Date: 13th November 2014
Destination: Belgrade (Serbia)
Subject: Daniel Sloss
We've boarded the flight from Zurich to Belgrade with that hazy level of hangover where everything is vague, memories evaporate the minute they are made, nothing is done with consideration or care because being conscious is a trick. You're living in a world you're not supposed to be in and playing it like a video game that you're not very invested in, that should something go seriously wrong you'd shrug it off as insignificant because, of course, it's just a game. You're meant to be blacked out somewhere but here you are functioning like an operational human... I'm exhausted but there's a steady whirring hum that powers me and makes staying awake quite autonomous, sleep is the last thing on my mind as I buckle up, still in the throws of the previous evening's energy.
We're sharing the crowded flight with some boisterous souls that aren't seeking tranquility like my irritable companion and I. Daniel watches in disdain as a large group of teenage thirty year olds in plastic Viking hats and capes that devalue the Swiss flag, go about their business in a way that isn't for the entertainment of their own social circle but rather a parade of their faux masculinity to an audience held captive in the steel prison with only the tempting alternative of a 30'000 foot fall for freedom.
Daniel has resorted to gallows humour to get through the ordeal as he initiated a comedy skit where we pretend to be the future incarnation of the party-goers reminiscing about this particular jaunt... 'Remember that time we all went on a lads holiday and non of us got laid' ... 'Yeah, was that the one where Jaques got choked to death on the flight?' ... 'Oh remember Jaques, I forgot about him, no one missed him at all did they?' ... 'Not even his parents, they didn't even attend his funeral' ... 'no-one did'
The rowdy cluster of directionless testosterone has blended into background noise but the forefront and most disconcerting element of this flight is one row forward and across the aisle from me in the form of an infant sat side saddle on his mothers lap who has had a death stare locked on me for the duration of the flight, a stare that comes from a place of pure evil. Daniel, hidden in the periphery of this satanic gaze, safe from it's demonic powers, has found my predicament most amusing. I have to endure his intermittent chuckling while the wide eyes under the furrowed brow of the possessed toddler burn on through me, fuelled by all of my sins, flaws, insecurities, failures, anxieties and regrets, which bubble to the surface of my soul, exposed for the world to see under his spell. I held out my middle finger like it was a biblical effigy to renounce his malevolence but he didn't so much as blink.
My subject appears vulnerable as he looks out of the car onto the filthy concrete favelas that reach for the Serbian sky, jutting out of the jaws of Belgrade like rotting teeth, rarely do I look at a tower block and think 'I could have made that.' Every building looks like a group of 12 year olds on their school holidays have made a base out materials they found from allotments and fly tipping sites but got more than a little carried away. We roll past a huge wreckage that used to be Yugoslavia's ministry of defence building but is now the very picture of armageddon, the untouched carnage of a tomahawk missile blast, worn by the city like a proud scar on the face of a mercenary. Again with the gallows humour Daniel suggests that Serbia's national anthem is just a baby crying.
We late lunched in the hotel, fearful to leave its security. I foolishly ordered octopus as a starter, it's never a wise decision to dine on sea food in a land locked country because rarely does it arrive at your table in its best shape. Needless to say the porcelain didn't deserve what I did to it in between courses.
I am watching Daniel perform on a grand stage in a monarchic surrounding, a structure rich in marble decor where you'd come to expect materials such as breeze blocks, corrugated rust and shrapnel, based on the pattern of construction in the building's immediate surroundings. The venue is a tiny spec on the map where time hasn't ground to a halt in an era of struggle, but I'm aware this is in aesthetics only seeing as there is no Wi-Fi, which suggests this spot is also chronologically stagnant. This being the sole reason I have resigned to observing Daniel's performance.
I see his apprehension as he approaches topics such as homosexuality and feminism, subjects he is passionate about supporting but unaware as to whether or not the nation's ethics have been frozen in time with their architecture. As he tiptoes into these opinions he realises the audience share his views and his confidence grows with their support, comedy as a performance art has the great gift of drawing the more liberal thinking citizens from a community.
Towards the close of Daniel's set his rapport with the audience has given some of them inspiration to interact with him, upon announcing that one particularly blasphemous segment of his repertoire caused several religious zealots to evacuate a previous performance he had delivered in Indianapolis, one supportive heckler reassured him that 'You would have to bomb us to get us to leave' which although intended as positive reassurance sounded terrifying coming from the monotone Serbian drawl of a Bond villain who has physically endured being bombed before.
The most intimidating heckle however, came when my subject addressed the room to enquire as to whether guns were legal in Serbia, to an expertly timed response from a patron clearly skilled in the art of beat boxing who perfectly projected the sound of a shotgun being cocked, either that, or someone cocked a shotgun.