It’s the second week of the new year, yet we’re still transitioning, and a bit lazily at that. It feels like we haven’t entirely left 2019, and haven’t exactly begun 2020 yet. We may be a bit slow to process, but we’re getting there.
One thing that’s not helping with the laziness, however, is the cold. Our homes, in particular, are rather chilly these days, and getting out from underneath our blankets in the morning seems to be a daily battle (even though sometimes we could swear it’s warmer outside than inside).
So, we hope everyone is staying warm and cozy, and if you’re spending the weekend at home in an attempt to fend off the cold, our usual recommendations are here to keep you company, and to help you take a break from the onslaught of news about the impending war and raging fires in Australia (heartbreaking, to say the least). We’re also adding in a bonus recommendation this week, in the form of a recipe — yes, you guessed it: lentil soup, an Egyptian winter favorite:
-Rinse the amount of lentils you prefer, based on the number of servings you’re aiming for.
-Sautee some minced garlic and onions, add in the lentils with some chopped carrots and potatoes (or zucchini, if you want fewer carbs).
-Add some broth (or water) and bring all ingredients to a boil.
-When the vegetables are tender, mix them all in a blender.
-Bring back to the stove and add your favorite spices (in addition to salt, pepper and cumin, you can also use some turmeric, which is great for immunity)
Now all you need to do is snuggle on the couch with your bowl of soup, and get ready to read, watch and listen.
-To all stargazing enthusiasts, you can take a look at this report on the dates of expected instances of lunar eclipses and meteor showers in 2020.
-While we’re told we should be optimistic regarding the new year, Oussama Ghaougi writes in praise of despair in Metras:
“But I celebrate my despair and find comfort in it. After all, it was once said that ‘In despair an ill soul finds life.’”
“Despair is ever-present. Yes, despair has taken over us, how could it not when everything we tried to achieve has turned against us? People went out in the streets calling for freedom only to be met with more tyranny; they called for liberation only to find themselves surrounded by normalizers and traitors; they called for their dignity only to find themselves imprisoned, tortured, oppressed, or exiled. Ten years later, the fruit of this labor was three wars, two or three political intractabilities, and our patience only brought a greater need for patience. Sectarian militias in five capitals, yellow flags against black flags, and the beaming face of an Israel that is content and satisfied.”
-A new Arabic translation of an essay by philosophy professor Felicity Joseph about Simone de Beauvoir and the concept of female embodiment is now available on Boring Books. You can also read the original text here.
“De Beauvoir argues that it is not the biological condition of women per se that constitutes a handicap: it is how a woman construes this condition which renders it positive or negative. None of the uniquely female experiences — the development of female sex organs, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause — have a meaning in themselves; but in a hostile or oppressive society they can come to take on the meaning of being a burden and disadvantage, as women come to accept the meanings a patriarchal society accords them.
De Beauvoir points out that pre-adolescent boys and girls are really not very different: they “have the same interests and the same pleasures” (The Second Sex, p.295, Translation and Ed, H.M. Parshley, Vintage, 1997). If the initial psychological differences between young boys and girls are relatively trivial, what then causes them to become important? If one ‘becomes’ a woman, how does this ‘becoming’ happen?”
-Right before the new year, Ma3azef shared its “Best of 2019” lists: Best New Arab Voices, Best Khaleeji/Iraqi Songs, Best of Maghrebi Rap, Best Electronic Albums, Best of Rap, Best Music Videos, and Best of Mahraganat. You can view them all here.
-Turning back to literature, check out what Youssef Rakha’s reflections on the previous decade here.
“One certainty: China Inspired the first lie I remember telling. Entering the first grade, I told my classmates that I was born in China. I think they were impressed.
I know that I wasn’t born in China.
The four causes of my wanting to go to China:
The oldest country in the world: it requires years of arduous study to learn its language. The country of science fiction, where everyone speaks with the same voice. Maotsetungized.
Whose voice is the voice of the person who wants to go to China? A child’s voice. Less than six years old.
Is going to China like going to the moon? I’ll tell you when I get back.
Is going to China like being born again?
Forget that I was conceived in China.”
-Speaking of laziness, we couldn’t help but think of Albert Cossery’s (1913-2008) Laziness in the Fertile Valley, originally published in French in 1948 (an Arabic translation is available). To further explore Cossery’s literary world, we also recommend this profile on the Egyptian novelist, published by Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which includes a translated excerpt of his last novel, a piece by Mohammad Abu Zeid upon Cossery’s death, as well as an account of novelist Ahmed Naji’s experience digging up the archives of this iconic author, affectionately dubbed “The Philosopher of Laziness.”
-W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was a controversial writer who, despite working for the British Secret Intelligence Service for many years, has produced a plethora of important works. In this piece (an excerpt from a larger essay about writing fiction, translated to Arabic on RandomReads.net), Maugham introduces “the useful art of skipping,” offering a series of tips to readers for getting through large, dense books such as Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The essay was originally written as an introduction to Maugham’s 1954 book Ten Novels and Their Authors.
-You can also listen to an excerpt of Algerian author Salah Badis’s short story collection These Things Happen (2019) here. As for Egyptian novelist Mohamed Rabie’s latest novel, A History of Egyptian Gods (2020), it won’t be available in print in Egypt any time soon, but you can get your Kindle copy here.
-Ahmed Wael recommends watching American Psycho (2000):
In this cult classic by director Mary Harron based on the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, we see a series of crimes committed by Patrick Bateman (portrayed by Christian Bale). The opening scene tells a lot: we see Bateman, a wealthy Wall Street banker, taking a shower and describing to the audience his morning routine. Specifically, his mint morning face mask which, as described by Bateman while he removes it, is actually invisible.
There is a subtle pleasure in watching Bale — an actor who has taken part in many prominent films since childhood and has often gone to lengths to get in character — onscreen. In this film, he gives a remarkable performance, perfectly serving film’s perplexing nature.
Bateman succeeds in hiding the violent side of his personality to the point that it is impossible to link any of the crimes committed to him; the viewers ourselves may sometimes doubt whether these crimes have happened at all while watching the film. We see a young man belonging to the crème de la crème of New York’s finance society, who only seems interested in porn, fine dining, and maintaining his six-pack abs.
He also expresses surprisingly progressive views, such as the importance of developing ethics, helping the homeless and giving them the opportunity to join the workforce, and fighting gender inequality. When we see these carefully crafted scenes that portray Bateman’s critical views of society as well as his quiet and introverted nature in contrast to the horrific crimes committed, the confusion intensifies.
We think that these gruesome acts must be exaggerated; chainsawing the body of the woman in half in the stairwell of an apartment building must make some noise — something like that had to alert at least a few of the residents. Not only do the bloodstains on the floor Bateman left behind while dragging a heavy bag not alert the man he walks past; the same man sees the bag in another scene and does nothing but compliment it, expressing his desire to buy one for himself.
The film continues to shock its viewers with each and every crime committed, the audience too blinded by then to see the plot holes that could be trying to point out the actual message behind the title of the film. Maybe we need to re-watch this twenty-year-old film in order to make up our minds: Was this insanity real, or was it a figment of imagination?
The one thing that should not be forgotten, however, in this call to watch this film, has to do with listening. Bateman is a lover of music; he’s often shown speaking to his guests about his favorite pieces and his analyses of the evolution of the music industry as if he were a critic or a show host. It’s also important to note that this prowess in musical knowledge always manifests right before we see a crime committed (or a violent urge fulfilled in Bateman’s imagination, that is). You can listen to the film’s soundtrack here.
American Psycho is available to stream on Netflix.
-Speaking of Netflix, the streaming platform/digital production company has made available in the beginning of this year the latest documentary directed by Emir Kusturica titled El Pepe: A Supreme Life (2018) which centers on Jose Mujica, former president of Uruguay.
Similar to a poet, we see “Pepe” — who served as president of the Latin American country from 2010 to 2015 and was known as “the poorest president in the word” — talk about his armed resistance and his years in prison as well as his small community venture after leaving office that includes a farm and a school, announcing his plans to leave them to his neighbors after his death.
-We also remind you of an earlier recommendation of ours, the comedy hit Fleabag, which has just been awarded two Golden Globe awards (for Best Actress and Best Comedy Series). You can read what we previously wrote about it here.
Time for our own Ahmed al-Sabbagh’s monthly Tafneeta, a collection of recently released tracks from here and there, which he compiles at the beginning of each month. We know it’s the second week of January, not the first, but, as we said, we’ve been a bit lazy. You can listen to the playlist on Spotify, or YouTube if you’d also like to watch the videos.
We hope you have a fun and fulfilling weekend, and afterwards you can start the week by attending the launch and book signing of architect, curator and researcher Mohamed Elshahed’s latest book Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide Sunday at 7 pm at the Downtown headquarters of the Society of Egyptian Architects. Find more about the event here.