Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


On the waterfront in Genoa

  • 25 January 2011

Teaching Mahmoud Darwish's Memory for Forgetfulness(For Samar Habib) They're all anxious about Darwish;none have understood his lyrical rant.'His coffee is too Arabic,' they say,'his water, too dry.' 'Beirut is thirsty,' he tells them;but Beirut is too far and too long agofor them to care. What they really want,is to be done with him.The tutorial too. How can I make them understand? How can I tell themthat his book isn't about coffee or water,or even about the bombing of Beirut?That Darwish writes about historyfrom inside the red ink-bottleof atomic bodies; the vacuum-sealed mind of Feiruz's love song:I love you, O Lebanon. When two lovers unite  in the summer noon,they know the soundthe birds makeat winter twilight. How do I explainthe union of an Araband his Jewish lover? How can I teachwhat I have not experienced,except through some artificialworld of war and book knowledge? – Helen Koukoutsis

 On The Waterfront In Genoa, Just Before Dawn, At Chucking Out Time I asked the kids from Piazza delle Erbe who had led me here what the club was called because it had no sign. Si chiama Pussycats – they said.It was two rooms in a warehouse up a flight of stairs. The music was loud. They had run out of white wine. The kids took off and I sat myself down on a step made of stone. I didn't know where I was and had to figure out how to get home. A young man, made of ebony, from Senegal or Somalia or the Côte d'Ivoire, sat down beside me gracefully.Here you might think – Well well. But it wasn't like that. He sat next to me as if I was his mother, or his grandmother. I'm old. He was young. I told him where I was from. He bent his head. Australia. Oh fortunate one.When I asked him about his country he leapt to his feet and sang. Oh Mama ... Mama Africa. Oh Mama ... Mama Africa. He danced and sang. Then the tears came. A boy the age of my son. I had a chocolate in my purse and I gave it to him. I don't think I know what hungry is. A stuttering and blind urgent cramming thing.And yes, but don't tell anyone, I gave him the twenty euro that I had to hand. Stammering, ill at ease, he asked me what I had in mind.It disgraced us both that he had to ask what the traffic between us was. But we strolled on. I bought him a stand up coffee at