You come to a creative writing workshop with a story about rape. Your mentor tells you it is unrealistic. He is a man and much older than you are, so you believe him, but feel funny. But you have heard this before, and you will hear it again: Realistic and true are not interchangeable. You stop writing fiction for awhile.

*

Your boyfriend tells you there is something wrong with girls who watch torture porn. There is, you think, but can’t help but wonder why wrong turns to guilty in his mouth when, in fact, it should sound more like hurt. You say nothing.

*

You are almost bilingual now. This is how you know certain concepts don’t survive the move from Slovenian to English. You don’t know how to translate pust. Especially when mardi gras, the first expression you can think of, is not even in English. Wikipedia suggests Shrove Tuesday. You don’t know what shrove means but there is a demonic Bruegel’s oil-on-panel attached, so you feel hopeful. You google shrove, just to make sure. It leads to absolution. Absolution leads to forgiveness. You know what that means. 

*

They are called škoromati where you come from. You won’t even begin to hope you could ever translate that. UNESCO says they are a unit of intangible cultural heritage, but you know what they really are. Drunken men in masks, this is what they are. 

*

You are very young when you see them for the first time. The word realism has yet to gain meaning for you. They are dancing up a mountain in the tiny village you are from, these men adorned with flowers, covered in fur, their faces full of dirt. You fear them but to you fear is still very abstract, as nothing has ever hurt you yet. Or even more than abstract – it is alluring. You are captivated by them because you don’t yet know what they really are. To you, a child starving for fascination, they are magical. Seeing them through your childhood eyes, you remember the word for pust you were looking for: it is carnival

*

Bakhtin teaches: ‘The principle of laughter and the carnival spirit on which the grotesque is based destroys this limited seriousness and all pretence of an extratemporal meaning and unconditional value of necessity. It frees human consciousness, thought and imagination for new potentialities’.

*

But there are also other eyes to see them through.

*

You have never thought much of intangible cultural heritage but now you can’t take your eyes of it, intangible stuck in your throat like a bone. The sweat, the scent of alcohol, the leather, the muscles, the cock, they are so tangible to you. 

*

Škoromatija, the main event in your village where nothing ever happens,is a carnival of multitudes. Masks that belong to it don’t necessarily belong together or even to the same tradition. Some seem happy. Some are uncanny. Some are culturally questionable, like the Turk. The Ottomans were a great imperial power, these villagers were not. Yet these villagers see themselves as Westerners and the West thinks the East is barbaric and culturally inferior – hence wearing a mask of a Turk always carries a potential for insult. But then, the West doesn’t see these villagers as Western. As said, questionable. But there is one mask that is indigenous to škoromatija,since it’s been outlawed in the town of Civitale del Friuli in 1340. Italians call him scaramatte. In German, he is scharwächter, the night watchman. Some call him kleščar for the man-sized tongs he carries. These are for catching virgins, you are told as a little girl. In your village he is škopit – the castrator. There are crow feathers on his hat and a leather coat across his shoulders. His face is covered with ashes. He is your man. 

*

These are the boys from your village: Alpinists, physical labourers, drunks. Some, like you, will move away, a footnote to the depopulation of the rural areas in Eastern Europe. Some will stay. They will work in Italian factories, marry women they won’t love, hate them for it, beat them up. Die from cirrhosis at fifty. But now, they are your friends and you’re in this together, riding pimped-up mopeds, drinking cheap beer in front of a convenience store that will close down in the next couple of years. You take care of them, knowing they’re kinder when they feel loved. And in a way, you do love them. They are all you know.

*

What is unrealistic about your story about a girl who gets raped during the carnival season by a boy she loves, you are told, is that rape and love can’t coexist. You are also told this is a critique of your style, not the emotions attached to it, realism being a formal category rather than an epistemological one. You nod, good student that you are. And you understand. What you handed over was romantic rather than brutal. You should have done better. But you couldn’t. You had to protect your love, once love itself proved unable to protect you.

*

You are thorough. You leave the village, the country, the continent. When you come back, your grandmother, a communist, still gives you three carnations each time before you leave and names them: ‘Faith, hope, love’. She has lived through the two great wars, like this mountain has, and doesn’t speak about either. A teacher in an illegal school organised by the resistance and raided by the Serbian collaboration, she was raped herself but doesn’t talk about that either. There is just this song she likes to sing, and you know that we used to have a ball, but we have none of that here anymore is a really poor translation for včasih je luštno blo, zdaj pa ni več tako.

*

On a different continent, you find yourself in the middle of an argument. Referring to your home, you start talking about the culture of alcoholism and somebody says alcoholism is not a culture, it is a disease. You would like to respond rationally but what you really think is Westerners have no souls.

*

Nostalgiais a stand-in for missing something you really shouldn’t be missing. 

*

Your village never leaves you. You can smell it in the wet grass when the night falls. You read for it in all the texts on decolonisation you are reading, even though hardly anybody talks about decolonisation on European soil. Seen from afar, its rituals begin to organise themselves into units of meaning and feed your nostalgia. Some of this can be understood as forgiveness. The rest is resistance. 

You begin to write fiction again.