Even in hindsight and from a safe emotional distance "The Exotic Cuisines of the World" has been one of the finest,very well prepared and decently supported projects that I have brought to the market. Based on food and drink. the everyday staples of the humankind winged by the enormous political drive and resolution of former Yugoslavia to "export or die" the project had everything needed not only to attract the investor and the consumer alike but to impress them with its transparent, tightly woven legal, creative and commercial structure.
In short, it was bound to be a huge success.
The basis of the project was the export of Macedonan wines to the United States.
At that time Henry Kissinger and Lawrence Eagleburger were pushing very hard every imaginable Yugoslav product to the American market. I know that among the other reasons for their involvement even in day-to-day corporate businesses was a view that without significant exports Yugoslavia could not pay for the military procurement from the United States. Keeping the Yugoslav war machine as dependent on US deliveries as possible was one of the reasons they have embarked the ill-conceived and heavily promoted project of "Yu-go America". It was a flop, of course. But cars made in a Serbia (long ago abandoned "Yugo-Florida") for the American standard is one thing and wine for the taste of millions of expatriates quite another.
Thus, since the disastrous mistakes of the Eagleburger's strategy were already a hard factual lesson it was easy to fathom that there must be a different approach in selling Macedonian wine around California and Nappa Valey. Now the late Robert Mondavi had entertained me, as favour to the State Department, in his mansion and explained very many aspects of the wine industry, his ambitions, the tastes and the whims of the American wine consumer. He knew of the wines from that part of Europe but discarded them as "ethnic" product.
That specific remark was the core of the approach in the promotion of this project.
It had to be shaped in a most presentable form for the Americans of Slavic ancestry. Its content and packaging should make them proud to consume it, to extend it as a gift to their friends, associates, neighbors and relatives. Therefore, the package, a bundle, needed to relay not only on the wine but to the food it is to be consumed with and the mere idea of the promoted food recipes had to be as far removed from the ordinary staple as possible. It had to be associated not with the beans soup or feta cheese but with the food served on the court of Alexander the Great, for example,
That sounded exotic and attractive enough.
The numbers were impressive. There are 2,3 million Americans of generally Balkan ancestry who give at least six million presents annually. A package of three bottles of wine (red, white and rose) with a video-cassette (it was 1987) full of step-by-step preparation recipes interspersed with emotional folklore and vistas topped with a game, three free nights in a resort on the majestic Adriatic.
A film star like Robert Redford would guide through the content of the video and Safeway would be distributing the package.
So, how does one wrap up such a complex project?
To start with most of the wineries in Macedonia used the cardboard gift-box of three 0,7 l. bottles of wine.
The next thing was the video content. I turned to film director Stole Popov, a friend, no relative, and persuaded him to come to the district court and sign a contract that he will produce six films featuring master-chefs from various countries, some folklore, vistas and so forth. The man is an Academy Award nominee in a documentary category and I have promoted his superb film "Happy New '49" as a Yugoslav entry for best foreign language film, an affair that made us friends.
With that contract in hand I went to another friend, now late Gavril Gavrilski, the CEO of Makpetrol or Exxon of Macedonia. He signed a document for Makpetrol to finance export of up to 10 million bottles of wine.
Then another businessman, Dancho Shuturkov, the COO of Makedonija Tabak, came in with a proposal that I accept cash from an investor and if within two months an American firm formalizes a contract about the Macedonian wines - then Makedonija Tabak will be willing to become a partner for the rest of the Exotic Cuisines of the World.
The cash from the investor was a paltry $ 1,500 or two months rent for a fine but unfurnished flat on Larabee Str in West Hollywood.
With that and double of my own money I dawned in Los Angeles with intention to settle there for some time. Only one of the few friends I had in the area and around the country knew about my arrival and he, Steve Pope, a guy desperately trying to make it in films, dully met me on the airport where a Hertz car for a long-term rental was awaiting.
Steve had picked a selection of derelict henhouses as accommodation befitting in his judgement an expatriate from the old country. the guy is rather colorful character with an Actors Guild membership card hand signed by Ronald Reagan. But he knew that he could never be an actor.
((Please click the map to enlarge))
Within a week I had rented under contract the garden-level apartment Nr. 209 at a very decent (garage with dedicated place, swimming pool, jacuzzi) address only a block downhill the tres chique section of Sunset Boulevard. The property there has a wide automatic, sliding iron door to the underground garage and airs a feel of a hacienda. The address on 950 North Larabee Str in West Hollywood, 90069 Ca. was not only respectable because of the neighborhood and all those fine tenants, mainly professionals and single, but because of the easy access to public transport and all the facilities, parks, hospitals, gig supermarkets and vfariety of bookstores, shops and restaurants.
The next day after moving in - I got a telephone 213-652.5597 with a wire extending right down to the pool. I cannot really remember whether there were no wireless machines or whether they were prohibitively expensive, which is illogical from our present feel of the market. The installation of the phone does not require any hassle because it is all done without people coming home and meddling with the line but it took me a day deciding what to phone, how long wire, a recording machine, that sort of stuff.
Since I had a credit card issued in Yugoslavia and cash and the phone number costed something nothing I decided that my own checkable telephone and address is more important for the bank, whichever I chose, than appearing with a request for an account as a stray dog, no checkable and documented fixed address and an open account phone number. So the big woman of Pacific Bell looked at the American Express credit card but opted for the cash.
By noon the next day i had 200 visit cards and decided to open an account with a branch of Bank of America where customers arriving by car could validate their tickets. A subtle message and a chance to drop a line like "Will you please validate this so that I can take this brand new Buick out". This does not seem much, but, then, it does not hurt anybody. I was left with impression that bankers like to know the basics of their clients and it helps to inquire whether they have correspondent banks in South-East Europe,that my funds will come via Stopanska Banka and while you appear to inquire you also supply information. Within an hour I have ordered personalized checks and deposited all my $4500 on it. Well, not exactly: I was left with some 2,500 DM and a handful of dinars which were left in cash.
My electricity and gas was supplied by contract with the Southern Ca. Edison Co. acc. nr. 55-42-616-1458-28 and then, with all these insignificant papers, diligent people issued me a Social Security # 563-95-7192 card (crucially important document for entering the labor market, a huge advantage over millions of people scrambling for work and residence papers. Nobody ever asked me for my coveted Californian ID.
So, within the first 10 days after my arrival, before doing anything else I was established as a perfectly legal alien residing in the USA. I am very proud of that achievement. Ten years before that not even the mighty Yugoslav federal government could influence the Greek smalltime bureaucrats to grant me a resident and working permit in Athens although I was officially elected and sent out there under UN ratified and obliging international agreements representing the Yugoslav National Tourist Office. What ambassadors and deputy foreign ministers could not do in six months with the Greeks I have singlehandedly done it in ten days in the City of Angels swarming with illegals from all corners of the planet.
The summer days in California begin at dawn with sweating the late nights out and go on for ever with almost every minute planned well in advance. My stomach churns when I see these "promoters" sent by the Macedonian government abroad and compare their exorbitantly costly (about $115,000 gross annually) incompetence and inefficiency with the simple daily output clocked by my poor self while in the US. Between six and seven in the afternoon I would have a 3-4 mile slow run along Cynthia, then Elevado, downhill Elm and then eastbound towards home by way of Carmelita till Oakhurst slowly up and dive in the pool. This strategy paid and within a week from every third or fourth porch a casual but good humored "hi there" would greet my appearance. Some of those faces Jackie SImons among others I soon begun meeting and exchanging pleasantries in the Safeway store.
In Hollywood one does not sell wine from Macedonia. One goes to Hollywood to buy film related services.
I have an Academy Award film director under contract to deliver me an almost edited 90 min. film within three months. I need 100,000 video cassettes of top quality. How long will it take you to deliver them, packed in sleeves and how much is the video cassete and how much the sleeve with wrapping? Here you are with my credentials and these are the people who know me in Hollywood..
So after a week, with all the documents safely in my pocket, I appear at Dan Tana's on Santa Monica Boulevard. The guy greets me, he does remember me very well from the time I threw a big lavish party (for the account of the Yugoslav Consul-general from San Frncisco) at his place. He asks what I am doing and I tell him I need two thing: one is a top-quality video-cassette producer for 100,000 copies of a special feature film and a link to Robert Redford's agent who I need for two appearances, 3 minutes introduction three minutes closing statement for a Yugoslav tourist-gastronomy item. We shall pay him with a Lipitzaner stud. Dan Tana begins asking because all this does not make much sense although he is sharp minded as a Wilkinson Sward. http://www.dantanasrestaurant.com/
-What is the film all about?
Then I see Richard Gere and with my best smile I say:
-Just to say "hi" to Richard,- and I go directly to poor Gere.
TO BE CONTINUED