My friend and co-author Zarko Radakovic has just finished a new translation into Serbo-Croatian of Peter Handke’s book of short essays written while traveling in the former Yugoslavia, France, and Japan. The book, Once again for Thukydides, was published in 1990 by Residenz Verlag, republished with five new essay, and then published again by dtv with an additional essay.
In 1990 Yugoslavia was still a republic comprised of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Because of economic collapse and viciously divisive nationalist leaders (Izetbegovic, Milosevic, Tudjman), Yugoslav unity symbolized by the “Highway of Unity and Brotherhood” between Zagreb and Belgrade was under attack. Handke wrote the Thucydides essays as part of his work to preserve the multicultural land of the southern Slavs (Yugoslavia). The ensuing decade saw brutal civil wars that produced the independent states existing today.
Zarko and I traveled together in Yugoslavia before the wars and then in Serbia and Bosnia with Peter Handke between the wars. Our books Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary are records of those travels.
I translated five of the essays, one of which seems especially topical today in a United States falling into disunion. What power there is in difference, Handke’s discourse on hats proclaims.
Head Coverings in Skopje
by Peter Handke
A possible minor epic: of the various head coverings of the passersby in large cities, as, for example, in Skopje in Macedonia/Yugoslavia on December 10, 1987. There were even, right in the metropolis, those “Passe-Montagne”or mountain-climbing caps, covering the nose below and the forehead above and leaving only the eyes uncovered, and among them the bicycle-cart drivers with black little Moslem caps glued to their skulls, while next to them at the edge of the street an old man said goodby to his daughter or niece from Titograd/Montenegro or Vipava/Slovenia, multiple steep gables in his hood, an Islamic window and capital ornament (his daughter or niece cried). It was snowing in southernmost Yugoslavia and thawing at the same time. And then a man passed by with a white, crocheted forage cap shot through with oriental patterns under the dripping snow, followed by a blond girl with a thick bright stocking cap (topped by a tassel), followed immediately by a bespectacled man with a beret, a dark blue stem on top, followed by the beret of a long-legged soldier and by a pair of peaked police caps with concave surfaces. A man walked past then with a fur cap, earlaps turned up, in the midst of swarms of women wearing black cloths over their heads. After that a man with a checked fez — slung over his ear, in magpie black and white, Parzival’s half-brother, piebald Feirefiz. His companion carried a leather-and-fur cap, and after them came a child with a black-and-white ear band. The child was followed by a man with a salt-and-pepper hat, a black-market magnate suavely making his way along the Macedonian bazaar street in the slushy snow. The troop of soldiers then, with the Tito-star on the prows of their caps. After them a man with a brown-wool Tyrolean hat, front brim turned down, the back brim turned straight up, a silver badge on the side. A little girl hopping by with a bright deerskin hood, lined. A man with a whitish-gray shepherd’s hat wound by a red band. A fat woman with a linen-white cook’s scarf, fringed in the back. A young man with a multi-layered leather cap, each layer a different color. A man pushed a cart and had a plastic cap over his ears, his chin wrapped in a Palestinian scarf. One man walked along then with a rose-patterned cap, and gradually even the bareheaded passersby seemed to be equipped with head coverings — hair itself a covering. Child, carried, with a night cap, intersected by woman with slanted, broadly sweeping movie hat: there was no keeping up with the variety. A beauty in glasses walked past with a pale violet Borsalino hat and sauntered around the corner, followed by a very small woman with a towering cable-knit hat she had knitted herself, followed by an infant with a sombrero on its still open fontanel, carried by a girl with an oversized beret made in Hongkong. A boy with a shawl around his neck and ears. An older boy with skier’s earmuffs, logo TRICOT. And so on. That beautiful And so on. That beautiful And so on.