Mourning Gaza

These lines from Darwish, for Gaza

If you were not the rain, my love, then be the tree
Saturated and bountiful, be the tree.
And if you were not the tree, my love, then be the stone
Saturated and moist,  be the stone.
And if you were not the stone, my love, then be the moon
In the dream of the loved one, be the moon.
This is what a woman said to her son at his funeral.

~~Excerpt from Under Siege (2000) by Mahmoud Darwish,
translated from the Arabic by Taline Voskeritchian and Christopher Millis~~

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~~July 1 is the fourteenth anniversary of Vahé Oshagan’s death.  On this occasion, here is a translation of one of his best, re-posted.  The earth, light, on Vahé Oshagan. ~~

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Vahé Oshagan’s poem Դէպի Կեանք (Toward life) was completed in 1983 and published in 1991.  To my knowledge, the following is its first English language translation from the Armenian to be published separately anywhere.

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TOWARD LIFE
by
Vahé Oshagan

This midday too
god sits in death’s shade wipes the sweat off his forehead
takes out the round gold watch
looks
thousands cross-legged in circles listen to fairy tales
that swing from the tongues of tiny, suspended bells—
this is our life
dragging a torn fishing-net on our shoulder we walk the streets
the shrieking mob chases a decrepit whore ten months pregnant
liquid-eyed vagrant seven times over
for twenty-four hours we celebrate a single instant’s birthday
arms thrust in the wind fingers of nakedness opened
the longings throb incurably bit by bit—
oh this life
from the cradle they anointed us married us off in the stealth of darkness
we have now left home gone to the villages whoring with every passer-by
day and night hungry sleepless I’m out on the street I search
who is it? what is it? no one knows no one has seen
innumerable fetid wounds pave the world
I will bend down kiss
life is a street where the urchins have seized me chasing me, laughing at me
miniature holy desert I rent out to predators of human beings
and I flee stumbling through photocopy corridors:
How to live?
the invisible steel webs of wisdom cover the universe
caught in it I soar on the surface of consciousness
brand new useless furniture and housewares parade all day
isolated from the desolate living room we will stand face to face
look at each other to say what is already at the bottom of wind and water
fossils glitter in the pearly halls of the heart
seated on the ground I wait I’ve been jobless six months all the way back until there from where we did not yet start on the road all of us huddle nose to nose
no place left on the universe’s weathered sofa except to stand on one leg
cast a shadow in the morning and gather it at night.

And I live
in the pandemonium I have opened my palm begging from all four corners
whatever falls whoever steals in broad daylight
spreads it out carefully in the suburbs of loneliness without streets without sidewalks
but I sprout from the slits of desire bringing the light with me
to find the road before I’m lost traceless formless
caught in the sweet glue we wander how can we not love and hate each other?
the world and I are twins attached to each other on all sides
two bastards we lurk in the vicinity of the whorehouse
looking for our bashful mother
but everywhere the rustle of curtains the veil and patina of brides
thick dust of Vesuvius buried in it inside the horizon’s eyelid
leaning against each other we keep steadfast vigil for a miracle’s birth:

My life is the light
plastered wastefully on the eye of the world
poured freely for the famine-crazed wild multitudes
gigantic bribe for the hiding atoms to come out and look at me
perhaps we will recognize each other have something to say
at the exit of the same womb we too have crouched seated for centuries
our eyes on the empty white walls we smile like idiots
what business do we have in these parts?
for whose soul do these lamps burn?
what waste of luck this is which we barely managed to acquire
and arrived here spread the carpet on the grass took out the sandwiches and lay back
and already the guise of light covers us with the armors of dinosaurs
with insect feet we slide across the invisible hide of light
we have fun toast life strut around wearing shadows.

My life is darkness
I fall in it at each step there are pot holes one inside the other they have no end
and no beginning on this hot pain they have poured thick asphalt
armies of ants carrying the world dance on my skin
who cares that people run barefoot crazed toward destruction
and then they are not there they have escaped and gone to the cellars of exile
and they keep me hostage or bury me or throw me in a corner
all by myself they have locked the photographer’s darkroom from inside and outside
all day all night nothing better to do than sitting around washing and drying film, hanging it on the wall without ever knowing who looks at you from whose voice is it from the depths of mouths the cassettes spin for twenty four hours a day
understand if you can, anyone knocking on the door at midnight? Does the world know                                                                                                                      you are alive?
holding on like this to the limitless sail of consciousness
taut and ready waiting, where oh where is the wind’s feather to come and take me
beyond this darkness this light there’s no address or identity—

only love
from the grids and cages of bones from the gutters of the sky’s roof from the neumes of                                                                                                                             my palms
in the downward sleep of time tumbling all the way to the pail of suffering
never ever use the word for happiness it will die
and with it will disappear love back to the table’s crumbs the crowd has left
everything begins after the feast no one tells you the news
by the time you find out it is too late you will stand under the wall and watch
no need anymore to crack jokes at dinner with your mouth full
to talk seriously about the Pope to hurry to the airport your heart full of fear
to stand in line at the unemployment office for hours and lifetimes
to shovel the snow toward the street toward the city toward the world which is not there
our eyes are cheap beads gathered from streams and sidewalks
the crickets the cars Baron Setrak and Vivaldi
all operate on the same loom of virgin silence mysterious and coded

what message?
whose tongues have Gengis Khan’s executioners cut
and thrown me back to the gardens of childhood filled with mines
now they explode one by one you must walk run play
sing scream this is my body poured like this to edge of the horizon
the ring where shall we take it? we are orphaned atoms all of us
bride and bridegroom father-in-law mother-in-law brother-in-law
sister-in-law cousin niece nephew, godfather, godmother
bridegroom come outside
see, everything and all of us are relatives and in-laws
from the old sorrowful whore seated at the door knees wide open saliva flowing from                                                                                                             her mouth
from the debauched indolent hashish addict the shameless lewd procurer
the virtuous lovesick inconsolable and abandoned nun
from the darkened and virgin thickets the beasts devouring each other
from the volcano’s exploding heart from the seas of misfortune from the houses stacked
one on top of another
from inside the contaminated filth until the altar the chrism the ointment
love a gigantic magnet thousands and thousands of crumbs which shine glitter quiver
stone water air tree light man and insect
we have gathered under the huge empty copula
hey bridegroom of ours look here
how will you recognize us you neither see nor hear nor touch
we sleep in hideouts made of syllables we have built sanctuaries of alphabets
clothes of words cover us, disguise us for eternity
now we are standing in groups our cocktail drinks in our hands we talk about this and                                                                                                                                              that
a little while later faceless employees will ask for our tickets
break the thread of conversation open the door push us all to the tarmac
outside in the dark no one will remember us greet us with a hello
suddenly voices will call us please come this way this way hurry up
and hundreds of hands will hold pull push into the line
it is the old couch of the whorehouse but the anxiety of waiting is not there anymore
the intermission has ended other people are standing in the corridors.

What did we understand from all that has transpired?
the heels always wore out on the outside
against closed doors we cursed we sobbed we yearned
we dyed our hair black secretly we swallowed many pills
we did not eat onions and garlic we used deodorant under our arms
we learned to read and write we had visiting cards printed
taking on the airs of people in the know reliable serious
our heads down with slow steps we walked back and forth back and forth on carpets
talking about immortality the black market the Secret Army
we had our pictures taken we made the sign of the cross we received greetings
on the phone we talked about life death love giving our advice
without a smile wearing glasses holding candles in our hands we walked around each
other
but no one was fooled
and we remained human-like scarecrows scattered here and there in the silent desolate                                                                                                                                          fields
not a single bird flying back and forth noticed us
while the solitary tiller from the distant mist waved his arm to us
but not a single seed reached the path of consciousness
and I am still here holding a child’s tiny silver spoon
confused useless words hang from my mouth
the colorful threads of the clowns have become a tangled mess

whom to tell the story how to tell it no one believes it anymore
that what happened was not an accident and the fairy tale has no end
a thrust cork floats on eternity’s surface and bottom
there was no escape when they lay the trap.

I will go toward life
to the stairs of the future there a duplicate standing naked
to the impossible appointment when is it where is it oh my god before they lock up the
coffee shop
to the sidewalks of midnight to wander a famished shadow
I am and I am not we will live in the multitude of the covered market
I sell memories . . .   I sell memories . . .  who will buy them . . . come take them . . .
I offer them for free
I am made of crumbs fallen to the ground around the potter’s chair
given shape in a hurry in the dark incomplete
placed at the center breathless to endure until I reach some place
the world poured all over the place  sand heap of an adventure-stricken truck
I sell memories . . . what do you care who I am what I am
I buy your torn underwear the smell of your mouth your shit
I am the only customer of your life you have locked the door inside what are you doing?
I am the sole heir of your treasures where have you buried them?
don’t you know that the desert begins beyond this point
the tortoise has fallen on its back the cripple has curled on himself
people each one a letter-bomb they explode in my hands as soon as I open them
the crumbs the echo fill the exotic bubble
which is carried across rooftops tumbles through the streets

that’s me that’s me
I have come before myself to herald my coming
the guest list in my hand to prepare the big feast
the last hope of the universe’s blind deacon of a firefly
may be this time for a second the narrow path will be visible
toward life.

~~Translated by Taline Voskeritchian~~

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Beyond its literary life, Oshagan’s poem has had an illustrious cohabitation with sound and film. In the mid-1980s, sound artist Ohannes Salibian, using a recording of Oshagan reading his own poem, created a text-sound composition which was performed at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  In 1995, film-maker Hrayr Anmahooni produced a new work titled (translated) Tebi Gyank, a 19-minute visual-aural re-shaping of the poem, which has been screened at several film festivals.

Links: http://www.ehrayr.com/Site_4/Anahid_Kassabian,_Art_Endings.html

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On Michael Haneke’s “Amour”

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My essay, “Reading the Book of Living with Michael Haneke’s Amour,”  is now posted on the on-line literary/cultural magazine, The Bangalore Review.

Check it out here.   http://www.bangalorereview.com/2014/06/reading-the-book-of-living-with-michael-hanekes-amour/

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A wayward couple in South America I: Argentina

There are voyages, there are journeys, there are travels, and then there is tourism.  I am not sure which one fits the South American wanderings of my dear friends Rostom Sarkissian and Lilit Baldjyan, but it does not look to me like theirs was the last of the list.

From time to time, I post photographs from friends who are traveling in distant lands or who have evocative images close to home. Rostom and Lilit’s text below gives a nice summary of the significance and range of their adventure in South America, as do the photographs, which were taken on their phones as internet access was often limited in many of the places they landed on.  The first installment is from Argentina.  Others will follow.

Thank you very much, Rostom and Lilit, for your words, for the captions, for these unadorned, spontaneous images, and for your willingness to share them on this blog.  Safe travels, fair winds, gentle landings.

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~~Tomorrow, we board another bus, our 25th or 30th of this trip. We’ve lost count at this point.  We will say goodbye to Baños in the evening and when we awake, we will be two buses away from our final destination.  This is now our 33rd city, 5th country, 2nd continent.

In January of this year, Lilit and I decided to leave our comfort zones in Los Angeles to travel, explore and learn.  We knew this was our opportunity and by doing so, we would be more complete individuals when we returned home.  The trip has exceeded our expectations.  This journey has been amazing!!!

We’ve traveled through the Conch Republic, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru and now Ecuador.  Our travels have taken us to some of the places that we planned to go, but have mostly consisted of detours to towns, villages and regions we had never heard of.

The road has been our guide and it has been kind to us.  It has led us to some of God’s greatest creations (Perito Moreno, Iguazu Falls, the Andes, among others) and to some of man’s finest handiworks (Machu Picchu, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the Central Squares of most South American cities).  What a journey!

Our lives have become enriched in ways we never expected.  We’ve made some great friends; seen the human condition (good and bad) in places that are far removed from our daily existence; and have gained a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of people who live on this planet.  It’s cliche to say this, but traveling has reinforced for us the truth that we are more similar than we are different.

From a professional perspective, Lilit has gotten a first-hand look at the medical care provided to women in the field of obstetrics.  I have been overwhelmed by the knowledge I’ve gained of public policy in Latin America–from public transportation, to the importance of the public square, to monetary policy to tourism development, to much, much more.

I can write about this journey for hours on end, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Take a look at our photos; they tell some of our story.  Siempre bien viaje.~~

 

Resting place of the haves.  Recoleta Cemetery.  Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Resting place of the haves. Recoleta Cemetery. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

The hidden giant.  The magnificent Fitz Roy mountain hiding behind the clouds.  El Chalten, Argentina.

The hidden giant. The magnificent Fitz Roy mountain hiding behind the clouds. El Chalten, Argentina.

Avance!  One of the few advancing glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno.  El Calafate, Argentina.

Avance! One of the few advancing glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno. El Calafate, Argentina.

Lighting up the sky, one last time for today.  Peninsula Valdez, Argentina.

Lighting up the sky, one last time for today. Peninsula Valdez, Argentina.

Iguazu, in a fraction of its glory.  Photos cannot capture the magnitude of the falls.  Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

Iguazu, in a fraction of its glory. Photos cannot capture the magnitude of the falls. Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

Elegance.  Bosque Tallado (carved forest).  El Bolson, Argentina.

Elegance. Bosque Tallado (carved forest). El Bolson, Argentina.

Our competition for picking blackberries.  San Martin de los Andes, Argentina.

Our competition for picking blackberries. San Martin de los Andes, Argentina.

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Nuri Bilge Çeylan, again

~~Nuri Bilge Çeylan has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year for his film “Winter Sleep.”  Two years ago, I was introduced to and mesmerized by this film-maker’s work when I saw his “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. ”  Today, I am re-posting the commentary I wrote on that occasion.~~

 

More than half of Nuri Bilge Çeylan’s 157-minute-long film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), takes place at night, in the merciless Anatolian landscape where a group of men, including the murder suspects, are looking for the body of the victim.  In fact, the entire film takes place in less than a day as the investigating team first scours the Anatolian steppes,  rests at a local mukhtar‘s (mayor) home,  continues its work, and finally heads into a nearby town  to file the report, examine the body and bring this journey–this police-invetigation-turned-existential-search– to its conclusion.

You would think that as the night gives way to daybreak, clarity and certainty will also emerge, justice will be done.  But as this remarkable film slowly unfolds in scenes which are as theatrical as they are painterly, the causes and method of murder recede, giving way to a riveting, absorbing meditation of death and love.  The characters are unforgettable–from the prosecutor all the way to the driver, Arab Ali–Ceylan’s portraiture is slow, masterful and meticulous.  Against the background of the Anatolian landscape, Ceylan reveals the the burdens of each of these men–especially the prime suspect, the prosecutor, and the ambiguous doctor, burdens which invariably come back to love, and its entangled relationship with death and beauty.

I can write for pages on this ambitious gem of a film–its play of light and dark, its transgressions, its ethics of display (what is shows and what it hides), but most of all its allegiance to literature, to Chekov in the choice and development of character, and to Dostoyevsky in the variations of the metaphor of crime and punishment.  Every single shot is a pleasure of behold, every line of the screenplay is a cry from the heart, sometimes trivial, sometimes profound.

In my mind there’s a kind of aesthetic solidarity between three films which I love:  Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Angolopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze, and Ashghar Farhadi’s A Separation.  As different as they are, these three films come from other places, on the edge of the mainstream filmic universe; all large in their vision; all meticulous in their composition; all informed with a deep humanity for the persons who usually drop off the frame of life or lurk on the edges, persons who carry their troubles often awkwardly, rarely heroically, individuals battling their environment and surroundings, in foreign languages  so authentic we are snared into believing they’re our own.~~

 

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Le Grand Continental in Boston

~~The weather was perfect this afternoon for the final performance of Le Grand Continental, a celebration of movement, community and public space.  Created by the Montreal-based company Sylvain Émard Danse, Le Grand Continental is an idea that transcends locales, dance and musical style, age differences; in doing so it turns public spaces such as Copley Square into a site of exuberance, togetherness, and vitality.

10362359_551654041621564_2069837859552830305_nBoston is one of the five cities where Le Grand Continental has been staged; the others are Montreal, Mexico City, New York, Philadelphia and Portland, OR.  The project integrates line dancing with contemporary dance, giving the whole spectacle an urban, spontaneous quality.

The dancers’ age ranged across seven decades– all amateurs, all here for the sheer joy of dancing together.  The more than one hundred dancers, all from Boston and its surrounding communities, had rehearsed for several months for this weekend’s performance, and they came in a colorful assortment of costumes, footwear, and makeup.  In less than 30 minutes, a space made ordinary by local and tourist foot traffic  was inhabited by dance. It’s as if Copley Square and the Boston Public Library  shrugged history off for something of the moment, something vernacular, something for all.

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The whole thing was a blast, and Copley Square, for all its farmers’ markets and festivals and rallies and street commerce, had never looked this alive, pulsating with a fiery energy which is not typical for this town of ours, telling us–dancers and spectators–that the streets and squares are made for togetherness: Two women saved seats for us while we went meandering, a gentleman distributed ear plugs, another led a handicapped man to a safe seat.  We were together, gathered by this most ancient of human activities re-made in the image of the city, a harbor for all.

There’s a lot of talk these days about cities becoming centers of renewal (I will not use the word vibrant; it’s so overused as to have lost all meaning…).  Boston has doggedly continued, sticking to its ways, relying on its natural beauty, intellectual capital, and long memory.  This weekend’s dance spectacle was so terrific as to make us all wonder if this dizzying mix of color and sound and movement may be a harbinger of things to come to our city, our shores.~~

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Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum, Boston

DSC06838Granted, I am not a skilled photographer, but lilac bushes are not particularly photogenic, even the very abundant, very energetic ones that make up the path of the lilac collection at the Arnold Arboretum.  Even yesterday, their day of full visibility, the sight of the lilacs, from a distance, was not particularly striking until we began our ascent up the path which brought us into their fragrant realm. There they were, bush after bush of lilacs for the entire stretch, the gentle wind of the day sustaining their fragrance, carrying it, holding it. This year, spring is late, and many of the bushes were not in full bloom, but the fragrance was unmistakable, intoxicating.

Yesterday was Boston’s annual Lilac Sunday when the Arboretum — all 281 acres and 14,980 living plants — becomes a truly common space of being: young and old, families and solitary wanderers, dogs on leashes and agitated squirrels, busy food trucks and improvised picnics.  It’s the day the Arboretum–that most beautiful of all of Boston’s hidden harbors– sheds off its modesty and comes out into the city, and invites the city in. After such a long, dreary winter, this year’s Lilac Sunday seemed particularly animated and joyous, a magnificent spectacle.

Photo: Valentina Calzolari

Photo: Valentina Calzolari

But this jewel of a site on the Emerald Necklace of our city’s chest is for all seasons, all climates, all occasions, all moods.  Nothing in Boston compares to the vastness of its landscape, the variety of its trees, shrubs, and plants, the daunt of its beauty, and the tenderness of its intimacy. The Arboretum  is destination and starting point, refuge and dislocation, strangeness and familiarity.

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It is a place of stasis after a winding itinerary by car along Riverway and Arborway or an energetic walk from the Forest Hill subway station at the end of the Orange line.  Either way, the Arboretum is an open space tucked in the middle of the city; it is there but also takes some effort to reach for people like us who do not live downtown.

All of which is as it should be for a place so magical it takes the breath away, and gives  back the world anew. Like traveling to a far away place, getting to the Arboretum and being held by her spell and by her otherness is the common space of us all, creatures of the earth, a space made and remade by a pedestrian’s step, a leaf’s glide to the ground, a yellow warbler’s first flight into the searing blue sky.

photo-84~~

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