Rana Haddad: from “The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor”

The customers of Café Taba were tapping their feet on the floor, up and down, following the beats of the hakawati’s song.

The hakawati gulped his third glass of tea, and then continued to sing in his alluring voice, which gave his audience goose pimples, making even the stoniest hearted of them almost want to cry.

No one knew why.

None of the audience could take their eyes off him, nor could they stop listening to every word and every syllable he uttered even though they were sure that he knew nothing about love. He was clearly too young and too vain and had never suffered. Even Dunya was sure of it. None of them could fully or even partially understand the theories he was trying to peddle through the vehicle of his songs. How could Fear be the opposite of Love? Wasn’t Hate its eternal enemy and opposite? The hakawati was talking nonsense, trying to be clever, they were sure of that. Even Dunya who thought of herself (relatively speaking) as an expert on the theories of love and its manifold manifestations did not understand. But none of them really cared whether he was right or wrong because what they loved about him most of all were not his stories, or his theories, nor his rhymes—but the voice in which he sang them. Perhaps in Europe or America people could follow their hearts, some of the men reasoned. But here, in the conservative Republic of Syria, Fear was the master. Fear held everything and everyone under its sway, and everyone respectfully bowed their heads to it.

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Anna Iltnere: Sea Library

Childhood drawing by Anna Iltnere. A house by the river with blooming water lilies.

Before going to sleep I walk down to the river for a swim. With my nostrils slightly above water, I watch the ducks moving among the water lilies. The lips of invisible fish blow circles into the surface on the other side. Cut grass and cold dew stick to my bare feet as I walk back. I wash them away, kiss my boys goodnight and climb into bed to read and to dream.

If I wake up before the others, I push my bike out of the garage and cycle to the morning sea, three miles away. It’s a gulf, to be honest, but we still call it the sea, the Baltic Sea, a tiny inner pocket of the Atlantic Ocean — where it hides what’s dearest, I imagine. There’s almost no salt in the Baltic Sea, they say, but my tongue still tastes it on my lips and my skin  when I leave gravity behind with my clothes on the shore and surrender my body to the waves. When I’m dressed again, I explore the white sand with my fingertips and put a couple of stranded splinters, tiny dark brown pieces of driftwood, in my pocket, stamp souvenirs from my own little journeys traversing same paths every day. I am a sea librarian now.

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Alexander Booth: from “Insulae”

Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Venice, 2003. Source: magnumphotos.com

On a major thoroughfare between a porn theatre and a filling station, it was just past the central cemetery and the bridge over the railway lines. A young communist lived in the room across from yours. He worked in a hotel. You had no job and no prospects but, for the moment, didn’t care. You’d sit together at the brittle table in the kitchen, all dark browns and orange, smoking, and listening to cassettes of sixties pop tunes, with small cups of coffee, now and again a beer. You had a couple of books and some traveler’s checks. Day after day you’d wander the sunburnt city, surprised, over and over again, at how often you got lost.

Stacy Hardy: The Empty Plot

The empty lot gapes, yawns and quivers. It exhales dust and sucks the blue out of the sky. It draws her to it, an emptiness that calls out, that whispers and jeers. A wide mouth, that says, come, that dares her.  She has no business with the empty plot. It is a nothing place, a no place, not a place but a gaping, an emptiness that is yet to be filled, something still to come.

It has no address at present, nothing that sets it apart in the neighbourhood. There are so many. Empty stretches of land cleared for some future construction never to come, suspended in the eternal yawning present of oblivion. Plots that have stood so long that they have become part of the landscape, vast parks where rubbish accumulates, some partially developed, deep holes sunk in the earth, now filled with murky water that collects debris, the pokes of steel foundations casting dancing shadows on the surface like the spines of poisonous fish; ruinous scaffold of catastrophic geometries that shade rows of empty buildings, concrete structures looming like theme park wreckage, dark and sullen, windows dust coated, shattered in places, doors padlocked against squatters that never come. The streets that hem them, nearly deserted, monuments to some moment of false hope, a future that dims with each day, grows wary, listless, the air dirty with stalled development.

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𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 On Literary Glory

Of course, if you live in a big city, they will also be wanting to know and ad­mire all the impostors who have won the same celebrity with quite mediocre works extravagantly overpraised. So you may not be impressed by the company you’re keeping. And if you live out in the provinces, people will very likely have no notion of literary glory at all. Writing? I could have done that perfectly well myself, if I’d had time, if I’d wanted to turn my mind to it. You’ll get a lot of this. Only a handful of people will really appreciate what you’ve done, so that, in general, it’s hard to think of a commodity that comes at a higher price and brings fewer benefits than literary glory.

In response, you’ll withdraw into solitude. You’ll try to believe that the work itself is sufficient reward for your efforts. It isn’t. Then, since we all have to have something to hope for in the future, you’ll start to seek consolation in the notion that posterity will finally give you the true recognition you deserve. I’ll live on in the minds of genera­tions to come, you tell yourself. But honestly, there’s no guarantee of this. Why should those who come after us be any better, or any more receptive and perceptive, than our contemporaries? On the contrary, the world will most likely have moved on and people won’t have any time for you at all.

— from Giuseppe Parini’s advice to a young writer by Giacomo Leopardi

1824

Jason Hermens: The Edge of the West

As a Finn, to visit the Russian border on the eve of the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki – only slide film can save you there!


No sooner did I start than I had to stop, blown away by the welded drain covers, the seagulls in place of people long gone. The city was in lockdown and police lingered at every corner, weighed down by the pounding sun.

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Two Ways into Bara, by Zahreddine: Speaker of the Baran Tribe

(1)

Go to the street, ask for anything, it will be given to you.

BARA will have seized the monarchies and set their palaces ablaze.

There is a fellow population suffering.

To have lived it, later generations will assume it caused great conflict of the heart.

But, take my trials, they are too good for me.

Remember, the videos passed around.

am guilty.

There is nothing left to say.

White sheets compound the pavement.

Chemicals in the territory.

The revolution is a farce.

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Belal Hosni: Everyday Horses/Gregory Djanikian

Alexandria, 1953

 

You could think of sunlight

Glancing off the minarets,

You could think of guavas and figs

And the whole marketplace filled

With the sumptuous din of haggling,

But you could not think of Alexandria

Without the sea, or the sea,

Turquoise and shimmering, without

The white city rising before it.

 

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The Fituwa: Salah Eissa’s Raya and Sakina in Robin Moger’s Translation

1928 Print. Source: periodpaper.com

The following excerpt is from Tales from the Nation’s Archive: Raya and Sakina’s Men: A social and political history, the late Salah Eissa’s vast and discursive study of the lives and the worlds of the notorious serial-killers Raya Bint Ali Al Hammam and her sister Sakina, and their husbands Hasballah Saeed Maraei and Mohammed Abdel Aal.

Raya and Sakina and their husbands were arrested in Alexandria in early 1921 on suspicion of murder and it soon became clear that they had been responsible for the disappearance of a number of women in the neighbourhood of Labban where they ran an illegal (unlicensed) brothel. They were thought to be guilty of the robbery and murder of at least seventeen women, many of whom had worked for them as prostitutes. They were hanged in 1921.

Public attention focused on the sisters: the combination of their gender and the violence, sexual promiscuity and general unashamed degradation of their lives generated a fascination which fed into the many films and plays that dealt with their murders.

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Valentina Viene Translates Ali Jazo: This Is Your City

Hans-Lemmen

Hans Lemmen/Roger Ballen, Rendez-vous, from “Unleashed”, 2016. Source: damnmagazine.net

Abandoned bags are tossed about by the noon breeze.

Tree leaves, narrow pavements,

.

children next to shoes,

teens, out of school, are smoking.

The curls on their foreheads are so shiny

they look frozen and stiff.

.

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George R. Sole: Ubar

An Introduction to Medieval Travelogues: A comparison of Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Fudayl

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Arnaut and his dog, 19th century. Source: Wikipedia

The act of travelling is as compelling now as it was in the past. It is one of the most powerful catalysts for change in all spheres of human society and possibly more so with Islamic civilisation, which has travel as one of its central themes. The Quran commands the faithful to perform the Hajj, here the pilgrim endures the hardships of travel in order to connect with God. But it also encourages travel in order for man to see what has become of previous nations; to take heed as it were. Whilst this author is no Mohammedan, I do believe in the latter proposition and Medieval travellers are of particular interest to me.

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Youssef Rakha: The Strange Case of the Novelist from Egypt

IMG_7360

By Youssef Rakha

About mid-way through his Nobel Prize lecture, read by Mohamed Salmawy at the Swedish Academy in 1988, the acknowledged father of the Arabic novel Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) made the point that Europeans “may be wondering: This man coming from the third world, how did he find the peace of mind to write stories?” It’s a remark that has remained with me, not so much because it implies, absurdly, that no one from a third-world country is supposed to have either peace or mind enough for literature—it particularly annoys me when, addressing his European audience, Mahfouz goes on to say they’re “perfectly right” to be posing that question—but because this presumption of deprivation or lack, of writing being something over and above ordinary living and working, seems in a way to underlie the Egyptian novelist’s collective self-image. And, especially now that Egypt is barely surviving institutional collapse and civil conflict—something that despite war, regime change, and the turn of the millennium, never happened during the 94 years of Mahfouz’s life—as a person who lives in Cairo and writes novels in Arabic, it is an idea I am somehow expected to have about myself.

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