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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Boon Companion

August 5, 2016 | by

Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname is one of history’s greatest travelogues.

Evliya Çelebi painting (c) Sermin Ciddi

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

According to his own recollection, Evliya Çelebi, the seventeenth-century Turkish writer and traveler, experienced a life-changing epiphany on the night of his twentieth birthday. He was visited in a dream by the Prophet Muhammad, dressed nattily in a yellow woollen shawl and yellow boots, a toothpick stuck into his twelve-band turban. Muhammad announced that Allah had a special plan, one that required Evliya to abandon his prospects at the imperial court, become “a world traveler,” and “compose a marvelous work” based on his adventures.

As religious missions go, it was a pretty sweet deal—and for Evliya it came at the perfect moment. His feet itched to travel and his fingers to write, but he could never find a way of telling his parents that the life they had proudly mapped out for him—a stellar career, a virtuous wife, and a brood of smiling children—played no part in his vision of a meaningful existence. Muhammad’s intervention, whether an act of providence or not, spurred three decades of globetrotting indulgence. Evliya took in Anatolia, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Corinth, Sudan, and swathes of Europe from Crimea to—supposedly—the Low Countries. His path crossed Buddhists and crusading warriors, the Bedouin and Venetian sailors, ambassadors, monks, sorcerers, and snake charmers. Along the way he wrote the Seyahatname (“Book of Travels”), a magnificent ten-volume sprawl of fantasy, biography, and reportage that is utterly unique in the canon of travel literature, and which confirms Evliya as one of the great storytellers of the seventeenth century. Read More »

Vivian Gornick on In Search of Ali Mahmoud: An American Woman in Egypt

July 19, 2016 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

This week, Vivian Gornick discusses her first book, In Search of Ali Mahmoud: An American Woman in Egypt, about middle-class Egyptian family life. After reporting overseas, she came home and confronted her material: “When I got home, I had this whole cast of characters, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know how to write a book, it was the first book! … The book taught me who I was. It began to teach me what I was capable of doing and what I would ultimately do, which was to use myself to see the world.” Read More »

News That Stays News

June 6, 2016 | by

Can a poem be topical twice?

From Adonis’s Selected Poems.

From the cover of Adonis’s Selected Poems.

The speaker of “Elegy for the Times”—a long prose poem by the Syrio-Lebanese poet Adonis, a master of Arabic verse—is not an “I” but a “we,” an anonymous collective that travels through a nightmarish landscape of tombstones, locusts, and sand. The journey is what the ancient Greeks called a catabasis, a descent from the interior to the coast, “the sea’s abyss.” Adonis’s “we” is a community in flight, but the end of the poem suggests that the sea may offer no escape, or that it may be the final, most harrowing obstacle.

The poem, which I translated for our Summer issue, is visionary in scope, yet attentive to haunting details: the light glinting off a helmet, the stains of sweat on a dancer’s loincloth. Beyond the controlled hysteria of its images, I was drawn to the poem because it seems to have leaped from today’s headlines, conjuring the civil war in Syria and the vast migrations it has provoked. The scale of this ongoing tragedy defies the imagination, yet Adonis’s elegy is one of those rare works that aligns with Seamus Heaney’s definition of poetry: “a search for images and symbols adequate to our predicament.” (Heaney was thinking of Ireland’s own time of troubles.) Read More »

The Case of the Arabic Noirs

January 1, 2015 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Cairo: the metal detector beeps. The security man wears a crisp white uniform. He nods and leans back in his chair. The lobby’s red oriental carpet, so worn it’s barely red, leads upstairs to the hotel tavern. Enter the glass doors, where a cat in a smart bow tie and vest reaches for a lonely bottle behind the bar. He takes his time; he’s been polishing glasses at the Windsor Hotel for thirty-eight years. Out the window, a motorcycle speeds through the dark alley. In 1893, this joint was ritzy—home to the royal baths, steps from the original Cairo Opera House. Tonight it’s dingy enough that Philip Marlowe might come here to tip a few back after clobbering some hoods. A fine joint in which to pore over pulp from the secondhand book market down the street.

It’s tempting to ponder the relevance of crime novels in contemporary Egypt. The 2011 revolution began on National Police Day as a revolt against the fuzz. When President Hosni Mubarak breezed off eighteen days later, the police dusted, too, leaving behind a Wild West. Gun sales skyrocketed, matched by holdups and carjackings. In the following two years, thugs ran Cairo’s streets. Ever since General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last summer, the coppers have been back in full force. White uniformed police operate checkpoints littered throughout the capital like discarded Coke cans. Cabbies are so scared that they’ve started wearing seat belts. And now, as authorities attempt to restore law and order, the crime genre is making a comeback. Read More >>

Flaubert’s Past Lives

December 12, 2014 | by

Flaubert 1869)

A detail from an 1869 caricature of Flaubert.

From a letter Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand in October 1866:

I don’t experience, as you do, this feeling of a life which is beginning, the stupefaction of a newly commenced existence. It seems to me, on the contrary, that I have always lived! And I possess memories which go back to the Pharaohs. I see myself very clearly at different ages of history, practicing different professions and in many sorts of fortune. My present personality is the result of my lost personalities. I have been a boatman on the Nile, a leno in Rome at the time of the Punic wars, then a Greek rhetorician in Subura where I was devoured by insects. I died during the Crusade from having eaten too many grapes on the Syrian shores, I have been a pirate, monk, mountebank and coachman. Perhaps also even emperor of the East?

Many things would be explained if we could know our real genealogy. For, since the elements which make a man are limited, should not the same combinations reproduce themselves? Thus heredity is a just principle which has been badly applied …

Oh! You think that because I pass my life trying to make harmonious phrases, in avoiding assonances, that I too have not my little judgments on the things of this world? Alas! Yes! and moreover I shall burst, enraged at not expressing them.

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Tomorrow: Robyn Creswell at NYU

September 8, 2014 | by

sonallah

Image via Bidoun

Tuesday evening at seven, join us at NYU’s Abu Dhabi Institute (19 Washington Square North) where our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, will appear on a panel called “The Authoritarian Turn: On The State of the Egyptian Intelligentsia.” The panel, sponsored by New Directions and Bidoun, will

bring together a distinguished group of writers and scholars to reflect upon the predicament of the Egyptian intellectual in the year since President Mohamed Morsi’s dramatic fall. From Ibrahim himself to the bestselling author Alaa Al Aswany, countless writers and artists–many of them of historically contrarian bent–have expressed their support for a military-backed government whose abuses and excesses have on occasion surpassed those of the Mubarak era. How to begin to understand the role of the public intellectual in such times?

Robyn appears alongside Khaled Fahmy (American University in Cairo) and Mona El Ghobashy (an independent scholar); Negar Azimi moderates.

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