Apr 14, 2013
Balkan Ghosts: A Lost Gay World
1. My Village in Yugoslavia (1957), one of the Sonia and Tim Village Books, about a shepherd boy named Marco, from the mountains of Macedonia, who had muscles and hugged his best buddy with joyful abandon.
2. A Cold War tv commercial displayed a boy with a rusty iron cage around his head, while the narrator intoned a list of countries enslaved by evil: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and finally Yugoslavia! I ignored the message to concentrate on the enslaved boy, his dreamy angelic face and the promise of a muscular physique.
4. A Serbian story about a boy named Biberice, who remains very small while his peers grow big, but when his village needs him, develops superhuman strength (picture is from a Serbian comic book).
5. One summer at a music festival at a small Lutheran college in Iowa, I came across a book of Serbo-Croatian poems in English translation. One depicted the ache of desire the poet felt as he accidentally watched a beautiful youth, or maybe a nature spirit, swimming at night, his body glowing in the moonlight. I never found the book again, and I don't remember the poet's name.
This was before I moved to West Hollywood and dated the insanely jealous Bulgarian bodybuilder, before discussions of Bosnia and Kosovo became commonplace, before we learned of the war and terrorism and genocide, and the staunch homophobia of the Balkan governments. When boys with muscles could still hug their best friends, and poets could still write about the ache of same-sex desire.