First published on THE MANTLE
For G. Maalouf
"O ancient scent from far-off days,
Again you intoxicate my senses!
A merry swarm of idle thoughts
Flits through the gentle breeze."
-Albert Giraud, in Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire", Op. 21
It might take only half an hour I think. How long does it take from Avenue de Paris to Waygand? We're closer to neither. Damascus is near. Saad told me yesterday that he had seen Samir in his garden with the fountain. "Yesterday I visited him, he was smiling peacefully in his beautiful garden, maybe because he doesn't know what's going on". Do you know? Maybe you don't. I think it's better. Would you like to go for a stroll? "Not the years poured out like water, / Not a beautiful woman / Or anyone / Could make me forget / Distances / Beyond any distance." Why did it take you so long to come? I know, I know, I'm impatient. I'm sorry. "You have concealed your soul from me, / Loaves of bread on the table have dried; / Moss grows on them." You know how it was. The same sense of excitement and possibility; every morning again, going back and forth. I'm only travelling here; that is what I told people. You know, I was always afraid, afraid to leave. "Why were you scared yesterday under the rain? / Death told me. / But if I am your silent, older sister!" It's not that I didn't want to leave, who wouldn't? It was the uncertainty. Would I ever see you again, Beirut, George, Eman?
Loss is a wrong metaphor, you know. How can you lose what you never had? Pristine blue sky, almost perfect, irregular blotches of white, on the contours. Had you noticed the daylight? "'Why is your life in the dark', the light said, / 'But why, if you are not in the bottom of the well, / What you're lacking is love." / And I wept. / I wept inconsolable." Marie was in Damascus, looking for a house, for a house to buy. She didn't find one, though, because what she was looking for was not a house; she was looking for Michel. But Michel is not there. "I have already died, I no longer exist, / My soul has already fled / From this warm body." But you won't leave, right? Where would you like to go, after this? "It was a time / When the senses wanted to go to the limit / Beyond the laws of heaven." I know where I want to go. It's a bit far. "When I die - / God will unweave my life / Thread by thread, / And will cast my colors into the ocean, / Into the reef of the abyss. / They will be perhaps turned into a flower, into a butterly / Of tender colors at night, of vivid colors at night." I hear the water. We must be nearer now.
[Ziad Saad in "A Perfect Day". Film, 2005. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige]
So glad you're here, at last, but there's nothing to see in this city. "How insignificant is the flame / Inside the mortal heart, / She said / And jumped / Into the bonfire / To rise to heaven in the fires of hell." I can be so cruel sometimes, but try not to judge me, I've been here for so long; I forgot many things while I was waiting. "I always wept / Because of my imprisonment / Between the walls of the house, / Between the walls of the street, / Between the walls of the city, / Between the walls / Of the hills." The world will not last, I think that's what the saints taught, but you? "My thoughts wondered / How you and those evil words / Could live in the same generation." How did you get here anyway? Did you take a cab? My directions weren't particularly clear. Was the traffic too bad? "When I screamed / When I was confused / How did you find me? / Find me behind the seven walls / That I built around me?" I'm not exactly sure what was worse, the nightmare or daydreaming. No, you wouldn't like to know the things I was thinking."True friend / Primeval soul from remote days of Paradise / You brought beautiful perfumes / To the bottom of the well / For soothing my spirit."
"Mafi 7ada 2a7la menak... mafi 7ada 2a7la menak...(*)" It's beautiful here, isn't it? It's OK. Nothing has changed much, except for a new music store, nearby. You'll see it. The people? Some left, yes. "Hate lies. Hate lies. Hate lies." Why don't you come more often, habibi? I love the simple words, you know, if I could say them more often, I wouldn't need to write; they're poetic already. I still have a map of the sky at night. It was very dark here in those days, the stars was the only thing we could see far in the distance and we were so curious then. What are you thinking of? "You know all the secrets / Now, tell me what to ask for in the last day." I saw Maiysa crying the other day, and I thought maybe you could tell me why. "Nor the reason for my life / Neither the reason of my death / Will I learn in this world."
Are you still there? "I admired your glowing beauty / And detected signs of abandonment / In the petals / You were almost fading - / My little friend / We were both in need of so much compassion." Do you know what time is it, George? Let's go, they're already waiting.
"Lucky is he who has no home; he sees it still in his dreams" -Hannah Arendt
[Passages from Zelda Schneerson-Mishkovsky taken from "Shirei Zelda", Kibbutz HaMeuchad, 1974]
(*) Lebanese: There is none as beautiful as you.
In memory of Samir Kassir (1960-2005) and Michel Seurat (1947-1986), two victims of terror in a bloody international war that has claimed over 150,000 lives in Lebanon since 1975, and that to date has not ended.