My maternal grandfather was a partisan, he died in battle on Syrmian Front, leaving behind his twenty eight years old widow and their two daughters, both toddlers at the time.
Having won the National Liberation War – in Yugoslavia the WWII turned out to be both antifascist movement and proletarian revolution – the partisans who survived overtook the power and relocated from their respective villages to the capital, Belgrade.
Yet there, more dangerous enemy expected them – the ambushing force of Heroin, the white plague, which took advantage of uninformed concealment to attack their children in the urban jungle.
Why and how exactly a society built on communist values had developed a bizarre fascination with nihilistic heroin culture – is everyone’s guess.
Who knows, maybe adopting that skinny, hung over look with vampire-like pale skin and dark circles under eyes was just a teenage way to rebel against the parental aesthetic values – those of a healthy, sturdy and sun-tanned villagers.
And like in Alan Ginsberg’s poem, we saw:
“… the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…”
For that heroin chick look wasn’t stimulated, the white plague was ravening the society.
I believe that with time heroin had become some kind of illusionary opt-out of the predominant semi-urban culture, stuck half way between the village and the city – the escape from folk music and small-town mentality which could not grow roots in the city.
The thing is that there wasn’t much alternative – God was in exile and Western culture mostly didn’t sit well with the ruling ideology.
The socialist youth grew increasingly disinterested in partisan movies and in socialist-realism all together with it’s proletarian appeal and support of Party’s aims, yet more proactive protests seemed to be in vain…
In 1968 students’ protests erupted in Belgrade, the police beat them and banned all public gatherings. Students then occupied the Faculty of Philosophy, were holding debates and speeches on the social justice.
President Tito had applied one of his sly tactics to gradually stop the protests – seemingly he gave in saying that “students are right” during a televised speech, yet in the following years he sacked the leaders of the protests from universities and party posts. The borders were opened and many had left the country then – the most creative ones, like Marina Abramovic and also, both the most educated and the hardest working ones had sought better future abroad. Those who stayed, unless with time they too succumbed to the ruling hypocrisy, tried to find the middle way in arts and there heroin was laying in wait.
You would have learned that cult musicians, whose eyes gazed at you unblinkingly from the posters glued to the wall in your room, were on dope and you would think to yourself that it must be a really cool thing to do.
Of course, in the ivory tower of my Prague’s home, heroin will remain out of reach – and thanks goodness for that; yet, i could read on it and that’s exactly what i did.
Christiane F. – the teen heroin addicted prostitute from the book “We Children from Bahnhof Zoo”, living in a dreary West Berlin’s neighborhood and hanging out at a rail station – shall become my unlikely teen idol.
Truth to be told, she was merely one of the many “fallen women” characters for whom i would develop quite an odd admiration at young age. Anna Karenina and her French counterpart – Madam Bovary, living with their dull husbands in petit bourgeoisie surroundings did not appeal to me, albeit i strongly empathized with them; i wasn’t drawn to tragic Marguerite Gautier, the lady of the Camellias, albeit i did feel sorry for her being a child of Alexandre Dumas who couldn’t come up with some better ending. It was Abbé Prévost’s adventurous gold-digger Manon Leascaut followed by tauntingly beautiful, endlessly neurotic and self-destructive Dostoyevski’s famm fatale- Nasstasya Filippovna, who oddly struck a chord with me. The latter shall remain the book-love of my teeange life, interrupted only by a brief book-romance with Vladimir Kunin’s “Interdevochka” – the hard currency hooker, Tanya.
Did author, whose Jewish surname was Feinberg before he changed it to Kunin, named his heroine after Pushkin’s noble Tatyana, showing tongue in cheek to Soviets who claimed there wasn’t prostitution in their homeland – is everyone’s guess as well.
Anyhow, all of those ‘gals got harshly dealt with by authors who created them – brought to sudden death, or a slow one, or committing suicide – their ‘fathers’ didn’t know what else to do with their renegade daughters, as much as they seemed to both love and hate them.
It’s only much later that reincarnated fallen woman will make it – as a geisha – and she will recall it in her fictional memoirs; it would take a Mandarin-speaking American Jew, Arthur Golden, ten years of rewriting the novel to finally redeem her poor old soul by the end of twentieth century. And albeit wrapped in satin kimono once first geisha of Japan, Mineko Iwasaki, would sue Golden for the breach of trust and denounce his depiction of geiko community – the book nerds of the world will feel so relieved by the raise of a fallen woman that the novel will be on New York Times best – seller list for two years and the film version will win three Academy Awards.
to be continued
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