Archive for the category “Messages”

Every revolution is messy

Egypt celebrated world press freedom day last week with one of the highest number of journalists under arrest, ever, and many more silenced through the on-going frenzy to clamp down on everyone.

One of Egypt’s most respected journalists, Hani Shukrallah, expects things to go on in the current chaotic fashion for a few more years. The Egyptian revolution is a messy one, he believes, because all revolutions are that way by definition.

Shukrallah was speaking to author Karl Schembri during the first edition of the Book Festival on Campus, which was organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti (Università).

The journalist explained why the ouster of “the dictator loved by the west”, Hosni Mubarak, from the presidential palace three years ago, was not followed by a new political movement made by the very same people who rallied in the streets to get rid of him.

“The young revolutionaries were incredible; impressive in their determination to bring change,” Shukrallah said. “They would be shot at by the police and instead of running away as we used to do, they would charge back with even more determination. Yet, they made awful politicians as they had no programme, no vision of what to do after getting rid of Mubarak.”

Young revolutionaries, Shukrallah believes, need time to learn strategy, to be able to navigate through the pragmatic world of politics. Yet, it is thanks to them that a completely decades-old debilitating paradigm has been shattered – what Shukrallah called “the period of ugly choices” for the Arabs.
“We had to either side with Saddam or with George Bush; with Islamists or with brutal dictators. Thanks to the Arab revolutions, this has been shattered and we are now exploring alternatives,” Shukrallah said.

With the Muslim Brotherhood now driven underground, just like in Mubarak’s time, there is a clear attempt to instal the worst form of police state ever inside Egypt.

Shukrallah compares the current climate to “a cartoon impression of the US after September 11”, where the media was blindly and willingly spreading the “war on terror propaganda by the Bush administration, while liberties were thrown out of the window”.

The journalist has himself experienced firs-thand the implications of unchecked and unfettered power. In 2005 he was sacked from chief editor of Al Ahram Weekly after a series of critical articles aimed at the political class and his vociferous scepticism about the then promised reforms.

He was again forced out of Al Ahram Online, Egypt’s largest English-language news website, which he had founded himself. His forcible removal last year by allies of the Muslim Brotherhood prompted him to publicly denounce the rapidly deteriorating Islamist regime led by Morsi.

“I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?” Shukrallah wrote on his Facebook page in a message that would be picked up by some of the world’s leading media.

Now he’s back to writing for Al Ahram, although one never knows for how long.

“We have to work through the cracks; that’s how we claim our freedom of expression,” he said.

Born in Cairo in 1950, Shukrallah was a Marxist student activist during the time of Anwar Sadat, but he was also critical of the dogmatic leftist thinking. Throughout his career as journalist and author, he built a reputation for stand-ing up to speak the truth to those in power.

Besides the session with Shukrallah, the book festival saw a large tent erected in the Campus Quadrangle, with several local publishers exhibiting and selling their latest titles.

The week-long festival brought with it a number of literary events, including debates on sexuality in Maltese literature, readings by seminal contemporary authors such as Immanuel Mifsud and lectures about literary translation and the preservation and restoration of historical documents. Young, aspiring authors were also allotted evening slots where they could share their writings as part of the Taħżiż2 initiative. The festival closed with Leħen il-Malti poetry readings set to music by Danjeli and friends.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140511/arts-entertainment/Every-revolution-is-messy.518722

Speaking truth to power

Hani Shukrallah

Hani Shukrallah

My little island has just had the great idea of organising a second national book festival, which for the first time ever will be held at the University of Malta campus. It’s great to see that, besides cars, computers, condoms and mobile phones, our one and only university remembered what should be its bread and butter. I hope it won’t be hijacked by the usual corporate dicks who always take over precious campus space — banks, religious publishing pests and other waste of space that is only producing complying zombies keener on reading their own CVs than the stuff that matters. The programme of events as organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti is very promising, even if a modest one; it’s a breath of fresh air.

Injecting more of that fresh air will be my good friend and journalist from Egypt, Hani Shukrallah, whom I admire immensely. I had met Hani for the first time at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali in 2012, where I saw him speaking fearlessly about the Egyptian revolution, the Arab Spring and the idiocies of then president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We stuck to each other during the duration of the festival like two lovers, bound by our journalists’ blood and love of freedom.

Since then, Hani has been fired from the newspaper he edited by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Ahram Online, which he founded. I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t the first time either. During Mubarak’s reign, he was already dismissed from Al Ahram  Weekly in 2005 for criticising the regime and the ridiculousness of Egyptian politics. Last year, he responded publicly with his typical firebrand response to the powers that be: “I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?”

The author of Egypt, the Arabs and the World, will be the main guest at the Book Festival on Campus on 30 April. I have the honour to be interviewing him on that evening, and can’t wait to meet him again. We have a lot to catch up on, and there’s a lot of his revolutionary fire that needs spreading on my comatose island.

Back on the rock for our rocking literature fest

mmlf-2012_by_pierre-portelli

I’m back in Malta where, besides meeting again comrade Marx I will also be joining 10 other writers from the Mediterranean for a week-long writers’ retreat and workshops in which we will be translating each others’ works.

We will then present them in the weekend (Thursday 29 to Saturday 31 August) in what has now become a fixture of the Maltese literary calendar, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. You can find the full programme and details here: Festival website.

Here is one poem I will be reading in Maltese, translated by Albert Gatt, who will interview me on Thursday.

The Maltese festa
Date slices – half a dozen,
some qassatat, a dozen cheese cakes;
bread dripping rivulets of oil
like tears of sorrow
of Our Lady;
a statue of the patron saint
held high upon a gilded dais,
his head swinging from left to right
smacking the electric wire;
there's merrymaking in the streets,
the church bells knell
welcome respite from the panegyric,
a vintage sermon, worthy of UNESCO heritage status;
promiscuous youngsters gad about while on a break
from Cana’s marriage course,
a little boy high on his father’s beer,
petards in the sky poking at God,
an officer with damp armpits wielding an ice cream,
a fat man in a stained singlet,
his fatter wife nicking his chips,
a pushchair in the middle of the road, its wheel stuck in a ditch,
a chair reserved for the president of the band club,
the mayor decked with ribbons,
colourful toys all Made in China,
handfuls of paper shreds from balconies,
flags on their poles topped with blue lights
which imitate the solutide of latrines,
lightbulb festoons aglow with stolen power supplies,
houses with open doors,
chandeliers ablaze
and brand-new lace,
endless mounts of ganutell on marbled chests of drawers in hallways,
the envy of the neighbours grouped outside
in sour clouds of sweat, petards and powder
waiting to be dragged by next day's current
into an azure sea polluted
by an entire village.

9789995738235And in other news, my new book of poems in Maltese, Passju Taħt ix-Xita (which translates into Hopscotch in the Rain – also the name of this blog, just in case you missed it) is on sale, just published by Horizons Publications. I just love the cover photo and design by my friend Gilbert Calleja. Gilbert, you’re not only sexy, but a great artist too.

You can now order a copy by clicking here.

I have a song for Eurovision (and a secret revealed)

After years mocking the Eurovision Song Contest, the time has arrived to take positive action on the things that I love to hate, be more constructive and spread some love and good vibes in the process. I’m not a hippie, at all, but if we’re gonna tackle the Eurovision we have to also adopt some of its gross cheesiness to be able to subvert it.

So here is my plan and invitation, to you and to the universe.

I come from Malta, an island of 400,000 girls and boys who keep building their houses until there will be no more roads and the only way to get from north to south will be by boat, which is probably for the better given the road rage and the street tragedies that keep happening, only that we might scare off all the fishies that are still alive and we might end up bumping into the million fish farms producing fat sea creatures for Japanese sushi.

So that’s the context. You can imagine that for such an overpopulated ridiculous population (people abroad never get it that being just 400,000 is already of tragic proportions when our island is just as big as the Gaza Strip – where there are 1.6 million people incarcerated by Israel … well I guess that analogy doesn’t help either but look up on google and wikipedia and they’ll explain what population density means etc… that’s not the main point of this message) there is not much happening to give amusing distraction. There is the occasional MP flaunting his secondary school mid term test results to prove that he’s got legitimacy to bring down the government; there is the occasional bishop who dyes his hair while writing his panegyrics against poor IVF babies; there is the occasional freemason judge who believes road rage against gays is an act of survival; there is the occasional construction magnate who has so many politicians in his pocket that he can tell them to fuck off, publicly, and they just smile back at him lovingly… that sort of things.

So you can also understand why the yearly Eurovision Song Festival has become for Malta the annual feast for which the world has to stand still, to listen to our song from sunny Malta (even if it’s always broadcast at night), and give them some of our love, our passion, our dance mutated by the ages and our latest values, moving on with the trends – from tolerance to exalting gays and transvestites; from innocent love to the passion of the single middle aged woman who is emancipated enough to want to fly.

It’s hard to explain when all the outside world looks at it from Terry Wogan’s inimitable lens. I love him, but for the Maltese the Eurovision song is our yearly national anthem, changing according to the latest flagship that will put us on the European stage and beyond. I’ve just learnt on a trip to Bali how much Australians love it too and that the Eurovision would be their one and only reason to want to be part of Europe.

In Malta, the Eurovision song has the sacredness of the best patriots’ national anthem, repeated on every radio station, talked about at the barber shop and at the grocer’s, hummed by the baker and willed by the banker. The progressives sing it at mass, strumming their guitars, the conservatives quip sweet little harmless prudish jokes at cocktail parties and weddings.

For a few years, I’ve hidden under the pseudonym ‘Redato’ (too complicated to explain to the non-Maltese – sorry) and written my own subverted version of the song that ends up making it to the stage of the golden stars. I had my own secret distribution network, sworn to extreme loyalty, and total secrecy, of which I declared them freed of today. They’ve been loyal comrades in this little crusade of ours to put things where they belong – a journey into the absurd taken with lots of seriousness and hash.

This involved journalists, graphic designers, internet wizards, lovers, former convicts, con artists and all the secret groupies that used the best distribution form ever – word of mouth, now extended to email, facebook, twitter, blogs and telepathy. It is thanks to them that Redato became real and the much-expected parallel song in Maltese that copied the official song but with pure Maltese words, coming straight from the heart and the guts, the kind of song you’d want to sing in the shower to lighten your mood before going to your shit job.

The kick of it was mostly that it was in Maltese, because for a while now Malta decided that having a song in English is more “accessible” to the audience out there that for some strange reason still doesn’t get the greatness of our songs, teasing us at best by placing us third, or just giving us a bloody knockout to last place or something. It’s a very cruel love affair for all the Maltese. It’s unfair.

So here’s my decision to act on all this. I have written a song for Eurovision, it’s ready, and I need to get it out. This is a global world, so I need all sorts of helpers from all sides of the world, but we will do this for my little island. Being a Maltese citizen, I will submit it as my country’s entry for the next Eurovision Song Festival. It will have to win the national contest, so I’ll need local logistical support, especially given that I’m at the moment living under blockade elsewhere. We’ll need the obvious: a band that is formed for the occasion, a title, a real fortune teller/astrologist (preferably both) and a wizard. Pompous people are needed for the front line. Groupies welcome as long as they’re not entirely destructive.

Those selected will be sworn to total secrecy. All the public work will be agreed to by the Supreme Command Committee that I’ve set up, to which I report as Second in Command (like Subcomandante Marcos… got it??). My dog Marx is my advisor with some limited executive powers (like deciding on dog food quality, rationing, and the communist curriculum for our new recruits in consultation with me).

Those interested will forfeit any item in their possession to the Supreme Command Committee’s Treasury – this item has to be deemed and proved to be of high emotional relevance to the person submitting it, and will be held by the Treasury for until the project is over. People breaking secrecy will automatically forfeit their item forever, and will be exhibited in the future Museum of Love and Shame, that will also include all the personal items donated lovingly by our secret fans, together with their explanations and all the messages they’d love to show to the universe.

Spies will get caught by our Preventive Dark Arts Team (P-DART) within 24 hours and handed over to Julian Assange for a few sessions of total naked scrutiny in the public realm and permanent shame on Wikileaks, in line with the Secret Global Comradeship Act of 2012 signed by yours truly and organisations and individuals sworn to complete secrecy until directed otherwise.

For the sake of transparency as agreed to in the aforementioned Act, I also hereby declare that at the moment there is only one reader who is my muse, my love and my life, and that the Supreme Command Committee has agreed to my request to extend to her an invitation for lifelong membership, as governed by the Footnotes to the Rules of Memberships in the Past, Present and the Future.

If you’re still reading and somwhat still taking me seriously, you should write to me now, or miss the bus forever. karl.schembri@gmail.com, with EUROSTARS_MALTA_PROJECT in the subject line.

Only those worthy of a reply will get one, at the right time. Those caught informing others that they’ve applied will be publicly named and shamed. By getting in touch with us you are already agreeing to these conditions.

It will be a journey into the absurd taken as seriously as fuck.

Let the mailbox receive you. We’ll fight in the trenches, but we’ll be looking at the golden blue Eurovision stars, making the rainbow look like a cliche of the mediocre.

Yours truly,

Sub-comandante Karlos

Keep the faith.

Hasta la victoria siempre

Victory is neither God’s nor the Devil’s. It belongs to Madness

 

The universe and all that (2)

The universe and all that (2)

The universe and all that

I’m not a fan of Paulo Coelho. I love The Alchemist, but there’s something about him, his smug way of dispensing with his textbook wisdom that I find too, how shall I put it, smacking of self-help books for the desperate, kind of. (I also loved Veronika Decides to Die, by the way.)

And more often than not, people who quote him are those who never read anything else in their life. Except maybe for Fifty Shades of Grey.

Maybe that’s why I don’t see him as a storyteller. He’s too didactic. (I love José Saramago and he can be as didactic as he likes because he is my teacher). It’s as if his stories are mere fillers so that he could write his wisdom in between chunks of paragraphs. But when you take Coelho’s quotes out of his didactic context, they sound like some universal truths that just need to be repeated. Well that’s too much, but you know what I mean. Maybe it’s the journalist in me always looking for the sexy soundbyte. Soundbytes are true just because they sound good. (I can be didactic too but I try not to be in stories and poems, I guess).

So today I was chatting to a good friend of mine who lives faraway and who for the last year and a half or so has been somehow resurfacing every now and then, in one way or another, sometimes I call her, sometimes we just stumble upon each other, but always when, somehow, it was necessary. Her name is Imane, though everyone calls her Ammoun, and she’s a fantastic writer and has a blog called Kharabeesh (“Scribblings”, in Arabic, in Maltese we have the same word “Tħarbix”). I got to know her via twitter at the start of the Arab Spring, as the world was turning upside down, at least this part of it, and she was writing, tweeting and retweeting everything that was captivating us all, in her own quirky way. What had struck me at the time was how this little woman in Paris was so up to date about everything, in touch with everyone, making news channels look like amateurs. Seriously. And her humour.

That was the first time we “met”, and at the time it was very necessary for me, from this tiny blockaded enclave, to be able to somehow experience the revolutionary hurricane that was sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, and the falling dominoes of dictators and buffoons who all forgot the one basic truth repeated in so many languages since Machiavelli. That power in its crudest form, that is total repression, always, inevitably, leads to revolt, one day or another. That the Prince should be feared but not hated.

Besides, I knew nothing about twitter and she was one of the first I could ask the stupidest questions without feeling that stupid. (Besides Mike, a storyteller who has worn as many hats in his life as one can possibly imagine, who had been pleading me to use twitter for decades but he’s always so right that it always takes me some time to adjust to).

We disagree on the details, Ammoun and I, on the kind of varnish on the furniture that would make our houses completely different, I guess. It’s what makes her her, and me me, and that’s how it should stay. But as spring led to the summer drought, the autumn sadness and then the winter hibernation, our satellites kept colliding, sometimes with heated arguments that just betray our passion, that we somehow don’t bother flaunting to everyone. At least I don’t. Unless I’m bored and just feel like antagonising people.

But those “collisions” were always, somehow, at the right time, making them really collusions of complicity.

Well at least that’s how I feel and I told her so, although she always tells me that she doesn’t really understand why I find her to be so “helpful”. I thinks she does, but I can’t explain it either, so I’ll just leave it at that. Because not everything has a reason, and not everything has an explanation, and if there is one, I don’t need to be its discoverer. I prefer making things up than researching them, which is not a great trait for a journalist but I guess there are other skill-sets I have that make up for it (I love HR-speak!… as in love to hate it).

The only reply I could give her is the quote that also resurfaces pretty much like Ammoun every now and then in my head, from The Alchemist, which says: No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.

So as I was looking up his quotes I came across this Wikiquote site that pretty much sums him up in one page (another good friend of mine, Albert, who translated most of my writings from Maltese into English, always says that once you read one of Coelho’s books you don’t need to read more… incidentally almost all of the quotes I liked are from The Alchemist).

Another quote of his brought me back full circle to Saramago.

No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.

Saramago says it even more beautifully, and in less words, and without the hype, in The Tale of the Unknown Island.

Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.

And liking, I would say, whatever we want to like, is all the nicer when it is something you discovered, that little gift left somewhere by someone, by the universe, not necessarily because they thought of you, in all probability they don’t even know you, and that makes it even nicer. As The Little Prince says (the one inimitable dispenser of truth and stories), what makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

So anyway, this is my blog and I feel like posting some of Coelho’s quotes, because I can.

Just to set the record straight before you go to fetch the vomit bags – there is a lot of crap I don’t share among the Coelho-like clichés, which are a crime against humanity, really. I think there’s nothing more idiotic and tasteless than telling someone that “everything happens for a reason” (go tell that to the victims of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, no wait that wasn’t real), that in life we “move on” and that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (with apologies to Nietszche, one of my idols who is, more than Coelho, misquoted by the illiterate masses). What doesn’t kill you leaves you tired. Scars do not make you stronger. They’re just eventful marks on your calendar, helping you record time as you always, inevitably, get nearer to death.

There are many things I could be writing to make my point. I can write about the other satellites somehow orbiting around my universe, about another very dear Ukranian friend in South Sudan and how she paints her own future, most of the time without knowing; or my Scottish friend Joyce and how she knows everything; about how my long-lost Japanese friend (found again through facebook, of course) had appeared just on time to save me when I was alone in the US; and how Albert was impossibly saved in New York when he has also penniless and alone on New Year’s Day and stumbled upon the one friend who could also save him, just as he was trying to pawn his useless camera, looking down dejectedly at the rainy pavements of New York, only to recognise his friend from his shoes walking in Time Square. Not to mention the crazy French photographer I met this summer whom I first felt like slapping only to grow on me in a few days until he could tell me his little secret.

And I could tell you of how when I was reading a poem at a festival in France last summer, just as I tell my audience to hear the church bells taking the piss out of us, the bells in the tiny chapel just behind us started ringing, forcing us all to smile.

But I won’t write all that right now, and probably not anytime soon. Some call them signs, for me they are intriguing coincidences, which makes them none the less mysterious. All I’ll say is that I don’t want to believe in dreams, I just want to live them. You don’t believe a recurring dream, you just know it’s true. There’s my soundbyte for the day.

Writing, the one thing I believe I can do well, gives me my launchpad towards the sky, to travel in time and space, and explode whenever I feel like.

Now that’s as confessional as I’ll get. Ever. Well at least until I write about the Superstitious Atheist, which I’m led to believe has been coined by myself … yes … yours truly … remember you read it here, and watch this space.

Now please someone send me a consignment of Foucault on the next flotilla to Gaza.

Coelho’s soundbytes

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Warriors of the light are not perfect. Their beauty lies in accepting this fact and still desiring to grow and to learn.

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.

The two worst strategic mistakes to make are acting prematurely and letting an opportunity slip; to avoid this, the warrior treats each situation as if it were unique and never resorts to formulae, recipes or other people’s opinions.

There is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe…. The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness.

In my world, everything is possible and everything is relative

Laugh at your worries and insecurities. View your anxieties with humour. It will be difficult at first, but you’ll gradually get used to it.

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.

Don’t think about what you’ve left behind, the alchemist said to the boy as they began to ride across the sands of the desert. Everything is written in the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.

Collected from here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Paulo_Coelho

My launching pad…

Everyone has one these days, so why not me?

This is where my purely personal, purely fictional writings will be posted.

But I do write so that things become true. So if fiction and reality get blurred, it only means that I’m very effective 🙂

k.

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