An Expat in France… Chapter 1: A thin, secret thread

As I’ve already hinted at in the first, that is, chapter zero of a series of pages I named „An Expat in France“ (echoing Sting’s famous song, I guess), the explanation of my writing and the storm of emotions from that chapter will now follow.

So, for those unfamiliar with the state of things, late last year I moved from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I spent all my life, to France. The reason? Of the highest and purest nature: love. After a two and a half years relationship which survived not only the distance, but also the additional separation due to the pandemic, we managed to get married last summer and start our life together only a few months after our simple but joyous ceremony.

While the change for him was of a singular quality (the wedding), in my case three important changes happened that literally change the course of a life: marriage, leaving the home country, and leaving the job I had for more than a decade. A few points or truths that became apparent follow:

  • On the one hand, after such changes, rest is necessary. On the other hand, taking into account my personality type, such rest is deemed as stalling and procrastinating (in short: unacceptable). These two truths managed to coexist one next to the other, and still exist simultaneously in my mind (which is why I wrote chapter zero).
  • Life changes of this kind inevitably affect your identity. While I used to think of myself as an atypical representative of „ljuti Krajišnici“ (freely translated as „Angry Border people“ – the description of the people living in my region of Bosnia and Herzegovina), in a foreign environment latent characteristics tend to swim more easily to the surface. They take the helm especially in situations where you meet people who try to mock your name, origin, or accomplisments, in order to feel superior just because they are from some country or whatever. I made a promise to myself that, in the future, any intentional mispronunciation of my name alone, let alone something else, will result in such an intense verbal burial the person in question did not yet experience in their life. In other words: they will know who “ljuti Krajišnik” is.
  • It’s easier to be a Bosnian outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While you’re in your Bosnia, everything is weighing on you: from political and economic uncertainty, to poverty, to a dead cultural life, outside the primacy is overtaken by prettier characteristics, reminscing about the good things (for example, drinking coffee and tea indefinitely, while the world goes by, fast-paced), natural scenery that take your breath away, the humour of Bosnians and Herzegovinians, and that strange love of our spite that sometimes brings more harm than good to us, but we still hold on to it for dear life – in spite of it all.
  • The pandemic further exascerbated the adjustment to a new environment. The contact with persons of importance (administrative tasks) is long and more difficult. You need to have patience, and that isn’t exactly a trait I have in my repertoire, or, to put it more precisely, I don’t find it easily.

For the end of this first „official“ chapter, I will give voice to my artistic side, and end with a poetic observation (if such a thing does exist). I write about this in detail in a book about us, but in a couple of lines: just as an invisible, red thread, untouched by weather or anything wordly, connected me to him before, spread from my town to his city, from his home to mine, from one heart to another, now another thread has been spread in the same way. This time, from me to my first home and my loved ones. This is how it will be from now on and all I can do is visit them as much as I can. Actually, I write this first chapter „from my house“, while I enjoy the endless tea time with friends and time spent with family. With a refreshed perspective and a constant feeling of great devotion to my husband (whom I miss increasingly more each day), I think the next chapter will be dedicated to all the positive things that greeted me in France. Stay on the line!

An Expat in France… Chapter 0

As it is with every major life change, the main protagonist of that particular life gets thrown into a maelstrom of plans, situations, and challenges that can never be anticipated and prepared for in the fullest. And therein lies the key of fully understanding my current state. As a classic ENTJ-A personality, I lose footing if I don’t have a clear plan that was forged days, weeks or even months before, meticulously drawn out and with its own set of alternatives (B, C, or even all the way to Z). But right now, I’m running on plan 0. All the points are muddled and hazy, and it all feels… unstable. Therefore, I feel like I’m not on stable ground and the plans that I’m trying to set forth are too up in the air for me to be confident in them.

Enough of this wobbly walk. Usually I allow myself half a day of adjusting after an impact of some kind, but in the space of 24 hours I am back on my feet, devising a solution, starting to move and thus breaking the „feeling useless“ stale state. It might sound arrogant even, but I don’t think any situation on the level of seriousness such as mine would warrant dragging your feet for more than a day. Thus, I am declaring an end to this. It is utterly unnatural for my personality and it is also highly unproductive. Literally no use for any of this. Now, I might feel compelled to say that it is the crux of things that it both demands a space for mental readjustment as well as time in general to sort things out in a new country, but the need for structure is greater.

And it’s not like I haven’t had some plans in the past month and a half since coming to France, but these mostly manifested themselves as short-term (for example, for an interesting online conference in the second week of December).  Therefore, it’s time to face the music: 2022 needs to look like an intricate spiderweb of precise dates, tasks and goals. Here’s to reveling in my true nature!

~ Exposition to follow in Chapter 1 ~

Yesterday…

the 23rd anniversary of the U2 show in Sarajevo in 1997. Here’s what I wrote eight years ago for Venia-Mag to commemorate that momentous occasion:

U2 IN BOSNIA – „VIVA SARAJEVO“ – 15 YEARS LATER

Has it really been 15 years since that monumental event, a show, no less, that U2 performed for us on Koševo stadium in Sarajevo, literally minutes after the war ended? Why, yes, yes it has. Full fifteen years. I get shivers down my spine whenever I remember that night. It’s not even the reason that kept me away from writing about this often, it’s the intensity of feelings that overwhelm and threaten to burst through the walls we’ve all built to get through the war, years later – but I owe it to my country to write about this incredible night again and again, and I owe it to U2 and all their fans here to show them just how much it meant – this one, single display of humanity, of music. So, here I go, and don’t hold it against me if I get lost in thoughts, haunted by the slow melody of „Miss Sarajevo“.
I was 14 back then, just fresh out of elementary school and weeks into gymnasium, unaware of how high school and life was supposed to look like, because nothing looked normal then. War-town country, war-torn childhood, people who used to walk before, now on their crutches, others dead, pavements chopped up by grenades, empty homes looking like Swiss cheese from all the holes in them, everything as in a nightmare – slowly emerging from one that lasted for four years. One of the few nice moments I treasure from that time is that of an autumn morning on the town square, decorated with a simple poster announcing the U2 concert in Sarajevo, on September 23rd, 1997. This image is so vivid in my mind – simple yellow letters on a black background, glued on a piece of carton. Announcing what was to be one of the most significant music experiences in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, U2, the world.
Have I also mentioned that U2 was my favourite band back then? That was love that went way back (1989), but that’s a different story. For now, it will suffice to say that I was among the first ones to buy the ticket in our post office (where else? nothing else worked), and couldn’t wait for the day to come. I remember traveling on a bus full of my school mates, professors, all excited and cheerful, whispering when we were crossing the dreaded part of the territory still occupied by Serbian chetniks, the whole bus in total darkness, because we were less visible for possible snipers. No one didn’t even think about this danger, really, because everyone just couldn’t wait to get to Sarajevo. I remember us arriving near the Town Hall (Vijećnica) – before the place where millions of books found their home, now a burnt shell of its former self, standing sadly over the river Miljacka. I remember us walking to the Koševo stadium, thousands of still fresh graves following us silently on the left side, because people didn’t have place anymore to bury their loved ones.
When we arrived at the venue, I separated from the others in my group, because I was the only one with the field ticket, while others had the stands – but that didn’t cause my concern, since the only place for me was right in front of the PopMart stage. I was 14, this was my first show ever, and of my favourite band, I was free and felt that live concert thrill my peers around the world took for granted – I’d go to the moon if need be! I even bought my first band T-shirt right then – a nice, although 5 sizes too big PopMart classic – a merchandise item I still have with me today. I even vaguely remember some of the „concert-buddies“ I met that night, ordinary young people who were around me – especially a very nice guy who let me copy his stamp to get to the „fanpit“ (mind you, at first I didn’t even know why they secluded an area right next to the stage – the whole concept of that was new to me, but sure as hell, I was in there).
And then – the show. Fifteen years have passed from that night, and I can still remember how the stage looked like – which doesn’t say much about my memory, since it was truly unforgettable, from the lemon to the toothpick and the giant LCD display. But more than that, I remember the feeling of that show. Whoever says music cannot change the world hasn’t been there in Sarajevo, when everything seemed to finally be great, when we finally rejoiced the loud noise of guitars, instead of bombs, when we saw one of the best bands in the world dedicate a night solely to us. The fans – all 45,000 of us – got more than just great songs played live, we got a night like any other fan in Italy, USA, England, Germany or elsewhere enjoyed, but even more than that – man, we finally got the feeling of BEING ALRIGHT. Of peace. Of safety. Of joy. Of excitement. On top of that, U2 spiced up the show with so many memorable performances and guests (Brian Eno on „Miss Sarajevo“, for example), that it was all a big bundle of vivid moments almost impossible to take all in in one night. Did you know that Bono first coined the slogan for 360° tour right there, when he shouted „Viva Sarajevo“! Fuck the past, kiss the future!“? We sang for Bono when he lost his voice and couldn’t sing anymore, we greeted loudly the new tracks, even though we didn’t know them well, we laughed, we jumped, we sang. From „MoFo“ to „One“. And when Bono came right in front of me to sing „Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me“ (you guess right – my fave track back then), I couldn’t wish for anything else. I was happy beyond words and forever infected by that concert-goer bug.
When the show ended, did these feelings also end for us? Did we kiss the future, but not strongly enough? I am tempted to say yes. Fifteen years later, we’re still in a torn country, only this time politically – and the world still doesn’t seem to care less about us. Poverty is abundant, holes still gape from the faces of ruined homes, people were in an EU-prison less than two years ago, when they were not able to travel anywhere without a visa on their blue passports. No one else visited Bosnia after the war, except some DJs and washed-up rockers. Music (good one, that is), is scarce, and that feeling of happiness it’s supposed to provoke is even scarcer. Even the media kept dwelling around the negative things, since there were so many, I guess. On one September 23rd, several years after the concert (was it 2? 5? I can’t recall), I was watching the primetime news, fully expecting to see a piece on this show, instead being utterly disappointed – they forgot about it! Or, more likely, they were oblivious of the importance of this show! Whatever it was, it was also one of the reasons why I went on to study journalism and create something significant, aware of my surroundings, but even more aware of the impact of art on the world.
However, whenever I’m tempted to go down that nihilistic road, I am reminded of everything good that happened since 1997. This night was not only a highlight for Bosnia – it was a highlight for U2 as well. Larry Mullen, Jr. said: “[t]here’s no doubt that that is an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. And if I had to spend 20 years in the band just to play that show, […] I think it would have been worthwhile.“ Bono and the rest of the gang were also emotional about the night, often mentioning it in their interviews. U2, especially Bono, went on to visit Bosnia after the concert, and that spiritual connection between us is alive even today, among us also present at the two unforgettable nights in Zagreb in 2009, holding signs with „Sarajevo“ and „BiH“ on it (for more on that, check our my review of the two shows). Even some media remembered the event and honoured its 15th anniversary, such as Radio Sarajevo and various net portals. Sarajevo Film Festival is one of the bright lights emanating from this country to the world, we’re not on the black list anymore, able to travel across European countries, tourism and everything else is slowly back on track. All that and more only with the help of people like Bill Carter (a humanitarian worker who made U2 aware of the suffering here, back in 1993), U2 themselves and others willing to help us get back on that road everyone else is traveling. Let it be known – not a single politician today has done more even after four years of „service“ (better say, disservice) for the Bosnian people than U2 have done in that one night – few hours, really. This is the ultimate truth, and one that needs to be told in the future too. Four simple guys who brought peace with one voice, two guitars and a drum.
Now, fifteen years later, we all still carry our war scars, some outside, some inside, but „…only love can heal such a scar…“ Love and music. Thank you once more, Bono, Larry, Adam and Edge, for this unforgettable night. You said it was a gift from us to you, but it was also vice versa. We will never forget our U2 PoPMart gift on September 23rd, 1997.
To all the readers, please, take a moment, watch these videos and remember Sarajevo, remember Foča, remember Srebrenica, remember Bosnia – remember Vukovar, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, remember Croatia. Never forget. Kiss the future!
By: Ilhana Škrgić
(videos and the article appearing on www.Venia-Mag.net)

PhD Thesis Defense Impressions

Exactly six months ago (on October 25, 2017), I successfully defended my PhD thesis titled “Monomodal and Multimodal metaphor and Metonymy in the Art of H.R. Giger” in front of the PhD committee, my professor and supervisor Mario Brdar, and my family, friends, and students at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Osijek, Croatia. The whole thing felt appropriately surreal and magical, and unlike anything else so far in my life – this is it, the final step! My dream and what feels like a culmination of my academic interest and personal love came true. I owe eternal gratitude to my dear supervisor, professors in the committee and everyone who supported my PhD journey. In two days I’ll have my promotion and I’m pretty excited – the announcement, the throwing of hats (at least I think we’ll throw them)! I hope another two years don’t pass till my next post, though. =)

A few visual impressions from the defense and afterwards (the defense, with my supervisor, chilling with my professors and family at a nice café in Osijek – I had a smoothie, of course):

Goosebumps in Ljubljana: Kurja Polt Genre Film Festival 2016

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As with all the places that connect me with special people and H.R. Giger, I think I left a piece of my heart in Ljubljana. Reason to visit: Kurja Polt Genre Film Festival, where I had the utmost pleasure and honour to give a lecture on his art through a cognitive-linguistic lens, thus contributing to the homage to H.R. Giger on the second day of the festival, April 14.

plakat_FINAL_KP20161-726x1024How did it all came to be? Marco Witzig, curator and Giger collector (and my dear friend who has helped me tremendously with the corpus for my PhD thesis) put me in touch with the festival organizers in order to do something regarding their homage to H.R. Giger (which included the screening of the „Dark Star“ documentary, short films and music videos). In a matter of hours and some email exchange later – it was all set: I was to present a lecture under the title „H.R. Giger Alienscapes: The Secret Language of Biomechanics“, which is derived from my research so far. Suffice to say – I couldn’t sleep that night from the excitement!
Kurja Polt festival (appropriately named „Goosebumps“ in Slovenian) is run by some of the most talented and interesting people I ever had the opportunity to meet, spearheaded by the incredible Maša Peče (pictured above with me). From the first email, to our encounter on the day of the homage, to our parting (for now), there was a great amount of energy between us – two horror film enthusiasts and art lovers – that we basically hit it off from the get-go, and I cannot wait to see this fantastic lady again.

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Also, the rest of the Kurja Polt gang: Neža, Nika, Ondra, Kaja, Varja, Matevž from Kraken Short Film Festival, and all the others I’ve met (their professionalism and hospitality knows no boundaries), including other festival guests (Francois, Dolly and Bernd), made this an unforgettable experience in the alluring darkness of Kinoteka and Kinodvor cinemas.

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Yes, we went on a boat ride, too! Also, we were treated with great lunches, a ride with the funicular to the Ljubljana castle, along with many interesting activities in and around the venues. For example, after the screening of the Indian blockbuster „Baahubali: The Beginning“, the foyer of Kinodvor was filled with Indian-style snacks (including mushrooms with curry, mmm!); after the H.R. Giger day, Kinoteka was decorated with crushed ice fog (à la Debbie Harry’sNow I Know You Know“) and sangria; before the midnight screening of „I Spit On Your Grave“, encouragement in the form of whiskey shots was served at the entrance.
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As for my lecture, I was incredibly happy and honoured to have so many people in the audience, considering that it was mostly from an academic point of view and that it wasn’t so interactive. After the lecture, I had many visitors coming to me and complimenting me for the insight into the visual metaphors and metonymies in Giger’s art (including a colleague who is doing a Master’s thesis in linguistics at the moment), and I even had a pleasant conversation with students (I believe from performing arts, who were doing a workshop in film criticism) and their professor, on the allure of Giger’s creations.
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My dear friend Claudia was also there with me, making this a complete travel! We had such fun with this trailer (and kept quoting things like „Why haven’t you checked the children?“, or „Oh, really? Did she like it?“) throughout the festival and later as well:

My love for „Suspiria“ was ignited again after finally seeing the film in all its glory on the silver screen (and the soundtrack is a masterpiece which I must own on vinyl too), and we discovered some gems like „La Morte Vivante“ and the original „When A Stranger Calls“.
Kurja Polt Genre Film Festival is a horror film fan’s dream come true, and next year this fantastic event will probably see me as a visitor. Ljubljana is a lovely city, filled with vegan restaurants and friendly people, that I simply cannot wait for April 2017 to come and to see what Maša & Co. have in store for the next edition.
Thank you, Kurja Polt!
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www.kurjapolt.org
Photos courtesy of Matjaž Rušt/Kurja Polt