My Education – Prologue



Recently I had some clicks on my about page. As the informations on this page are sparse, I’ll roam in future posts through the topography of my childhood and adolescence with special consideration of its media-landscapes.
In this one I’ll concentrate on my mother and her interests before I was born, for the simple reason that my father hasn’t been talking too much about the interests he had in his youth.
Both my parents were born and grew up in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which was a republic of Yugoslavia when they were young. If you want to catch some of the charm Zagreb had in that time, see Orson Welles’ The Trial, as a great part of it was shot there.

WHELDON: Why did you shoot so much of the film in Yugoslavia?

WELLES: It seems to me that the story we’re dealing with is said to take place “anywhere”. But of course there is no “anywhere.” When people say that this story can happen anywhere, you must know what part of the globe it really began in. Now Kafka is central European and so to find a middle Europe, some place that had inherited something of the Austro-Hungarian empire to which Kafka reacted, I went to Zagreb. I couldn’t go to Czechoslovakia because his books aren’t even printed there. His writing is still banished there.

WHELDON: Would you have gone to Czechoslovakia, were you able?

WELLES: Yes, I never stopped thinking that we were in Czechoslovakia. As in all of Kafka, it’s supposed to be Czechoslovakia. The last shot was in Zagreb, which has old streets that look very much like Prague. But you see, capturing that flavor of a modern European city, yet with it’s roots in the Austro-Hungarian empire wasn’t the only reason why we shot in Yugoslavia. The other reason was that we had a big industrial fair to shoot in. We used enormous buildings, much bigger than any film studio. There was one scene in the film where we needed to fit fifteen hundred desks into a single building space and there was no film studio in France or Britain that could hold fifteen hundred desks. The big industrial fair grounds that we found in Zagreb made that possible. So we had both that rather sleazy modern, which is a part of the style of the film, and these curious decayed roots that ran right down into the dark heart of the 19th century.


Josef K. in Zagreb

Interestingly, I saw another film which used Zagreb as stand-in for Prague not long ago. Short Night of the Glass Dolls by Aldo Lado, a giallo with a nice atmosphere which you should also check out. My mom has never seen these films, but I remember her talking about the following ones vividly:


My mother was also a voracious reader in her teens by her accounts and her favorite novelists were Hemingway, Tolstoi (the choice of my first name was inspired by War and Peace) and Zane Grey.
Especially the novels of the latter should prove somewhat prophetic in the anticipation of the future role my mother should assume in her marriage and in her life.

Women from the east who preach love, forgiveness and pacifism get hold of violent men from the west in these works. But eventually the women learn to appreciate the glamour of violence and to take advantage of it. They even go so far as to put the guns in the hands of the men or if necessary to use them themselves.
Joe Hembus: Western, Geschichte von 1540 – 1894

This is of course not to be taken literally, but it isn’t symbolic only, either.


Cover for the Italian edition of Riders of the Purple Sage
by Guido Crepax


My mother also had a knack for poetry (Neruda, Lorca and Yesenin). Here she was certainly influenced by one of her Serbocroat teachers, himself a poet, who was a disciple of Tin Ujević  one of the most famous and prolific Croatian writers of the twentieth century. Ujević’s poetry was based on traditional native forms and incorporated various modernist streams like symbolism, expressionism and surrealism. He and his literary fellows who frequented the Kazališni kavana (Theatrical Café) in Zagreb were referred to as the Bohemians.
I also remember an article in the Yugoslavian magazine Politikin zabavnik which I read as a kid about his eidetic memory and his seemingly infinite ability to learn foreign languages (among them the Chinese languages, Japanese and Swahili). Ujević used his talent to translate into Croatian the works of Walt Whitman, Rimbaud and Gabriele D’Annunzio for instance.


Tin Ujević 64

I’m not apt to translate his poetry (at least not into English), but to give you a sample of his work, I’ll present to you the very useful list that he compiled specifying the age that each of the following poets reached respectively.

Chatterton 18
Novalis 19
Lautréamont 23
Georg Heym 25
Keats 26
Lucanus 26
Laforgue 27
Jules Tellier 27
Georg Trakl 27
Hégésippe Moreau 28
Marlowe 29
Gilbert 29
Shelley 30
Yesenin 30
Sidney 32
André Chénier 32
Jarry 33 (34)
Kleist 34
Byron 36
Robert Burns 37
Rimbaud 37
Mayakovsky 38
Apollinaire 38
Klabund 38
Leopardi 39
Juliusz Słowacki 40
Alexander Blok 41
From The Scalpel of Chaos (1938)


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