“Since birds are designed for the purpose of flight, their bones are hollow and wrapped with muscles, which provide miraculous lightness without compromising strength.”
Bird Bones in the desert:
I haven’t been to Baghdad, nor been lucky enough to visit Al Mutanabi Street, the area known as Book Market, but I dream of it. Or rather, what it used to be. Named after a classical Iraqi poet, Al Mutanabi used to be the heart of Iraqi intellectual communities. Students, writers, artists, all came to find books and to talk in cafes. During the wars of 2006 and 2007 the entire area was destroyed. In March 07 a car bomb was set off, wounding over 100 people, killing 38.
The street has re-opened again, apparently, but the bookish, intellecto vibe has gone.
In an article about the area, Phillip Robertson writes: “Iraqis still shop in the book district, but most of the intellectuals who felt free to say what they thought in public are either in hiding or have fallen silent out of fear that spies for various armed groups will target them for assassination. Iraqi writers are starting to head underground, retreating to protected offices. Because literary culture is so bound to a particular neighborhood of Baghdad, an attack on Al Mutanabbi Street is an attack on Iraqi culture itself. This is a culture once so vibrant that a famous slogan in the Arab world ran, “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads.”
He tells the story of what happened on August 2nd 2005: a man enters Hajji Qais Anni’s stationary shop on Al Mutanabbi street, walks out, leaving a package. The explosion kills Hajji Qaid, who was sitting by the door, watching over his shop.
“Hajji Qais had been on Al Mutanabbi street for 10 years and the vendors all knew him. He sold greeting cards for births and anniversaries along with Christmas and Easter gifts, cologne and pens. He wore a beard and was also known as a devout Sunni who had no problem hiring Shia workers or spending time with Christian colleagues. Aside from stocking a few items related to Christian holidays, there was nothing unusual in his shop. He wasn’t a known member of any political party, and he was, according to his neighbors on Al Mutanabbi Street, a generous man who often gave money to the poor.
No one in the district will speak openly about who killed him, including his own son.”
The area now has new shops, new bricks, new doors, but as Iraqi-Canadian journalist Al Salchi says in his article about the street, “the area is a shadow of its former self, the scholarly air lost, replaced with a more frantic bustle.”
It’s all about Peter Pan in our house. W is obsessed with it and we have watched it at least once a day for the last week. It’s got us through the breastfeeding mornings, and whilst it’s on W doesn’t mind sitting in close proximity to baby S. He even doesn’t try to chuck things at her head for the duration of the film. If I’m feeling emotional – which I often am – I sob at the thought of all the lost boys and their lack of mothers and the inevitability of growing up. Either that, or the images of London, where I used to live – Westminster, where W was born. And Kensington Gardens. I guess there’s something in the film for all of us as we navigate this tricky time. S can’t really see as far as the TV but she listens to the songs “I can fly…I can fly…I can fly!” and seems quite happy.
Amazing Arthur Rackham illustrations to Peter Pan…
S is 16 days old. She is amazingly sweet and does a lot of grunting and snuffling. I feel – not quite myself – but ok, and have decided that I am gently going to ease myself back into writing. The way I am going to do it is by the 20 mins a day rule. I did think about trying to do an hour a day, but I’ll start of gently.
So: for 20 mins a day I will write, anything, could be diary, or blog, or an actual tackle of the manuscript if I feel up to it. Or ideas for Book 2. When I’ve got going, I’m going to go back to ms. Read through all the comments and feedback and then write out a list of what I need to do, then just work through it, steadily, in 20min slots.
Teeny tiny incremental steps. Like the small hands of the ee cummings poem.
somewhere i have never travelled
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;
only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands