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Ticket to Fiction

Art & War in Belgrade


It is the summer of 1989, and three of us are standing on the promenade in Split, one of the biggest seaports in Croatia. Zvone is editor-in-chief of Omladinska iskra, an alternative pan-Yugoslav magazine with an excellent reputation. He is also a first-class rock photographer and our friend. The magazine offices are in the penthouse of an old building and he has invited us to stay there as long as we wish. In return, we’re to do an article on Split, the way the two inland guys see it. The way we saw it was—we loved it, but thought that Split needed more laughter, more subversion. The city was too serious. So we decided to pose nude in the heart of the city’s tourist area, five meters from some expensive restaurants and a few steps from the sea.

Right now while we smoke, Zvone is doing something like push-ups on the pavement.

“Don’t even think of taking the business into your hands here,” says Zvone, “they will arrest us. What am I saying—they will arrest us anyway.”

Stefan Lupino is a big European photographic name of the time and he does push-ups always before he starts a session. The parody is obvious: Lupino is a body builder, Zvone is tall and thin. Lupino has this dark look of a Balkan man, Zvone is blond. Lupino’s models are these gorgeous Paris women, Mica the Turk and I are two skinny Serbian guys.

“Look, Zvopino,” says Turk, “I want my thing to look awesome in the picture. My grandchildren will see it one day and I don’t want them to think that I was a schmuck. No, my shmok has to look like a shmok, but not me. Got it?” “Don’t even think of taking the business into your hands here,” says Zvone, “they will arrest us. What am I saying—they will arrest us anyway.”

“Correction: they will arrest you—we have train tickets for tonight, remember?” says Turk. Here we are, discovering that it’s not so easy to be nude models, especially on the street. In the meantime, attracted by Zvone’s athletics, kids start gathering around. “This is not good,” says Turk. “You better call some of your girlfriends, Zvopino, and get rid of these children.” The children leave, but the parents gather, dangerously close. Zvone says, “It’s now or never,” we take our trunks off and he clicks several times. While getting dressed again, we can hear the mumble of disapproval from the crowd around us.

Later that evening we leave Split. I have a week of my holiday left, so I don’t go back to Belgrade to my job as an editor of Rock! magazine until later, but when I come back to work, the editorial secretary has already hung my nude posters all over the place. Colleagues cheer loudly when I appear and gather around one of the posters, pretending to analyse the art.

“You look, well, not quite respectable, if you know what I mean,” says one.

“That’s because the Croats have these special photo-filters to make us Serbs look smaller, I’ve heard about it,” says another one.

“But you showed your dick to the Croats, and that’s what counts,” somebody commends me.

I join the cheerful laughter, but I can’t get rid of this feeling in my stomach that something is wrong. I’ve had it for more than a week now. Because two days before we left Split, Turk and I met this beautiful girl on a lonely stretch of path by the coast and invited her for a drink. She turned around and looked carefully to make sure no one was watching before she said: “Guys, I’d gladly go, but I must not be seen with you, understand?”

“Why?” I was confused. “Because we’re tourists?”

“No, because you are Serbs.”

It turned out to be my last visit to Split.


[Excerpt. Published in "To Arrive Where You Are", Banff Press 2000]
© 1998 Dragan Todorovic, All rights reserved.
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