveling through Europe or attending in some international summer schools abroad majority (especially non Europeans, especially North Americans) don’t have a clue where Serbia is, moreover lots of them miss even the continent! Other minority who knows about Serbia knows about civilian war, collapse of Yugoslavia, war criminals etc. And only few knows Serbia thanks to some good things, mainly thanks to sport.

2. I just reminded myself when I was in Madrid two years ago, I asked police officer in Palacio Real to take picture of his hat (they have hilarious hats) but it wasn’t possible. He asked me where I’m from and when I replied Serbia he instantly asked me “Are you fan of Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) or Partizan?” I was in shock literally! (those are two sport clubs with great rivalry between them). I said Red Star and then he asked me “Who are your favourites basketball players?” When I replied he said “Oh? But many of them played in Partizan!” Yes but all of them played for Serbia. Point is that policeman knew much better Serbian basketball scene than me (as he said he “adores Serbian basketball”) which impressed me. And this will be this week’s TT topic. Serbian Sport!

novak3. It might be huge topic and that’s why I’d like to write only about Serbian Tennis Miracle!

Namely, last weekend was a Serbian Weekend in Tennis: Novak Djokovic won Roger’s Cup, Canada Open (wining #3, #2, and #1 (Rodick, Nadal & Federer) respectively, first time after Boris Becker 1994 in Stockholm; And first player who defeated both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same tournament). Ana Ivanovic knew that Novak Djokovic had already beaten Roger Federer before she took the court for the final at the East West Bank Classic, Los Angeles:
“I was motivated to do the same thing,” she said and she did exactly that.

4. Start of this Serbian tennis boom was at last French Open – Rolland Garros where Serbia has four players in semis: Djokovic was in man single semis, Jelena Jankovic in woman single semis and in other semis and later in the final we had Ana Ivanovic; in man doubles and in mixed semis and later in final we had Nenad Zimonjic. 5. Later on Wimbledon Novak and Ana played in semis and Jelena won title in mixed doubles.


6. For such a small country like Serbia with quite modest tennis history this is enormous success. Moreover now we have two women in top 4, man on third place and one in fifth place in doubles in the world!
But it wasn’t that easy to achieve all this.

7. Ana Ivanovic started in swimming pool, but no, not as a swimmer. “It’s a club where they had Olympic swimming pool, and then it was very expensive to keep it warm during the winter, and there was not many people using it. So they emptied the swimming pool, and they put carpet inside, and they placed — (laughing) it’s true. They placed two tennis courts and that’s where I grew up practicing.” said Ivanovic.

8. And then there was 1999, year thanks to which many in the world actually have heard about Serbia: NATO aggression:
It was really tough. I thought it would be impossible to continue, because we didn’t know how long it was going to go on. We were practicing in between air raid sirens, often in the early mornings to avoid the worst of the bombing.

jelenaAnd also, after that, we had troubles to travel, because we had problems to get visa to another country. And we didn’t have flights from Serbia. We had to go from Hungary, so we’d take a bus for six, seven hours just to catch a flight. So it was very tough, and I thought it would be really impossible to succeed.


9. God knows how many heavy bombs, depleted uranium and cluster bombs were dropped on our lovely little country back then. We usually joke that we became radioactive in 1999 and now have become immune to that but the Europeans haven’t, therefore they fear us and don’t want us around. LOLana, novak & jelena

10. Jelena said that precisely those heavy years have strength them and made them more focused. “We didn’t have the best stuff, but we got to see the best, we appreciated it,” Jankovic said of the hardships they faced. “We learned to work the hard way. Nothing is going to fall from the sky. You have to earn it.”

11. On the press conference someone asked Jelena: There seemed to be some kind of Serbian magic at work. Jelena giggled her way through the reply:

A Serbian power or something, that wherever you go you see just Serbians (laughing). Wherever you go, it’s just Serbians all over the place, winning all these matches. It’s just incredible. I’m just proud of that…

12. So it’s definitively time for new picture about Serbia and indeed sportsmen are our greatest ambassadors. So watch out on these great folks; they … I wanted to say “are coming” but obviously they are already here!

(13. The last photos are from welcoming these three in Belgrade after French Open. They’ve made us so proud and happy)

ana, novak & jelena

ana, novak & jelena

P.S. #1
Yes I know both Novak and Ana have just lost their matches in single in Cincinnati and Toronto but you can’t win all the time. (yet?)

P.S. #2
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Beasts of No Nation
Uzodinma Iweala

beasts of no NationHere is another Hidden Treasure (click the link), an outstanding debut by young Uzodinma Iweala about whose book Salman Rushdie said “This is one of those rare occasion when you see a first novel and you think, This guy is going to be very, very good.”

And indeed this novel is so special in so many ways. It is the coming-of-age story but unlike any other stories from that subgenre. As its title suggests “Beasts of no Nation” is one dark story where you’ll hardly find any consolation or even hope. I was especially attached before I even started to read this novel because I’m a huge fan of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (on the photograph), one of the most prominent figure in Nigerian cultural and political scene; After his death Fela’s son Femi Anikulapo Kuti has continued his father’s mission, battle against violence, corruption, injustice, dictatorship of (not only) Nigerian government, etc. with music. (I was on Femi’s concert few years ago and it was amazing!). Anyway this book is named by Fela’s song “Beasts of no Nation” and this is one part from it:


Fela Kuti

If you’d like to read whole lyrics here is the link: Beasts of no Nation Lyrics (and if you don’t know Botha was the apartheid-era president who led South Africa through its worst racial violence and deepest international isolation. You’ll see his name in the song)

The language in the book is the same as in the song: almost all verbs are in infinitive and constructions in the phrases are sometimes impossible, I’d never use any of them. And that is where my own sensation about the novel is inferior in comparison with the sensation of the reader whose mother tongue is English. Reading your own language in this variant must enrich entire emotion about the book and make you closer to the characters and entire environment. *sigh*

Just as Fela’s song is telling about horror the racial conflict so does Iweala’s book about civil war but from different perspective. This is story about Agu, young boy in unnamed West African country. We know it is in (west) Africa because he is mentioning colour of the skin, yam (who is growing in West Africa), the way he talk (the same as the way Fela sings!), and the way of killings – machete. But that same story can be settled in any other country (I was often thinking that must how the felt my compatriots in the war regions few years ago when the country I was living in was tiring apart.

Agu is a son of local schoolteacher and very religious mother, always thirsty for knowledge who doesn’t know what suffering is until the stories of a war in the country stopped to be stories and became part of his own life. This book is kind of his memoirs.

And being so young (7-10 years of age in my opinion) his vision of war and explanations are so touching. In one moment he says something like this part of the country is so green and full of trees so maybe government was angry at us because God has given us water and them on the north of the country (where government is settled) not.

His disorientation is complete. After losing his father he’s been found by some guerilla movement who recruited him and that’s ho he became soldier. In that hornet’s nest where hierarchy is based on the gun he’s under enormous influence of the Commandant, a dominant figure (in which he probably finds replacement for his father is some very weird way) who’s giving him (and the rest of the gang) totally twisted idea of the war and enemies. Commandant is implanting Agu’s personal goal in his mind: “If you are staying with me, I will be taking care of you and we will be fighting the enemy that is taking your father”; goal that is so obvious in contradiction to Agu’s nature: revenge.

We are watching the worst kind of manipulations and brain washing (that will in one precise moment become disgusting!) which is actually not that hard when your target such a young kid.

Agu’s inner struggle is so painful to watch. He as a very religious kid in the way children can be religious, he knows that what they are doing is very wrong so he often convincing himself that he is not bad boy, that his acts will be forgiven, that he’s doing all these things because he is soldier and killing is what soldier do; it’s his job to kill the enemies … even when the enemy is a woman with her small daughter [because Commandant said that those are their enemies who have killed their families]. But that is not all what soldier is:

“Sometimes I am wanting to cry very loud but nobody is crying on this place. If I am crying, they will look at me because soldier is not supposed to be crying”

Agu is constantly between these extremes: his own nature and the projection of something he must become. He’s aware that if he doesn’t let go his nature he’ll not survive so sadness is overwhelming him but then he knows he mustn’t be sad because “being sad is what happens to you before you are becoming mad. And if you are becoming mad, then it is meaning that you are not going to be fighting. So I cannot be sad because if I cannot be fighting, then either I will die, or Commandant will be killing me. If I am dead, then I will not be able to find my mother and my sister when this war is finishing” and there he is, constantly lost in one emotional labyrinth in which he is roaming trying to stay alive, to preserve his mind and to find an exit. And the labyrinth is a place where “… one evil spirit sitting in the bush just having too much happiness because all the time he is eating what he wants – us; and seeing what he is wanting to see – killing. So he is just laughing […]” And while that evil spirit is feasting little Agu is starving: “I am so hungry that I am wanting to die but if I am dying, then I will be dead” At first moment this sentence might sound funny but in reality it is tremendously terrifying. Just look how lost this kid is.

If you think that I’m taking this piece of fiction too personally you are probably right because this story is reality in so many places and we are so ignorant. We do know but, hey it’s not in our backyard. Truth, the same thing was in my country not so long ago so I‘m probably more sensitive and could more easily transmit myself in Agu’s story.

This is one universal story that can be settled as I wrote in the beginning in every part of the world. It is opening so many topics and among major ones is use of the children in armed conflicts. They are so easy for manipulation and the scars they are getting are life long.

“[…] and I am wanting to ask it why it is even thinking to shine on this world. If I am sun, I will be finding another place to be shining where people are not using my light to be doing terrible terrible thing.”

Oh dear Agu, it seems that Sun should pack its things and move far away from this galaxy …

Thursday Thirteen

1. Few days ago my friend brought me one magazine with an article about blogs. OK it’s nothing new but even though I am thinking about it ever since.
2. First it says things we all know (sort of answer “What is blog?”) and little about history of blogs (Justin Hall is blog-pioneer). And there we can see how blogs can be (and often are) fun and educational and great place to spend some free time … etc.
3. BUT (there is always one “but”) while blog is “meeting place”, place to show yourself, show how funny you are, intelligent, creative etc. experts are warning that blog is actually perfect shortcut toward complete isolation, especially for young population.

4. Blogs (and internet forums) are representing simulation of reality. It reflects enormouscyber sex level of alienation of people in modern society.
5. Birth of blogs is actually consequence of chronic problem in communication. Since we’re communicating less and less in real life we are creating simulation of real contact. 6. Because blog (internet forums) is precisely that, simulation of communication; it is symptom that we have problem, HUGE problem in communication with our surrounding. Because modern society does not encourage closeness but precisely distance; closeness on the distance or distance in closeness.

7. In this delirium in communication where we are holding our computers and mobile phones as if they are crutch without which we cannot walk, closeness and spontaneity have completely vanished.
8. It seems we forgot direct conversation, in cafes, at home, without shelter in a form of monitor and time pause which allows us to think well what would be our response.

9. I do remember my life in prior-computer-era and to be honest I think about it with nostalgia. I guess this will sound strange to majority but I grow up in highly socialized society. 10. Here your neighbor is your best friend. It is person you are seeing every day. And I mean every day; like Englishman are having tea in 5PM here people are having coffee with their neighbors. 11. My mother is having afternoon coffee with her neighbors everyday (not separately but two, three families are circling with the visits), during the summer they are having coffee in the garden, always there is someone who brings cake and in the evening often we are having dinner with our neighbors. Without any special occasion. That is NORMAL behavior here.

kill comp12. For instance I was at my mother’s place last weekend while she’s visiting my grandmother in different part of the country. Of course key of the apartment have her neighbor (another normal thing) who prepared me a dinner so that I don’t be hungry after the trip and naturally tomorrow she invited me on the lunch. During my mother’s trip once other neighbor had (many) guests so they used our apartment for sleeping.
You know these things are very common here and I really, really like that.

13. So if I disappear that means I’m getting my life back! That I’m trying to become once again what people should be – socialized creature!

If you’d like to leave your comment please scroll up!

Edit to add: I’m not against computers (I have blog as well!) but I do finding myself easily give up from some “nature” activity knowing that I’ll kill boredom with the internet. Indeed balance is crucial but that is the hard part. I’m aware of all benefits of internet communication so this TT is sort of generalization of the problem. That means I don’t think here only about blogs (sure there are numerous types: scientific, for professionals in some field, etc. clearly I don’t think about those here) but about time spent in virtual world in general with special accent on virtual comunication. By the way friend who brought me article thinks I became internet addict, which I don’t think but I do admit I’m less socialized then before.



Thursday Thirteen

Oh I think I lost one day. I thought tomorrow is Thursday so I’m little unprepared for this week’s TT therefore it will not be like previous ones.

I remember once someone of fellow TThirteeners have suggested me to write about some sayings that are impossible to translate in other languages, or if so they’ll sound like pure nonsense. So here are 13 nonsense that have very frequent use in common Serbian language:

1. go with throat in strawberries = go/do something completely unprepared.
2. thunder don’t strikes in the nettle = only the good die young
3. when on willow grow grapes = never/not in a million years
4. he’s got leek sticking out of his ass = for someone who is coming straight from peasant but trying to act like a member of noble aristocracy
5. come from ass to the head (usually idea) = wise up to
6. what granny wanted that is what she dreamed about = whish is father to the thought
7. mountain was shaking, mouse was born = much ado about nothing
8. hold on water until handicraftsmen don’t go = it’s a patch-up job
9. knocked with wet sock = slightly crazy
10. in the end, donkey has been eaten by the wolf = there won’t be any fallout
11. They are like horns in the bag = they fight like cats and dogs
12. those are all Spanish villages for me = means “I don’t have a clue” about something
13. promise- reason for crazy ones to be happy = don’t believe in everyone’s promises

OK so those are 13 phrases we are using a lot. As I said I thought tomorrow is Thursday so this was “catching on fly”. I hope you’ll find it at least entertaining.

Now I’m going in bed since it’s 3.45 am

Happy TT!

P.S. If you’d like to leave your comment please scroll up and click “Comments” under the title of this TT (and above TT photo with newspaper and coffee). The one which is under this entire post is for the book and not TT. Thanks!

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Laila Lalami

Hope and other dangerous puruitsI’ve just finished this lovely, poetic novel, debut by Laila Lalami about how hope is making us in move and about how much we are willing to sacrifice to make it happened.

First I’m very pleasantly surprised with the structure of the novel (“novel” in some lovely weird way). Namely it starts from the middle of the story, somewhere in the middle of the road between survival and life (or should I say ‘hope’?), in the middle of the night, between two continents: Africa and Europe; in the middle of the path which separates “not just two countries but two universes.”; in the boat made for eight people but which bears thirty passengers right now.
All those passengers have in common hope, their dream about life they couldn’t have in their motherland – Morocco.

They are approaching Spanish coast with fear in their stomach and hope in their eyes and … (I’ll avoid spoilers)… after page or two we are reaching the spot where story starts to branch (it’s like a reverse delta). Or maybe it’s even better to say that we are reaching narrowest spot on the sandglass.

Sandglass is turned over and now we are following lives of the main characters prior their journey and here the novel becomes sort of collection of short stories. And these stories are very detailed and very personal portraits of persons with different characters, professions, education, etc. which are living in the same (mainly) political/economical pot which will transform them in immigrants.

It is a very colorful picture of nowadays Morocco and clash of its traditional and modern faces. Land filled with tourists seeking for roots of Paul Bowles’s inspiration, or hashish, or some other sort of exotic adventure while muezzins are calling for prayer from minarets, with streets with girls covered with scarves and gay couples fearless sitting in the bars. We are introduced with some Islamic customs, especially in the marriage; with two completely different ways of interpretation of Qur’an: traditional as if there are no changes from the time of the Prophet and the modern one which is adapted with the current civilization level. And of course cuisine: you could feel the smell while passing through the pages mouth-watering.

However accent is on the horrifying economic situation with huge unemployment population (sometime regardless their education), extremely (and quite openly) corrupted system, from university via any sort of bureaucracy ‘till the judicial system. Indeed you have a sensation of hermetic-incurable-never-ending-no-way-out, sensation so strong that you can feel it in your throat. Sensation that is boosted with descriptions of their homes, streets, furniture, etc so that you are wondering “How on Earth they’re surviving at all?” and naturally when you’re looking with their eyes immigrate in Spain is best (if not only) solution.

Then again sandglass is turned over and now we can see how immigrants live in their new country. Of course those kinds of dreams are often nightmares but it is incredible how people can find consolation and be satisfied. I guess when you manage to leave enormous misery behind, new misery doesn’t look so unbearable. You just have to remember the ones who weren’t that lucky and who would instantly exchange their place with yours.
Naturally new life will change them but while some changes are expectable (no one would gladly accept to leave horse and ride donkey again) some changes are so drastic that I had to double check if that is the same person.

I should say that “sandglass” will be turned over more than once: to let us know why would anyone leave its own people, family, friends, customs and go in unknown land among strangers, become stranger himself (even among compatriots); to let us know how the ones who survived the trip but have not succeed in their intention are reestablish their lives in the country they wanted to leave; and to let us know about the ones whose lives have torn from the roots and are thrown on the other soil.
This is a story about their hope which helps them to stay alive.

Now as a student of the Institute Cervantes I was always wondering why Morocco is the country with the largest number of Cervantes Institutes. Well it was logical that countries like France or UK or Germany or some other ‘rich’ country will have many Institutes but Morocco is a priority. Now when I think about that it IS logical. Namely illegal immigration is huge problem for Spain and so they decided at least to give those potential immigrants opportunity to learn Spanish, educate themselves about customs and culture etc.

This novel is Hidden Treasure! (check the link)