Once upon a time there was Alice in Wonderland. Then there was the film, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Departures are in fashion. Seldom does anyone who is leaving speak much about it; some of them say nothing at all. Because it’s hard on them and because, if they spoke about it, perhaps they wouldn’t go. Whatever the case, you reach out to your doctor, or a friend, or a colleague from work, and you hear that “Alice doesn’t live here anymore.” “Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?” (Shakespeare, Hamlet). But almost everyone knows exactly what they are leaving – nothing more or less than their country. And you don’t know whether to say “Till we meet again” or “Farewell.” If you manage to get a call through to someone from the other cities or states on “our territory” or “this territory,” as Yugoslavia is now called, the usual “See you later” turns into “We’ll talk again soon” or “Write me!” Occasionally the phrase “See you…” crosses peoples lips but then they come to their senses and say “Talk to you later.” And so it goes. What remains are epistolary forms of address, as in the last century. Maybe horses and pigeons will start carrying our mail again, too.
At the Belgrade airport, things somehow have an empty, holiday feel, poor and quiet. People move quickly, functionally, getting something done. There’s no conversation prior to departure, no one laughs, and there’s none of that joy about how nice it will be to get there and talk about everything when you get back, and maybe bring some gifts. Somehow everything seems last-minute, urgent, with no standing around, no pre-flight drink, without any of the leisureliness of a trip abroad. Our departures have become our separations. The “exit” sign burns in one’s mind and then it’s straight through to the plane, to depart for wherever, without popping into the duty-free shop.
But then, and only at night, tears do run down the faces of the people there and of you all here, and they run across the regions, cities, roads in “this territory of ours.”
And, well, since pretty much everyone has condemned the November 29th celebrations as the holiday of the “prison of nations,” we’re gradually moving towards the New Year’s festivities, towards 1992; and it’s snowing, though “the snow doesn’t fall to cover the hills, but rather so that every beast may leave a trail” (across “our territory”).
December 9, 1991
From the book Moda / Fashion, Beogradski krug / Belgrade Circle 1994
Translated by John K. Cox