MILICA MAGAZINE awards
The Citation and The «RUŽA» Order
to PAVKA MARTINOVIĆ
for making old the new young
We’ve heard about Pava from young poets in the city. They’ve met her at a poetry meetup, and were delighted by her refined sense of defiance and attitude. Then we’ve read her poetry, and saw her embroidery, heard she could also sing, and draw, and that she’s happy to talk about anything. So we found out where she lives and paid her a visit. We brought along a bouquet of flowers, two cameras, phones/voice recorders, and our Citation for the month of May. She greeted us in a good mood, prepared but a bit sceptic towards the city girls who came following a story of female bravery.
She opened the doors of her modest and very neat room at the Retirement Center in Zrenjanin. There’s a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s Force of Circumstance on her nightstand, and fine chocolate served on her table, under a crochet tablecloth. After a light opening chat, she asked us, her voice a bit formal: So girls, what are you interested in?
– You. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
Photos in text: KATARINA MARKOVIĆ
Heads and tails
I’m a professor of mechanics and technology, I finished university in Rijeka. I used to live in Croatia, but in 1991 I came to Vojvodina, when the war started. I always worked in a high school, for mechanical engineering. So they say I’m a technician, but I never really agreed with that, I considered myself a teacher. When I ended up alone, when I became a widow, I decided to move to this retirement home, and Brigita, our occupational therapist, discovered another side to me….I’ve never told anyone this before. You’re the first. She, very sophisticatedly, turned me into a poet. I never knew I had any talent for it.
My parents met in Vinkovci. They came from war-torn Bosnia, with no parents, they started from nothing. When I was born my father was in the military, she didn’t have anyone to help her, she raised me by herself. She worked a lot. They were both honest people, proletarians, with nothing on their name. I was their eldest child, their first, so I learned to share, I was always told, “Save your coat for your sisters”. I was born in 1948.
Carburetor, curses and female accomplishment
When I was a little girl, maybe three trucks and an ambulance would pass through my village in a day. Once, one of the trucks broke down and had to stop, and all the kids went down to see what happened. The driver asked for a wretch, a crowbar, a grease fitting…His carburetor broke down, and I remembered that word- carburetor. It happened a few more times, trucks breaking down because of a carburetor problem. So once I saw a driver struggling with his truck, and I said: “Sir, do you think maybe it’s the carburetor?” He started cursing my mother, then told me to go away. When I think about it now I find it strange that he turned to my mother, the mother first, it’s always the woman to blame. Later in life, I didn’t particularly stand out as a feminist, but it is the way I think. I’m always happy when a woman succeeds. I really am.
We loved each other, even more as we grew older. There was once this small country house that the four of us painted, washed and patched up the floor, in a single day! So obviously we got along.
We had a large garden. I’d ask one of my sisters to stay and water the cabbages, when I wanted to go to the promenade.
I read Pamuk Orhan’s “Cevdet Bey and His Sons” and “The Museum of Innocence”. I want to read “The Red-Haired Woman”. I love reading, and I read a lot. I made time for it when I worked at the school and especially as a housewife. I always made time to read. But it’s thanks to the fact that I didn’t own a TV.
I’d always rather knit myself a new sweater or read something, but I didn’t have a television. I had a job, I could afford one. But it was out of spite, because I spent one whole year staring at a TV (laughs). When I was younger, we didn’t have one either, but we went to our neighbors to watch. Later, when I was studying in Tuzla, I got ahold of one, and I watched it all day and night. Well okay, there wasn’t really much to watch at night, there wasn’t anything on, but I really watched a lot. I was the only woman in my class, and I talked to these boys about what I was watching, and they told me about their nights out, the gambling and the drinking and the girls. One of them even told me I should go on a quiz show, since I knew so much about what was on TV. But as the year went on there was more to study, exams to pass…
I watched this one show with Mira Stupica and Severin Bjelic. And I watched quiz shows. There were song festivals as well, the festival in Ilidza, sevdah and kajkavian music, coastal music, the Opatija festival with Lola Novakovic….
There were some quite good local TV series too. I watched “Theatre at Home” when it premiered, with Olga Ivanovic, and Ljiljana Lasic, who’s my age now, she was so beautiful when she was young, one of the first to wear those short skirts.
I’ve always valued knowledge more money, because no one can take knowledge away for you, whereas there are still bloody ways being fought over money. I lived in a village full of hicks and girls who, as heiresses, would wear their gold coins to show off when they went to church or to the promenade. I didn’t have those. Even if I did, I wouldn’t wear them like that. Someone could just pull them off! My mother told me to figure out if I’ll start working in fields or go to school for another job. I didn’t want to work on someone else’s field, I didn’t want someone to be the boss of me. I was very sensitive to people telling me what to do.
I used to live alone for a long time, until I got married. I was much ahead of my time, when it comes to this. I got married quite late, to a man I loved and already lived with.
My mother still lived in the country, and I had moved to the city- she had one less mouth to feed, I was my own person, I didn’t have explain myself to anyone.
My mother was proud of me for getting a state scholarship, the one Tito set up. I made it on my own, I got money to fund my studies and some left over for her wishes. It was important for me to make her proud.
I remember, a long time ago…When I got a job, I was 23, I went to a pub in Vinkovci, to see who’s there, we used to all meet there, but there was no one I knew so I decided to have a coffee and wait a bit. I leaned onto the bar, so I could have a view of people passing by, and there were lots of empty glasses in front of me. I said to the waitress- please, clean those up. And she said- why should I? So someone doesn’t think you drank all that? You care too much about what people think of you.
I did care about those glasses, of someone thinking I had all that to drink. I wasn’t burdened by it, but I was careful about what people thought.
A long time ago this woman said something in such a wrong way, she saw me and she said: it’s such a shame she’s so good at school, she’s great at knitting! Isn’t that wrong? (laugh)
I could knit, of course, I could make a sock with my eyes closed. I had made so many socks. Or gloves! I had read about Grace Kelly, how her mother told her never to leave the house without a suit and gloves. I’ve seen people wear them in the summer. Why? Because of the dust in buses.
My husband is deceased. I’ve been a widow for four years. I could say that, at the time, he was the most beautiful, honest, and smart man in town. All the men in his family were tall and handsome.
He was a mechanical engineer, he went to college in Zagreb. He was nine years older than me. We didn’t have any children, but we stayed together until he passed away. We respected each other. I met him in school.
A feminist husband
My husband was proud of me for getting an apartment, he even lived with me. I suppose he was proud of me in public, too. I’ve never embarrassed him. I never wore short skirts, I was never flirty, nothing about my style was.
When I moved to Vojvodina by myself, from Croatia, he would call some people in Titel where I worked snd said: I’m professor Pava’s husband. And someone told him: You’re like Carlo Ponti, no one knows who he is, they just know he’s married to Sophia Loren!
My husband knew of my emancipated behavior. Sometimes he even commented on it. I wouldn’t always accept help from a man. There was no need. You want to be independent. I was always a bit bothered by those who kept seeking out help.
An aunt of mine used to tell me: “You know, it’s not always polite to answer to everything, or to accept everything that’s offered”.
This last Women’s day, I don’t know if Alexandra Kollontai or Clara Zetkin would even recognize it. As much as women had managed to get, they lost it all. I was talking to Brigita about drawing four women standing in a a factory, and one of them saying “You can’t get pregnant” or “Maternity leave has been reduced- men got bigger paychecks”
While I was employed, the union would organize an event for Women’s day and we got bonuses, I used my first bonus to buy a wristwatch.
I don’t like to think about it
We came from Croatia because it became impossible to stay if you weren’t Croatian. And I considered myself Yugoslovenian. The only thing that was left was to work and prove myself again.
I spoke Serbian at work. I had learned it a long time ago, I used literature in both Croatian and Serbian. I can use Latin and Cyrillic equally well. We had social housing then. So no more apartment, no more car, I was left without any material possessions.
It was hard. I can’t really explain. If a refugee was forced to steal, they would be ratted out, even if not everyone was to blame, I would never do that. Since when can a refugee wear a fur coat?! Well, maybe she had it before, maybe she managed to save it, her coat. I don’t like talking about this time, i don’t even like thinking of it. I feel like I’ve erased it.
Lamb among wolves
With the male students, when they were in puberty, I felt like a lamb in a pack of wolves.
It was a game I had to play. If I made a mistake, I would apologize. I would apologize if I was late. But no one could enter the classroom after me. I didn’t insist on authority, I didn’t push it, but I think I accomplished it through my behavior. Whatever class I thought I would always get them to read.
I didn’t want to wait for winter in an empty house.
There would be snow to shovel. Should I have to wait for others to do it for me? I didn’t want to be left helpless in an empty village. There was no one in the house next to mine, the house next to that one was getting demolished, the beautiful house from across the street was abandoned, their owners in Germany. I didn’t want to be in such an environment. So I decided to go to a retirement home. I had my pension and it was enough to pay for it.
To go to a retirement home, people often think- in this traditional and patriarchal way- that your family must have rejected you. Maybe that’s the case sometimes. I came because I ended up alone. I have this contemporary approach to it, a positive one. I did it to stay active, connected, alive.
Another kind of life
I came in 2013. I ran away from the loneliness and the mice in the house to a world where I would have regular meals and laundry, where I heard people sat together and played chess, you could knit, sew, read the papers. I knew a woman psychologist, a social worker, who spoke well of retirement homes. She told me about the ones that had a well organized social and cultural events, like the one here in Zrenjanin. We have transportation to the theatre, we get visits from various retirement clubs. We get visits from retirees who still live at home, who come to sing and dance. They have an Art and Literature section and they socialize with other clubs from other cities.
I visited them, we read poetry and I was their hostess here. I’m completely satisfied with my social life here. We have a library, and we have computers, if we know how to use them. We have everything.
Then Brigita brought me into poetry, we had a small poetry workshop. I wouldn’t have any of that alone in my home in Titel. A person should have company. And the work gives me pleasure.
I joined the choir, not that I can sing well, but I can fit in with the others. I take German lessons too. I used to learn German in school, but I forgot a lot, and there weren’t as much German papers here anymore, not even their money. I think I’m good enough at it now, maybe I’m even the best student, I like being number one.
I can’t go abroad anymore, I’m older, it’s hard for me: either my feet will blister, or I’ll get too hot….I don’t want to bother others, what would happen if I were to slip and fall? So I don’t travel as much. I did travel when I was young- to Paris, for example, with school. We only paid half and the other part was covered by the union.
I think of them, draw them up and embroider
I think it began when we read about some horrible tragedy, we started talking about women and Brigita told me about these redwork embroideries. We analyzed women’s place in society today, then we compared them to those stereotypical works where men would always stand next to them in a suit, and they would stand next to the stove wth an apron. The men were always on their way somewhere, and the women were just cooking. So the first redwork embroidery I made was of a woman sitting down and it says “Where are you going? Change your clothes and clean the fish, while I finish reading Pamuk Orhan”. And one old man asked me: “He’s supposed to clean the fish while she finishes this huge book?” and I said “But she only has six pages left!” (everyone laughs)
There was this workshop with Mr Protic and Mrs Kinsley, from the Austrian cultural center, and a bit after that my sister died. I couldn’t sleep then, and this sleeplessness made me write, so I have this song called “Insomnia”, it’s about this time. Then we had another workshop and we were asked what our plans are and what we’d like to write about, and I said I’d like to write love poems. I did, but it ended up adulterous (laughs).
Sounds like a plan
I made a sketch for this summer house and now I’m preparing everything, that’s why my nails are like this, you see. I plan on doing a sketch for a bridge, make it out of straw. I mean, I’ll see how it goes, but Zrenjanin does have ten bridges.
I wrote a poem once, about being done with working life, earning a pension, but not settling, starting a new kind of life. I heard many women cried when they retired. Why? Nobody needs you anymore. You get a free bus pass and some discounts. You already feel like a second class citizen, less important, old.
And this cult of youth…I agree, but your body can’t stay all tight forever. For me, there’s nothing worse than seeing pearls or gold over wrinkled skin. Or an old woman with freshly dyed black hair. It just doesn’t look good, you know.
I remember I watched this show once and there was this woman talking about how once, she was crossing the road, and a driver shouted “Hurry up, grandma!” and she looked around to see who the grandma was (laughs)
I just mean, I’m not giving up, you can’t let it break you, I need to see what else I can do. So I scribble, I draw, I love solving sudoku puzzles. I like exercising my brain. Not with worrying over something I can’t change, but new things. An old man told me: you know we have English classes at the Home now? I wanted to take them, because I never got to before, but the professor told me there’s no space left. I said: okay, I hope you know you’re missing out on a good student. I don’t know how to speak English, but I love learning.
I don’t really realize I’m famous. In December, we presented the embroideries at a festival in Belgrade, as part of the “Impractical women” collective. One of the organizers told me “I’m sure you’re going to go far with this, even abroad, someone will want to buy this” And I think to myself that’s all just advertising, just business, I’m very aware of all that. You can’t make a living from this. Some people have told me they’ve seen me, that my work is very good, and I always say “Well, okay, thank you, so what now?”. I don’t really know how much people know about it. I heard it’s on Facebook, but I’m not on Facebook.
Poets and poetry
I don’t consider it a special discovery. I don’t feel like writing every day, I like taking naps after lunch, too. I read a lot when I was in school, even poetry. As a little girl, I’d listen to Gvido Tartalja. And Grigor Vitez. I remember their poems. And Ršumović and Vasko Papa.Vesna Parun, who was a bit unusual, even a bit dark.
Poets – I mean real poets, not me – are….special souls. Yes, special souls.