Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Algerian Rose

It was in the 90's. Back in Africa. That was when I was a little girl sitting in the backseat of my father's car as he drove us around in the evenings after work. He would play Warda on cassette and we would listen to Batwannis Bik. "Dad, could you play that again?" I would rest my head on the window, little as I was but my dreams larger than me, and I would watch the trees, the little houses, and the street vendors...

But for me, Warda's most beautiful piece was Fi Yom W Leila - one that evokes in me the deepest kind of feelings, emotions of love lost and found, and hope.

The first time I heard it I was still in Africa, and still a little girl. I was at a house party with my parents - back then, the community of expats was small and their only means of entertainment was limited to either dinners at the same Chinese restaurant or house parties on the weekends. These house parties, or gatherings, included hors d'oeuvres and drinks, a buffet style dinner and then some tarab towards the end of the night. This particular party I remember very well. I was cuddled up to my mother when the host, a blonde with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, began to sing Fi Yom W Leila accompanied by her husband on the oud. I was smitten and I never forgot that song when we got back home...

It feels like a long time since that night, and it has been indeed: some twenty years maybe. And I went through those years listening to Warda, listening to music of such magnificence, music heartrendingly beautiful, and divine, and magical - remedying an empty, sometimes lonely, heart inside my chest. In some way, I also felt closer to my father, like he wasn't far from us, like he was right there.

Yesterday, I was on the bus somewhere near Marble Arch when I read the news of her passing. The tears began to run down my cheeks and I couldn't help that I was surrounded by strangers. I was overwhelmed... Those of you who grew up listening to ballads by Warda, like me, probably feel her loss the most. That is another great voice gone...

I rested my head on the window and I watched London, the lights, the traffic, and the red double-decker buses... But all I could think of was Beirut, a beautiful evening in early September, when the breeze was light and the night sky was clear, and Warda was there to sing. That was the night I saw Warda for the first (and last) time in person. I close my eyes and I can see my sister and mother to my left and they are smiling as Warda walks out on stage. She is waving and I think she is waving to me. Wahashtiny ya Warda...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There was this little girl trying to get mommy's attention.

She tugged at mommy's skirt, but mommy didn't look.

She tapped mommy on her leg, but mommy didn't respond.

She cried and cried and cried, but mommy didn't hear.

She sat in a corner and sulked, but mommy wasn't troubled.

She did it all over again, but mommy still didn't move.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Just a thought before I sleep

There is this (famous) black and white footage of Marylin Monroe arriving late to sing for President Kennedy at his birthday gala. Marylin was known to be late almost all the time. She was wearing this shimmering silk dress that fell freely over her slender body. She trotted hurriedly in these fine heels along the stage. The gentleman who presented her helped her out of her fur wrap and left her alone. She tapped the microphone and then adjusted it towards her.

There was a sudden moment of silence. It was Marylin standing there: a goddess from another world, her hair like carved marble, looking like a doll. She had everything a woman could possibly dream of. And then music started playing in the background as Marylin stunned the crowd with her singing, it was like a whisper, trembling, almost breathless. And all that time, she wore that smile of hers. She seemed happy. Only, she was far from it...

I had just happened on this footage of Marylin and her smile confused me. It seemed like she was the happiest woman on earth, but the truth almost always lies beneath the surface. We are all not very different from Marylin. We wear a smile only to hide so much sorrow. Marylin was indeed very unhappy. At least in all that I have read about her. I think it must have been easier for her to be unhappy. If only she had allowed herself to be happier.

This seems all too idealistic, the notion that we could will ourselves to be happier versions of ourselves. To learn to be happy. Or even to unlearn to be unhappy. To a certain level, yes we can. We find livelihood from the beauty that is around us, from the natural world, from a tender touch, from the love of our friends, from the arts, from reading, from music, from solitude, from late afternoon walks, from the mundane.

Such is happiness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind -
As if my Brain had split -
I tried to match it - Seam by Seam -
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before -
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls - upon a Floor.  

Emily Dickinson (poem 937, 1864)