Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mourid Barghouti

Crossing the Allenby Bridge..

I saw it too... Posted by Hello

Sometimes you enter a bookshop with a precise goal. That book and nothing else, a quick utilitarian raid, and off we go, back to the street. Other times it’s simply the accumulation of books in the shop window that attracts you (as peppery red sausages or soft mould-filled cheeses in prime window space in delicatessen shops). Most of the time we tend to alibi ourselves with some forgotten hardback grail just to cross the threshold of the bookshop. Once inside all pretence of a rational motive to be there ceases. We peruse latest editions, browse at random alphabetical shelves, walk around a multitude of sections (from crime to gardening, biography to self-help), sniff leathery first editions and sneeze at dust-covered book pariahs. Last Friday, I had a specific reason to enter the mammoth Circulo del Libro, in the Gran Via. I was trying to find the recommended bibliography for an after-hours short course on Mudejár Art. I end up with a small paperback to add to my Peace (sad ironical misnomer) Process personal library. Mourid Barghouti's "I saw Ramallah".

The list of people involved with this book read like the Almanach de Gotha of Palestinian and Egyptian Belles Lettres. Barghouti, the poet, has described the journey back to his pre-67 home; Ahdaf Soueif (of The Map of Love fame) translates; ; Edward Said writes the Foreword (Uncle Edward, R.I.P., was the Anti-Orientalism post-modern New Yorkese Palestinian intellectual fashionista who I once saw picking the right Wasabi and Ginger Dressing from Harvey Nichols' fifth floor shelves); and Naguib Mafouz names the Award the book has collected. Even Mahmoud Darwish, the Poet, is glimpsed on the streets of Ramallah.

If one wants to get a humanist, gentle and tender-sad account of what it means to a "returnee" to return to Palestine this is the book to read. Much better than the usual stuff, better than the (oh so tempting!) tribal self-pity and victimization, better than subtle Jew-bashing disguised as intellectual Anti-Zionism. Much better than Strategic Institutes-centered cold statistical data. Much better than the eternal plea-bargaining both sides have been involved with since it all begun.
Just to give you an appetizer, when Barghouti speaks of the generations of Palestinians strange to Palestine he writes:
" (...) Generations that never saw our grandmothers squatting in front of ovens to present us with a loaf of bread to dip in olive oil, never saw the village preacher in his headdress and Azhari piety hiding in a cave to spy on the girls and the women of the village when they took off their clothes and bathed, naked, in the pool of 'Ein al-Deir. Yes, the preacher steals the clothes and hides them in the bramble tree so he may gaze long and hard at the tempting beauty of the women. Never in his life will he see temptation like this: not in the nightclubs of Europe, or his grandson's louche parties at Lumumba University and various western capitals, or the sex shops in Pigalle and St. Denis, or even in the swimming-pools of Ras Beirut and Sidi Busa'id. (...) "

(If one has crossed oneself the Allenby Bridge in the Jordan River, separating 'Transjordania' from 'Cisjordania' the images described in the book have undoubtedly an extra spice. As I blog this, I think of Nadja and of her Amman family.)

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