Friday, June 29, 2012

one top especially for you

When I was in Istanbul, I saw these little boys and older men selling the most beautiful tops in different colors and sometimes designs. One day as I alighted from the boat, one of these boys approached me at the dock. I looked into the boy's dark eyes and then stole a view of the Bosphorous behind him, as the yellow of the sun danced on its undulating surface.

There was something romantic about the whole setting. He started to show me how I could twist and spin the top. These tops were everywhere in Istanbul, boys and men selling them in every street, piled up in cartons at bazaars, and even sold at slightly higher prices at little souvenir shops in the modern parts of the city. This was Istanbul, in its tops, and I had to take back home with me a bit of Istanbul. I went back to my hotel room and I carefully hid them in the drawer.

And in that drawer, there was one top especially for you... I wanted you to have something from me, but more than that, something that carried all my little memories of when I was in that city. And that you were there with me. If only for a very few moments.

This is what my cheap one pound top means. That when I walked in Taksim, that when I traveled on the Bosphorus, that when I was at the top of Camlica Hill, that when I marveled at the magnificence of the Dolmabahce, that when I sat in the front garden at Beylerbeyi Palace, that when I watched the city beneath from the balcony of my hotel room, that when I saw mother of pearl inlays in furniture, that when I sat on the carpeted floor and tried to pray (only tried) at Fatih Camii, I thought of you. And I even wondered what you would have thought of such beauty.

In my dream....

You take me to some romantic place.
Where they play songs like BeeGee's How Deep Is Your Love,
Where people slow dance under faint disco lights,
Where it feels like it's back to the 70s,
Just like how you and I love it,
And you look at me with those eyes,
And dance with me,
All night long...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

lest I forget one day

Sitting on the black leather sofa and staring at the television, I was feeling a little harrowed by one thought. I could not remember what happened in the film, although I had seen it many times before. It was as if I were watching Pretty Woman for the very first time.

I have noticed my memory slowly weaken over the past year. Sometimes I cannot remember what my favorite songs are or what books I have read. And I have read many books and listened to many songs.

There was once a few months ago when I got into a black cab and the driver asked me where I wanted to go. But I couldn’t remember my home address. I had to stop for a long moment and think hard before I finally could recall the first line of my address in north central London. I sat there for the rest of the journey in total disbelief...

When I was a little girl, somewhere before my adolescent years, I spent long afternoons copying words from the dictionary. It was my way of making sure the words would be seared into my mind for good. When I read stories, I would go back to my notebook and write a summary. Some years later, I would start to keep diaries and I grew a fascination for the past. I kept a written record of mine - lest I forget one day. I thought I would always know who I am if I were able to remember who I was, to revisit my past in every step that I took.

Then I discovered my memory, that it was the best thing about me. So I started writing less and less. Instead, I would make mental notes of all that mattered to me.

But, suddenly, the light that fed my memories began to slowly fade. Darkness settled inside my head and my memories started to stagger. They have now become somewhat quite distant, sometimes unreachable. And what if, one day, I might not be able to remember any of my memories (and past)? And if this day were to ever come, does this mean that I might not remember who I am anymore?

Roxette and It Must Have Been Love from the Pretty Woman soundtrack...

Friday, June 15, 2012

on Sayed Darwish

For the past few months, I have been listening more often to the music of Sayed Darwish in the voice of Fairuz. The more I listened to his compositions, the more I realized how beautiful they are and how unknown Darwish remains to the general public.

He died of a cocaine overdose at the very young age of 31. However, he left behind a wondrous legacy during such a very short life. Some of these songs are still with us until this day and have become part of our collective memories and culture. Songs such as el-Helwa Di (الحلوة دي), Salma Ya Salama (سلمى يا سلامة), Bassareh Barrajeh (بصاره براجه), Ana Haweit (انا هويت), Tel'it Ya Mahla Nourha (طلعت يا محلا نورها), Mahsoubkom Indas (محسوبكم إنداس), and so forth. I sometimes wonder, had he lived any longer, what more greatness would he have bestowed upon us?

Sayed Darwish grew up in an Egypt that was under British colonial rule and laden with unrest, uprisings and struggles. The ethos of that time in Egypt is reflected in the work of Darwish who expressed the wants, needs, and fears of Egyptians and at the grassroots level. His compositions were serious, lively, honest, and simple – what we would call in Arabic السهل الممتنع al-sahl al-momtanaa or deceptively simple. This is how Darwish distinguished himself: not by singing for the ruling class, but by singing for the masses, for everyone.

Much of his work was dedicated for the nationalist struggle and I share below one of my favorite songs, Aho Dalli Sar (اهو داللي صار), which was composed in the events of the 1919 revolution. The more famous one would be the Egyptian national anthem, Bilady, Bilady, Bilady, (بلادي بلادي بلادي) which was inspired from a speech by Mustafa Kamil, an Egyptian nationalist and activist who passed away in 1908.

But, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I want to talk about love. There is one particular song that I reckon many are unaware was composed (and written?) by Sayed Darwish. Zuruni Kulli Sana Marra, (زوروني كل سنة مرة) widely known in the voice of Fairuz, is a song about love. I read a story that this was one of his first songs and he wrote it after a lady, by whom he was enamored, said to him: Visit us oh Sheikh Sayed even once a year. I cannot corroborate this story but it sure does appeal to the romantic in me.


These are the words to the version which Fairuz performs, and I find it to be one of the most beautiful songs ever.

 زوروني كل سنة مرة    Visit me once every year
حرام تنسوني بالمرة    What a shame if you forget me altogether
 يا خوفي و الهوى نظرة    I fear that love is but a glimpse
 تجي و تروح بالمرة    That would come and go altogether
 حبيبي فرقتك مرة    My love your absence is painful
 حرام تنسوني بالمرة    What a shame if you forget me altogether


I conclude with a song dear to my heart and tonight I think of Egypt.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Favorite Passage...

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  

"Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"  

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.  

"It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.  

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 

 "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."  

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"  

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse.  

"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." 

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit.

And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said.  

 "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

-- The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I have recently been reviewing the first chapter in my thesis and in this chapter I discuss my fieldwork. It was three years ago, when I'd gone back home (as opposed to going "out there") for my fieldwork, and I was privileged to meet the persons I had met. They were from the much older generation and had many stories to share with me - stories that hadn't made it into the books of history. 

I remember one night in March. I drove through the unfamiliar winding mountainous roads back to the city... I felt heavy in my heart, like I could never be the same again. I had just met a man who was in his nineties and spent only a few hours with him, yet I felt moved forever. Before I left his home, he made me promise to accept his invitation for lunch. He said he was a great chef and my wish was his command. I promised but I broke it. Then he died...

I was at the dentist when I found out. I always thought I'd cry when I find out about his death - for one my tears come easy. But I smiled - because life is all about those little moments, those words, sometimes unspoken, that never cease to leave us. And how could this night ever leave me? Its large evergreens that skirted the dark roads, the serenity of being in my skin, and the man I'd just left behind. 

He was charming with impeccable English. And he'd lived all around the world, even black Africa and had a fondness for Nelson Mandela. "You don't need books to learn about history; all you need is travel," he advised me as he looked at me through his glasses.

He was an atheist. I found this particularly strange for a man nearing the end of his journey. They all usually turn to religion when what is left is very little... But, he seemed to be at peace.

He had a Kamal Salibi book on the table next to him - Secrets of the Bible People. I suggested he read The Bible Came from Arabia and Who Was Jesus. We agreed that Kamal Salibi is brave for undertaking such research and for arriving at such conclusions. That he may be completely mistaken, "a big old nutter" in the words of my professor in England, or completey spot on. Or that, maybe, there may be some truth in Salibi's postulations. With these things, nothing is definite. It's all probabilities.

He got up and walked to the shelf and pulled out an album, white underneath all the dust. We went through the album and all were old pictures from his past. The album was almost falling into pieces and the pictures were scattered and unorderly. He was a very handsome man in his earlier years. He showed me pictures of his Irish girlfriend back in the 1950s. She, too, was a beauty. Then other pictures followed from his travels and stays in India, Pakistan, Afghanistation, Iran, the Gulf, Ghana, Europe and England. He looked at me and said: "the Britishers are grand. I admire them the most."

He showed me pictures of his daughters and his Australian divorcee, then came a picture of his late wife. "She left 6 years ago..." And he suddenly picked the album and returned it to the dusty shelf where it belonged. "I don't like going through old pictures... I begin to feel sad. I am a man. You know what that means," he said in his husky voice. I didn't and still don't know...

At the end of my visit, he kissed my hand and said "you are wonderful; it was a pleasure". I blushed then nervously said "I am grateful for your kindness and for the kiss too." 

I had no idea that it would be the last time I see him...