I Wish He Knew

Tell the dear one, who dwells within my heart
That I see him there, even when we do not meet.

That my eyes are attached to the sight of him,
Even when we are far apart.

I wish he knew that I never remember him,
How I can remember someone I can't forget?

And if he claims that I do not recall,
God knows that I never forget him, even for a second.

When he is absent from me, he inhabits my soul
How could the heart forget someone who dwells in the soul?
أبلِغ عَزيزاً في ثنايا القلبِ مَنزله
 أني وإن كُنتُ لا ألقاهُ ألقاهُ
 وإن طرفي موصولٌ برؤيتهِ 
وإن تباعد عَن سُكناي سُكناهُ 
ياليته يعلمُ أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
وكيف اذكرهُ إذ لستُ أنساهُ 
يامَن توهم أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
واللهُ يعلم أني لستُ أنساهُ 
إن غابَ عني فالروحُ مَسكنهُ 
مَن يسكنُ الروح كيف القلبُ ينساه؟

- أبو الطيب المتنبي-

The first block of this post is my interpretation of the Arabic poem (above) attributed to the Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi. I always find Arabic poetry very skilled in describing the deepest devotion. I call it Love (with a capital L), or love major. This is the stuff of pure love, that is less concerned with possessing the beloved and more with the experience of Love, the pleasure of seeing the beloved, or even just remembering and mentioning him/her.

It is not a coincidence that some of these Love poems are used in references to divine love, mystic, and sufi traditions. Love in these poems is transcendent and spiritual.

While researching the poem, I found a page that contains another English translation of the lyrics. The same page also contains a link to a link to a beautiful rendition of it in an Arabic song, by Faia Younan.

He Who Walks in Love

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,

May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;

While he who walk in love may wander far,

Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.


Henry Van Dyke
From: The Story of the Other Wise Man.
The Gift of the Magi and Other Christmas Stories – O. Henry
Read more: https://www.scribd.com/book/263910109

Love, I Know What You Are

Though it is hard. All gifts are temporary. I unwillingly surrender this one. And thank you for it. God. Or world. Whoever it was gave it to me, I humbly thank you, and pray that I did right by him, and may, as I go ahead, continue to do right by him.
Love, love, I know what you are.
________________________________________________________________
Excerpt From: “Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017” by George Saunders. Scribd.

This material may be protected by copyright.
Read this book on Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/334747443

An Onscreen Love Story Gets Me

I am spending my holiday with family in Germany. My father is retired and my mother is semi-retired as she only does a few hours a week, helping out a lady who cares for her severely disabled partner. I enjoy my parents’ company and therefore I readily join them around the television to watch the offerings on German television.

The programming seems to be specifically designed for retirees, with long-running German telenovelas, and dubbed American series from the 1980s and older. I usually get into the telenovelas quickly, occasionally asking about the fate of some characters that have disappeared since I last watched. And I always manage to catch episodes I have seen before when I watch old  American series such as The Twilight Zone. As for the repeated movies, my father said jokingly “We only watch the movies we know” and so it happened that I caught a glimpse of one of my favourite movies “Die Brücken am Fluß” which is the German title for Bridges of Madison County. I was not in the mood to weep so I did not watch it in its entirety. Unlike my father I am not a fan of watching a movie I have seen before, least of all the ones that open up the wounds in my heart.

My mother talked me, however, into watching the movie Love is All You Need. I watch very little television, and I probably see less than half a dozen movies per year. I acquiesced this time because my mom praised this film so much and said she had seen it twice already, once as recently as last week. Also, the male lead was played by Pierce Brosnan, a handsome actor I had a crush on back in the 1980s when he played the mysterious detective Remington Steele, and I followed almost every season of that series. And while Remington Steele appealed to the romantic minded teenager I was in the late 1980s, the older Brosnan, is definitely more attractive to the middle aged woman I turned into now, and the character he played even more so.

The movie is simply a love story in the stunning setting of an Italian villa surrounded by lemon orchards, beautiful blue skies, and clear turquoise waters. The female main character Ida is a Danish hairdresser who has just finished a course of chemotherapy and has lost her hair to the cancer treatment. To add to her woes, she walks in on her husband having sex with a younger co-worker. The couple were supposed to attend their daughter’s wedding in Italy, and Ida decides to travel there alone. She runs into different problems on her way there, and is further humiliated when her husband shows up with the young airhead he is having an affair with.

The wedding location is a villa that belongs to Philip, the father of the groom, who also owns the lemon orchards surrounding it. He is a widower with a sour disposition, and he has several run-ins with Ida, who is brilliantly portrayed by a Danish actress Trine Dyrholm. I have never seen her before, but she was utterly convincing as this optimistic, and gentle soul, whose indomitable spirit shines despite her suffering and perhaps as a result of it. Philip finds out about her illness and has seen the bald head she hid under her blonde wig, but he is attracted to her optimism and thirst for life. This was my undoing in this love story. A man who is attracted to the woman’s soul rather than her body. A man who reassures her that no matter what her prognosis is, whether they will be together for ten minutes, a few month or many years, what is truly important is that he has the pleasure of her company for the time they are both given.

I have felt like this, so I know. I was married for almost nine years, and I remember very little from the decade I lived beside my ex husband since we first met in 1998. The years of my marriage seem like a vast empty space punctuated by decisions on home locations, careers, business, and finances. Except for a few words uttered in anger, there is almost no trace of left of the intensity of feeling we shared, if we ever did. I was living in an emotional wasteland. By contrast, if I added up all the moments I spent with my beloved, and included even the occasions we exchanged texts, the temporal will add up to a few days. The physical will amount to me kissing him on the cheek, and him kissing me on the forehead. We joined hands a couple of times, and I think I put my lips or cheek to the surprisingly soft skin of his palm. Yet the emotional intensity of these few encounters was, to me at least, worth years of methodical and loveless spousal couplings. I remember nuances of speech, and whole conversations exchanged without words. I have lived a lifetime of feelings, in a few texts, in mundane details exchanged. When he once lent me his jumper I felt it as an embrace, and when our eyes met and held, I felt him holding my very soul.

Life is not about how many breaths you take, or how many years you live,  it is about the moments that take your breath away. I now treasure those moments, whether lived, felt or remembered. Some love stories capture such moments, and those are the ones that get to me. The movie ended with that love declaration. I am sure that everyone who has ever loved understands it. Whether for a moment, a month or a few years, true love deserves to be treasured. I wept at the end of that movie too.

How to Read a Love Story

In my quest to exorcise the thoughts of my beloved from my mind, I started some months ago to read all the books that he raved about. I thought that once I finished them all, I will finish with him too.

First I read the English Patient. Perhaps I was not in love with the imagery and language as he was. He said he usually read it slowly to savour it, and always went back a few pages to re-read them when he dipped back into it. However, I did relate to the brokenness of love and heartache. I fully understood it on an emotional level.

Next I read  “An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth. My beloved is a musician, or at least a former musician, and he shares some common traits with the protagonist of the book. It is true that they play different instruments, but they are both of working class background, and hail from the northern parts of England. The book character also finished his music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in my love’s hometown. Without even reading the story, I suspected that he also related to the character on an emotional level, in the tragic and besotted way he fell in love.

The book was never a bestseller. Perhaps it did not find a large audience because chamber music is a part of its plot. But strangely enough it was one of the books I owned. One that survived the cull of several moves, from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape, to Cape Town to New York until it finally settled on a bookshelf in Nairobi. It was still on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list, when he mentioned it me, as one of his favourite books. I was amazed that we managed to agree on this obscure title too, one of many subtle connections we shared.  Please stop here if you intend to read the book because I will speak about it next, and might spoil the plot for you if you read any further.

In a nutshell it is a love story. One that does not have a happy ending. The protagonist, Michael Holme, meets the woman he loved and never managed to forget. The chance meeting happens ten years after they part ways and lose touch with each other. Next comes the resurrection of their love, which is a bittersweet interlude that threatens to unsettle both their lives. Julia is married, and is trying to conceal the fact she is going deaf, a terrible ordeal for a pianist who relies on her sense of hearing for enjoying music and presenting it to the world. Micheal himself is an accomplished violinist in a chamber music quartet, but I got the sense that he was still drifting aimlessly in his artist’s life, when he found Julia again. I accompanied him on his journey and understood its suffering and inevitable resolution.

Some books take you on a journey of knowledge and discovery, others on a roller-coaster ride of nonstop action, and the third type are the ones that invite you to accompany the characters on their emotional journey. This book is one of them. Since I discovered my own emotional intensity, I can appreciate and commiserate with the feelings of similarly broken characters. Michael and Julia are not perfect, each of them is flawed in his way, yet their responses are raw and real. Michael especially struggles with accepting Julia’s decision to stop seeing him, and this drives him into self-destruct mode, with a few tantrums thrown in for good measure. The book does not end in total disaster, there are small measures of joy, acceptance and redemption in Michael and Julia’s life. They survive, in their separate lives.

It was quite interesting that both love stories my Englishman recommended featured a forbidden love affairs that ended tragically or miserably. In both stories, the emotional bond survived separation or even death. At a previous point in my life I might have mocked either or both narratives. But today I know that those who wrote about love from first-hand experience never lied. The genuine descriptions of love whether in poems, songs or novels always speak to human feelings, and go on to become bestsellers. Love is essential to our lives. It is shared and expressed universally across cultural, spatial and temporal divides. At its best it is like an internal sun, that illuminates from within, lends glow to the eyes, and gives lightness to the steps. At its worst, It is a heavy piece of flint carried under the ribs, or a giant’s fist wrapped around the throat. Days, months or years might pass where the offending objects diminish until they are almost forgotten. Then, something shifts and the flinty stone would expand, hot and sharp to stab your insides and stop your breath. The fist would tighten its grip to choke the throat. Anybody who has ever grieved a lost love would relate to this pain, as I related to the heartache in the English Patient and An Equal Music, and to the emotional turmoil in half a dozen other love stories I read since I was similarly afflicted. The scars will always remain.

Such is the sentiment of a poem quoted in An Equal Music. You part from the one you love but they always leave their mark:

But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining –
They stood aloof, the scars remaining.
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.*


 

* Fare Thee Well by Lord Byron.

 

 

The Language of Heartbreak

I have been taking refuge in reading and writing. Sometimes I come to type my thoughts here. I also keep a daily counter of the days spent without my love addiction. The need and the craving are all still there, but at least I am keeping to my intention, no seeing him, if I can help it.

The trouble comes when I remember him. An image passes before my mind’s eye, or I cave in and let my eyes roam over his public Facebook photos. I read or hear something and it reminds me of something he said. I see his name somewhere, a curse because his first name is quite a common one, and I feel the stab between my ribs or the fingers of pain and regret squeezing my throat. It happens daily and I just need to breathe and let it pass, just like withdrawal symptoms of drugs or alcohol. It is quite painful to let go, and it will take a long time. For a recovering alcoholic even a single drink risks a return to addiction, so I might also be in for a lifelong battle.

My reading journeys are taking me into other people’s stories and lives, some real and some imagined. I have discovered a new empathy for the dysfunctional and heartbroken. Now it seems that there is a new language I understand, that of heartbreak, and I find myself quite touched by the stories of love and loss, especially love of the variety I found with Aquarius II. I am painfully aware of what I have lost, and I can empathize and recognize when one of my fictional characters is about to experience the same loss, whether they themselves realize it or not.

I have spoken before about my reaction to The English Patient. Aquarius II told me he loved the book and read it more than once. I loved it too, and this is perhaps a testimony to our twin emotional disposition. But even before I experienced my wild attachment to Aquarius, part of me hungered for a deep love connection. I was still married to my emotionally distant husband when I saw the movie Bridges of Madison County for the first time. I watched it on late night television, while my husband slept in our room. I should add here that this did not happen often, because he rarely allowed any light, television or any other noise or activity after his chosen time for lights out. Fortunately,  the movie was gentle and quiet, so I was able to finish it without disturbing the sleeping husband. When it ended, I quietly wept, knowing that I also craved these feelings, a love that transcends its temporal limitations and lives in the heart long after the lovers part. I might have eventually got my wish. Pity though that my love affair was completely devoid of love scenes.

The latest book that hooked me with its raw emotion is a collection of short stories entitled A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I usually find story collections hard to get into but these stories read like scattered experiences from the author’s life. After reading some, one begins to recognize the author in her many guises, her dysfunctional family, her lovers, and her wild and free life. Her creativity is electric, fueled by a free spirit and substance abuse. I admired her courage in raising four sons, while working odd jobs (including as a cleaning woman, ER nurse, receptionist, and teacher) and battling alcoholism. I was also emotionally bowled over by her experience of love. The fleeting love affairs she had with a Mexican diving instructor, the love of an older student in her university days, or the affair she had with a much younger man. All this, in addition to the men she married. Those lovers were not perfect, there were one or two losers and at least one addict, and all were broken and imperfect. Nevertheless the love itself is perfect in its time and place, in the way two people connect and become more than the sum of their individual selves. I am slightly envious of her emotional experience, and her abiding faith in the power of love. She describes the singular power of love even in the face of death. Her sister is experiencing and enjoying love even while having chemotherapy sessions for her terminal cancer. In almost all her stories, however, the hopefulness of love is intertwined with desperation. Lovers sometimes abuse, betray or abandon. And love does not survive poverty and abuse. The stories are sometimes strange and funny but they mostly left their emotional imprint. They spoke to me in the language of heartbreak.

Bridges of New York City

Robert’s idea of adventure for yesterday was to walk the Queensboro Bridge (Ed Koch Bridge or 59th Street Bridge) from Manhattan to Queens. This bridge passes over Roosevelt Island, and we go past it everyday on the tram. Robert asked me many times if we can walk on it to Queens, so he was very excited when we made our way toward the pedestrian ramp. It was perhaps the first acceptable warm day after a long winter with unseasonable snow.

After that long walk we continued our trek to Steinway in Astoria where we had a late lunch at an Arabic restaurant. I do not often crave Arabic food, but last Sunday we were with friends at the same place and I had a taste of their Kushari, an Egyptian dish with brown lentil, rice, macaroni and lots of crispy-fried onion.

Today we had another adventure planned, again at my son’s suggestion, walking to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. Compared to the functional and utilitarian Queensboro Bridge, this one is considered the tourist walk. The Pedestrian Ramp on Manhattan side is surrounded with every manner of stand and refreshment seller – They were selling Belgian waffles, New York pretzels, Juice, gyro, trinkets and fridge magnets and various artwork. Robert and I had the sweet and messy waffles just before embarking on our walk.

While Queensboro bridge had an equal number of walkers and cyclists, this one was crowded with walkers, mostly tourists. The bridge itself is a great architectural achievement, considering it was built in 1883. I am not sure what the walk would be like in normal conditions but at this time the view was obstructed in most part by sheet metal, and it looked like several parts of the bridge were draped or screened for maintenance. There were several views or vantage points where we took pictures, getting crowded with the many visitors. Along the walk there are benches and more stands selling trinkets and snacks. One of the most popular stands was an Indian guy carving perfect mango roses on wooden sticks. When I walked past his stand, a Japanese tourist had just bought one of his edible artworks, and was busy pointing her gigantic camera at it, for a closeup.

I had planned this time to go to a South African restaurant in Fort Green in Brooklyn, but the combination of the rich treat, the time, and the chilly weather, made me abandon this plan. Instead we spent some time at a Brooklyn playground.

View from Manhattan Bridge looking towards Brooklyn Bridge

Because of the less than perfect conditions on the Brooklyn Bridge I suggested that we walk back to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge. Robert was extremely enthusiastic. This bridge had interesting sights, a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and connected with Manhattan at Chinatown. We had interesting views (Interviews – as Robert called them) of Chinatown. In terms of accessible view of the outside, this bridge gave a better experience than the Brooklyn Bridge in its current condition. The main drawback, however, is that the walking route is right beside a busy train route, four tracks are used for the B D Q and N trains in and out of Brooklyn, so perhaps it is better to walk here with earplugs.

In all our excursion on bridges we noted that instead of graffiti, people put locks with special messages, and names usually accompanied by a date. I would assume that these locks would get cut out regularly, but we saw some that looked quite old. There was even a bright red one with the date 05-12-13, a date that hasn’t arrived yet (even if you read it the American way).

Book: In the House of the Interpreter

In the House of the Interpreter: A MemoirIn the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa’Thiong’o

The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author’s return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Overall it is a story of African people, their survival under difficult circumstances and the choices they make; when it is acceptable to compromise and when it is not.

From a character point of view, there are a few memorable ones. Carey Francis the British principal of a school for Kenyan boys. An officer of the colonial power, who is deeply dedicated to educating native boys and presenting them as equal to their white peers. He reconciled both conflicting interest with Christian belief.

Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother, who fought with the Mau Mau resistance in the mountain.

Also interesting is the ambiguous and often false relationship between evangelism and true morality. Worth reading, even if the story could not maintain tension and interest equally throughout.

Sala Kahle Mzansi – Stay Well South Africa

Today we leave South Africa on our very long flight to New York. I spent my last night in SA at my friend’s house. She is also the new adoptive mom of my cat Pete.

The day before that has been hectic with moving stuff and vacating the flight. At least I have 18 hours of doing nothing while en-route to JFK.

I am sending a shout-out and a heartfelt farewell to my beloved home country. Robert and I will come back, in two years. Stay well. Sala kahle my Mzansi.  Thank you for giving me a place to love and be proud of. Thank you for helping me grow up and find my patch on the rainbow. I will always think of the road leading to you as Paradise Road.