May 31, 2009
May 28, 2009
My greatest literary discoveries have been made browsing the shelves of libraries and bookshops at my leisure. My favourite ever pastime, is roaming through the lines of shelves, left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, moving around here and there in no particular order. My eyes passing softly reading title after title.. my fingers gently touching the different books, feeling the textures of the binding covers, looking at the titles, picking up a book and flipping through its pages, reading bits and pieces, putting it back on the shelf and moving to another shelf with other books.. other themes.. other colours.. covers of books usually are what attract me the most.. the design of the cover and its material, the title and its typset.. the author.. My greatest delight is discovering undiscovered treasures.. books that are not famous, those that are less known.. finding the shelves or piles that are randomly placed or that are uncategorized..
I discovered Letters to Young Poet that way, and of course all of Rilke’s works from then on were to me small discoveries of a great poet and a wonderful writer. That tiny book, that I found almost buried in one of the hidden corners of the second floor of the AUC library and read almost completely while standing there next to the shelf, to me was a revelation. The book was calling for me and I beckoned and read it all in one go. That little dark red hard-covered book is one of those treasures closest to my heart.
Tonight, I made a new discovery! I came to Kotob Khan for a coffee and to escape the toils of the week, to finish some work and to refresh my soul by being surrounded by books with the smell of coffee in the air.
Another of those bottom line shelves.. an enclosed area.. no particular categorical sign.. a mixture of books from Orhan Pamuk to Pope John Paul II to Murakami to Arab writers to Kundera to Stalin, nothing really grouping them together.. unshelved, uncategorized books so to say.
I see the title Jorge Luis Borges and pause for a moment. I hesitate for a split second thinking, I should start reading Spanish works and I should start to become familiar with writers and poets like Borges and Marquez and Lorca. I brush my thoughts aside reminding myself that I still have an endless number of books unread, cursing the fact that the latest book I have been carrying around with me for the past month is not even half read.
I continue to browse the shelves. There is no harm in browsing. I stumble upon a tiny little grey-coloured book.. almost invisible in the midst of the larger titles. A simple title With Borges by Alberto Manguel. The latter name not unfamiliar. I pick the book up. A little gem of no more than 70 pages, large enough print, 1.5 or double-spaced. Thoughts of Rilke flow back into my mind. The back of the book reads:
In Buenos Aires, 1964, a blind writer approaches a sixteen-year-old bookstore clerk asking if he would be interested in a part-time job reading aloud.
The writer was Jorge Luis Borges, one of the world’s finest literary minds; the boy was Alberto Manguel, who was later to become an internationally acclaimed author and bibliophile.
Now how can one move away from such a book.. from such a sentence? Borges was Blind! What a discovery! And he employed someone to read for him.. someone who became an acclaimed author.
What luck. What a coincidence that brings me here today.
I look inside the book and start to read through the pages. I put it to the side and go back to the Borges title I had come across a few moments before. Selected Non-Fictions. I learn that the greater part of Borges’ writing was not only in fiction and poetry but also in non-fiction prose. Titles of essays that include, “the nothingness of personality” and “an investigation of the word” or “a profession of literary faith” or “a history of eternity”. Film reviews and book reviews, from King Kong to Crime and Punishment to Faulkner and Huxley, Joyce and Wells. Lectures on Shakespeare, essays on Dante and prologues to a personal library… now how can one turn away from that?!
Not only that, the book is in a good clear type and on the thick recycled-type, what-do-they-call-it, acid-free? paper, with unevenly-cut pages on the side. Simply breathtaking. The little book too is breathtaking. The story of a friendship that develops between two huge literary figures talking about books and reading.. you delve into their minds, their personalities and how they think and feel and view the world..
I am happy with my discoveries. I pick them up, gather my things, head to the cashier and proudly pay for my newfound treasures.
May 27, 2009
..is going to be a good day. I feel it in the airwaves. I woke up at five past seven instead of battling with my alarm clock till after seven thirty. The weather is surprisingly good compared to the past few days. I feel I can breathe. I can take a long deep breath and feel the fresh air filling my lungs. My father made us orange juice! It has been ages since I had fresh orange juice in the morning. I need to cleanse my body from all its toxins. And I have new resolutions to carry out starting today. If a certain good thing happens at work today, then it will indeed be a good day!
A friend of mine sent a group of us an email asking us about the languages we speak and the level of fluency in case we needed to help each other out.
My response was as follows:
Arabic: fluent – with difficulty in structuring written sentences
French: fluent – with difficulty in spelling
Spanish: understand, good; read, not too bad; spoken, rubbish
German: understand, fair; read, good (fahlawa is also a factor)
Italian: inshaAllah when I finish my Spanish courses, I believe I will be able to understand Italian very well. We already have an Italian in our Spanish class and I understand everything she says when she tries to speak in Spanish but ends up talking in Italish :))
Japanese: I can in no way claim that I know the Japanese language but I know quite a few words.. basics.. counting, please, yes, thank you, bon apetit, fe se77etkom, watozzronom, kida yaani.. :) and I can write my name in Japanese.. in the three different ‘written scripts’: tatakana, herowana and the third illi ana mish fakraha :))
I also speak a kind of jibberish that only I can understand. It tends to be half spoken, half ambivalent in the dark corners of my mind and it comes out when I am stressed or upset or trying to concentrate.
Of course hybrids of all the above languages is an art I have mastered since I was very young (“did you see the moga vien” is one of the earliest sentences heard in our family. It’s probably my sister’s creation though).. my sentence structures can contain words in English, French and Arabic at the same time and currently, Spanish connecting words have been added to my muddled sentences.
The hybrid has even been transferred to single words… kanakiere (hybrid between kanaka and cafetiere), ahramides (between ahramat and pyramides),…etc. though some of these were made up by my cousin (you can already see that it’s a family trait), I have used them time and again).
Now the problem is, I know all these languages and yet I feel trapped. I feel more a jack of languages but a master of none. I dare – and quite ashamedly – to say that English is my strongest language, but in my defense I would say that it is the language I first learnt in school and the one I read and write most comfortably in. It has definitely deteriorated throughout the years.. one of the reasons why I stopped teaching.. I felt I was losing it! And a lot of it has given way to slang, colloquialism and some funny Arab-ish mixes.
When my sister and I were very young, our neighbours and friends used to envy us. They would tell my parents we were very lucky to know 3 languages at such a young age. We are very lucky; there’s no denying that, and yet I still feel trapped.
I am trapped because I know no language very well. My native tongue is weak. I find it difficult to express myself in it, though I often feel the need to use Arabic words to describe particular feelings or emotions or states of mind that cannot in any way be described in any other language. . examples are ye’antekh, yekabbar (the head I mean), and many others..
Yesterday I was talking to someone after a meeting trying to explain to him the topic of my master thesis. I felt like someone who had just come in from BoraBora trying to express herself in Arabic, a language she just learnt in a crash course of a few months! I always get put off by people showing off that they don’t know Arabic or that they know other languages much better than their native tongue. It hurts me that they should treat their own language that way. But yesterday I felt like a complete idiot. No wonder the man asked me, “enti khareeget eih? Gam3a Amreekeya?” Shame on me!
I have noticed that when I speak to native speakers, I get tongue-tied. I am suddenly extremely conscious of every word I say and how I pronounce it. It is very disturbing, believe me. Though I speak French pretty well, when I speak to a person I know knows French very well, I tend to mix words up and get mind blocks of the simplest words. My grandmother says I am a shame to the family speaking the way I do. My great aunt believes I speak French perfectly compared to others of our generation. Deep down inside I know I should have worked on my French rather than started learning a new language. I just couldn’t. I am drawn to learning something new like flies are to sweet things. It is almost a kind of inexplicable attraction; or is it addiction?
And when I try to speak to my Spanish teacher, I get HUGE mind-blocks. Black ones. I forget every single word I learnt. The simplest words disappear from my mind into a deep dark hole. And lo and behold! They reappear again almost instantly when I am alone with myself trying to construct a sentence!
I remember the line in The English Patient when Katherine tells Almasy, something along the lines of you know all these languages and yet you don’t speak a word. I often feel that way. Trapped in all the languages I know a bit about and unable to speak my mind.. to speak out.. to decipher even what other people mean or say. I prefer to roll into my own world of colours and music and quotes and dialogues of other people rather than make myself understood.
I am of course all the more richer because of the languages I speak and understand. It has helped me to see the world through a different light.. it has helped to “enlarge my brain” as it were and be more open to thoughts, and cultures.. it has also helped me to understand the way languages are formed or constructed.. what brings us together or divides us in terms of words and expressions to me is fascinating; for language is a reflection of culture.. and culture of people.. and just as the Tower of Babel contained all these languages.. it also contained all these cultures, all these people in one single place.. an amalgam but a sign that in the end we are all one.
May 20, 2009
This is Huge! This blogging thing. I decided to take a look at other blogs and check out some of my friends’ and other acquaintances’ blogs.. but I have begun to realize that this is not something to be taken lightly. No wonder it took me so long to think it over.. I think of thoughts and issues that I would like to write about but discover that they have already been discussed and dealt with amongst my friends and people I know, let alone among the general public out there.. what contribution then will I be making to the world? why would anyone want to read my ramblings? Of what significance will my blog be? just another useless page on the internet!? I don’t even know how to operate this thing. I can’t even put links to my friends’ blogs :(
I don’t usually venture into territory that is much larger than me.. or do I? actually I do. so I guess this is just another challenge that I’ll have to face and tread and explore. I’ve been told it is fun and I have been warned that it is addictive.. my greatest fear is that my life is getting even more electronic than it already is.. I fear the time will come – and it will come very soon – when the pen and paper will be a rarity in my life. where then will I put all those notebooks I keep buying? they are already piling up.. my black pens are also piling up and drying out without even being used.. Has this been a wise decision? Shouldn’t I just force myself to physically write by hand? or is the temptation of photos and media and colourful interfaces and wonderful digital explorations too much for me?
Again.. let’s see what comes out of this.. It is just the beginning. Even if no one reads it, I’ll be happy to have some record of my thoughts in this chaotic world of ours that I can go back to a few years from now.. something I can read and laugh at or contemplate.. or something that I can delete at the press of a button.
May 18, 2009
This is my first post so I assume I am supposed to say something important..
Instead, I’ll just say that at long last and after much bugging and nagging from my friends, I have succumbed to having a blog! To blog or not to blog has been a question that has tortured me for some time now.. and for those who know me, contemplating and taking the decision to do something or not, is torture. I hope I have taken a positive decision and I hope that I will not in turn burden my friends with endless and useless ramblings of the mind..
So, Hello World.. let’s see where this leads us..
May it be a pleasant beginning