Beirut’s Just a Place: Robin Moger Translates “Beirut Shi Mahal” (An Extract)

“A sea breeze bearing the sound of a car as it passes down the Corniche: enough to make you feel you knew these roads once, before the wars, before the city changed and became what it came to be.”

Rabie Jaber

 

The plane still pitching forward like a bullet as my head rattles and jars to words I once composed on another journey: “Let the days go by, just set your heart on the nearest table and wait.” It’s not the landing that scares me so much as this wild careen across the tarmac, as though the danger’s only real to me when it submits to gravity.

Years since I’ve returned to Cairo this way.

“Not a drop of rain fell tonight. To go away with no goodbyes: I’ve no regrets.”

In the passport queue I remember when these lines had come to me: in transit between Egypt and England, a university student, miserable most of the time, my life like a dream, transient and insubstantial against the solid reality of airports. Not poems I had expended any great time on, and maybe I’d never have thought of them again had they not rattled back into my head on the runway. Mind you, though: when they were published, several people had told me they were the strongest thing I’d written. It was only by (almost) pure chance that they had been published at all, and in Beirut, from where I’m returning.

No response to my greeting from the customs officer at his window and I’m hunched over the conveyor belt, waiting in agony for my bags. An agonising need to piss. This was one of the most exhausting trips I’ve ever taken, but it had certainly had its uses.

Has mother sent a man to wait for me among the drivers with their signs?


 

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The Nodding Donkeys: Anna Iltnere Interviews Caroline Eden

Vintage postcard of the Black Sea shore in Constanta, Romania. Source: hippostcard.com

“Greetings from Almaty!” she writes in her e-mail a few days ago. If British writer Caroline Eden is not at home in Edinburgh, she is most probably traveling the roads of Eastern Europe or Central Asia, and her explorations in different cultures have a special kind of prism – food. Caroline Eden uses local food traditions to “tell stories of cities and seas and places and people”. In our interview she compares recipes to “photographs, sketches, snapshots, etchings, vignettes”. Her book, Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light, published last year, is a sensory exploration of the Black Sea region and its post-Soviet countries. Since publication, it has won three awards and was shortlisted for four, and was chosen for the best book of the year round-ups by The New York Times, Financial Times, BBC and The Independent. Black Sea follows the success of her debut book Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus, co-written with Eleanor Ford in 2016. I wanted to find out about her thoughts on a sense of place, cosmopolitanism and the role of food in her writing.

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