- Jasmina Mihajlović
- The Paris Kiss a book
- translated by Dragana Rajkov
- insert -
I’m mostly an optimistic person. Those around me say I radiate positive energy. My husband, on the other hand, keeps telling me I’m a chronically dissatisfied character who always sees only the empty half of the glass, overlooking the other, full half. And he adds that I’m a harbinger of evil.
No, I’m not. I just see the future. From three chance fragments I can piece together the image of the world for at least, hmm… ten to a hundred years to come. It’s some kind of devil’s gift of mine. My own future I, naturally, cannot see. Who can?
I see the future most frequently when I travel. That’s logical. I break free from everyday life which clouds the horizon now because it’s too fast, not because it’s stale. As soon as the plane rolls out onto the runway I receive its energy, it seems I could take it through to the heights myself, and throat dry with the pleasant anticipation I await the moment of lifting off from Earth. Take off!
“Now we’re carefree, tender and light…”, at that moment I always feel the sparkle of these verses by Crnjanski.
And in the heights of thinned air and dizzily low temperatures I immediately begin to see. Things I should and things I shouldn’t. My mind almost compulsively scans the layers of reality deciphering them hastily. In November of 2006 my hormonal and mental state was obviously pessimistic because all I saw was black. You could almost say I’d taken on the status of a thoroughbred Serb who always inevitably looks upon matters with a negative sign. I couldn’t say why… !?
I was traveling to Paris. For the twentieth time, probably. We go there in our marital duet at least once a year. I lived in that city for a while. Grew to love it immensely. France and Paris were like an alternative, spiritual homeland to me. But then I grew sick of it. And Belgrade, too. Or maybe I grew old. I really couldn’t say why… !?
We probably live in a time when the digital era is replacing the analogue and that baseline third-millennium transition creates a world so different than the one before that the revolution could easily be equated with the classification of time into before and after Christ. This is the newest era! Digital practically and metaphorically, mobile rather than stable, swift, nervous, new age gladiator-like ruthless, confusedly disturbed (like all of us in it), with huge strokes… It cancels out yesterday and tomorrow, enthroning “now” into the inviolable moment of sole existence. No corner of the earth is immune to the super-new era. There are no places inoculated against the now any more. N o n e, my dears, and that’s a fact we have to face. You can live in an impoverished borderline country at the end of the world, but the end of the world and borderline regions are no more. The Earth is round, satellites are above us, wireless waves seep throughout, and all you can do is complain to Mr. Nikola Tesla for being a visionary and founder of a wireless all-pervasive world.
Now to get back to that airplane from which you can see everything as if on the palm of your hand. Equally so at night as during the day. If the weather is clear, of course. Although, now that I think about it, I don’t have to sit by the window and the sky beneath me can be webbed by the fluffy pillows of the clouds, I can tell from the sloshing of the drink in my glass that we’re flying over the Alps. That magical synergy of mountaintops and the surface of my glass always brings on a sensory geographical tremor.
Today, in this age of all kinds of swift communication, the once luxurious travel by air has become a humiliating state of affairs. Both physically and spiritually. The world has already begun to consist of bans, and flying by plane…! Every passenger is a potential terrorist, an amateur practitioner of the art of dropping bombs in all shapes and forms. In short, suspicious. The era in which innocence has to be proven, instead of guilt, as my husband once said, can best be seen through airport rules. The matter has almost reached an absurd peak with the frantic searches for explosive liquids. No longer do metal detection gates, the removal of sharp objects (like nail files) from personal baggage, taking off shoes, belts and clothes suffice, now water has become a decidedly hazardous matter. Before a one-hour flight, they search you for two. At least! And that costs the most. Compare the price of airport dues to the price of a plane ticket and you’ll see how much the searches amount to. For a long time I saw this noose inevitably tightening around the passengers’ necks as a point in favor of my own safety until the tare exceeded the measure. Now I remind myself, as I cross the virtual airport border, of a patient at a surgery: barefoot, with bluish bags on my feet, holding a sachet with 100 ml bottles in my hand, and the sachet, so help me God, looks like the plastic bag of a patient with a catheter! The next step in air traffic can only be post-civilization nude boarding with a previous examination of bodily fluids.
What is the world protecting itself from with these multiplied limitations and bans? Itself!?
In the airplane they gave us, scout-like, hygienically wrapped sandwiches. Our national air company is generous even! In the former Swissair, the most powerful air travel company until just yesterday, sandwiches and water are charged for. That’s just the way things are, the rules of the new era proclaim: take as much as you can as quickly as you can, and give as little as you can – for more money.
I forgot to note that the plane was two hours late at the Belgrade airport due to fog at the airport in Paris. They herded us like cattle into a freezing glass box (sweltering in the summer) and then informed us that the flight was delayed, not letting anybody out of the waiting room that resembled socialist healthcare centers at six o’clock in the morning. (Then may someone tell me they had a lovely time on their trip.)
The plane landed around noon at the Paris airport shrouded in incredible fog. I laughed at myself to myself for believing in the typical Serbian manner that the information about the fog was a harsh deceit, a misty lie, a cunning anglo-gay-mason-Vatican plot.
These past years we’ve always stayed at the Normandie hotel in Paris, pentagonal room 407, with a view of the Louvre the façade of which is still glazed by filth and time. The hotel, though at a convenient spot, has the French bungled, dubious four stars. Meaning the “to deceive vulgarity” defiantly gaudy hall from digital times and analogue old-fashioned, typically French-style rooms.
The always otherwise, not with guests, occupied receptionists handed out the usual registration form. In the new era you no longer identify yourself by your passport number but by the number of your credit card, and the relatively stable address of residence has been replaced by the virtually mobile e-mail address. Only the signature has remained a relevant fact. For now. Until biometrical pupil scans are introduced everywhere as the sole ontological proof of existence.
Beside the reception area in a sparkling glass case the status symbols of the hotel were displayed on possible sale: a bathrobe with a golden monogram (none in the room), a monogrammed umbrella (also nonexistent in practice), a bathroom basket of bottles for facial and body care (the shower gel and shampoo couldn’t be opened except with pliers, so I washed my hair later on with a promotional shampoo from a Belgrade magazine, since it’s the only kind you can carry in female personal airplane luggage).
As soon as we entered the room I noticed a change. The Arabian maids has parted the beds slightly and turned the typical French bed, that erotic throne, into single sexually correct oriental beds. Lord, those people in France demonstrate for such good reason! Although when I think about it, both these and those demonstrate alike. These against those, and those against these. Reversibly synergic. Almost harmonious.
I pushed the cross-eyed beds together and the Parisian idyll could now begin.
First I glanced over the familiar windows of the surrounding buildings. The very centers of all megalopolises in the world are no longer lived in. They are only worked in. They were working here as well. In the building across the street I could see two mulatto men of undefined origin sewing leather jackets. A third was ironing fabrics. In the adjacent room, the manager, a Frenchman, sat at a tiny table and looked in on the workers from time to time. Hmm… Through the window of the Pera Palace hotel in Constantinople I watched men baking tirelessly all day long. Here they spent the day sewing. The only difference was that in Turkey Turks kneaded Turkish dough, and in France everybody sewed but the French. What was identical was that in both cities men were doing what used to be women’s jobs. The conclusion is relentless: the gender multicultural multi-religious transitional third millennium – was taking effect.
I rushed out into the street as soon as I could. Visits to large cities are an expensive tourist affair. You have to squeeze time almost to the bursting point if you want to get the appropriate spiritual and material equivalent of all that money spent. The spiritual value is measured in experiences, the material – in shopping and food. Although when it comes to women the material equivalent of shopping has its spiritual value. With men – of food.
Not far from the hotel is the Carrousel du Louvre, an avenue of fashionable underground shops, the grave of Mary Magdalene, the wife of Christ (according to Dan Brown) and one of the official underground entrances to the Louvre. The other is through the famous glass pyramid, but you also have to descend below ground. The Louvre cannot be entered from ground level.
Visiting the large museums of the world has horrified me for a long time. The procedure of entering is much like that of entering a plane. Why put myself through the hassle? I lose so much energy on all those ramps, checkpoints, security gates, wardrobes, audio-guides, explanations on how to use the ticket-vending machines (which usually don’t work), that the tour of the museum becomes torture of tortures. I glare in foggy exhaustion at the forcibly joined rows of pictures or sculptures or whatever and ask myself groggily what I’m doing there at all. It’s even worse if you have a guide. He either drags you nervously from exhibit to exhibit blurting out his instant tourist tale at the speed of light, or holds a university-style deadly boring pedantic lecture on the gaze of the person in the painting. Then I usually stare out the museum windows (if it has any) at the inner yards, the street (better option), other visitors. Besides, I’m generally sick of history, the past, tales that were. History has become so prolific that it can’t be borne mentally any more. Carpe diem, seize the day, live for now. Neither yesterday not tomorrow are today. And I’m me only in the present.
I’ve firmly resolved not to go to the art warehouses, museums, galleries this time, I won’t be enthralled by street performers, or see the boulevards, shop windows, supermarkets, mega-stores, boutiques, bistros, restaurants, facades, people’s behavior, as modern mobile codes of the present and the future. I’ll just shop, shop, shop…
I’ve long since mastered the technique of shopping in Paris and the whole of France. I must be one of the rare Serbian women with a PhD in shopping in Grenoble! And I get along very well in Nice, Cannes, Lion, Avignon, Ex le Ban, Ensi, Honfleur, in Haute Savoye, Normandy, even in the French countryside, a la campagne… We lived and managed all alone, my husband and I, a small chateau in the En region. Covered the length and breadth of the terrifying French highways in various makes of cars. Rode in two-story trains with glass domes, local milk trains, TGV fast trains that force the passengers into their seats as if on plane. For more than a decade we had an apartment in Marais, the third arondisment of Paris, a neighborhood still architecturally veiled in the Middle Ages.
But it was different before the digital era…
New eras never begin with a zero as a temporal fact. They begin slightly before, or slightly after. New eras don’t begin with hundreds, but with thousands. New eras begin globally as much as individually. For some people new eras never begin. For most they begin after they’ve already taken place. For me the third millennium began in 2006. Maybe even that very November in Paris.