"First letter", by Atiq Rahimi

Country : Lebanon

Tags : Refugees, Palestine, Beirut, Literature

Here I am, with your letters, in the land of your forebears. As if these letters were meant not for me, but for them, your ancestors, whom I do not know, and neither do you.

I am in a hotel with not the slightest view of the Mediterranean - a sea that immediately gives a city a point of reference, gives it atmosphere, identity, history...

And nothing in my room, in this graceless, supposedly modern room, helps me get a handle on a city like Beirut. I could be in any city, any room…

And it is here, in this Nâ-koja-âbâd as we say in my mother tongue, this nowhere land - that I open your first letter, written on loose sheets of paper.

It is not a letter, but a long list - non exhaustive, as you would say - of all the things you most enjoy doing with me - traveling to far off places, hanging out in dive bars in the very depths of Arizona… But there’s one city you don’t mention - your own, Beirut, although I know you dream of it constantly. 

I say ”your city” even though you weren’t born here, have never lived here, have never known it. Beirut is your grandmother’s city, I know that: a land you have adopted as your own.

For your grandmother, Beirut is a waste land.

For you, a promised land.

I’m sure you will write about it in another letter. 

I would like to say a few words about your city, but I hardly know it I came here for the first time a few months ago, for a film festival. Four days were barely enough to meet a few people, visit a few places. So I just have a fleeting impression: a strange sense of never being able to truly get to know this city this country.  

Beirut, as it exists today, could be one of the Invisible Cities imagined by Italo Calvino. A city of memories, but without memory. A rhetorical city, buried beneath the recollections of its ruins, the pain of its wounds, refusing to take part in the story of History. Beirut, as Mahmoud Darwish describes her, is a “lady sitting on a stone, like a sunflower faced by a force outside itself: she drags both lovers and enemies  along on this blind dance, in which she offers and refuses to give of herself, and neither offers nor refuses to give of herself.”

Will I be her lover or her enemy?

Will I love her as I love you, my little Levantine girl? 

Last modification the 8 December 2016