Aleppo, of memory…

~~I wrote this article in 2005, and could not get it published although several “major” US newspapers showed interest only to withdraw at the last minute.  I can speculate, but that’s an obscene luxury now that Aleppo has been reduced to a ghostly shadow of its past glories.

Still, this is the Aleppo of my memory, our Aleppo.~~

Mandaloon Hotel, Aleppo

Halfway between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River, Syria’s second city, which the locals call Halab, is home to some 5 million inhabitants, 15,000 taxis, and a 5000-year history of military invasions and mercantile traffic.

In the last few decades, Aleppo has also become the destination of choice for many European tourists who are lured by its architectural splendors, exceptional cuisine, and atmosphere of urbane sophistication and traditional hospitality.  “Aleppo is the next big thing,” says a Aleppine  hotel-owner.   “Barcelona, then Marseilles.  Now it’s Halab!”

The 1.5 -sq. mile Old Aleppo is the city’s historic core and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Old Aleppo has been undergoing a multi-phased, innovative urban rehabilitation, which has brought it western technical support and recognition.  Meanwhile, modern Aleppo has continued expanding into newer, primarily residential neighborhoods of honey-colored limestone buildings with intricately carved facades.

Old City, Aleppo

In the midst of their city’s current visibility, bustle, and expansion, Aleppines are taking things in with a mixture of hyper pride and urbane nonchalance.

“Aleppo has always been different, “ says a municipal employee of the Department of the Old City.   “People go down to Damascus, but they miss Aleppo so much that they come back at the end of the day.”  The comparison with the Syrian capital is a key ingredient of Aleppine identity:  Damascenes are sissies, their meat is tough, their air is humid, their dialect is soft.  “The stone of Damascus buildings is nothing compared to the beauty of ours, “ says an architecture student on the bus we are riding together from Damascus to Aleppo.

Aleppine pride is also intertwined with the city’s past glory and its geographic location. In the seventh century, Aleppo was the home of Islam’s great writers and philosophers; in the eleventh and twelfth centuries some of the bloodiest battles between the invading Christian armies of the Crusaders and the Muslims took place in Aleppo. Once an important stop on the Silk Road, Aleppo’s present position as the commercial center of northern Syria dates back to Ottoman times.

Between 1919-1946, Aleppo was under French mandate which gave it a European architectural aesthetic and modernist city planning schemes that gradually destroyed the Old City.  The process was halted in 1986 when UNESCO designated the Old City a World Heritage Site.  The rehabilitation began four years later.

The French mandate also reinforced the historic Christian presence in a city that had been part of the Arab Islamic world for many centuries. Recent political upheavals in the Middle East have resulted in the depletion of the urban Christian populations throughout the region.  Still,  Christians continue to play an important role in today’s Aleppo although the city’s religious and ethnic make-up has changed significantly.  What has persisted, though, is the Aleppines’ characteristic industriousness and joie de vivre.

The image of Aleppo as a historically multi-ethnic, open city is the one that the current regime of Bashar al-Asad wants to project. The new policy is in sharp contrast to that of  Hafez al-Asad’ s 30-year reign, during whose administration Aleppo witnessed Islamist  riots and clashes in the early 1980s. The response from the center was often harsh and quick. For two decades Aleppo lay low under a policy of benign neglect, but the city continued to attract those who knew about its affordable and distinctive pleasures.

“ In Aleppo,” says an engineer in his mid-50s,  “nobody bothers anybody else. “We are not like the Taliban who destroyed the statue of Buddha. Our minds are flexible,” he adds,  “and we love life.”

Older Aleppines—many of them Christian Armenians– often talk wistfully about the days when things were really good. On Sundays, they would don their best clothes, attend church, and then stroll down the streets of the Azizieh neighborhood for a relaxed lunch or a leisurely walk in one of Aleppo’s beautiful public gardens.  In fact, for many Armenians, Aleppo holds a special place in the collective memory—the refuge from the genocidal atrocities for those who were spared death and the marches through the Der Zor desert.  And while Lebanese Armenians may claim Beirut as the pre-eminent city of the post-genocide Armenian diaspora, it is Aleppo which was the first station of displacement and new beginnings in educational institutions, churches and businesses.

For the skeptic, the Aleppine self-definition may seem like the reaction of people on the defensive, but Aleppines have a lot to boast about. Old Aleppo is a daunting honeycomb of souks (closed markets),  khans (caravan rest houses), traditional  homes with a hawsh (courtyard), mosques and churches and their adjoining madrasas (schools), squares, cemeteries and shrines, hammams (Arabic baths), and bimaristans (places of healing and reflection).

This historic core coexists with Aleppo’s more modern sections. The two main public gardens, the government buildings, the homes of the colonial elite and the middle class, the Baghdad Railway Train Station, as well as the neighborhoods to the north and west of the city wall all bear the mark of French architecture.

Baghdad Railway Train Station, Aleppo

“We don’t have fancy amusement parks, as you have in America,” says a long-time tourist guide. “We go to our city’s historic places to pass the time. “

The Yalbougha al-Naseri bath, opposite the main entrance of the Citadel, is one such place.  The Citadel itself is Aleppo’s most spectacular site.  A majestic structure around which the city  wraps itself, the Citadel’s origins are pre-Christian.  The existing fortress was reconstructed in the eleventh century.

Of the 50 functioning baths in the city, the Yalbougha is the most beautiful.  Until  the beginning of the twentieth century it too lay in ruins, a casualty of the Mongol invasions , which destroyed much of the city walls and gates. Its 25-year restoration was completed in 1985.

Yalbougha Public Bath

For Aleppines and foreign visitors, going to the hammam can be an all-day affair, its pleasures heightened by the local ghar (laurel) soap, the loufa and kesseh.( coarse, scrubbing cloths), fruit and juices, even music and dance.    “Sometimes we have birthday parties here, “says the receptionist. “The cake is delivered to the desk.”

The bath ceremony is a three-phased passage, each with its own area in the Yalbougha: the preparatory front,  the middle section with its private cabins where a visitor can also have a good massage and a thorough scrubbing; and the interior which is a large steam room with an octagonal ceiling edged by geometric motifs.

A downhill walk from the Yalbougha, the closed souks have few rivals in the entire region. Here, the Aleppine artisan and mercantile talents converge in a whirlwind of shops and specialized sections for  local jewelry, textiles, meat, nuts, soaps, spices, juices, dried fruit and much, much more. Here also the legendary Aleppo pistachio nuts, red pepper, pomegranate paste and grains are in abundance.

Fresh grape leaves vendor, Aleppo souk

The cobblestone alleys are narrow and noisy; sometimes donkeys with huge watermelons on their backs share the pathways with tourists, professionals with gelled hair, and village folk selling chickens in a portable coop or bags of cotton. But in the end what makes the Aleppo souks such an extraordinary place is the commercial energy—everything from the display to the haggling and the agreement on a final price.  An Aleppine can sell you a dead horse, goes the saying, and sometimes it is easy to fall for the charm as well as insistence of Aleppo’s sellers.

The longest and oldest of the middle eastern closed markets, the Aleppo souks were originally constructed during the Hellenist period along a straight axis from the Antakia Gate of the city walls toward the Citadel. With each conquest, newer structures went up. The process peaked during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, with the addition of mosques, caravansaries, infirmaries, public baths, and khans for the traveling merchants.

Aleppo’s past and geography have also shaped its remarkable cuisine. In fact, Aleppo cuisine is one of the gourmet world’s longest and best-kept secrets.  Aleppines insist that no other place in the region—neither Beirut nor Istanbul— can compare with the food of Aleppo.  They are right.

Aleppines attribute the distinctive taste of their cuisine to the ingredients.  The city is still fed by small farms which grow seasonal produce and raise animals, particularly mutton, the old-fashioned way. “Our food tastes so good, “says a university professor who is also an excellent cook, “because the ingredients are free of hormonat! “   Hormonat, a borrowing from English, is an all-purpose term for all the evils of commercial farming.

The centerpiece of an Aleppo lunch or dinner is the various kinds of mashawi, which literally means roasted on charcoal. It is invariably preceded by the mezzeh (appetizers) and concludes with a dizzying display of fruits, pastry and ice cream.

Aleppo boasts a mashawi which carries its name—Aleppo kebab, made with ground meat and a thick tomato sauce.  This dish notwithstanding, one of the most delectable mashawis is the kabab karaz, which makes a brief yearly appearance.  It is made with a sauce of Aleppo karaz (sour cherries) that are available only in June.

Although the pollution wreaks havoc on the skin and the lungs, Aleppo is a splendid, daunting place of cultural density and vernacular beauty. The city has emerged out of the shadows, at least for seasoned travelers.   Its return to the world is not without risks — gentrification, exacerbation of class tensions, weakening of the urban integrity and continuity, and ascendancy of tourism.  All these factors may end up testing once again the Aleppines’ loyalty to their city as well as their flexibility in the face of changing circumstances.  If the past is any indication, the Aleppines will navigate these waters with resourcefulness, skill and studied nonchalance.

Aleppine home turned into English language school

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Alice Samuelian Aslanian has died…

~~I found out today that Alice Samuelian Aslanian, co-owner of Librarie Orientale in Paris, has died, only a month after the passing of her brother and co-owner of the Librairie, Armen Aslanian.

These two deaths of brother and sister mark the end of an era. In addition to its substantial holdings, the LO was cultural landmark, exilic gathering place, and community-builder for the generation of Armenian survivors of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians of the empire. For decades after its establishment, the LO held a prestigious presence in the scholarly life of Paris, and for those thousands of visitors to the Parisian capital for whom the LO was a mandatory stop.
The earth, light, on Alice Aslanian–a woman of elegance, intelligence, and lightness of spirit.  As a tribute, I am re-posting a short piece about the Librairie.

~~

On my last day in Paris, a gentle drizzle in the air, we make our way to Librairie Orientale Hrant Samuelian, to meet up with two other friends.  “Let’s meet at Samuelian,” we’ve told each other. The four of us–an Armenian friend originally from Beirut who lives in Paris; another friend originally from Istanbul who also lives in Paris; and a French woman whose ancestry is Russian, and whose family includes prominent Orientalists, the four of us–brought together today by a visit to the Librairie Orientale.

Photo: flickr

It’s always like this with Librairie Orientale, the visit itself larger than the actual walk up Monsieur Le Prince to the bookstore, narrow, with an unassuming, almost self-effacing exterior. This time, I am here at the request of a friend from Los Angeles who wants the two-volume fascimile edition of the first Armenian periodical published in Madras, India, between 1794-96, and reissued in 1970.  For all the weight which these details carry, a visit to this legendary bookstore is always a kind of secular pilgrimage–part ritual, part recollection, but above all an occasion for browsing, yes, but also for reflection, conversation, and re-capture of something on the brink of being lost but also of persisting–fragile and enduring at the same time.

Located on a side street in the heart of Paris’ Latin Quarter, in close proximity to the Sorbonne, Librairie Orientale is bookstore, institution, repository of knowledge all rolled into one. For Armenians, the Librairie Orientale is also a sort of secular shrine, the kind of place which casts a long, larger-than-life shadow rife with meaning and memory. Founded in 1930 by Hrant Samuelian, a native of Marash and an orphan at four years old, Librairie Orientale is the longest continuously functioning Armenian bookstore (the word bookstore does not do justice to its academic and symbolic function) in the world.  It is also a source of hard-to-find publications for scholars and specialists in “Orientalist” disciplines. As the historian Anahide Ter Minassian re-tells it, Samuelian’s life (1891-1977) is the stuff of novels and scholarly studies, so wide and diverse was its span, from the Hamidian massacres which took his father and brother in 1895 through the calamities and major events of Armenian history in the twentieth century.

The Librairie Orientale has no website of its own; makes no effort at publicizing its holdings; has somewhat arbitrary hours of operation; and does not fill out orders by mail. It does not even accept credit card purchases. Yet for all of its limitations–or, rather, because of these limitations perhaps–the Librairie Orientale draws visitors and locals to its stacks and tables, offering much more than a place to buy or browse through old books, periodicals, dictionaries, prayer books in a dozen or so languages.  It is a place of encounter–with history, with scholarship and scholars, with a world long gone whose embers spark with a luminosity, faint yet enduring. After Edward Said’s Orientalism, can anyone use the adjective with confidence? Perhaps not, yet for all the Orientalist underpinnings of its name, the Librairie Orientale offers yet another kind of encounter: of Armenian subjects with the cultures and history of neighboring civilizations, a rubbing of histories against one another albeit under an “orientalist” category.

Photo: flickr

It is a bit misleading, therefore, to speak of Librairie Orientale in only Armenian terms, for its holdings extend far and wide, taking in diverse epochs and civilizations. Perhaps this is another reason for the singular place which the Librairie Orientale holds in the collective consciousness of Armenians, subjected to genocide, expelled from their historic homeland, dispersed, resettled (in the case of Hrant Samuelian, in Paris) but also engaged in a conversation with the world. The Librairie Orientale, is one of the most illustrious stations on the long road of this dispersion. Ter Minassian says that the  Librairie Orientale played a pivotal role in the transformation of refugee life into a diaspora community. It was, she says, a place where the newly resettled Armenians could  find a particular book, journal or author, where they could seek counsel, an address or meet fellow Armenians.  The two other institutions which played a defining role in this transformation were the church on Jean Goujon Street and the daily newspaper Haratch (founded in 1925).

Photo: flickr

And so we go in on this rainy afternoon, my last in Paris.  The current owners, Alice Aslanian and Armen Samuelian, who are the grown children of Hrant Samuelian, operate the bookstore now.  They are not young.  But, oddly enough, despite the abundance of very old books and the advanced age of the owners, there is not a hint of the stench of old age here.  A quiet animation, almost eerie in its impact, fills the space among the visitors who browse for a while, then talk amongst themselves, then browse some more–an aside here, a joke there, the atmosphere light.  This is not a bookstore, I tell myself.  Nor is it a library.  It is really a world, made anew with each visit, with each turn of the page which is so fragile as to be crumbling in my hands.  It is a world soaring with light despite the grey outside, despite the slow creasing of time, despite the twilight of the print.

The rain continues; we leave Librairie Orientale and walk slowly to the Luxembourg Gardens, find a café, sit down for an animated conversation.  The world–new again.

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At Finisterre’s edge of the world…

From time to time, and usually in the summer, I post photographs that friends send back from their travels–South America, the Balkan countries, the Middle East, anywhere and everywhere a traveler’s fancy has taken them for pleasure or pilgrimage, fun or enlightenment. Makes no difference the target, for travel–and the traveler’s alertness and openness to the unknown within and without — is its own reward, the road rather than the destination, the big prize.  In his gem of an essay, “Why We Travel,” Pico Iyer writes that travel is “a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing.”

Yesterday, my dear friend Rose Giovanetti  sent me photographs from her travels–from Finisterre on the western coast of Galicia, Spain, the end point of her weeks-long walk on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.  The Romans thought Finisterre was the end of the world beyond which was the void, the huge rocks opening onto the ocean’s wild waters, the tired traveler face to face with the unknown and the unknowing.

Finisterre. (Photo by Rose Giovanetti)

Tradition has it that those who walk the long, long trail of the Camino engage in rituals to unburden themselves of their sins or desires–add a “stone of sorrow” to the piles along the way, build a wooden cross, attend a church service, or burn their shoes when they reach the journey’s end at Finisterre.    But for me, something far more modest, less dramatic will do as it has in the past: leave something, some object there, at the point where the earth ends, where all our knowns and knowings come up against mystery of the waters’ horizon.  Leave it for the ones who have left or who have been snatched too soon, always too soon. This time, too, my friend has carried a tiny something from me all the way to the edge of the world.  This time, too, from an elevated point on the cliffs, she’ll toss it into the waters for someone dear to me who has left this world.

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She is standing at the edge of the cliff, tired traveler, custodian of sorrows. Soon, she will throw the tiny offering into the waters for the ones–hers and mine– who died too soon, too soon.  If there is good wind, the ribbon will catch the glow of the sun, twist in the immense blue for one last time, and then fall in the ocean’s lap, into the final unknown.  Her eyes will well up with awe.

IMG_0594

Finisterre, the earth’s end, the Romans thought.  But for the one who returns, for the pilgrim or the secular traveler, there is the road back from the edge, from the earth’s end.  In the encounter with such bedrock truths, with a teetering figure on the cliffs, destination is a vanishing points, agendas and plans are ruses, and lives lived and now ended are slivers of light on “uncharted seas” (after John Fowles.)

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~

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Vahé Oshagan: Tebi Gyank

Vahé Oshagan died on June 30, 2000.  On the anniversary of his final departure, here is a re-post of one of his best known poems, in translation. 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.

~~

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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At the Librairie Orientale Hrant Samuelian, Paris

The recent death of Armen Samuelian, co-owner of Librairie Orientale in Paris, marks the end of an era. In addition to its substantial holdings, the LO was cultural landmark, exilic gathering place, and community-builder for the generation of Armenian survivors of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians of the empire. For decades after its establishment, the LO held a prestigious presence in the scholarly life of Paris, and for those thousands of visitors to the Parisian capital for whom the LO was a mandatory stop.
The Librairie Orientale was for the generations.

Passages Home Blog

On my last day in Paris, a gentle drizzle in the air, we make our way to Librairie Orientale Hrant Samuelian, to meet up with two other friends.  “Let’s meet at Samuelian,” we’ve told each other. The four of us–an Armenian friend originally from Beirut who lives in Paris; another friend originally from Istanbul who also lives in Paris; and a French woman whose ancestry is Russian, and whose family includes prominent Orientalists, the four of us–brought together today by a visit to the Librairie Orientale.

It’s always like this with Librairie Orientale, the visit itself larger than the actual walk up Monsieur Le Prince to the bookstore, narrow, with an unassuming, almost self-effacing exterior. This time, I am here at the request of a friend from Los Angeles who wants the two-volume fascimile edition of the first Armenian periodical published in Madras, India, between 1794-96, and reissued in 1970…

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Darwish: If You Were Not the Rain, My Love

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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 by Mahmoud Darwish~~

Translated from the Arabic by Taline Voskeritchian and Christopher Millis

(Thanks, S., for the archive!)

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It’s Bloomsday: Reading Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in Arabic

Reading Joyce in Arabic on Bloomsday…

Arabic Literature (in English)

Among non-European languages, Omar Qaqish writes in a 2014 paper, Arabic has been one into which the writings of James Joyce have been reproduced prolifically:

ulysses3There are a number of published translations of Joyce’s short stories and novels, as well as criticism of Joyce’s work, but these books don’t represent the breadth of interest in Joyce’s work. As Amir Zaky’s recent survey of translations of Dubliners into Arabic noted, “By a fleeting search on the web, one can find some of the 15 stories in the collection translated by a number of amateurs and professionals.”

Indeed, Zaky said, “Arab translators have made great efforts to bring Joyce’s work into the Arabic.”

Moreover, those translations have been widely influential. According to Rasheed El-Enany’s Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning, Egypt’s Nobel literature laureate said of his characters’ internal monologes: “All that happens is that I sometimes encounter a Joycean moment in my hero’s life…

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