Friday, August 26, 2011

Sorrow - dark, sweet, poisonous - follows me. Sometimes it is fierce and glaring, following closely ahead, every time threatening to subdue me into disability. Sometimes, it is but a shadow that walks behind or beside me, rushing after me in every direction, that it becomes an extension of my self. Sometimes it visits me in the night, as a stabbing pain, or as an augury of death, driving away the slumber from my eyes. Sometimes it paralyses me with fear, that the fear of living becomes more immense than the fear of dying. Sometimes it hangs over me, drawing the kohl on my eyes, and lining the smile from my lips that I seem almost without sorrow. However so, we have never been closer, sorrow and I.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

hüzün in Istanbul

For twelve months, I studied the Ottoman Empire in hopes of one day referring to myself by the boastful title of Ottomanist. I spent many sleepless nights learning the mosques of Istanbul (and Bursa, and Edirne) with absolute devotion. One evening in March I decided to miss class for sleep and was awakened by a phone call from my classmate. She told me that my essay scored the highest in our class. I almost fell off my single bed. I rushed to share the great news with my flatmates - or rather lined the five of them up to have them watch me dance around in a few moments of transient happiness. This was nearly half a decade ago.

However, this fascination for, particularly, the mosques of this period never escaped me. I always imagined that one day I would find myself in the presence of such magnificence as the Süleymaniye or the Selimiye or the NuruOsmaniye or the Fatih or the Sultanahmet. And that they would cause my heart to stop beating. Indeed, for a few seconds.

Below her skyline of domes, minarets and towers, Istanbul is a city that overwhelms the onlooker. With all her colors, textures, smells, sounds, and flavors. Sometimes my head would become overfilled with all things Istanbul. I would often escape into silence on the balcony of my hotel. I would sit in the early evening on my own and watch the Bosphorus in peace - away from all the noise, the hustle and bustle, the people. 

When I walk through the streets and bazaars of Istanbul, my companion has been Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City. At moments, such as when the sun is setting and the sky is an orange hue, I would look for "hüzün". Or melancholy. In his memoir, Orhan Pamuk devotes a whole chapter to the "hüzün of an entire city", which he explains is shared amongst the inhabitants of Istanbul. 

"To feel this hüzün is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city becomes the very illustration, the very essence, of hüzün." 

This "hüzün" is a collective melancholy that is rather poetic than just sad, just dispirited, just despondent.

Perhaps I have felt this "hüzün" in the few places I have been. In London, the winds of late September arrive, the paths are covered with fallen leaves, a palette of crimson and gold washes across the oaks and chestnuts, wayfarers rush to escape the imminent frost, the sky is grey and veiled with clouds, the sun goes into hiding, sometimes emerging only to take leave moments later, red double deckers whir down the streets, followed by black cabs, and hurried bicycles, and as the day ages, the air grows progressively colder.
And many miles away in another city, I sit on this bus as it drives by the Bosphorus. I lay the book on the empty seat next to me, and I stop to look from the window. Red wooden summerhouses and baroque palaces line the waterside, ferryboats are travelling across and their reflection on the waters are outlines of crimson, amber, emerald and azure and people are walking before this perpetual tableau. How could I capture such that is only felt? And only passing? One day I shall look back on this fleeting moment of "hüzün" and I shall wonder if ever I were here. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

old habits die hard

It is dark here and everyone is asleep in the house. I walk to the kitchen and open the fridge. I feel a prevailing sense of loneliness. I thought it would disappear once I had returned to Lebanon. It hasn't. But, it is slightly less biting than the loneliness I felt earlier this spring within the walls of my modern studio in the heart of London.

I was looking for something tantalizing to put in my mouth and there in the corner in the lower compartment was a basket full of cigarette boxes. Brand new cigarette boxes still in their plastic film. Partagás, Cohiba Club, Davidoff Slims, Glamour Menthol, More, Vogue SuperSlims. Some of these names I never knew existed and I have spent one third of my life with cigarettes. In my house, they like to collect these lovely looking cigarette boxes. But, they never touch them. Except for one box of Cohiba Club that had already been opened - maybe many months ago - and was missing one cigarillo. The first thing that came to my mind was that I could steal a cigarillo and smoke it on the balcony. But I didn't. Not because of my high sense of obligation towards a promise I made more than three years ago. But simply because I just could not be bothered to be reincarnated into my 16 year old self. Sneaking onto the farthest corner of the balcony and lighting a cigarette at 3 am. Maybe some other time.

Instead, I thought I'd write about it. But, I had already made my grand departure. Who's going to take me seriously again? Well, I don't care too much anymore about what is right or wrong. And I am not very sorry for the big farewell. I truly did believe at that point that I did not want to write. I had promised myself I'd stop writing once it became a burden. And I did stop. I felt such a great sense of relief. Like I had unloaded a crate of bananas from on my shoulders.

I guess the only thing in life that is constant is change. And, I have had a change of mind. I want to write again. I want to print my own words in this black void of (cyber) space. In the other dimension of reality, I have dressed myself in a slightly stiff exterior recently. It is my way of shielding myself. From being vulnerable again. To my own foolish dreams. However, deep down, very deep down, I want to escape these walls I have locked myself within. And here is the place where I could set myself free on a little recess like when we were back in school.

A few days ago, I was on the phone to one of my good friends. She told me how she wanted to return to the world of blogging, how she would adopt a new identity and discuss whatever the hell was on her mind. I felt a sense of wistfulness and I told her how I was beginning to regret "liquidating" my blog. She advised me to follow her example: return with a new persona. While I carry more individuals than I can count in this one little frame, I could only be posh lemon the blogger. To the outsider, this name may represent nothing or maybe someone very silly and pretentious. I don't know. To me, it is my only and dearest nom de plume.

At my first residence in London, I made so many friends - more males than females for obvious reasons (female jealousy and all that). But, they were all lightweight, most of whom are no longer part of my life (or even my facebook). But some remained... A few of these were three unforgettable Black British girls, two from the Caribbean and one from Africa. We became close, the best of friends actually and I had the most amazing time with them - until I started believing the title they had given me. Posh is what the title was. They called me Posh all the time. And Lemon - well, apart from my appetite for limes, lemons, citrus fruits and all things sour, I always wished my parents had called me Lemon. Instead, they picked for me a much less than ordinary name.

I am back. I guess old habits die hard.