Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jibra Ibrahim Jibra

"Al-Amirat(=Princesses) Street" in Al-Mansoor district in Baghdad was a calm quarter with beautiful houses with huge trees and flowering gardens. Jibra Ibrahim Jibra lived and described his life in it in an autobiographical book named "Princesses' Street".

Jibra wrote about his love of walking in the street and thinking about what he would write. He was married to Lamea'a and lived with her in a house in this street. He wrote:
Portrait of Lamea'a by Jibra
"Lamea'a was very Baghdadi and very cosmopolitan, belonging to a mesopotamian era and belonging, at the same time, to the absolute time to whom we are attracted by love. After our stormy marriage, and our long voyage in the sea to the USA in a scholarship in Harvard, it was not strange that I didn't want to go back to Baghdad, since it was the Arabic city in which I saw, in its society and people, in its historical conditions at that time, the possibilities of freedom and modernism."

After 2003 the Princesses' Street had been closed by blocks and became an area were some of the governement members took residence with their armed guards. An explosion occured near the closed and abandoned Jibra's house. The street seems frightening these days.

A photo taken recently near the Princesses' Street
What is left for us is Jibra's books. He wrote about his unexpected meeting with Agatha Christie in Iraq in the late 50s and early 60s were her husband was an archeologist working at the Nemrood site. Jibra visited Agatha Christie many times in those years and saw her while she was writing "Murder in Mesopotamia".

It's 2012, the Princesses' Street is frightening, packed with guns, Jibra is not anymore there, but we still can find, in a corner, a bunch of his writings resting in the sunlight of a cold december. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Masha'a 6th Finger

Masha: " A green oak by the curving shore, and on that oak a chain of gold."

When faced with questions like: "What is the benefit of the books you are reading?" I found myself not sure what to say. Sometimes the answer came as: "Experiences, to witness individual's experiences". Regarding, for example, the history of Algeria, acountry that I care much about, novels were great additin to what I knew from history books. The individual's experiences matter a lot.

But what about reading a novel, or a play, from Russia? From an era that I ignore? 
Is it still a human experience that I am motivated to know about? Motivated? What motivates me? Reading Chekhov in English after reading it in Arabic seems an exercise in English.  

"Three Sisters" is a play about "the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world" as the wikipedia states. "Dissatisfied with their presence and existence" the three sisters long to Moscow.
 Vershinin: "I read a great deal, but I don't know how to select books and perhaps I don't read what I ought." p.118

I found another translation of the "Three Sisters" and now in French. I thought about reading it again in French as an exercise but Masha answered me:

Masha: "Knowing three languages in this town is a useless luxury. Not even a luxury. It's a useless appendage, like a sixth finger. We know a lot of unnecessary things." p104

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Granny's Colored Scarf, & Masha's 6th Finger

Granny's Colored Scarf, & Masha's 6th Finger

Instead of trying to fix the electricity problem in the weekend, going searching for French films in Al-Mutanabbea street was chosen, …….out-of-the-blue. It was a surprise to find an Algerian film. "Free Men" or "Les Hommes Libres" is such a wonderful film. It talks about the second world war, when the Nazi's were in France, and the Mosque of Paris started to issue faked identity cards to the Algerian Jews especially, to all the Jews in need generally, to declare that they are Muslims, so that they escape the Nazi's danger.

The friends of this Moroccan Jewish singer had engraved a faked grave for his father in the Muslim's cemetery as an evidence that he is Muslim, this has saved his life, …….to melancholia.

His friend, who engraved the faked grave, wanted a favor from the Jewish singer: "Come, I told my friends that you will sing for us!"

That seemed so silly but finally the singer accept and sang a song dated to the 40s when the US troops had take from Morocco a station before and/or after entering to France. The US troop had introduced the Dollars to the Moroccan market, and the grannies (as the song says) started to wear colored scarf. New words entered into the Morrocan dictionary including "Okay" and "Bye bye" as the song says:

The weekend was very happy instead of the failure to solve the electricity problem nor the internet problem which is related to the electricity problem. Working days started again soon and Chekov's "Three Sisters" were taken in the bus for a re-read. One of the sisters, named Masha, said that she talks many languages including French, German, and Italian, but she feels that such abilities seems useless in the small "retarded" village she lives in, ……."useless as a 6th finger" as she literally said.

Thinking about the trivial things that left memory in those last days herald a bias …….a bias of the memory to forget electricity and focus on novels and films, to neglect electricity for the sake of the Moroccan grannies' scarves and Masha's 6th finger.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When Memory Brewed, When Nietzsche Wept

"Isolation in present only in isolation, once you shared it it dissapears, my dear friend" Joseph Breuer to Friedrich Nietzsche in (When Nietzsche Wept) movie based on Yalom\s novel of the same name.

Irvin Yalom is a name not very strange to me. All I can remember is that I read the name while preparing for the Psychiatry Board exam before years. His name was related to group therapy. There were eleven notes numerated in a table in a text and I tried again and again to remember it by heart. Now, that I have passed the exam since 2-3 years, I forgot all about it.

The picture above is from a scene from the movie (When Nietzsche Wept) which is based on a novel by Irvin Yalom. 

Reading "Three Sisters" for the second, or maybe the third, time shocks my memory about how much I am forgetful about it. Next to Masha's lines I wrote some notes like: "style of speech", "theatrical display of emotions", "trying to be the centre of attention", "easily influenced", and so on... trying to find "hidden" criteria of histerionic personality disorder in Masha's line. 

It is either that I used to have some abilities that I lost, or that I developed new experiences and stopped beying naive, and "easily provokes" ;)

I need to review hardly the lecture notes and the texts. I may need to stop shattering my attention to irrilivant things and focus more on more basic things. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Buddha in the Sanitarium of Running Rats

Reading "Declaration of Insanity" by Khudair Miri in 2008 was an experience that aided me to put myself in a place. In a place for those psychiatrists who didn't concentrate well in what they are studying. In a place of those psychiatrists who prefer to sleep in the noon rather than reading Michel Foucault, for example.
My trials to read Foucault failed. There were no braises in my eyes when I was reading Foucault, but there was a yawning cow who had ate enough grass.

I got some friends who read philosophy with enthusiasm. I declared to them frankly, over and over again, that I don't understand philosophy, and I suspect that philosophy is dead.

It was before days when I was in central Baghdad. 

 The scene in front of the Ministry of Health is the same since 2008. They started digging in an Iraqi trial to make a complex bridge. They are stealing money. They are lying. They don't belong. Buildings from the 60s or 70s are watching the bitter scene.

 In my bag their were two books. One by Henri Avon entitled: Buddhism, and the other was by Khudai Miri entitled: "The Desert of Buddha".

 Khdair Miri, who wrote the "Declaration of Insanity" about his experience as an inpatint in Al-Rashad (Al- Shammayia" hospital, writes an imagined biography about Buddha while he was walking in the desert. In page 95 of the book which was published by "Al Hadara Publications" Buddha is taken to a place called "The Sanitarium of Running Rats".
 The two books added to me much. I knew about Buddhism and get more close to Khudair Miri's writings.  And from the windows of the second store of the red bus I took many pictures including this below that shows the mosque of Al-Khulafa to the left, and the church of the Latin to the right.
It was just another day of reading and walking in Baghdad.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Artists of Existence

I know a little about Carl Justav Jung but I don't like him. All my irritations in front of those who are against any biological explanation of our mental life are projected on this Jung. I was not surprised to know about his unethical relationship with one of his patients that was documented dramatically in the movie "A Dangerous Method".
I was encouraged to buy that book written by D. T. Suzuki because its introduction was written by Erich Fromm, whom I respected since the very beginning.
After finishing Suzuki's book yesterday I find myself saying that it was Carl Gustav Jung who must had written the introduction and not Fromm. Suzuki talked about things like: metascience, antescience, cosmic unconscious, telepathy, the 6th sense and the rest of these eastern modes of thinking.
I live in the east and I know and "experience" how these melting non-structured concepts, when be taken for granted, be dangerous. Subjectivity Vs. Objectivity is not easily balanced only by a mature who had suffered enough seeking the truth. The eastern schools of philosophy or psychology can be easily taken by a lazy thinker and lit fires of evil. Goodness has masks, you know.
But I liked how Suzuki talked about the necessity of us being aware of our unconscious. But that didn't add a bit to what Freud had left us: these masterpieces, these writings that shine.
I liked Suzuki when he said in p. 54: "At the same time that we cannot wait to be all as scientists, nature had constructed us so as that we be artists… Not a spcial kind of artists like painters, or sculptors, or musicians, or poets, etc… but artists of life." I liked that. He continue saying that we can be artists by our behavior and by our production. I really like that. Our art is our production, our behavior, etc…
I liked that part of interview with Suzuki with Huston Smith when it goes like this:
Huston Smith (H. S.): you don't think that it's inevitable that man realizing that after 70, 80 years must die, is not necessary for him to think about his death and what happens thereafter?
D. T. Suzuki (S.): Exactly!
(H. S.): He doesn't have to?
(S.): No. 70, or 80, or 100 years that concerns "time". But when we are… Living itself is not in "Time."
(H. S.): It is not in "time?". The days come and go. There seem like time.
(S.): Yes, that's the way somebody thinks- somebody standing or imagining that somebody is outside time. But if we go on with time itself, there is no such question- "whether we survive?" or not. 

I now think that Erich Fromm had written the introduction to Suzuki's book because it is about existence. Existence and its arts.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Locus of Control Iraqia

For the first glance, it seems silly to discuss "The Art of Being" by Erich Fromm while living in Baghdad, Iraq. Almost daily we hear about somebody being killed by a gun and nothing more. The killers are always unknown.
Lack of security and of basic civilian services: electricity, good schooling, good medical care, etc… leaves us feeling entrapped in a narrow destiny.
Even the Iraqi who got an internal locus of control, according to Rotter's theory, will find his internal locus of control escaping like a frightened rabbit, or rat, when he would hear few bullets shots near him. His locus of control, his rabbit, or rat, is now external.
Freedom from the external restrains is difficult, if not fatal, in Iraq.
What is left for me to read in Fromm's book is that faint awareness of the necessity of freedom from internal restrains to be free from hatred, selfishness, and illusions, and to "Be" in love and compassion.
Another voice is telling me that it is the very best time that one should speak the truth and not respects power, titles, or fame. That it is time to declare that emperor is naked. Meanwhile, I will not listen very seriously to this second voice. I will just keep it in mind in my quotidian shallow affairs. I will only discuss such matters with friends whom I trust.  

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Non-Trivial Walking in Baghdad

The last lines of Freud lecture were: "If you wish life, be prepared for death". I respect Freud. I imagine him talking with a bitter expression on his face. I liked how he was pictured in the film "A Dangerous Method". I respect what he says. The very bitter truth. But don't you think that this new training shoes are sweet:

"Well it's one for the money, and 2 for the shoes, and 3 to get ready and go cat go but don't you, step on my red train shoes". When my father, in the bitter poor 90s of the previous century, realized bitterly that his economy did not support anymore anything extra but some food, and essential clothes, I stopped my piano lessons. I wanted guitar. I was always good at school and when succeeded in good marks in the 4th secondary class he decided to buy me a guitar. The first tune was played with a single string: a song of Fairouz, and the family was happily surprized. The second was the song "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman and the surprise became applauding. Then it was Elves Presley's "Blue Suede Shows".

"Fast Car" was my mother's favorite. I think she, like all of us, dreamed of leaving Iraq. 
One day I saw a caricature that I still don't believe in: an Iraqi who's roots are like a tree deep in the earth and showing: "We won't leave": 
Well, I think the truth is that , we all will leave if we have a respectful opportunity. Anyway. My friend, who's accompany is not trivial at all, offered me a walk in central Baghdad and we went walking fastely and taking photos and talking. He invited me to have lunch in a Kurdish restaurant: two sheesh of Kabab:
 Central old Baghdad is a very good place to walk in in Fridays. It is almost empty and very calm. And we walked. And we talked.

And I found a book by Erich Fromm entitled "The Art of Being". More modern than Freud but also bitter. He tried to write about the meaning of life, and the meaning of happiness and he wrote well but my concentration was not that intense in the reading and I was not taking notes postponing this to a second reading maybe till I reached the following lines: "The human being is like the Amazigh mythical hero Enti who charge himself from touching the earth who can only be killed by making him suspended in the air for a while"

 I remembered that Iraqi caricature of that man with his roots and shouting: "We won't leave!"
I remembered also Amin Maalouf's preferring  to use the word "origins" instead of "roots". I learned from Maalouf that we don't have roots, we have origins.
The talking with my friend was not trivial that day. My friend likes serious philosophical conversations and adds to me many insuring ideas, ideas that I suspected to be very subjective and non-speech-able but with my friend, Freud, and Erich Fromm, the existence is becoming clearer and less threatening, I hope.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sausage for the Cat

Since several months and I don't follow the Iraqi political affairs. I was surprised to read today in the journal that we still don't have a minister of defense (Army), nor a minister of internal affairs (Police). This is the case since two years. Our politicians don't trust each other.
I flipped the news paper to read an article by Sarmad Al-Taey which starts with the following lines: "The Middle East is not missing anything but more wars". The article talks about the Iraqi government reactions to the changes in our area. Such a gloomy article in the morning bus going to my first day of work since my summer vacation.

 By accident (accident?) I was carrying with me a collection of lectures by Sigmund Freud collected under the title of one of them: "Reflections on War and Death". Freud, at the first world war, started talking about THANATOS. About the second instinct we got. But the lines of his lecture were not so gloomy since I found phrases about how the citizen of the developed world can attend to "the graceful art of Beautifying life" and, "… the sense of law of order that had made man master of the earth". Freud ended the second part of the lecture by a phrase: "If you wish life, prepare for death."
After this frank brave lecture that I read thrice in a matter of two days I decided that I need some company. I went down to meet my neighbors. I knew that a brother of one of our neighbors was killed by four bullets in the neck before yesterday. We went together to our neighbors' house and gave him our condolence.

 We went back and sat together near our houses. After some silence Shoushou approached. She wanted E. to get her her dinner. E. went up to his apartment and he was sorry that all he got was frozen sausages. I commented: "she will like it, it will be like an ice-cream for her".
We chatted and laughed.
 When I went up I saw the supplement of today's journal (al Mada journal, my favorite), which shows a Swedish poet that merely heard his name before and never read a poem of his. I tried to read one but I didn't find it good. What I liked about the picture is that he got a stroke that affected his right hand but he still plays piano with the left.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The History, with a small "h"

"The History, with a big 'H', is of course that of nations, of eras and big movements of the humanity. With a small 'h', it becomes this history of human beings, of small groups, of families, etc." Ameziane Ferhani, in the Editorial of the supplementary #4 of El Watan newspaper that was published the last month on the 50th anniversary of the Algerian independence from France.  

The Centre Culturel Francais, Baghdad 1999
I approached him:
- You are Algerian?
- Yes. He answered with surprise.
- Then give me a kiss.
- Ha ha haa...

Just few minutes with him was enough to know that he is sensitive to the tiniest alluring to any special relation, what so ever, between Algeria and France. Days after our first meeting we were walking in Al-Mansoor district of Baghdad when he said with marked bitterness: "I hate the racists". I stayed silent. I didn't notice the sign of racism that he thought he noticed in the face of that French young man. He murmured with a bitter husky voice that looked like a whisper: "Dirty.... Rats".

He sensed my neutrality (neurtality?) so he took a deep breath and told me this story as an evidence of how easily a European can be turned, in a blink of an eye, to a racist. He said:
"Once I saw two Europeans in Algeria. They saw a shoe-shiner-boy. One of them put his foot on the box of the boy who started to shine his shoe for him and the other took photo for the scene. How sarcastic their smiles were!"

My Algerian friend had left Iraq after months later and we didn't met nor contacted each other since then. Of course shoe shining is not a shameful job, according to my attitudes, and there are many shoe-shiners in almost every big district in Iraq, but since 1999, I could not feel at ease while seeing them.

 Algeria, Bou Saada, 7th of July 2012
An article in El Watan about the shoe-shiners in Algeria in the colonial era. The writer, Amezian Ferhani narrates his memories with the shoe-shiner-boys in Alger, the capital. His father used to take him to drink sore gaseous juice of pomegranate and to ride a donkey sometimes. Amezian Farhani was a child who was attending school. He saw that those shoe-shiners are not very clean and that the clients let the coin fell down in the tiny hand of the shoe-shiner without touching it. Amezian Ferhani, the child, noticed that they disappeared from Alger after the independence. His father explained: "They set fire in their wooden boxes and joined the school". Amezian Ferhani felt so happy. 

 Amezian Ferhani narrates beautifully. He studied the case of the disappearance of those shoe-shiners and found that, after the independence, a play named "Des roses blanches pour ma mere" was played at a theater in Algeria and it was about a shoe-shiner who was seeking medications for his sick mother. The play was very emotional and the president Ben Bella was attending the show. Ben Bella had walked up to stand next to the actors, at the end of the play, and declared the end of the phenomenon of the shoe-shiner-boys in Algeria.
Amezian Ferhani also mentions that song by Maurice Chevalier which is talking about those shoe-shiner-boys. It has some ridicule in it. (Some racism?). (Did he said BANANAS in the lyrics?). Anyway.

6th August 2012
Bou-Saada, Algeria
05:16 PM
I am guarding my fasting. I mean I am practicing my fasting with my family. I am relaxing most of the time. El Watan is such a wonderful journal. I used to keep articles that appealed to me. I searched my archive of 2011 and found other articles by Ferhani. I will try to spend the time remaining for my fasting reading his articulate elegant narration.