Friday, February 06, 2009

The Ruins

"My heart, don't ask where the love has gone
It was a citadel of my imagination that has collapsed
Water me and let me drink of its ruins
And tell the story on my behalf as long as the tears flow
Tell how that love became past news
And became a matter of the subject of pain"

Um Kalthum. You know her? You should my friend. Here she is.

"I haven't forgotten you And you seduced me
with a sweetly-calling and tender tongue

And a hand extending towards me
like a hand stretched out through the waves
to a drowning person

And a light searching for a wanderer

But where is that light in your eyes?"

She is Egyptian. She sings in an Egyptian Arabic accent. She refused to sing in any other accent when visiting Arab countries like other singers do. She only sang in Egyptian accent. She never sang a song of somebody else. She only sang her songs. She made an exception. Only one exception as far as I know, and that was in the 1930s when she visited Baghdad. She heard Salima Murad singing "your heart is a boulder rock" in Al Hilal (=crescent) cabaret. Um Kalthum sang Salima Murad's song on the next night in that same cabaret. Salima Basha went angry, while Ma'arouf Al Rusafi calmed down her saying: "you give us your song like serving a fatty ox meat meal, while Um Kalthoum presents it like a Gazelle meat dish, don't worry my dear". I don't know if Salima Basha liked what Al Rusafi said, but it seems it calmed her down a little.

"My darling, I visited your nest one day
bird of desire singing my pain

You've become self-important, spoiled and capricious
And you inflict harm like a powerful tyrant
And my longing for you cauterized my ribs (soul or insides)
And the moments were embers in my blood"

Salima Murad was born in Baghdad in 1905. She was a famous singer and she was the protagonist in the Iraqi film "Alia and Isam" in 1946. In spite of being a Jew, Salima Murad Basha stayed living in Baghdad till she died in the first of January 1974. She was very respectful. She brought respect to female singers. Females singers were seen, and still seen, in Arabic countries as prostitutes in disguise. Salima Murad, Um Kalthoum, Fairouz, and few others brought respect to Arabic female singers and stood tall in theatres all over the Arabic countries.

"Give me my freedom, release my hands
I've given you and did not try to retain anything
Ah, your chains have bloodied my wrists
Why are they still there when I no longer affect you
Why do I keep promises that you do not honor?
I've had it with this prison now that the world is mine"

I was in the minibus when the driver asked me before we go: "this is a novel?".
- Yes, it is about the life of Salima Murad
- Wow, seems interesting.
- Yes, sure it is.
- Naim Kattan?
- Yes he is the writer; he is an Iraqi Jew living in Canada.
- Do you write?
- Not really.
- I write poems, and I study literature in the evening.
- This is great, hope all the success to you.
- Thanks. I like Jerji Zidan. He is Christian. Some consider him as orientalist. Maybe the author of your novel is an orientalist!
- …….
- No, I don't think so. Iraqi Jewish likes Iraq. They are Iraqi. True Iraqis.
- ….. (I smiled)
- …..(he smiled)

When I went out of the bus, he kept looking at me waiting that I greet him. I saluted him. He saluted me smiling. I put my hand on my heart.

"He is far away, my enchanting love

Full of pride, majesty and delicacy

Sure-footed walking like a king
Oppressive beauty and rapacious glory

Redolent of charm like the breeze of the valleys

Pleasant to experience like the night's dreams
I've lost forever the charm of your company that radiated brilliantly

I, wandering in love, a bewildered butterfly, approached you

And between us, desire was a messenger and drinking companion that presented the cup to us"

The novel of "Farida" is said to be about the life of Salima Murad. Her picture is in the cover of the novel. I knew that Nathum Al Ghazalli did marry Salima Basha but this was not clear in the novel. The novel ends in the late 40s while Salima Basha is losing her lover and companion Salim who decided to go to Israel. Novel ends while Salima Basha Murad is alone, totally alone, having a big house, a cabaret, and will have a car and a driver. She was alone, didn't need anyone, but was not sure that she was happy.

"I have had a chance to visit ruins. The first were the ruins of Babylon. As I child, I felt them rarely, it was only later that I realised that they had become an inseparable part of my past, like historical memory, and when I had a chance to see again, in the Berlin Museum, the reconstructed temple to the goddess Ishtar and especially a vase with an inscription in Hebrew, I had a feeling that I was reliving history in the present moment and that my birth was becoming lost in time and that it no longer belonged to me."

From the Speech by Mr Naïm Kattan on the Occasion of the Award of his Honorary Doctorate from the University of Novi Sad

"Had love seen two as intoxicated as us?

So much hope we had built up around us

And we walked in the moonlit path, joy skipping along ahead of us

And we laughed like two children together

And we ran and raced our shadows"

Naïm Kattan was born in 1928 in Baghdad, in Iraq where he completed his elementary and secondary education and where he studied Law. In 1947 he received a scholarship from the French Government to study French Language and Literature at the Sorbonne. He received a doctorate in French Literature. Following that, in 1954, he immigrated to Canada to be one of the most famous writers of Canada and one of its most distinguished professors of literature.

"And we became aware after the euphoria and woke up

If only we did not awaken

Wakefulness ruined the dreams of slumber

The night came and the night became my only friend

And then the light was an omen of the sunrise
And the dawn was towering over like a conflagration

And then the world was as we know it,
with each lover in their own path"

I keep asking myself if there is still a hope that people like Naim Kattan can go back someday to Iraq. For a visit at least. His novel "Farida" reached Baghdad which embraced it and newspapers started to write about it. The welcoming of the novel is not that warm. Many are not finding time to read a novel. But most will listen if you talk to them about this novel. About Salima Murad. About old cabarets of Baghdad.

"Oh sleepless one who slumbers and remembers the promise when you wake up

Know that if a wound begins to recover another wound crops up with the memory

So learn to forget and learn to erase it"

In his speech while receiving the honorary doctorate, Naim Kattan mentioned Um Kalthum's song "Al Atlal (=the Ruins)". And linked it to his memories of his old places. Of Iraq. I went to my neighbor and asked him about this song. He gave it to me after a search that lasted about half an hour. I kept saying: "please don't bother yourself". But he said: "you never asked of Um Kalthum before, I was surprised you ask about her today, I must find her for you".

- Do you know where "Al Hilal Cabaret" was?
- I think in Al Midan sequare in Bab Al Muathem. I got a picture of an old cabaret in Al Midan.
- Is it still working
- Ha ha ha, you make me laugh Sami. Of course not. Look at it. It is forgotten.

"My darling everything is fated

It is not by our hands that we make our misfortune
Perhaps one day our fates will cross when our desire to meet is strong enough
For if one friend denies the other and we meet as strangers
And if each of us follows his or her own way
Don't say it was by our own will

But rather, the will of fate"

He found the song for me at last and I am listening to it since about 5 hours. It is 40 minutes long. Its lyrics were written by a poet called Ibrahim Naji. He was a doctor as far as I know. The lyrics are in the rosy italic font.
At last let us dream that peace will come and stay in Baghdad, in all Iraq, and all people can visit our country, their country, which will regain its charm.

The translation of Um Kalthum's song is taken from this site:


Laura said...

At last let us dream that peace will come and stay in Baghdad, in all Iraq, and all people can visit our country, their country, which will regain its charm.

Let us dream peace, breathe and sleep peace,
sing and speak peace,
mold and bend and stretch ourselves out to peace.
Turn to it as obediently as the compass needle
turns to north.
Make it our catalog,
our guidebook,
our secret decipher key,
the one that holds the password to the garden.

Krystal Bell said...

Fate.You believe in fate, Sami?

saminkie said...

Wow Laura, if Um Kalthum has the opportunity to read your lyrics I think she would add it to the song. Salima Murad will steal the song one night from her. This way they will be equal.
Thank you Laura.

saminkie said...

Krystal Bell, I found it hard to believe in something that I cannot hold in my hands. But I was thinking about fate many times in my life. Cause some things sometimes occur and seems so well orchestrated. If I believe in fate then let it be a happy fate. Let it be.

Laura said...

Your beautiful, dreamy post dreamed me into a poem. Thank you.

Don Cox said...

" if there is still a hope that people like Naim Kattan can go back someday to Iraq."

Not for a long time. So much anti-Jewish hatred has been whipped up among Arabs over recent decades (by people like Saddam or Arafat who needed the Arabs to have an enemy) that I doubt if any Jew would be safe for a day in an Arab country.

nadia said...

Have you heard of a documentary called Forget Baghdad? Check it out if you can find a copy.
I came across Kattan's memoirs randomly in the library a little while ago, I wasn't familiar with him before despite living in Canada, I'll definitely keep an eye out for Farida now.

Their numbers have decreased considerably of course but the case of Jews in Arab countries today varies quite a lot. It's true that in some countries they hide their identity, but the community lives openly and freely in Morocco, Bahrain's ambassador to the US is a Jew of very prominent family there, and of course many visit the Middle East every year. Things are difficult in Iraq now but we can't say things won't (or can't) change, godwilling.

Anyways I really enjoyed this post, thanks for it.

Sami said...

J'ai quitté mon pays
تركتُ بلدي
J'ai quitté ma maison
تركتُ منزلي
Ma vie ma triste vie
حياتي الحزينة
Se traîne sans raison
تمضي بلا سبب
J'ai quitté mon soleil
تركتُ شمسي
J'ai quitté ma mer bleue
تركتُ بحري الأزرق
Leurs souvenirs se reveillent
ذكراهم لا زالت حيّة في ذاكرتي
Bien après mon adieu
بعد وداعي
Soleil soleil de mon pays perdu
شمس بلادي فقدتها
Des villes blanches que j'aimais
مدن بيضاء أحببتها
Des filles que j'ai jadis connues
فتيات عرفتهنّ منذ زمن بعيد
J'ai quitté une amie
تركتُ صديقة
Je vois encore ses yeux
ما زلتُ أرى عينيها
Yeux mouillés de pluie
عينان غارقتان بالدموع
De la pluie de l'adieu
دموع الوداع
Je revois son sourire
عدتُ أتذكّر ابتسامتها
Si près de mon visage
قرب وجهي
Il faisait resplendir
Les soirs de mon village
أمسيات قريتي
Mais du bord du bateau
لكن على حواف مركبي
Qui m'éloignait du quai
الذي يبتعد عن الرّصيف
Une chaîne dans l'eau
هناك سلسلة في الماء
A claqué comme un fouet
تقرقع مثل السوط
J'ai longtemps regardé ses
راقبتُ لوقت طويل
Bleus qui fuyaient aient aient
زرقة المياه ترحل بعيداً
La mer les a noyés dans le flot
البحر أغرقهم في أمواج
Du regret et et et
من الندم

Hi Nadia, these are the lyrics of a song of Enrico Macias, the Algerian Jewish singer who had been invited to visit Algeria lately by the Algerian government.

Jewish arabs are also living in Tunisia and Yemen.

Thank you for your visit and your nice words.