Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Conference in Venice – Part Two!


A superficial account of my heretical banality

Will I be allowed to travel this time, or will they come up with some new excuse? This was the thought that kept bustling in my head all through the ride to the airport. But, surprise, surprise, things went somewhat smoothly at the Syrian end. Somewhat!

“So, your mother is Muna Wassef?” Exclaimed the airport security officer having entered my name into the computer! Then he froze momentarily, he had just noticed the security warning next to my name. So, Muna Wassef’s son is a criminal! He must have thought to himself. Still, since there was no travel ban, he could do nothing but let me proceed to the departure gate, while he worked on the text of the telegram he needed to send to whatever security apparatus was watching my moves these days. Methinks General Dashing does not trust me anymore. Methinks he ha a point.

Khawla was calling me every 10 seconds to make sure I am all right. I had my laptop with me, I had my camera. But somehow nothing felt right. I didn’t know where to put my passport while juggling the mobile in one hand and everything else in the other.

Still, I stood in the line waiting to board, but it was finally my turn, and the security guard asked for my boarding pass, I couldn’t find it. And so, it was back to the airline counter, I was told. But on the way there, and while I was till trying to juggle six different items in two hands, my genial security officer who loves my Mom stuck the boarding pass in my face: “You forgot your boarding pass.” Really? Oh well…

Armed with the Pass, I proceed to board the damn plane, while assuring Khawla, who was following the whole development on the mobile, that indeed everything went relatively smoothly and that I will be boarding the plane now and I would not cheat on her with some Italian floozy. Damn! It’s really nice to have someone that still thinks you’re sexy and attractive, even when your belly continues to grow rebelliously, not to mention your second chin, and Viagra seems in the offing in the not-so-distant future. (Ah the legacy of a few short years of dissidence in a Middle Eastern country. Ain’t life grand)?

It was my first time on Air France, and it went OK. But Charles de Gaul, oh what a Cauchemar it turned out to be!

I had less than an hour to make the connection to Venice, and Charles de Gaul is humongous. So, I sped-walk through the various terminals, I dodged haggard looking passengers and airport workers, I asked for directions from the charming and ever so cooperative French civil servants, and finally, I found myself at the right security gate. I passed smoothly. I only had to take off my belt for inspection, and then, for crying out loud, where is my damn mobile?

Damn, what did I do with it after the last call from Khawla? I called her back, then… I hung the unit on my belt and did not put it back in my backpack as I usually do. I couldn’t find an aisle seat this time and had to settle for a window seat. There were two people now sitting next to me and more people boarding the plane, there was no way I can go out and reach for my bag. I had to wait. So I hung the damn mobile on my belt and collapsed in my seat and forgot the whole thing. The mobile must have slipped from my belt and fell somewhere.

Well, I still had 40 minutes, enough time to at least report the incident. So, I ran back to Terminal E.

One hour later, I am still sitting with a very cooperative and charming French civil servant assuring me that they would do everything they can to find my mobile, that is, after I sign a certain form for the second time.

I signed the damn form, and headed back to Terminal F, where another charming blah blah books me on the 3 o’clock flight, and assures me that my luggage will make it to the new airplane. Oh yeah, and democracy will flourish in the ME by yearend.

Khawla had warned me that if I continued to hang my mobile on my belt it will be lost one day. Damn know-it-all women, damn them all to hell, and back. So they can tell us if it’s really any different from here. Anyway, they somehow play a role in turning their own nonsensical warnings into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecies. So they can gloat.

“Fancy meeting you here!” Said the familiar face. Oh, well, that wasn’t too surprising really. I always run into people I know at airport terminals, all going to the same conference or workshop of course.

I rant a little about what happened, about what has been happening for the last few months, we mourn the stupidity of our leaders, the growth of Islamism, our continued irrelevance as liberals. Then we board the plane.

At Marco Polo’s airport, everything went as I had expected. My luggage did not arrive. So, I reported the matter to the Lost & Found people, who proved to be genuinely cooperative and promised to do all they can, blah blah blah blah.

Half an hour later, as we had to wait for more participants to come, we boarded a bus that took us to a dock where we waited for another half hour. Then we boarded a boat that took us on a beautiful 45 minutes journey to the Island of Lido. At Lido, we boarded yet another bus that finally took us to our respective hotels. My hotel, Buon Pesce, was in a quite area on the waterfront, a romantic location for an absolutely romanceless event, in which a certain haggard Syrian, who now had only about 30 minutes to get ready for dinner at the local monastery, will have to take part while feeling absolutely disgusted with himself.

So, I called Khawla and told her how I felt and she threw me a few words of sympathy in between the usual song and dance about my absentmindedness and the troubles I keep getting myself into. Then, I showered, wore the same goddamn clothes I had on, and went to dinner where I ranted on and on about my growing misfortune in the world.

Next day, I attended the opening of the conference, in the same goddamn clothes that I felt like tearing off me, except that no one, I’d wager, would have enjoyed that particular act, and the only person who might have was far away in Damascus feeling pissed off with me.

But I was wearing a pink shirt for crying out loud, a lousy pink shirt. I mean, it’s OK, in my book at least, to wear a stupid pink shirt while traveling, but not when you’re attending the official opening of a goddamn conference surrounded by all sorts of important people (or by people who think they are important), at a time when image is everything? I mean, what Emma Bonino is going to say about it? You know, let’s support that man in the pink shirt in his struggle for reform in his country? He seems serious and credible, if not seriously credible.

This aside, I had many acquaintances in this conference, and there was a lot of people that I wanted to know. So, I commiserated, pink shirt and all, with all and sundry, during the mini-breaks. And I smiled and I ranted and I joked. But, I just couldn’t take part in the actual discussions, as I usually do. I mean, Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the Broader Middle East and North Africa, what’s a Syrian to say about that?

Besides, my sweaty pink shirt, my lost luggage, my lost mobile, my far-away wife who should have been here with me (I am in Venice after all), all made me rather somber.

But, when I returned to the hotel to freshen up after lunch, lo and behold my luggage was there. A damper: the keys to the lock, which I had to submit to the airport authorities so they can inspect my luggage, had not been returned. So what? Break the goddamn lock.

So, I broke the goddamn lock. I showered. I fixed my hair, I wore new clothes: grey stripped flax pants, white cotton shirt. Oh yeah, I am happening now.

Still, I had nothing to contribute to the evening’s discussions. I am still a Syrian under all these clothes. The evening session was over at seven. There was still plenty of sunlight around, and we were all invited to jump on a boat to be taken to some Venetian island for dinner.

So, here I was sitting on the deck talking to someone I have been corresponding with for a while, but never met face-to-face before, a really nice fellow from Palestine, when, lo and behold, it started to rain, and we’re talking buckets. Most people managed to run for cover, but I, along with three or four hapless participants, had no place to go. We were drenched. Drenched? No. Violated. Raped.

For there I was, thirty minutes later, looking like a sewer rat, dinning with a bunch of nicely dressed people in one of Venice’s most elegant restaurants. Oh yeah, I am happening now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Heretical Tooth!

After one hour and a half of constant tugging, pulling, pushing and poking, my dentist gave up. “Keep the damn tooth,” he said. “I just wanted to pull it out because it has no counterpoint on the lower jaw, which could be problematic in future. But, if it’s going to give us that much headache now, perhaps you should just live with it for a while longer.”

I couldn’t agree more. Preemption is not always the most viable way to go. This little battle with the Tooth is going to cost me a few days work, and is going to exacerbate my ability to handle pain. I am not as good at it as I used to be.

Years go, my doctor had to hammer and chisel my wisdom tooth out, and I still managed to quip, while prepping my jaw up with my left palm, about the possibility of striking oil and dividing shares. This time though I almost fainted.

Still, there is an upside to this. As an Arab liberal, there was really nothing I can look up to these days as symbol of resistance in the face of adversity. Now I have my own Tooth. Hail the Tooth. Hollowed by the Tooth, all praise goes to the Tooth.

Now, I am going to take my medicine and go to sleep, because, like all objects of worship, the Tooth is actually torturing me. It’s killing me. Fuck the Tooth. I guess I am a blasphemous heretic by nature. I am beyond redemption or salvation even when the deity or messiah concerned is my own tooth.

If none of this made any sense, or if it sounded too banal, just remember I am pumped full of painkillers. I am not supposed to make sense. I am just supposed to gripe, and I guess I am doing a pretty good job at it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Conference in Venice – Part One!

The raindrops rolled across my body like big wet kisses from the lips of a hungry and voracious whore. They denuded me and exposed my rotten core. They bit my earlobes and drenched my tits and my belly. They fucked my soul. They fucked my soul.

Everything comes like a violation to me these days, even my thoughts. Everything pains me, even hope. For hope is nothing more than a merciless rape of a tortured soul.

I am tired of hope. I am tired of rape. I am tired of ideas that keep bustling in my head. I am tired of a future that never comes yet never fails to make me oblivious to the present. I am tired of the constant wait and anticipation. I am tired of rain that wets but does not cleanse.

Still, Venice received me with a long sudden shower of omnivorous rain. Rain!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Alea Jacta Est!

The Whore is unruly.
The Pimp – a fiend.
The Seeds are but ignorant bastards –
nasty, brutish, mean. Mean.
This is the essence of the Syrian scene.

Indeed I said it: the regime is “dead,” the Baathists are “idiots,” and a baptismal rite by “blood and mayhem” seems ever in the offing for the country. But, are we to learn anything from this? This is indeed my hope, though I doubt it, as I doubt everything these days, including, of course, my own assessment of things.

Yet I don’t doubt this, and neither should you: it is because I was so filled with fear yesterday that I am so rebellious today, and will continue to be.

The regime reaps what the regime sows I guess. Their foolhardiness begets and feeds mine. That’s the irony of it all.

My demons rape me. I spit acid in my demons’ face. My demons rape me again, and so again I spit acid, until we are all eventually vanquished. There are no winners in this game. Nor will there ever be. - So be it, for now.

If my demons want me dead, mine will be a public crucifixion – this I promise.
If my demons keep me alive, theirs will be a public trial – constant, nagging, merciless.

If my demons get me by the throat, I’ll get them by the balls.
If they get me by the hand, I’ll get them by their hooves.
And if they hang me by my legs, I’ll piss in their face,
and perhaps even mine… who cares?

I might just be their last straw, you know.
I might just be that little tiny hair that will soon break their backs.

Or, I might be just a nasty little tidbit stuck in their collective throat, which, once swallowed, will leave a somewhat rancid aftertaste, and no more.

So, which am I? What am I destined for?

Oh, dear whoever, do hazard a guess, do place your bet, for the die has indeed been cast. Alea jacta est.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Prophet in Idlib!

No, this part of the world, this blessed plot, this realm, this Syria, has not forgetten that old habit of churning out prophets yet. One, in fact, has recently been taken out of his jail cell (and where would a prophet end up this day in age?) just to intercede with his followers, held in a different prison, calling for the release of that prison’s warden, whom they had taken hostage.

The intercession worked, of course. Prophets do still have power over the minds and will of their followers, no matter how pitiful they all may be.

Will reform, I wonder, require the intercession of such a prophet? Or do you need a full-fledged god for this?

But no. Prophets and gods this day in age are more interested in the status quo or the status quo ante than reform. So much for divine intervention!

Change in this part of the world will more likely be championed by demons – and heretics, of course.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Malgré tout!

In terms of details, no one can tell for sure what is happening in the country at this stage. The regime continues to arrest and clash with militants. Or, are they just glorified smugglers? Or is the regime turning against its erstwhile protégés because they outlived their usefulness? Or is there an internal clash and settling of old and new scores within the ranks of the regime? Or are all these things happening together and at the same time? No one really knows.

But something is clearly wrong and something is clearly afoot. It will all be billed as reform, eventually, but the end result will be havoc. They create havoc and call it reform. This seems to be the “in” themes these days, and not oly for the Syrian regime.

The new curse word around will soon be: “May you and your household be reformed.” And the new blessing: “May reform never come your way.” While, the new parental caution will go something like: “Don’t speak to reformers.”

Frankly, there is nothing strange about this attitude around here. The anti-reformist, anti-change ethos runs deep in our culture. We have long become a culture of “don’t rock the boat even if it is sinking.” After all, you don’t want to interfere with God’s will (not to mention somebody’s business affairs), do you?

But, we are also a culture of last minutes reactions, especially when “the wetness gets to our chin” (as the old saying goes), which it will soon. Then, it’s “le déluge,” that promise that is always waiting for us around the corner in times like these.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Necessary (?) Interlude of Self-Pity!


"A few disjointed thoughts by a fragmented man!"

Who am I?
What is my worth?
How shall I be judged, when the day comes and I am to be judged?
Who will stand in judgment over me? You, my love? Will I be so lucky?
Whose judgment should matter the most to me anyway, - I the one who “inspires” strangers and hurts the ones he loves.

Acts have always been a multi-edged affair. Heroes have never really existed, only self-possessed and obsessive bastards that today go by the name of dissidents and activists.

Am I becoming the fulfillment of my own worst fears?
Do I now represent the embodiment of everything I have long dreaded?

I have experienced everything, it seems, and I am all the worst for it. I have learned nothing. I have nothing to teach or bequeath, but doubts, fears, pain and angst.

Am I alone forever?
Does it matter that my words are heard? Will they make any difference? Will anything that this champion, this veteran of unfulfilled dreams and broken promises does make any difference?

I share my pain and my shame, because they are the only things I can share. Even in sharing I am selfish and villainous.

I am what I fear and what I hate.
I am failure and never success.
I am pain and never fulfillment.
I am despair, -

a forward looking longing that cannot be set to rest,
a fiend in the guise of an innocent man,
a modern-day heretic that embraces nothing and offers only emptiness.

People should follow their tyrants, the twain deserve each other.
The poor should embrace their poverty, else they become fodder in rich men’s wars.
Dreamers should wake up, for they consume not only themselves, but all those they love.

Indeed I am alone, which is more a frightening than an arrogant thought.
Indeed I am alone, a world unto myself that will never be understood.

But why should it merit understanding anyway? Why can’t you close this damn portal and surf away?


On a lighter note, and I still have a lighter side to me, I guess, I have finally found the time to update my original website Amarji. Indeed, interludes of self-pity usually propel me into equally despicable endeavors at self-promotion. Oh well, I guess I have to live with that…