Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Amin Maaluf

“My eternal regret. I’m so sorry Ramis”

We were a bunch of close friends in my first year university at a university in Beirut. The guys slightly outnumbered the girls, and we were of various confessions, different Christian sects, Moslem sects, and even a Jewish guy.

I was the youngest and the age difference spanned 18 to 23 years. A few of us were well-off, had their own homes, a car, a girlfriend… many of us were barely affording tuitions, but we managed to meet and eat outside, and stayed together till midnight.

The civil war had started shyly in 1975, but people learned quickly not to venture out of their premises or to linger outside at night.

Murad was two years older than me and somehow he was tacitly imposed as our guiding rod: He was the only child, lived with his mother in a vast ancient home in the mountain overlooking Beirut, he had a car and a girlfriend Tania. He had lost his father (died at the age of 44 from heart attack) when he was 7 years and his mother chaperoned him to be the master of the house. His mother reigned as the regent to a designated monarch, sort of allowing Murad to give his opinions and decisions on daily matters.

I was under the impression that if his mother Aida had a single daughter, she would have treated her daughter as her slave. Murad would never tell his mother of the inevitable problems among the friends: She would consider the friend as an enemy for antagonizing Murad.

Samiramis was my classmate and she was the tallest among the girls, beautiful and svelte.

At one of our countless parties, I couldn’t stop ogling her and I was in a chatting mood from nervousness.

Around midnight, “Sami the beautiful” asked: “Who will accompany me home?” As a child I screamed: “I will”, no matter what she actually wanted, and I was ready to fulfill Ramis wishes.

I didn’t own a car and after 5 minutes walk I felt ashamed: “Ramis must have expected someone with a car to give her a lift, and here I am walking her all the way to her building, in dark streets filled with large holes…” It was too late to return and ask someone else to give Sami a lift: If I were in Paris, walking for 5 minutes would be very natural and normally expected, but not in Lebanon.

As we arrived at a large crevice in the street, I held Ramis hand to circumvent this obstacle and keep her hand afterwards. Ramis subtly eased her hand out of my soft grasp, and felt ashamed for taking this initiative: My gentlemanly education at home was a huge barrier in “taking advantages” of someone relying on me to care for… And thus, I failed to kiss her goodnight: It was not proper since she expressed not to be in the mood of being intimate with me, tonight…

A week later, Semiramis showed up holding hands with another one of our common friends. I was helplessly looking at the joined hands and surmised that this guy was bold enough to hold her in his arm and show her closer attention and affection.

We met again as a group, but walking Ramis home was not to take place again. The irony was that I had purchased a beige beetle car, and Ramis was not to ride in  it with me.

It was the regret of a lifetime: I blew a fantastic occasion to get intimate with Semiramis and starting a love story…

Twenty years later, I returned hurriedly from Paris and boarded the first flight to Beirut: Tania, now  the wife of Murad had call me and said: “Murad is dying and he wants to see you…”

For the last 20 years, I never returned to Lebanon and I was at odd with Murad for militarily participating in the civil war. My initial attitude was to refuse this invitation: “What are we to talk about? There are no grounds to apologize and forgive committed atrocities…”

My girlfriend pressured me to leave immediately because it is not permitted not to satisfy the wishes of a dying close friend…

I was in a hotel waiting for the morning to shine when Tania awoke me from a deep sleep. Tania thought that I was still in France and said: “It is not necessary to show up. Murad could not wait for you. He is dead”

I told Tania that I am in Beirut and she softened her voice, but repeated “he could not wait any longer. Anyway, I send a car to bring you here. You won’t be able to locate our new home

I was terribly uneasy: I didn’t want to meet any of our common friends and the mother of Murad Aida. I didn’t see Aida: She must have died before her son. I lingered another 10 minutes among the mourners, and the house was already packed with “strangers”.

In my hotel room, I began gathering the letters that I received in the last 20 years. During all that time I couldn’t bring myself to think and write about Lebanon and my recollections. I had focused my attention on the Roman period and published a few historical stories. When I am prompted to speak about Lebanon, I find myself a mute, but ask me anything on the Roman history and I am a chattering box, talking nonstop for hours.

The next day, the nephew of Tania called and asked me to say a word at the burying ceremony. He encouraged me by listing the people who will say something. I adamantly refused on the lame excuse that my students are waiting for me to give them the exam… It was a blatant lie: I don’t teach in this semester.

Tania called and wanted me to say a word. I declined. Tania said: “You may return to your new country...”

Tania’s confrontation decided me to stay longer in Lebanon, but I will not attend the ceremony.

I decided to fake that I returned to France and called Semiramis. Ramis had visited me a couple of time in France and she was running a hotel in a mountain resort.

Ramis welcomed me and allocated the best room she had. I had informed her of my plan to remain incognito in Lebanon, and that I was seeking isolation…

Ramis had prepared two dozen of small dishes, the mezzeh and a bottle of Champaign. I was not in any chatting mood that evening and she didn’t insist.

I started writing for hours and couldn’t find sleep: My brain and emotions were running full speed, trying to recollected my life before the civil war started.

The next evening, Ramis coaxed me to get up and had something to eat. I reluctantly obeyed and joined her at the table in the balcony of the hotel.

Ramis asked me if I remember the night I walked her home, and I told her that this is one event I could not forget.

After I told her what I recall from that night, Ramis said: “I cannot remember the many details of your story. I do not recall pulling out my hands from yours. What I know is that after walking for 5 minutes and wondered why you parked so far, and then I came to the realization that I’ll be accompanied on foot. You talks were very interesting and I was hoping that you’ll kiss me goodnight as we reach the corner of by building. It never happened and felt that we are just good friends…”

I said: “Not kissing you that night is one of my harshest regrets. And I am so sorry.”

At midnight, Ramis dismissed the waiter and we finished the Champaign, and Semiramis said:

“What of a walk in this clear and warm night?”

I said: “I’ll never miss this second opportunity in the world”

Note: One of the stories in the French book “The disoriented” by Amin Maaluf, translated into Arabic “Al Ta2ihoun”

“The Gardens of Light” by Amin  (Written in April 19, 2007)

“The gardens of light” is translated from French.

In the middle of 200 AC, Mani set about spreading his Message and he preached for over thirty years a new religion, a mixture of Christianity (Nazarene), Buddhism and Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrianism and whose priests were called Magi).

Mani was born around AD 216 in Mardinu (a town east of present Turkey on the North of the Tigris River) and he called himself the “son of Babel“. He experienced the unyielding faith, teachings and the rigorous life style of the White clad Brethren or monks of a Nazarene sect on the Euphrates banks, where his father Patek was a member and who adopted the doctrines and teachings of this Christian Nazarene sect..

This sect was called “Halle Haware” or white garment in the Aramaic language. The members of the sect did not eat meat or drink wine or leavened bread; the disciples wore white from top to bottom. This sect was scared of fire, a counter faith to the most common Zaradust faith in the region at the time, and thus would eat only raw fruits and vegetables grown by the community.

Outside food was prohibited and considered “female” food because women were banished from the community and the female names in the scriptures were not mentioned unless the names represented calamities and bad augurs.

I told my nephew William, who insists on wearing white garment and who spent three weeks in India at a meditation center in Mount Abu, about this novel and he sounded interested but he claimed that his sect (which he would not give it this label as if it is a bad connotation like cult) is far ancient and going back many thousands of years.

Mani is now a very close advisor to the Divine King of Kings, the Sassanian monarch Shapur, and managed for 3 years to delay a resumption of war with the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Philip the Arab had struck a deal with Shapur to cede Armenia to the Persian Empire and to deliver a tribute of 100,000 sacs of gold every year by a caravan of bedouins of his tribe. Philip needed badly a truce in order to celebrate the 1000 years of the creation of Rome.

After Philip was assassinated, his successor resumed paying the tribute but was assassinated two years late,r and four generals were vying for the throne of Rome and the tribute could not arrive.

Shapur succeeded his father Ardashir, the founder of the Sassanid Dynasty, who defeated the powerful Parthian king Artabanus in AD 226, who had previously defeated the Emperor Caracalla in AD 217.

The Parthian Empire was located in Northern Iran and was comprised of the current Kurdistan territory, part of Anatolia and the central Iraqi plains and including Babylon. The Roman Empire had the Western parts of current Turkey with Cappadocia as the main city and all of Syria (Aram) and Egypt.  The Sassanid Dynasty had Ctesiphon as its Capital, near Babylon, but on the Eastern shore of the Tigris and which used to be the Capital of the defeated Parthian Empire.

The Sassanid Empire expanded to include Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Shapur could have installed his capital anywhere he wanted further to the East but he wanted to be close to the Roman Empire, his arch-enemy.  Shapur succeeded twice more in defeating the Romans and captured Emperor Valerian prisoner in AD 259.

Shapur begged Mani to join him on one of his war expeditions so that he may promote his religion to the conquered territories but Mani declined the offer saying: “My words shall shed no blood. My hands shall bless no blade. My hands shall neither bless the knives of sacrificing priests, nor even a woodcutter’s axe.”

While the Magi were destroying the Gods in the conquered territories of Armenia, Cappadocia, and Syria Mani and his followers “The Sons of Lights” were preaching peace and contempt for all swords and the hands which wield them.

While the fathers of the prophets from Moses, to Buddha, to Jesus or Zoroaster were absent or ghost figures, Mani’s father followed closely in his footsteps, a disciple of the apostle.  Mani and his followers prayed at the tomb of his father Patek and his mother Mariam and he felt weak in the natural surrounding of his village. Patek, the father of Mani, was from a Parthian warrior class and Sittai, the leader of the White-clad sect had ordered him to go home and bring his son to live within the community after he is weaned.

Mani was 4 years old when he was baptized in the river and lived in the community without knowing who was his father or mother since Patek was not allowed or cared to show affection for his son.

Mani was used to isolate himself and discovered a favorite place for seclusion in a peninsula by the Tigris River surrounded by palm trees. By the age of twelve Mani must have gathered from bits of conversation how he was conceived and his origins and he liked to paint.  It is at that age that he saw on the surface of the river the image of his “Twin” or “Double” who told him: “Draw what seems right to thee, Mani.  He who sends me knows no rival.  All beauty is the reflection of His beauty”.  Mani told his close friend Malchos in the community: “Tread lightly on this earth, avoid sudden movements, and do not kill trees or flowers. Pretend to plow the soil, but do not wound it. When others scream and yell, move only your lips.”

When he was 24, Mani’s “twin” told him that it was time for him to get out to the world and spread the Message of tolerance to all religions and bring down the walls among casts and races.  Mani shed his white garment and wore colorful cloth and walked to Ctesiphone to find his friend Malchos.  Malchos was originally from Tyre and stayed in the community when his father drowned there and then was excommunicated at the age of fifteen.

Patek joined his son in order to bring him back to the community and ended up becoming his first disciple.  Mani started teaching that every person or object is a mix of light and darkness and it is through the five senses that individuals need to differentiate the good and beautiful in the world and increase their knowledge, sense of beauty and tolerance.

Mani left for Deb by sea, on the estuary of the Indus River. This city was where all the ships from West to East stopped and the Kushan princes and kings were tolerant to all religious beliefs and it is said that Thomas, the twin brother of Jesus, was the apostle who spread Christ’s teachings there and in India. It used to be a treacherous voyage and took a month under the best monsoon conditions around the month of May.

Deb is no more, and the emplacement of Karachi is very close; Ctesiphone is no more, but current Baghdad was built close by.

Hormisdas, the grandchild of Ardashir, had defeated the Kushan princes and was ready to enter Deb.  Mani met him with a delegation, saved his favorite daughter from death, and saved Deb from destruction.  Instead of gold, Mani asked Hormisdas to give him Denagh, a 13- year old daughter of a martyred officer that Hormisdas has taken under his protection.

Denagh has stayed near Mani the whole night healing the little girl. When later on Patek wanted to know the kind of relationship Mani had with Denagh he replied: “Her garments trace the boundaries of my nomadic realm“.  He indirectly answered the implicit question by stating: “What merit would there be in depriving oneself of a pleasure which one had never enjoyed?”

Back to Ctesiphon, Mani met the Divine King Shapur and secured permission to spread his Message under his protection.  Mani was 26 then and his speech was: “I respect all creeds. The religious sects do not want to listen to the good in the other sects but they assemble the flocks of the faithful around hatred because it is only in confrontation that they show their solidarity.  When men are tired of rites, myths and curses, they will remember that, one day, during the reign of the great Shapur, a humble mortal sent a cry resounding across the world.”

Mani had a special relationship with King Shapur and the later was ready to adopt Mani’s Message if he agreed to stay close to him at the court.  Mani declined the deal and the Magi gave Mani hard times because his message was a threat to their cast.  Hormisdas, Shapur’s younger son and King of Armenia and a follower of Mani’s Message, succeeded in the throne for a short period because the Magi poisoned him.

The next king was Bahram who tortured Mani for 30 days and exposed him shackled for everyone in Beth-Lapat to see; his remains were hanged naked for three days at the entrance of the city and no one was to know where he was buried but the wall became a place of pilgrimage.   The disciples of Mani wrote everywhere “Mani Hayye” which was transformed into “Manichean“.

The Magi and the Catholic Church did their best to annihilate his books, paintings, and any icon of Mani; West and East religions succeeded in deforming his teachings and casting him as “The Devil”, the “lying demon” and the “pestilential heresy”.  For a thousand years, he was called “The Apostle of Jesus” in Egypt and “The Buddha of Light” in China.

It is unfortunate that Shapur was dying when the Romans invaded Palmira (Tadmor) and captured Zenobia prisoner.

February 15, 2007

“Origins” by Amin Maaluf

 

I enjoyed the anecdote of Tannous, the great grand father of Amin Maaluf, in the French book “Origines” by Amin Maaluf.  Tannous walked six hours from Kfar-Yaqda to see his sweet heart Soussene in Zahle and claimed that he had business in that city for an entire week.  Tannous would walk back home about eight hours in the dark on dangerous dirt roads and then come back the next day to Zahle.  After several days of these gruesome trips Tannous did not look well and had lost weight.  His future father-in-law investigated with him and discovered the truth and said to him: “Listen boy, tonight you sleep with my boys; then you never come back to Zahle but to attend to your engagement with my daughter”.  Tannous and Sousene had ten off springs.

The “Origines” is becoming very interesting; Botros, the future grand father of Amin, had spread the tale that he immigrated to Havana to come to the rescue of his younger brother Gebrayel who was in trouble with the law.  It is turning out that Botros wanted to emigrate but felt hugely humiliated once he arrived in Cuba; he was probably quarantined and lived in an attic above his brother’s shop.  Botros never mentioned in writing his Cuba adventures because he had not the stuff of an emigrant willing to accept a few inconveniences or harassment, he who lived like a dandy in Lebanon. 

Thus, Botros’ lofty narrative of the reasons for going to Cuba and aiding his brother out of troubles was a way for him to counter his disastrous trip and somehow tarnish the name of his brother who showed acumen for business and an enterprising spirit. It appears that Botros visited New York for seven months and that Gebrayel had paid him more than $1000 when he left him in compensation; this sum could be valued to at least $30,000 nowadays.  All in all, Botros was out of Lebanon for five years and returned more resolved to teach and change society from its ignorance.

I am reading a section from “Origines” where Botros, the grand father of Amin, refused since 1913 to baptize any of his children so that they might decide which confession to affiliate with when they get of age.  Botros named his school “The Universal School” so that all students from any confession could enroll and get an education; girls and boys sat in the same class and his educated wife Nazeera was a teacher in the school. The commotions consequent to Botros’ decision not to baptize his children is still remembered with passion in the neighboring villages of Machrah after a century. 

The abbot Theodoros, brother of Botros, tried once to baptize Botros’ eldest son in his absence but was refrained to do so when Botros barged in after getting winds of his brother’s muscled method. At that time, around the town of Zahle, there were Greek orthodox, Greek Catholics or Melkites, Maronites and Protestant Presbitarians who were indoctrinated by the schools of Von Dyke in Abey and Souk El-Gharb.  In the spirit of “universality” the students were to recite only the “Our Father” prayer because its contents do not mention, Christ, Marie, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity or the Church.  Botros went as far as giving his children names not related to saints or any religious connotations.

I have finished reading “Origines” and I can categorize this book as “give me a good book; time will vanish and I am content”. Botros was expecting the French mandate authority to aid his school financially but discovered that the French were intent on helping only the Catholic religious schools and thus aided his arch rival Malatios. He consequently appreciated the laic positions of the Turkish leader Kamal Ataturk and decided to name his last son Kamal; the new born turned out to be a girl and he insisted on naming her Kamal anyway. Botros died at 56 of age of cardiac arrest leaving a wife (Nazeera) of 29 years of age and six children ranging from 11 to barely 2 years of age. Nazeera and her stoic mother Sophia raised the children in the Presbyterian moral severity.

Nazeera continued to direct the “Universal School” and barely managed to make ends meet; her brother-in-law priest Theodoros had destroyed all the signed papers due to be paid by the people who had borrowed from Botros on account that she doesn’t need more troubles and animosities from her relatives and neighbors.

The author had to travel to Cuba to investigate the documents he had about his great uncle Gebrayel, visited his mausoleum in the main cemetery of Christopher Columbus and went around to get visual appreciation of the renowned commercial centers “La Verdad” which had vanished.  He paid a visit to Gebrayel’s residence up on a hill, as Levantines love to locate when they can afford it. 

Gebrayel had hit it big in commerce and had vast connections with the new political leaders of the new republic that was established in 1909 after the Cuban revolution kicked out the Spanish colonists.  We discover that Amin’s grand father and grand uncle were free-masons, as were Jose Marti and the Cuban revolutionary leaders located in New York, as were the leaders of the revolutionary “Young Turks” who deposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdel-Hamid, and later Kamal Ataturk.  Amin’s father and his grandfather died both of them at the age of 56, on the same month and on a Sunday.

Amin’s eldest uncle joined a Catholic monastery in the USA after marrying and begetting five children; he came to Lebanon with the intention of being consecrated a priest instead of a simple “brother” but the attempt failed when the Archbishop of Boston disagreed with the decision of the Archbishop in Lebanon; he would not receive anyone who was not Catholic and his mother Nazeera reluctantly converted to Catholicism just to see her son; the wife of this uncle also became a nun.

Book reviews:  Of controversial manuscripts? Posted in 2008

Many of the books that I have reviewed were written prior to 2008, before I discovered wordpress.com, and they might be categorized as controversial.  

It is not my job to fall into that trap of judging what is fine to read.  I simply reviews,  summarizes, and add my comments of what I have read that express deep feeling and personal reflections.  

I always give my “expert” opinions anyway:  It is your right to express your opinion.

There are books that I had to publish several posts on particular chapters, simply because topics are interesting and need further development.

1) “Life after Life” by Dr. Raymond Moody, (written in June 7, 2004)

2) “A Priest among “Les Loubards”” by Guy Gilbert, (written in July 22, 2004)

3) “We the Living” by Ayn Rand, (written in July, 24, 2004)

4) “Prophesies of End of Timeby Paco Rabanne, (November 15, 2004)

5) “Alexander the Great”, (November 20, 2004)

6) “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Thomas Friedman (July 28, 2006)

7) “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Saleh, (August 10, 2006)

8) “The Princes of the Crazy Years” by Gilbert Gilleminault and Philippe Bernert.

9) “Carlos Ghosn: Citoyen du Monde” by Philippe Ries, (Septembre 27, 2006)

10) “Abbo”by Nabil Al Milhem, (November 23, 2006)

11) “Human Types; Essence and the Enneagram” by Suzan Zannos, (December 6, 2006)

12) “One hundred fallacies on the Middle East (ME)” by Fred Haliday, (March 2, 2007)

13) “Origins” by Amin Maaluf, February 15, 2007

14) “Imagined Masculinity” edited by Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb

15) “Post-modernism: the Arabs in a video snapshot” by Mai Ghoussoub,( March 4, 2007)

16) “The Joke” by Milan Kundera, (March 22, 2007)

17) “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, March 28, 2007

18)  “Biography” of In3am Ra3d, April 7, 2007

19)  “Al-Walid Bin Talal”, April 4, 2007

20) “The Gardens of Light” by Amin Maaluf, April 19, 2007

21) “Two old women” by Velma Wallis, May 1, 2007

22) “I heard the owl call my name” by Margaret Craven, May 3, 2007

23) “A woman of independent means” by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, May 6, 2007

24) “The Gospel according to Pilate” by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, May 9, 2007

25) “Les innovations du XXI siecle qui vont changer notre vie” by Eric de Riedmatten.

26) “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, July 3, 2007

27) “Liban: le salut par la culture” by Phares Zoghbi, August 19, 2007

28) “Finding Joy” by Charlote Davis Kasl, August 22, 2007

29) “Tadjoura” by Jean Francois Deniau, Septembre 6, 2007

30) “How to dance forever” by Daniel Nagrin, September 8, 2007

31.  “The Second sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, (September 21, 2007)

32.  “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, (September 25, 2007)

33.  “The God of mirrors” by Robert Reilly, (October 1st, 2007)

34.  “The tipping point” by Malcom Gladwell, (October 9, 2007)

35.  “The social structure of Lebanon: democracy or servitude?” by Safia Saadeh

October 15, 2007

36. “Fallaci interviews Fallaci and Apocalypse”, by Oriana Falaci (November 8, 2007)

37. “Aicha la bien-aime du Prophet” by Genevieve Chauvel (November 19, 2007)

38.  “Tess of the D’Uberville” Thomas Hardy, (December 19, 2007)

39. “Le livre des saviors” edited by Constantin von Barloewen (December 22, 2007)

40.  Gandhi’s non-violent resistance guidelines (February 21, 2008)

41. “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown (March 12, 2008)

42. “La reine de Palmyre” by Denise Brahimi (March 26, 2007)

43. “Culture et resistance” by Edward W. Said (April 18, 2008)

44. “L’Avorton de Dieu; une vie de Saint Paul” by Alain Decaux (April 23, 2008)

45.  “Down and out in Paris and London” by George Orwell (July 14, 2008)

46. “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan (July 21, 2008)

47.  “Igino Giordani” by Jean-Marie Wallet and Tommaso Sorgi (August 5, 2008)

48.  “Building a durable World” in “Science et Vie” magazine special issue of June 2008 (August 10, 2008)


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