A snare snaps in the distance, slowly advancing between the sooty neo-imperial buildings, invading a silent moment together as the pleasurable reciprocal memories of their adolescence churn through the two friends’ heads. A troop of mounted police stops the traffic and seals the main boulevard. The two young men can see red, white and green flags swirling along the road. It seems to be a protest or a political march that is generating the raw noise. Several floats loom forward. A rotund man with cropped, white hair and dragonfly spectacles is sending his booming voice through a public address system. His followers surround him and trail along the boulevard like human dross. A minority of the marchers, dressed entirely in black and adorned in Nazi regalia, has freshly shaved their heads for the occasion. They goose step beneath their revisionist leader. The writer, who more or less understands the complicated language by now, translates for his friend. The man is speaking of not selling any more property to Jews or those who are sympathetic to Jews. He tells the crowd that he would kick all the Jews out of the country and he would issue ethnic identity cards for everyone else. He would build ghettos for the Gypsies (Roma, if he were to use the politically correct parlance) and have them sterilized so they cannot breed anymore. The old revisionist foe of progress puts his hand on his heart and almost seems to cry with these words, as if he has already made them come true. The writer naively wonders how the country can even accept such a racist political figure (it is quite easy: they were never deprogrammed of Nazism after the Second World War), but there he is, standing on his float, rallying the dispossessed and disenfranchised, a loose collection of skinheads, alcoholics, unemployed and pensioners, who are his disenchanted constituency. As the skinheads pass the Goethe Institute, they raise their right hands in a collective Nazi salute. Both the writer and his friend shiver with abhorrence and automatically give them the finger from their seats at the wicker table. The Nazis abruptly halt and stare at the two men as if they are not to be trifled with, but they do not advance, for the police are watching and the old political troll commands them forward with a bark. A difference of political opinion has yet to be outlawed in the name of the greater public good, one of the pinnacles of Fascism, though the writer knows the gray area in which he operates is rapidly changing.
Even after almost ten years of living in this nameless country, the writer has refused to apply for any kind of residency of an official paper nature. He simply jumps across the border when his tourist visa has expired. No official has really ever asked any questions, even though there is a new law expressly forbidding such border-hopping activities. He keeps several bank accounts offshore, so that when he is paid for some editing or design task, there is no domestic record of the transaction. He lives in an apartment with four exits (like Brecht recommends) under a set of bills in his girlfriend’s name that come to the address where he hides out and pretends not to live. He operates on someone else’s free server connection when he corresponds with the outside world. But the gray area in which he operates is becoming increasingly smaller and more concentrated, because the rulers of this small country (inspired by the example of the world hegemon) decide everyone must be registered and accounted for. The writer opposes this, and he stubbornly remains undeclared and unaligned when everyone else is busy swearing his or her allegiance to the powers of law and order. He tries not to think about the consequences, that he might be expelled indefinitely from the country for his insolence, have his assets seized, find himself declared persona non grata, and never see his beloved shelves of books again. But he has a handy trick to maintain the illusion of his being two people (exactly like his best and oldest friend), namely two passports, that he uses when he toggles across the border (never far in this tiny country). They both imagine they are safe living on their privileges as tourists permanently overseas and far from the hegemonic crowd drunk on flags and the Yankee dollar. They both know the hegemon’s spider-like security agencies can read their e-mails and listen to their voices through a real-time database and perhaps even download the files off their computers. They do not like that the hegemon watches what they say and do if they type enough keywords in their messages that are filtered by dictionaries with names like Cowboy. When someone wants to talk to him confidentially the writer fells compelled to ask him or her to remove the battery from his or her mobile phone for fear that the phone is transmitting to the indigenous secret police or the greater powers that be, who the writer would condemn for avarice, hypocrisy and treachery, since they have long ago forgotten their Aristotle:
“The science that studies the supreme good for man is politics.”
“Politics is not an exact science.
The student should have some general knowledge and experience of life.”
It has been more than ten years after the socialists fell from power, more than ten years since they sold most of the country to a new set of foreigners (invaders) on the advice of consultants from the likes of Arthur Anderson, Deliotte & Touche or KPMG, and the writer realizes that something is fomenting again, some kind of baffling twist of history. Invaders (foreigners) are tolerated for an unknown amount of time (perhaps a decade like the Soviets, perhaps three and half centuries like the Turks) until the revolt begins. The people, armed with merely poems and rifles, might initially succeed in expelling the occupiers, but more often than not reinforcements arrive and the people (nation) again fall under foreign rule. Their national solution to this perplexing state of affairs is to smoke cigarettes and drink schnapps from dawn to dusk; consequently, they die young and join the martyrs in the cemeteries that are more populated with the sum of the dead than the country with the sum of the living.
People are looking south, citing the example of the Balkans without ever having visited the horror of the bulldozed and dynamited villages where one house stands and another lies in smithereens and where every furrow of the plough yields a strange harvest of bones. People are entreating the Paris Conference of 1920 that the politicians so clearly refer to; they are preparing for another revolution that they think is sure to succeed, for foreigners can only be welcome for so long. The nation (like many others) suffers from a weird myopia and only can only imagine the world in terms of its largest imperial borders. It has no capacity to invite two million people from all over the world (this being the writer’s favorite political idea) to bolster their faltering population and change their traditions forever, for their vision of the future is clouded with nationalism. They have forgotten that they were always a chauvinistic, aggressive people that oppressed their subjects. They have forgotten that they lost their imperial state because they collaborated with the forces of Fascism. They have forgotten all of this in the name of revisionism or what they might call the truth. Simply, they want to rule again, no matter the consequences.
The writer and his friend stand quietly, watching the dregs of the political parade shuffle on, chanting like the dead about the old kingdom. The writer urges them to change locations, for surely the skins will be back to augment their fingers after their tête-à-tête, and they both feel thirsty enough from the hatred in the skins’ eyes to go for a drink to relieve their nerves before a curfew is proclaimed, before the police stop everyone and ask for their identity cards and take those away who fit the profile of enemies of the revolution, creeping inexorably through decrees designed to reduce not only the writer’s tight circle of international boheme friends, but also the Asians and Africans who are looking for an economic refuge in a strategic position between the Balkans and Russia and what is renowned as civilization.
The writer suggests, “How about that bar that is usually overfull with ex-patriots but on a sunny afternoon should be theoretically empty?”
They hurry along the narrow streets, which are strangely dotted with leaflets that swirl like snow. The writer pauses to pick one up and he squints to read the manifesto, ten points of extreme-right thinking, declaring more of the same racist nonsense he cannot take seriously. He crumbles it up and throws it back on the gritty street as they stride together around a square that circumscribes a park that was a Jewish cemetery before the Nazis demolished it. No one really remembers. Some suggest maybe it (the Holocaust) had to happen. Some deny it happened at all. No one will admit that the all the total of Nobel Prizes in the sciences were awarded to this country’s Jews, that in fact the city was the largest and greatest habitat of Jews in Europe until they were kindly exterminated by an order to cleanse the country of human pollution.
The entire indescribable city seems to be morbidly haunted by its sins, and it does nothing to atone for them.
When they arrive at the bar, they are gladdened to find the photographer, looking quite stunning in a ray of sunlight, talking with the assistant director, who is glumly recounting his troubles. They all gather together around one of the scavenged tables and chairs that furnish the place and order a round of foreign beers (the local beer is unpalatable) and shots of bitter digestive to push them in the right direction from the tall, thin owner, his head grinning between his hunched shoulders. Inevitably they start to harp about the situation, the tightening of the noose that guaranteed them a certain stature and invisibility, even though they acknowledge their comments are duplicitous. The country has hosted them as guests in its ribs and tolerated them filing taxes in their home countries as they leave the tracks of their usually well-lubricated bankcards.
The photographer tells them, already a little off-kilter from pills and booze, “We aren’t hermits living in hollow trees. The earth will be covered in billions upon billions of humans, like fighting over land and water until the planet conks out like an ember. It looks so bad I don’t even want to have kids.”
The atmosphere is tense as if the bad lighting in the bar was conspiring against them.
The writer looks out the window at the Chinese grocery where he shops for sesame oil and jasmine rice. He gladly gives the Chinese (and Jews and Arabs) his business.
It could be Bucharest in 1989. Lisbon or Madrid in 1974. Prague or Paris in 1968. Budapest in 1956. Palermo in 1848. It could be anywhere but the present where everyone slyly denies that war can happen, but unfortunately the forces of violent change are brewing once more, unbeknownst to almost everyone except for those in on the revolution. They are organizing their cells in the districts of the indescribable city, stockpiling weapons in cellars, marking locations to be burned with what looks like innocuous graffiti
(“Jesus lives,” they scrawl in code, for instance, on the door of the bar, or the synagogues, or the drug rehab and abortion clinics), calculating who will be with them and who will be against them.
“You know the old state radio is about four blocks from here,” says the writer, concluding his thoughts that he has not told anyone.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” asks the photographer, since he has interrupted her monologue about her cat named Chips.
“Well, if you are to start a revolution, that’s where you start.”
“And the state TV?” question two basically divorced, philandering film buffs ponied up to the bar.
“There also,” replies the writer.
“It’s a big building,” says one of the drinkers.
“Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take too much influence to start your broadcasts. You don’t have to ask permission from the media board when you start a revolution.”
“True,” they muse together.
“A gun, maybe a grenade,” says the writer.
“You can buy them in the flea market,” says his Frisbee partner.
“Do they work?” asks the writer’s intrigued best friend.
“I haven’t tried,” retorts the other, “But when I tried to buy a grenade last weekend in the flea market, there weren’t anymore.”
“Your relationship’s that bad, huh?” jokes the writer.
“You can ask the mafia, eh?” queries the photographer.
“They sell drugs and protection and concrete and girls, not guns,” says the best friend.
“Don’t be stupid, man, sure they sell guns,” interjects the writer as takes a mouthful of frothy beer, “You know that much.”
His friend shrugs. The photographer dunks her fingers into her beer and says, “Thank God this bar doesn’t have any muscle, eh?”
“You can’t really know,” the men stutter over one another as she licks her fingers.
“They usually work the door,” says the man who throws the flying disk.
The writer adds, “Maybe you pay a little more and they leave the door alone. No need to scare customers. That’s their new mandate?”
“But what about the middle class being the bedrock of democracy, eh?” says the photographer, getting typically idealistic as she begins to buzz.
“They watch TV!” shouts the stooping bar owner from where he has been listening.
The four foreigners all laugh together and congratulate the bar owner on his comic timing (he’s also a foreigner), but they do not know how close they are to needing a real refuge. The bar owner invites them into the back room to smoke from his home-grown stash, but today they strangely decline as if they can hear the vehement oratory of the old political troll a kilometer of two away at a vast plaza where the other end of the main boulevard terminates, as if the police and customs are raiding the place and harassing everyone for mandatory IDs or passports and downloading the transactions of the till and checking the food and beverage licenses and running everyone’s names through a computer paid for with EU funding. The plaza is filled with his throng and the statues of the old heroic kings of the country, who almost appear to move from their plinths, such is the fiery oratory of the political troll. A long tongue of people poke from the mouth of a cobbled square. Slaytanic metal is dully playing from one stage like a tooth above the stupefied people. The area smells of booze and piss and cigarettes. The sun is setting and the crowd is turning over cars parked around the perimeter (a treasured acquisition in the new economy of the country, almost more valuable to their owners than human life) and setting fire to them. The cars writhe and squirm in agony and explode as if they are made of organs and skin. The mob ignites the steps of the Palace of Art that looks onto the plaza on the direction of the skinheads, because it has the gall to exhibit art authored by foreigners and gays. The flames seem to only increase their anger. They storm the embassy of a neighboring country on a corner of the elm-lined boulevard and tear down its flag.
The political troll cannot control his people, and he deliberates if he should issue the command to retake the country, for the moment is nigh, for if he does not do so now, perhaps the opportunity will be consigned to history. He looks over the swarming mass of his constituency and he chuckles to himself. They think that they are his political life-line, but it is his successful subscription to and alliance with the governing party that is his real trump card. He juggles a mobile phone in his pocket that contains a few very choice numbers to the highest echelons of clandestinely sympathetic continental powers. His most effective agents are not this rabble hopelessly protesting with flames and heaving cobblestones that they have pulled from the road at the police, who have materialized to restore the order in some nominal manner, but the prime minister and his henchmen, desperately looking to avoid any defeat in the farce of upcoming elections and hoping to irrevocably install themselves via an engineered popular coup in the name of national re-awakening with the complicit help of their strategy to own and control all the media in the country. The troll pulls the phone from his pocket and sorts through its digital phone book and pushes the call button. The connection crackles (it is scrambled) and he issues his orders to the prime minister, who he is his protégé, though one would not suspect that this is the hierarchy.
He says one word, “Motherland,” and that is enough to start the uprising as he raises one hand to his heart and the other in a Nazi salute, the first time he has done so publicly, to which the crowd roars in approval, some rapidly, others perhaps questionably, lifting their hands to match his feeble gesture sixty years after the emasculation of the Third Reich.
The four foreigners sitting in the bar (they are quite drunk now) and looking out its open windows are startled by a roar that seems to engulf the whole city as if it were a fire storm.
“Thunder, eh?” slurs the photographer.
The writer says, “I think I’m gonna go home before it rains.”
He pays his tab and rejects an offer for a complimentary whisky from the bar owner and asks his friends, “You coming?”
They shake their heads, and the writer departs leaving in direction of the political mob, for he lives within earshot of the vast plaza from which chaos is spreading through the city. He moves along the streets that have been expunged of the hookers and pimps who were once a common feature of the Roma neighborhood where the bar is located.
The streets are strangely quiet, except for the rebounding thunder. There is no quartet of clarinet, guitar, drum and voice parked outside a dilapidated building singing “Golden Rain” or “Dear, Dear,” as might often happen. Leaflets are swirling in the wind and coagulate around his legs as he walks home. He tries to shake them off, but they surround his body like they know he is the enemy of the revolution. When he reaches a main thoroughfare, the buses are black with regiments of skinheads heading somewhere. He sees that the banks appear to missing their windows and the cash machines are littered along the sidewalk, obviously excised of cash. Other shops, too, appear to have been assaulted, and people are standing in the displays and aisles, looting whatever they can carry — sneakers, televisions, footballs, plastic flowers, DVD players, size 34 Levis, vacuum cleaners, trinkets, sunglasses, ceramics, sausages, liquor, even a parrot and terrarium of chinchilla. A young man is reading poetry on a cabinet hauled out onto the asphalt. A small circle of people listens through the din of breaking glass to the dated but appropriate revolutionary verse.
The writer picks his way forward through the escalating mess as more windows shatter and more and more people stream forth. People are pulling other people from cars and driving away, ignoring the traffic lights and lanes. People are fighting with one another about who gets what and arguing about first come, first serve. He ducks into a side street and it is amazingly quiet again, but not before a long gaze down the avenue, its anarchic length teaming with looters and their booty. He watches enough to see a cameraman being knocked to the ground and a reporter having his face adjusted by someone not so happy about the media.
“It’s starting,” he thinks, “But do I want to be a witness?”
He almost changes tack, almost imagines that putting himself in jeopardy might be a good idea, with perhaps the cynical result being a decent log in his journal. He does not change his direction though. He must see his beloved, and she is only ten minutes away from the square where he stands, dominated by a basilica with two tall belfries decorated with gargoyles, if she has not gone to a gallery opening or some other cultural function out of touch with the chaos. The church bells peal and the congregation stands outside, the priest blessing them from the steps in anticipation of mischief. The writer pushes through the congregation and zigzags through the residential streets to the door of his building. A few cars are overturned in the street like beetles. Some patrons of the bar on the ground floor of his building are cursing outside, but no one pays him any excess attention, though they might be wondering where’s his loot.
He turns the key in the lock and crosses the courtyard and sees the lights on the top floor blazing.
He curls up the narrow steps and hears a lock turning. She knows he’s here. He passes the first floor, where two old women live. They are usually asleep at this hour. He skips every other step up to the second floor, where he hears panting, and finds his neighbors blocking the way.
The entire family is assembled on the landing and obviously waiting, mother, father, son and daughter. Their rather large and aggressive dog is on his leash. A cigarette dangles from the woman’s rancid mouth and she unlatches the leash but keeps her grip on the dog’s collar.
Her portly husband smiles at the writer and growls, “Son of a bitch.”
“Fag!” yells the fat son.
“Your hairy-throated, smelly-footed foreign bitch can’t save you, little prick,” breathes the woman, combing a purple wrinkled hand through her nasty bottle blonde hair.
Their fat daughter gawks morosely.
The writer has been diplomatic with these prejudiced assholes no matter how many times they have called the police to report him for playing his accordion or his stereo too loud or to accuse him of stealing their booze from the cellar or for taking photographs from his window of the courtyard or for using the Internet or on suspicion of dealing drugs. Every time the police have vanquished him after examining his passport as he explains he is a journalist and writer. They have inevitably and politely excused themselves while the neighbors have remained shouting invective outside his door. Luckily there is no law against playing music or dialing up one’s Internet provider or taking photographs.
It seems the harassment is not going to end as he looks into their poisonous piggy eyes filled with the incitement of the political troll whom they have probably been watching on television.
Another lock turns. It’s one of the old crooked women from downstairs, and she is already hobbling up, chastising the bullying family with a rich stream of oaths. As they start to cower because they believe she is a witch, and she is brave enough to confront them due to this reputation, he dashes past, riskily giving their dog Max a kick in the muzzle for posterity’s sake and shooting them the finger, a language they can understand.
His girlfriend stands at the top of the stairs wondering what the commotion is and he pushes her inside and locks the heavy, fortified door.
“It’s started,” he says breathlessly.
“What’s started?” she asks, clueless.
“Didn’t you hear the noise?”
“Turn on the radio and listen to what they say.”
“The nationalist station? Or the Catholic one?”
“Might as well listen to the enemy. Did you look out back?”
“It looks like there is a fire.”
“Of course there is. The whole fucking city is going to explode.”
“Listen, they’re reporting… they’re reporting that, no, they’re asking people to stay at home.”
“So they can get their enemies in their beds. What’s the time?”
“Ten to ten.”
“Let’s see if what the BBC is reporting. Let me tune it, if I can.”
“Stand next to the radio, maybe it will work better.”
“The Spanish and Romanian and Arabic services are all on the same frequency. It’s not going to work. Let me try again.”
“The country has been politicized for so long that now it’s ready.”
“It’s the segment on coconut oil from this morning.”
“Don’t turn it off. There’ll be news on the hour.”
“As if they’ll mention the events in this tiny, worthless country.”
“Give me a kiss.”
“Yes, you haven’t given me a kiss yet.”
“Is that OK?”
“It wasn’t a real one.”
“How can I give you are real one when the neighbors are breathing down our necks. We’ve got to pack.”
“Don’t be so paranoid.”
“Have you been outside?”
“No, I’ve been in bed reading.”
“You’re the enemy too. Ask the neighbors.”
“I’m not the enemy.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Let’s go for a walk.”
“Wait for the news.”
“Here it is, but so far nothing.”
“It’s a quiet revolution. But it will pop up soon. They’ve got their sources.”
“Who the fuck is knocking?”
“The fucking neighbors. Look through the peephole.”
“It’s the police.”
“No, I’m joking, it’s the neighbors.”
“I’m not opening the door.”
“Listen, reports of riots, that’s us all right.”
“Where’s your friend.”
“He’s got the key, but I don’t know how he is going to make it. It can’t be getting any better out there.”
“I’d like to walk and see for myself about this revolution you’re talking about.”
“How the hell do you want to get past the goon squad?”
“You can kiss me until they go to bed.”
“Not a bad suggestion.”
“Is that the phone?”
“Will you pick it up.”
“You pick it up.”
“I hate answering the phone.”
“Let the answering machine get it then.”
“Dude, can you believe what’s happening?” It is the clear voice of the handsome man with whom the writer kicks the football on sunny afternoons.
He picks it up. “Where are you?”
“At home, but I was at the swill shack earlier after teaching and at a certain moment there was a certain movement of people, a kind of a crazy moment, at that moment, when I stopped in seven places to compose a poem in my innerverse, that was completely bombed at that moment from the swill, too many white wines you know because that is all I can afford these days, there not being not so much work for me to do even though they keep promising me there is going to be some more and I am like the senior teacher there, you remember with the secretary we danced with, like her, and then when I got home I wrote it down, the poem that I had composed in those seven places about what I was seeing which I consider pretty disturbing since I am one of those foreigners that might be identified at a certain moment, might be like a festering tooth they want to remove from the rotten jaw and well, you know, it’s like that, connected to the back.”
“It’s like that. Right now my neighbors are banging on the door. It’s not looking good.”
“Has it ever looked good, man? From here it doesn’t look good. But has it ever looked good? With my greasy eye I don’t think so. Maybe on an afternoon when the sun in shining, maybe after I’ve inoculated myself, maybe when I’m with my dad sticking a needle into an arm, it’s good. But now it’s most definitely bad, and I’m not going anywhere until it’s daylight, hopefully to teach a lesson.”
“Your lessons might cancel tomorrow.”
“You never know how normal certain people want to be, even when the streets are covered with glass, even when the sky is on fire, even when five planets are aligned on a full moon. It’s like Miles Davis.”
“My girlfriend wants to take a walk.”
“Go nuts, dude.”
“I don’t think a walk is such a good idea, as much as I like walking.” He is stretching on the twin array of carpets. A wall of shelves holds music, books and postcards of an Orientalist and Romantic nature. He might meditate to Nikhil Bannerjee or smoke out to GG and do 500 push-ups and the yoga cobra. The handsome man wears Tao pajamas and a silver cross. He has been together with his pipe and smoke for several hours after teaching. He had a little before too. His suit has already flown back into the closet.
“You don’t want to fuck with those cats,” he says to a line of Roots. “That drumming. Questlove is the best fucking drummer around.” The handsome man plays a stretch on his flute. He plays by ear. He doesn’t like structure. He doesn’t like charts. He won’t practice scales. He’ll play to the music until he gets it right. He sprinkles his language with the music of: “I’m in that zone.” He will read Shakespeare and play drums and sing in Greek or Arabic and rhyme and mix it all up on his four-track; he might let you listen to the result.
The handsome man stretches and hides behind the answering machine.
“You can call and leave a message,” says his new bride into the white plastic Panasonic. Then you leave a message to see if he’s there and in the mood, which depends on a highly complex mixture of factors, like the surface of the wind, the disparity of the planets, the weird pedigree of his roots and his interaction with his memories on the run, powerfully and unabatedly the invincible handsome man willing to admit anything and everything about his complicity in the disarray of life.
It’s a good position to have nothing, because with nothing he can unearth every argument to stopping being who he is, organic and real with a certain emulation of DeNiro or Hamilton or Beatty or Mitchum. The handsome man really does have a wonderful gift of charisma and is rewarded for making people feel good in his presence with complimentary CDs of their music or a silver flute or a drum from their master or an expensive white shirt stitched with his body in mind by a gauche fashion designer friend or books of poetry and criticism or photographs signed by their creators or even a tenor saxophone. So he profits from nothing at all. He’s a star and tells all his friends that they are the best, the greatest, the most, real complete people he has ever met. He might even have the weird habit of complaining in a friend’s face and calling the friend later to tell him how wonderful things were as his guest. They clubbishly hug one another when they meet, clasp around their shoulders and guts, mildly thick with years. They’ve been passing the football to one another to combat male vanity like any other group of male friends.
The writer sometimes cannot really bond with them as much as he might want to do due to a certain crassness and psychological barrier, perhaps even frigidness, that keeps him at bay. The handsome man’s wife says she thinks he is a fetishist. The writer isn’t sure when he tries to answer and shortly leaves to join his girlfriend that he likes so much better, much to the relief of the handsome man, who might actually not think he is handsome at all but rather the incongruous, despicable, desperate, irreplaceable specter of disorder prowling in the cosmic sphincter.
“The radio is reporting that insurrection has started in bordering countries by our people. Remember what my friends’ father told us that evening when we were at my mother’s,” says his concerned girlfriend that night after putting down the phone with the handsome man to concentrate on the radio mentioning clashes between police and militias around the indescribable country.
The writer recalls arriving at a house on Easter weekend along a copper river next to a range of green sugarloaf hills in an old part of a broken up, ignored, desperate town where progress has come as mobile phones and little other improvement to the general life of the population, plagued by airborne and water pollution so severe their teeth fall out of their mouth at a young age and they often die before they are fifty. The house is next to a dentist’s office and across the pocked street is a dental work technician’s studio. The writer’s girlfriend opens the gate and tall, bulky man in galoshes and a vest is washing a white Renault. The air is chill with winter in spring. The couple goes in the house. An old man greets them, shakes the writer’s hand, kisses the young woman (he remembers her silhouette when she and his daughter traded parents for a week) and invites them to sit at the kitchen table next to the wood-burning stove. The old man’s wife totters in a slightly senile way.
Soon everyone is sitting around the table pouring beer and schnapps and gagging on politics. The rulers have seen themselves become the ruled in 80 years in a vast, fertile, mountainous and pristine European backwater matched with nearly hopeless poverty and suffering. It is wild and the place where men learn to do things well. They do not sit around computers programming and designing (though this is changing a degree) unless they are the dubious elite selected for government offices. Most men and women learn how to fish and hunt and cut down trees and survive in an environment that is extreme, tough and dirty. One cannot actually enrichen oneself with legitimate enterprise without cheating somehow.
This is rightly the popular view. A citizen bribes and smuggles his or her way forward.
However, the past’s minority turned the tables by out birthing their rulers, and by being on the right side of the reparations movement while a dictator ensured internal migration with policies of urbanization in the hinterland. He also outlawed contraception and abortion. The old rulers found themselves exiles in what they considered their own lands. Many of them moved away.
This process is continuing. Brain drain takes everyone from the godforsaken town who could actually contribute to bettering it either through their tax contributions, their civic duty or their interethnic tolerance.
The old man scold’s the writer’s girlfriend for leaving and mocks her decision to live in the capital. He rephrases his accusation with the Paris Conference of 1920.
The writer reminds him that was punishment. The country supported the Axis of Vienna and Berlin. And thus it was penalized for being on the rearguard and its fiercest rivals had the pleasure of twice taking to the capital’s streets in the name of victory.
The old man wags his fingers and snaps at his schnapps. He goes on to say how his people have been oppressed and almost destroyed and humiliated and harassed for too long and though really being reduced to a minority in a huge swath of territory, he is willing to blow up his neighbors house and shoot from his window if need be.
The writer tells him this is not solution and that he should go visit the Balkans if he wants to see what that is like. He’s so disgusted he laughs.
The old man speaks in glowing terms of the political troll and his party.
The writer fears the consequences of what this man says, for there must be at least another thousand such retired men who are eager to fight again in the name of wounded pride and a life at a conclusion. The man actually admits he would blow up his neighbor’s house, so why not put the rest of the population on meat hooks and sell the just-killed.
He is really afraid of when his mother country will be territorially and administratively absorbed by the European project and the border will become a much stronger divide between club player and mere spectator candidate.
The writer naturally welcomes any change, for change might make everyone’s residency easier and enable them to more rights. But that is not happening. How can a country be admitted to a grand political idea when there is a revolution? Anger is buried all over the European project, in some places better suppressed than others, perhaps even because of a policy of integration on the part of authorities with political foresight about the order of the world and how it can perhaps be made a better place for at least some people. But people are asking one another to identify one another as friend or foe.
Everywhere people are again politicizing in the name of a new shift of paradigms (Kuhn) that will forecast more killing to come, which unfortunately could be something as powerfully retroactive as religion. Nations are afraid of the other, of the foreigner, of the tourist, for it is the cover of interlopers and trespassers on ideas of nation and national. People are afraid of being unable to distinguish their neighbors. They ask for everyone to receive an ID card that is his or her pass to movement. It contains a print of an eye, a hand, a reading of germ DNA, names and numbers and race and teeth prints and x-rays and medical and credit and penal record, even though race (credit) is only an arbitrary vocabulary and genes (moneys) are what tell the story. This is astutely used as the scientific basis for extinguishing others, be they blood- or sap-worshippers. Some combinations are not accepted by reason of thinking too much or working too hard or having been tortured too unpleasantly or having been indexed as undesirable. The result of such mixing can be as equally horrifying as Genghis Khan or as pleasing as Queen Semiramis, for ten percent this, and twenty percent that and a dash of this and that (the human genome) can turn out as badly as a clone of the Orishas or as an silhouette of Zanubia. Why is it? Why must humans always find an enemy when the only enemy is themselves? Why must they compete rather than share?
Limited resources an expert might say.
However, this is only one version of the evidence. The writer flips through a book that argues very convincingly that nineteenth century imperialist explorers and writers laid the ground for the Holocaust in Europe, if not war everywhere to come. There was Stanley proselytizing in the jungle. He was followed men like Burton and Darwin and Kitchener. This verdict is passed by astute cultural critics like Joseph Conrad who critiqued King Leopold’s policy in the Congo in “Outpost of Progress” (and of course HofD) (though Conrad was also guilty of being a man of his times rather than a man ahead of his times). Certainly, it was (social) science that pushed the race agenda. Now it has ambivalently been modified by the likes of Levi-Strauss and Malinowski and their new protégés preserving their observation of what is left of primitive man. Ernst Junger, a dangerous man of letters one might read in order to get an idea of the enemy’s thinking before he notoriously converted to the left after a hit of LSD (actually his political communion was much longer than that) writes: we can transform, but we cannot change. It might mean more tolerance for everyone, if they were to transform, and we to strike the criteria from our judgment of other peoples.
One could also substitute life in the equation for a deeper idea: life can transform, but life cannot change.
Whether or not the maxim is true is an open question.
He also mentions on more than one occasion that he is trying to square the circle, which is a writer’s futile assignment. But in this wild, poor country they are even better at killing one another than in the other, as the old man salutes him from the corner of the table, only now a little bit calmed by his wife and he keeps on railing and hounding and shouting and sniffing on about the plight of his people.
The tall man who was outside pours the writer a few too many schnapps and laughs into his hand at his father-in-law’s ridiculous tirade as everyone sits mutedly and hopes he will relax.
The writer rises and walks around the house and looks at the displays of minerals and rocks the man has collected in his career as a mining engineer. He remembers that the town’s most famous son was an Admiral of Fascism between the two world wars. Later the friendly man who was outside and dared laugh will give the writer five liters of schnapps, the schnapps that he receives as gifts from his patients since he is a doctor and entitled to such rewards and because he is a bit mortified by his father-in-law’s conduct and hopes the writer does not think about what happened too much. In fact, that conversation colors the whole of Easter with its heavy repercussions resonating through the writer’s head as he sits in the sun in the back garden of a house at the end of a village next to a thin brown river prone to flood with cyanide-laced water from the gold mined and processed in the area and that is a tributary of the great brown river that divides the indescribable city in half.
The writer wonders if he is really going to write about a revolution (perhaps the one that started in his mind when he pierced his organs and simultaneously pierced his knowledge with a taste of radical evil, but that’s an old story, like an old piece of jewelry one does not even know is there) that is real and tangible and happening before his very eyes.
“Maybe it’s an illusion,” he says to his girlfriend as she smokes and sips a tea.
The writer turns the leg of lamb on the grill in the garden. He looks at the little weekend house, fitted together in a unique and inventive manner. He pitched in to dig the foundation many years ago, so helplessly and humanely in love with his girlfriend that he thought it a brilliant idea to contribute to the house. His girlfriend’s father handed him a shovel and called the neighbor Vassily so he could too watch the foreigner digging at the earth in a square divided by various rooms to be.
The writer’s back and hands blister with the heavy summer work, but there are advantages each day like two schnapps in the morning and one at eleven and another before lunch and maybe one after and another around six when the sun might abate a touch and then two while dinner is cooking and perhaps just one more with the old neighbor, a wrestler who is eager to have a friend that he understands so much about and vociferously calls over for a toast, the remedy to their discomfort, far from the jabber of the mob.