Twenty or so years later it still matters, stands there like a mesmerizing scarecrow on the autobahn. I take over in Slovenia after Šentilj, weather is clear, dawn sprays its burnt orange bittersweet shimmer rays from another world in another day.
I’m semi colorblind so I tend to paint with my medieval brush the colors I can’t name. I draw my unnamable colors from the translucent light they project on my retina for a quick second before they fade away into black or white. This natural inability permanently bars my youthful vision from seeing forever on a clear day. I paint rays above Šentilj in burnt orange bittersweet shimmer rays, Eileen is sleeping in the back seat curled like Macie’s one-eyed cat Boomer on my desk years later when I repaint rays above Šentilj in burnt orange bittersweet shimmer rays, while Eileen hovers in between a guard watch and an exhausted tourist shooting for the motherland; her short blond hair features orange peel locks enclosing the clockwork orange mindset.
Passing by Zagreb – all things must pass and Zagreb is no exception – Yugoslavia feels like an entity; the same Slavic tribe initially diversified through centuries by the political scar of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire borderline into Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox now polarized heavily and brewing further. Whenever you spot prophets suddenly popping up in the poppy fields of nationality, concerned to tears about their nation’s well-being, something’s wrong with the prophesy. According to honorable Balzac, in any geopolitical unrest the shit is first to hit the surface, emerging de profundis of repressed desire to spread its stench and show its diarrhea-familiar face. Word reek comes to mind presenting its perfect blend of fumes, smoke, and malodor.
When Yugoslavia falls apart I’m not there – I’m here in San Fernando Valley, staring at the news with the curiosity of a mad scientist. I’m here in Belgrade too, with my sensibility rooted in the Balkans, with my past beyond allocation and desire to walk among these people sharing fake condolences out of my leceder heart made of pre-made gingerbread dough right here in the States. I’m not here when they don’t need me the most, having the needs I refuse to provide. Why are my sympathies counterfeit, why don’t they beam human sincerity, it is beyond me. The fallacy here lies in the idea that communication and alienation are necessarily mutually exclusive: I speak to Belgrade, to my friends and relatives, yet they sound strange and barely familiar. In the meantime Yugoslavia is falling apart as the river Sava – the biggest and the least political of the running waters – commits suicide with a bang crashing its liquid megatons into the super weight Danube.
None calls me to return and reinforce the tribe by voting for unity since none wants unity; they don’t want me either to spread my quasi-intellectual metaphysics of presence when the absence and separation bells toll around the clock on the Orthodox Cathedral in Belgrade as well as on the Zagreb’s Cathedral on Kaptol, on mosques and village churches of lesser, politically abstinent Gods caught up in the frenzy by misspelling their own beliefs. The last thing all of them need is the apostle Djuric burning the incense of singularity.
Heavy thoughts left behind, we enter the toll-free freeway, an endless stretch of flat nothingness: no cities no towns not even Potemkin villages to spice an illusion. Doesn’t feel alien though, just empty desolate and beyond repair. Driving at top speed of 70 mph to avoid diesel engine’s unhealthy high rpm I’m waiting for them to show up. Since the five centuries of raping Serbian hospitality and land are not enough they are coming for more, their cars on the verge of overheating, burning motor oil by quarts while spreading that unique odor of boiling asphalt and Castrol GTX: the Turkish gastarbeiters are gunning their large Opel Commodores and Ford Taunuses down the long stretch of some 400 kilometers from Zagreb to Belgrade then through Niš and Sofia, Bulgaria, until their feverish eyes spot the lights of Istanbul across the Bosphorus Strait Bridge. With fatal accidents galore due to the exhaustion and solid bricks inside the driver’s foot well; a simple, ingenious way preceding the invention of cruise control. Serbs can’t do much about it other than to move aside and hate Turks once again. The first sign of life arrives when we pass Surčin, the Belgrade airport, but it’s hard to say what kind of life that is.
This story won the nonfiction(!) contest at Cardinal Sins. It was also published by Pure Slush and can be found here.