Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Postcard from Beirut
Every night, the same paradoxical behavior.
Walking back and forth in the patio, unaware of the sky above, never daring to look up and stare for as long as the street light behind the wall remains lit; nothing would be visible anyway from this earthly distance other than the smoke signs coming out of my mouth. As if blazing, the walking back and forth is somewhere between impatient and desperate, yet so small the tiny patio; the walker seems himself as if trying to prove Zeno of Elea's dichotomy paradox: "That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal", in words of Aristotle's Physics. It is not only that the destination cannot be reached but that the journey cannot even begin, that there's no movement at all, ever. That is how the patio night walks set the background for a certain style in writing; it is not necessarily despair what is at work there but more like a patient waiting, waiting and thinking that with time the colors, and hence the motions, of the furniture and the things inside the house will change, will come to pass, will be destroyed. Nothing happens. So it is with the world. The walking continues, every night, back and forth, surrounded by the smoke and by the cold. The waiting drags on, the naught moves and unfolds.
A postcard arrives from Beirut. Beautiful is not a word to describe geography, but he remembers the Mediterranean quite well, not visually so, but a certain weather descending upon promiscuous shoulders, exposed to the caresses of the sun, of a thousand suns, then at the end of the day, a gentle breeze that can make the bleeding of the waves cease, cleanse the gloom of the upper lip and embalm the body for the procession of the night; hopping from eyelid to eyelid, in a last attempt to lose oneself in otherness, to shatter the mirror, release the shadow. Repeat every night. This breeze never lasts more than a few minutes, sometimes just a couple of seconds, but you know it's there, you remember the waiting and the paradoxical behavior and the dichotomy of movement. It is the equivalent of walking up and down the seashore, all the way from Jaffa to Ramat Aviv and in your dreams, stretching all the way to Beirut, the city of the red roof tiles, in a summer war day. Sometimes red from blood, sometimes from blushing, sometimes from beauty. You can never know. Check your calendar. It is not 2006. It depends. No movement, remember?
"We could live this life for a hundred years", so said a local journalist to an American writer during the siege of Sarajevo, what could he have meant? Certainly not death, since death is expected to last over a hundred years, and by any definition, eternity is a very long time. It is not even a time. Isn't it war, or the permanent state of unrest, where and when we relinquish all responsibility and relieve ourselves from our burdens only to live on the fringes of that thing we use to call humanity? War is not only a period, but a particular type of time and space. 2006, the year of Beirut. Is it possible that we haven't returned from there? Is it the Holiday Inn, completely bombed out? Or is it the Martyr Square? I can see Beirut from my patio, from the smoke, through the smoke, I see nothing else... At night, the pitch dark of the southern cold flares up in my dreams, writing as I am sleepwalking, blazing back and forth, erratically; I can still see "Sahet el Shouhada", riddled with bullet holes, so many times, over and over, yet still standing. I could see it from Tel Aviv, not from the top of any tower - thought once I saw Jordan from a tower, but from a cafe without windows. It was in a garden, on a summer night, prosperous with ivies and the food untouched; I think it was perhaps from a drawing.
The garden could have been anywhere in between my atelier, that little hungry cave looking into a repair garage, and that church, bombed out, now surrounded by a parking lot and what not, where the lease contract never expired and now the same ivies and prosperous but thin trees of Tel Aviv have settled indefinitely. Once the scenario of turbulent love, in spite of the bullets on both sides of the wall - crumbling but standing - that gave a proper name to Beirut in the life of the mind. It could've been today or yesterday, I wouldn't know because of the dichotomy of movement. Then it was different, there was nothing but lust and walls with bullet holes, sometimes a scrapbook. I didn't write articles and never crossed my mind the thought that someone would ever look into the most private corner of the galaxy: the open book of my mind. Sometimes fictional, sometimes not. My friend at the top of Mt. Scopus or Mt. Olives, can't remember which, drawing a garden on and on, listening to Mahler, whispering about all the parties from the past, of the infinitely past.
The necessity to write, as of today, doesn't attest to the richness of one's experience or his maturity or even to a vault of accumulated memory; it has to do more with having forgotten everything and everyone at all. That's what happens in the course of permanent exile, the sky is everywhere the same, the writing is a battle, a battle against death, not about the death of the other but about dying without having remembered everything, every single detail. Paradoxical behavior: Philosophy contains no past at all. Yet one doesn't desist, in spite of the permanent state of change which runs so rapidly that one doesn't notice the movements at all, as if it were a popular song. He begins to admire the courage in the friends that live deep inside art, that only sporadically make contact with reality, like wolves, like whores, hunting for the best raw materials and disappearing swiftly afterwards like he himself tends to disappear on people, real and imagined, that have offered any type of love that doesn't come with one-way flights elsewhere. Everything is dissolved, the message is not delivered, the sentiment is relinquished and only the work, the poem, the essay, flourish and give birth to themselves.
Only in this rabid cold, unaware of the sky, always looking down, barefoot, one recognizes the skies of Beirut, in himself. It is perhaps easier that way, without recognizing the change, the immunity to the passage of time, the immutability of art as a form rather than as an object. Counting the bodies and the prisoners and the revolutions, with little marks in the fingertip and in the cheek, engaging in something so radically as to forget yourself completely, as to forget the dichotomy, moving throughout Gods of history that delay sickness one day more at a time, that keep death one day away, as it always is. Like the postcard, from Beirut, he's nothing but a witness, traveling, on and on, unmolested by the facts, as if they could amount to or construe anything; only interested in the lust, in the flames, in the limbs, in the memory of that sinful breeze.