At the Square VI

War and Peace


[read part V here]


For G. Maalouf


"Never seek friendship... Never permit oneself to dream of friendship... Friendship is a miracle!" -Simone Weil


There was an abandoned rock quarry at both edges of the hill south of Nahr el-Jaouze in a valley that once wrapped around in greenery the castle of Saladin's sons, and it was rumored that after "the events"(*), the rock quarries had been banned, but like ants - or cockroaches - the workers continued to plunder the weather-sculptured rocks laboriously at night. A highway from Tripoli to Beirut had been built on its contours, in between the years of the saga of the Ayyubid princes of the Koura and Tripoli and "the events", so the workers were easily spotted by the drivers and had to leave one early morning in a hurry, leaving behind bulldozer tracks and toppled rocks. The now barren hill, with its little fort and a surviving tree, looked upwards: "For that country submits utterly to heaven, holds heaven over itself in vaulted colors, variform, intricate with cloisters, triforia, stained-glass roses, windows opening onto eternity. Year after year that country grows up into the sky, merges with the dawn redness, turns angelic in the reflected light of the greater atmosphere."  


So different from the Castle of St. Gilles, so small, I thought. An expert on castles of the crusaders had told us that when a fortress was besieged, the defenders didn't throw boiling oil but sand which would get inside the armor of the attackers and begin to burn, until they were in far too much pain to fight. "Had we known this, probably we could have won all of our wars!" is what I told George. I had wanted to climb up the polished stairway, but I remembered then we were aimless legs. "You are different, and for me that means irreplaceable". I tried to look around in order to detect where his voice had come from, but it was an ocean of aimless legs, and we looked the same, with our summer hats and elegant foulards. "How did he recognize me?" That's all I could muster. One man - or his leg - fretted about the destruction of the valley, now half covered with rubble again, even the Roman bridge. I mistook him for my friend. "Today those remote dreams come back, and not without reason. The possibility suggests itself that no dreams, however absurd or senseless, are wasted in the universe."


[Ala Younis, "Tin Soldiers", 2010-2011, 12th Istanbul Biennal]


"You're courageous. I, -like lots of others and unlike you- do not have the courage to write, and probably will never have." The castle had been thought to be the crusaders', and the French, mistook it for Turkish or Mamluk. Only in 1956, Emir Izzat al-Ayyubi, while studying at St. Joseph in Beirut, revealed the mystery of the virtually unknown Zahrite branch of the Ayyubids. Courageous? I was so afraid to leave, so afraid that everything would turn to rubble, that he would suddenly disappear, like the names of Saladin's sons, carved in stone, on the fortress walls. "And the kind of courage? The greatest kind of courage. The courage to be afraid. To have the two fears. First we have to have the courage to be afraid of being hurt. We have to not defend ourselves. The world has to be suffered. Only through suffering will we know certain faces of the world, certain events of life: the courage to tremble and sweat and cry is as necessary for Rembrandt as for Genet." We wanted to see the world - the impressive valley - from within Mousayliha, but as it happened with every fortress, there were no windows; the crusaders sat in a pitch-dark.


Autumn music played. How could a leg play music in a valley? "We resolved to become self-sufficient, create a new life principle, establish a new age, reconstitute the world -on a small space, to be sure, for ourselves alone, but after our own tastes and pleasures." The night began to invent maps of the city, mistaking the village for a stellar map, and was puzzled because Batroun - a few kilometers away - seemed so far for us, who couldn't walk. "To really paint the sea, you have to see it everyday, at every hour and in the same place, to come to know the life in this location." Everything was so inviting. The rubble, the barren hill, the procession of Saladin's sons. I kept asking about the voice, the voice that had said all those things, until I found myself walking and was reminded of what the moon said to the night as she papered her windows: They can only walk in pairs.  "We went for a walk all together along a steeply falling street, pervaded by the scent of violets; uncertain whether it was the magic of the night which lay like silver on the snow or whether it was the light of dawn..."


"I would like to write like a painter. I would like to write like painting. The way I would like to live. Maybe the way I manage to live, sometimes. Or rather: the way it is sometimes given to me to live, in the present absolute. In the happening of the instant. Just at the moment of the instant, in what unfurls it, I touch down then let myself slip into the depth of the instant itself... Monet, in 1890, is the one who said that: what I am looking for, instantaneousness... the same light spread throughout, the same light, the same light." Where are you going, George? I asked. "Nowhere in particular." He said.


[Passages from Bruno Schulz taken from "Cinnamon Shops" & "The Republic of Dreams", in "The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories", Penguin, 2008. Passages from Hélène Cixous taken from "La dernier tableau ou le portrait de dieu", in "La Venue à l'écriture", U.G.E., 1977.]


[Robert Montgomery, 2009]


(*) "The events" or "Al-Hawadeth" is the popular term in Lebanon to refer to the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).


To be continued...


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Bruno Schulz, Hélène Cixous, Lebanon, Travel