Cairo’s coolest cosmopolitan hotel. General Manager: Youssef Rakha.
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No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.
— from King Lear (Act V, Scene III)
— from the collection of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (d. 1924)
Return of the Prodigal Muslim
Everybody knows the Enlightenment is dying. I don’t mean in the hells from which people board immigrant boats. It was never very alive here in the first place. I mean in the heavens to which the boat people seek suicidal access.
They end up drowning less for the love of the Postchristian West, it would seem, than out of despair with the Muslim East. Blame politics and economics, for sure. But could it be that all three phenomena – despair, poverty and dictatorship – are rooted in the same cultural impasse?
Today Brexits, Trumps and, let us not forget, the Islamic Invasion of Europe are spelling an Endarkenment all across the North, confining progressive and egalitarian principles to intensive care units. And I’m wondering what that could mean for despairing Muslims in the South.
طيلة الطريق من القاهرة إلى المنصورة، كنت أردد لنفسي: لم يكن علي المجيء. أتبع شعورا غامضا بالذنب، أو ربما – وهو ما حاولت إنكاره – أسعى لتحقيق نزوة قديمة: أن يعترف الأديب العجوز، وأستاذي اللئيم فرج الكفراوي بنجاحي، وهو الذي عدّني دوما أقل تلاميذه موهبة.
قبل خمسة عشر عاما، لم أكن أتمنى سوى أن أصبح مثله. الآن، أفعل كل ما بوسعي كي أتجنب مصيره.
الأسد. من السباع والأنثى أسدة وله أسماء كثيرة فمن أشهرها أسامة والحرث وقسورة والغضنفر وحيدرة والليث والضرغام ومن كناه أبو الأبطال وأبو شبل وأبو العباس وهو أنواع منها ما وجهه وجه إنسان وشكل جسده كالبقر وله قرون سود نحو شبر ومنه ما هو أحمر كالعناب وغير ذلك وتلده أمه قطعة لحم وتستمر تحرسه ثلاثة أيام ثم يأتي أبوه فينفخ فيه فتنفرج أعضاؤه وتتشكل صورته ثم ترضعه وتستمر عيناه مغلوقة سبعة أيام ثم تفتتح ويقيم على تلك الحالة بين أبيه وأمه إلى ستة أشهر ثم يتكلف الكسب بعد ذلك وله صبر على الجوع والعطش وعنده شرف نفس يقال أنه لا يعاود فريسته ولا يأكل من فريسة غيره ولا يشرب من ماء ولغ فيه كلب … ويتحير عند رؤية النار ومن كرمه انه لا يقرب المرأة خصوصا إذا كانت حائضا وقيل أربع عيون تضئ بالليل عين الأسد وعين النمر وعين السنور وعين الأفعى … إذا أقبلت على واد مسبع فقل أعوذ بدانيال والجب من شر الأسد وسبب ذلك على ما قيل إن بختنصر رأى في نومه أن هلاكه يكون على يد مولود فجعل يأمر بقتل الأطفال فخافت أم دانيال عليه فجاءت إلى بئر فألقته فيه فأرسل الله له أسدا يحرسه وقيل إن بختنصر توهم ذلك في دانيال فضرى له أسدين وجعلهما في الجب وألقاه فلم يؤذياه وصارا يبصبصان حوله ويلحسانه … فمن خواصه أن صوته يقتل التماسيح وشحمه من طلى به يده لم يقربه سبع ومرارة الذكر منه تحل المعقود ولحمه ينفع من الفالج وإذا وضعت قطعة من جلده في صندوق لم يقربه سوس ولا أرضة واذا وضع على جلد غيره من السباع تساقط شعره وهو من الحيوان الذي يعيش ألف سنة على ما ذكر وعلامة ذلك كثرة سقوط أسنانه.
— من كتاب “المستطرف في كل فن مستظرف” لشهاب الدين الأبشيهي (١٣٨٨-١٤٢٨)
If one disregards the money that goes with them, there is nothing in the world more intolerable than award ceremonies. I had already discovered this in Germany. They do nothing to enhance one’s standing, as I had believed before I received my first prize, but actually lower it, in the most embarrassing fashion. Only the thought of the money enabled me to endure these ceremonies … I let them piss on me in all these city halls and assembly rooms, for to award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him. And to receive a prize is no different from allowing oneself to be pissed on, because one is being paid for it. I have always felt that being awarded a prize was not an honor but the greatest indignity imaginable. For a prize is always awarded by incompetents who want to piss on the recipient. And they have a perfect right to do so, because he is base and despicable enough to receive to receive it … Accepting a prize is in itself an act of perversity, my friend Paul told me at the time, but accepting a state prize is the greatest.
Who knows how my life would have developed if I had not met Paul Wittgenstein at the height of the crisis that, but for him, would probably have pitched me headlong into the literary world, the most repellent of all worlds, the world of Viennese writers and their intellectual morass, for at the height of this crisis the obvious course would have been to take the easy way out, to make myself cheap and compliant, to surrender and throw in my lot with the literary fraternity. Paul preserved me from this, since he had always detested the literary coffeehouses. It was thus not without reason, but more or less to save myself, that from one day to the next I stopped frequenting the so-called literary coffeehouses and started going to the Sacher with him—no longer to the Hawelka but to the Ambassador, etc., until eventually the moment came when I could once more permit myself to go to the literary coffeehouses, when they no longer had such a deadly effect on me. For the truth is that the literary coffeehouses do have a deadly effect on a writer.
— From Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard, translated by David McLintock
Blessed is he who lays a flower on a tomb or a palace or a breast, is he who is born in the seventh month or the twelfth, is the throat become gorge, is he who slaughters his only horse out of kindness. Blessed is he who sinks to his knees pleading forgiveness or overcome with lust, is he who bears a cross upon his back, is he who boils a porridge of cement to hoodwink his children’s hunger, is the sniffer become snout, is the time when a wife could gather together the pieces of her helpmeet’s corpse and he would live, are the truths cowering in the crevices of falsehood, is the nation that feeds on the chatter of the worthless, is the nation that feeds on the prattling of the powerful, is the gulp become gullet. Blessed is he who fashions an ear from clay and an ear from dough until his head is severed, is a sun that still rises in the East, is a star that shines through on a cloudy day. Blessed be this tale, which would not have be told of Mustajab VII were it not for that incident, revealed to the world by a wordsmith whose father laboured as a screenwriter, wherein Mustajab VII secretly murdered Mustajab VI, sold his body to students studying dissection and with the proceeds erected a sumptious pavilion replete with dazzling lights and microphones that resounded with proverbial wisdom, to outfox foes and keep in remembrance the glorious exploits of Clan Mustajab, ancient and modern, then stood at its entrance to receive the sincerest of condolences. This is a slander against the man, which lays the very heart of truth to waste and strikes at the crux of our tale, the point at which it joins with what took place thereafter, for which reason we set over this incident an upturned water jar, and kept it hid.