Sossi Madzounian: the Maine horizon

~~Occasionally, I post photographs from friends who are traveling in distant lands or who have evocative images close to home. In February 2014 I posted a collection of photographs from Sossi Madzounian, photographer and friend.  In those photographs, the accent was on the architectural, the weave of perspective and light in California and Colorado.  In these new photographs, her material is the natural, in its torrential energy and unashamed starkness.  The setting is the New England shore–specifically Fort Williams National Park in Maine.  These photographs are equal to the jagged beauty of these shores, but they are more than that–stone, ocean and seagulls self-contained and breaking free at the same time, indifferent to our gaze yet so close we could touch them. Thank you, Sossi!~~11923254_10200767161058896_8313119247916157197_n






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The Palestinian Museum to open on 15 May 2016

Originally posted on The Palestinian Museum:

The Palestinian Museum The Palestinian Museum

The Museum will connect Palestinians throughout historic Palestine and the diaspora

Ramallah (19/8/2015) – May 15, 2016 has been confirmed as the opening date for the Palestinian Museum.  The Museum, whose hub in Birzeit (25 km north of Jerusalem), is to act as a link between Palestinians in historic Palestine and those living in the diaspora. It will be dedicated to preserving and celebrating the culture, society and history of Palestine over the past two centuries.

The Museum’s director, Jack Persekian, has issued a general invitation to Palestinians living in historic Palestine and the diaspora to join with the Museum in producing and presenting new narratives of the Palestinian people, encompassing its history of dispersion, resistance, steadfast and hope.

The opening date coincides with the 68th anniversary of the Nakba, the watershed event that led to the displacement and dispossession of over 60% of the Palestinian population…

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The eyes of Granada…

Originally posted on Passages Home Blog:

Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada. 
(Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing worse in life than to be  blind in Granada). Francisco Alarcón de Icaza

My friend Aukjen sent me the translation of Alarcon’s lines this morning, as Granada’s weather was by turns sunny and drizzly, the sky a searing blue and then a dull grey. Alarcon is speaking, she said, on behalf of the blind one.  For him or her, nothing could be more cruel that Granada.

In fact, before I received the English translation of Alarcon’s words, yesterday, at the Alhambra, I thought my eye lids would simply close after so much pleasure, after so much saturation of visual sensation.  But they did not, for hours and hours of focused work, though palaces and gardens, fortes and baths.

Ahambra, for all its beauty, is…

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Amman rooftops…

~~Our afternoon in Old Amman begins on Rainbow Street, with falafel, at Al-Quds Falafel.  I am told that this hole-in-the-wall with a very amicable falafel maker is the oldest in Amman. His offering is delicious, unpretentious and not heavy on the spices.  We eat our sandwiches standing up, outside the store, among the ambling crowds.  A boy with fiery eyes approaches us, asks for money.  My companion offers to buy a falafel sandwich for him instead of giving him cash.  He takes the sandwich, crosses the street, and climbs atop the stone fence of a makeshift playground where a group of boys are playing football.


From there it is a nice walk to the heart of Old Amman, those traditional stone homes of beautiful exteriors and spacious, cool interiors–the Mango House,  the Mufti House, the Sabbagh House, and my old high school, the Ahliyyah School For Girls (formerly known at the Christian Missionary School.)  This Amman is one of the most beautiful parts of an otherwise lackluster city, harking back to a time when Amman was a sleepy old town oblivious to the future waves of foreign money (from the Gulf, then the rich Iraqi exiles of the two Gulf Wars) and refugees fleeing the unending wars of the region.


Many of Old Amman’s streets have been turned into bustling sites of pedestrians, coffee and juice stands, restaurants, and artisan shops.  Beggar boys and girls are reminders, though, that the underside of Old Amman is far less pleasant and vibrant.  We sit down for some tea.  From our perch, the downtown is a jumble of cluttered rooftops. In the distance, we can see all the way to the Citadel.


“You see all these rooftops with all the zbaleh (trash) on them?”  The speaker is a friend of my companion.  “We’re going to turn all these rooftops into gardens.”  He speaks with contagious enthusiasm.  “All of it. Families will be able to sit on their roofs, children will water the plants.”  True, Amman rooftops have everything–broken fridges and bikes, torn mattresses, old tires. Junk.  As he speaks, I imagine shrubs and trees and flower and vegetable gardens, herbs and sunflowers, lavender and za’atar.  The picture is beautiful, a far cry from the present. He appears determined; he’s young, speaks with energy.


After tea and falafel, it is dusk, and we are ready to call it a day–the promise of the rooftops in the distance, the lurk of the boy with sandwich behind us.  All of it, we’re going to turn all of it into green gardens where young boys and girls will water the gardens, play in the shade.~~

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In the Jordan Valley…

After a summer break of some two months, Passages Home is back!


During these months, I traveled to Jordan and to Palestine.  Access to wifi was slow, border crossings were frustrating, and the general mood of the people was wistful for better times. Still, the weather was transcendent, the reunions with friends from decades past affirming, and the return to spoken Arabic  restorative.


The day after my arrival in Amman, we set out to the Ghor, the Jordan Valley, known for the fertility of its soil, the warmth of its winters, and its proximity to sites of religious significance.


It was late afternoon when we got there, and immediately began our meanderings–in the distance, the strange whiteness of the Dead Sea, on our skin the stinging warmth of the setting sun,  and all around us this beautiful tree whose name we did not know.  No one seemed to have an answer for us.  We were about to leave the area when we happened on a small group of workers at a building site.  We asked, they did not know. Then, one of the men asked a couple of other men working a few meters away if they knew what the name of the tree was.  One of them stepped forward a bit awkwardly, feeling his way almost.


“It’s called jamila,” he said.  Jamila is Arabic for beautiful.


I noticed that one of his eyes had a white film over it, which suggested that he was blind in at least one eye.  “It is beautiful, indeed,” we said.  “Yes,” he said.  The men all agreed it was beautiful.  It may have been that the name that we were given was made up on the spur of the moment, improvised.  It didn’t matter really, though I did feel a little foolish hunting down a name, trying hard to fix abundance to a word.  Any word would not have done justice, so why not jamila?


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From Feuntes’ “Myself with Others”

I went back to my notes from Feuntes’ Myself with Others, after I heard the news of his death.  They are as alive as they were some twenty-five years ago, when I wrote them down in a notebook whose pages have turned yellow and whose ink is a paler black.

Not his great work, and Feuntes’ literature not as monumental as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s.  Still, a book of intimacies, to which one can return time and time again.


~~”One afternoon, on the beach at Lota in Southern Chile, I saw the miners as they came out, mole-like, from their work many feet under the sea, extracting the coal of the Pacific Ocean. They sat around a bonfire and sang, to guitar music, a poem from Neruda’s “Canto General.” I told them that the author would be thrilled to know that his poem had been set to music.

What author? they asked in surprise.  For them, Neruda’s poetry had no author, it came from afar, it had always been sung, like Homer’s.  It was, as Croce said of The Illiad “d’un popolo intero poetante,” of an entire poeitizing people.  It was the document of the original identity of poetry and history.”

~~”Nothing is shared in the abstract. Like bread and love, language and ideas are shared with human beings.”

~~”You start by writing to live. You end by writing so as not to die. Love is the marriage of this desire and this fear.  The women I have loved I had desired for themselves, but also because I feared myself.”

~~”Ancient peoples know that there are no words that do not descend from other words and that imagination only resembles power because neither can reign over Nada, Nothing, Niente…”

~~”No desire is innocent–because we not only desire, we also desire to change what we desire once we obtain it.”

~~On Maria Callas: “This woman I now saw, thinned down not by her will but by her sickness and her time,nearer every minute to her hone, every second more transparent and tenuously allied to life, possessed a hypnotic secret that revealed itself as attention.”

~~On Mexico: “Mexico is the sacred zone of a secret hope: the gods shall return.”

~~The language of the Mexicans springs from abysmal extremes of power and impotence, domination and resentment.”

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Carlos Fuentes has died…

~~In his gem of a book, Myself With Others, Carlos Fuentes has a chapter titled “How I Wrote One of My Books.”  The novel in question is Aura.  The chapter is a curious mix of evocation, meditation, memoir, and theory. Its opening sections are set in Paris:

But Paris is a double city; whatever happens there possesses a mirage which seems to reproduce the space of actuality.  We soon learn that this is a form of deceit.  The abundant mirrors of Parisian interiors do more than simply reproduce a certain space.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez says that with their army of mirrors the Parisians create the illusion that their narrow apartments are double the real size.  The true mystery–Gabriel and I know this–is that what we see reflected in those mirrors is always another time: time past, time yet to be.  And that, sometimes, if you are lucky, a person who is another person floats across these quicksilver lakes.

I believe that the mirrors of Paris contain something more than their own illusion.  They are, at the same time, the reflection of something less tangible:the light of the city, a light I have attempted to describe many times, in political chronicles of the events of May 1968 and May 1981 and in novels such as Distant Relations, where I say that the light of Paris is identical to “the expectation that every afternoon…for one miraculous moment, the phenomena of the day–rain or fog, scorching heat of snow–[will] disperse and reveal, as in a Corot landscape, the luminous essence of the Ile de France.

A second space: a second person–the other person–in the mirror is not born in the mirror: she comes from the light.  The girl who wandered in from her living room into her bedroom that hot afternoon in early September more than twenty years ago was another because six years had gone by since I first met her, in the budding grove of her puberty, in Mexico.

But she was also another because the light that afternoon, as if it had been expecting her, defeated a stubborn reef of clouds. That light–I remember it–first stepped through timidly, as if stealing by the menace of a summer’s storm; then it transformed itself into a luminous pearl encased in a shell of clouds: finally it spilled over for a few seconds with a plenitude that was also an agony.

In this almost instantaneous succession, the girl I remembered when she was fourteen years old and who was not twenty suffered the same changes as the light coming through the windowpanes:that threshold between the parlor and the bedroom became the lintel between between all the ages of this girl:the light that had been struggling against the clouds also fought against her flesh, took it, sketched it, granted her a shadow of year, sculpted a death in her eyes, tore the smile from her lips, wanted through her hair with the floating melancholy of madness.

She was another, she had been another, not she who was going to be but she who, always, was being.

The light possessed the girl, the light made love to the girl before I could, and I was only, that afternoon, “a strange guest in the kingdom of love” (“en el reino amor huésped extraño”), and knew that the eyes of love can also see us with–once more I quote Quevedo–“a beautiful Death.”

The next morning I started writing Aura in a café near my hotel on the rue de Berri. I remember the day…~~

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