Echi del Mediterraneo. Parole d’amore dall’Egitto (3)

La Trilogia del Cairo di Naguib Mahfouz è dominata dalla robusta personalità di Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad, ricco mercante, marito e padre onnipotente, uomo pio, severo e inflessibile con la famiglia, di giorno; sensuale e spiritoso con gli amici e le donne di piacere del Cairo, di notte (Nicole Chardaire).

È il patriarca egiziano per eccellenza che “sia gli uomini che le donne del mondo arabo vedono … con malinconica nostalgia e ammirazione” (Sabry Hafez).

Tra gli altri personaggi troviamo sua moglie Amina, sottomessa al marito anche se forte e vero centro emotivo della famiglia, e il giovane figlio Kamal, che a differenza del fratello Yasine, viveur e superficiale, è tutto preso dai suoi ideali di poesia e saggezza.

Kamal si innamora di Aida, ragazza bella e inaccessibile che vive in una splendida dimora – da cui il nome del secondo romanzo della trilogia, Il palazzo del desiderio – e che ha trascorso un periodo della vita a Parigi. Gli avvenimenti si collocano nei primi decenni del 1900.

Trovo le frasi d’amore di Kamal che seguono molto belle e deliziosamente ingiallite. La traduzione francese, di cui riporto alcune frasi, è a mio avviso più poetica di quella inglese. Aggiungo la mia traduzione da entrambe le versioni (1).

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Mentre Aida è assente Kamal sospira in sua assenza e ricorda.

“Ta peau d’ange n’est pas faite pour la chaleur brûlante du Caire. (…) La tua carnagione d’angelo non è adatta al calore bruciante del Cairo (…) Lascia che la sabbia goda dei tuoi piedi. Lascia che l’acqua e l’aria si rallegrino al tuo cospetto.

“Le Caire est vide sans toi. Y coulent tristesse et solitude (…) Il Cairo è vuoto senza te, trasuda malinconia e desolazione (…) nessun luogo al Cairo mi offre conforto, distrazione o svago (…) finché rimango sotto la tua ala mi sento rinnovato e al sicuro, anche se la mia speranza è infondata. A cosa serve, a una persona che cerca ardentemente il cielo buio, la consapevolezza che la luna piena splende altrove sulla terra? A nulla … Eppure desidero la vita al suo livello più profondo e inebriante, anche se ciò fa male (…) ”

“Oggi, domani o dopo una vita (…) la mia immaginazione non perderà mai di vista i tuoi occhi neri, le sopracciglia che si uniscono al centro, l’elegante naso dritto, il tuo viso come luna di bronzo, il collo lungo e la figura snella. Il tuo incantesimo sfida ogni descrizione ma è inebriante quanto la fragranza di un bouquet di gelsomini. Terrò quest’immagine finché vivrò. (…)”

“Non pretendere di aver colto l’essenza della vita se non ti sei mai innamorato. Ascoltare, vedere, gustare ed esser seri, giocosi, affettuosi o vittoriosi: piaceri piccoli per una persona il cui cuore è pieno d’amore “.

“Ton cœur ne sait plus où jeter l’ancre, il va à la dérive, cherchant sa guérison à travers toutes les médecines de l’âme qu’il trouve tantôt dans la nature tantôt dans la science, dans l’art et … le plus souvent … dans l’adoration de Dieu …”

“Il tuo cuore [il cuore di Kamal] non riesce a trovare riposo. E’ andato alla ricerca di sollievo con vari oppiacei spirituali, trovandoli in momenti diversi nella natura, la scienza, l’arte, ma più frequentemente nell’adorazione di Dio”.

“Seigneur Dieu, je ne suis plus moi-même (…) Mon cœur se cogne aux murs de sa prison. Les secrets de la magie dévoilent leur mystère. La raison vacille jusqu’à toucher la folie.”

“Signore Iddio, non sono più me stesso (…) Il mio cuore urta contro i muri della sua prigione. I segreti della magia svelano il loro mistero. La ragione vacilla fino alla follia. Il mio intelletto si è avvitato a tale velocità da rasentare la follia. Il piacere è stato così intenso da sfiorare il dolore. Le corde dell’esistenza e dell’anima vibrano d’una melodia nascosta. Il mio sangue grida aiuto senza sapere a chi chiedere soccorso”.

 

L’incontro

“Husayin, Isma’il, Hasan [gli amici di Kamal, ndr] ed io eravamo occupati a discutere su vari temi – ricorda Kamal – quando giunse alle nostre orecchie una voce melodiosa che ci salutava. Mi voltai, completamente sbalordito. Chi poteva avvicinarsi così? Com’era possibile che una ragazza si intromettesse in un raduno di giovani uomini con i quali non fosse imparentata?”

“Ma abbandonai subito le domande e decisi di metter da parte i costumi tradizionali: ero di fronte a una creatura che non poteva essere di questa terra. (…) Alla fine mi chiesi se non ci fossero speciali regole d’etichetta nelle alte dimore. Forse era un alito d’aria profumata proveniente da Parigi, dove l’adorata creatura era cresciuta”.

Kamal continua con i ricordi del suo primo incontro:

“Lo sguardo affascinante dei suoi occhi neri si aggiungeva alla sua affascinante bellezza rivelandone un delizioso candore – un’audacia nata dalla fiducia in se stessa, non dalla licenziosità o dalla sfrenatezza – oltre che un’arroganza allarmante, che sembrava attrarmi e respingermi allo stesso tempo”.

 

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Un testo del genere ci parla di un mondo esotico che suscita tra l’altro alcune domande a cui cercheremo di rispondere nel prossimo brano dedicato al Mediterraneo.

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(1) Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of desire, traduzione inglese di William Maynard Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny and Olive E. Kenny, 1991, the American University in Cairo Press, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.
Naguib Mahfouz, Le Palais du désir, traduzione francese di Philippe Vigreux, Jean-Claude Lattès, 1987, Livres de Poche.

 

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

Julius Caesar

Don Juanism

Why Casanova was Italian and Don Juan was Spanish? And this craze about Rudolph Valentino and this helluva Latin lover thing? Italians do it better?

Not so sure though someone says there’s something sensual (and annoying?) in them and in our Latin cousins, something felt as sinful and almost amoral but, for this same reason, irresistible.

[Did a star like Madonna build her career partially upon this and other ambiguities? I’ll think about it]

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In other posts (see a list at the bottom) we had supposed connections between Latin folks’ behaviours and pre-Christian sexual mores.

In our last post we have imagined a connection between Italian cynicism and possible survivals of Paganism in our country.

It is time today to fathom a bit the phenomenon of Don Juanism.

Irritating Behaviours

Some Italian behaviours are irritating, without a doubt.

When the young males from here go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Bavaria, as soon as everybody is drunk they think they are entitled to seduce ALL the German women around, and of course they are very much frowned upon.

When I was a silly teenager, I confess we used to hunt for female tourists all over the historical centre of Rome. We did this rationally, exactly like hunters do, and of course the majority of the women weren’t so happy about it (well, the minority was our shameless, or shameful, reward.)

This behaviour was sort of common to all Italians (more or less) but now it only gets marked the closer one gets to the South of the peninsula, where good or bad traditions are preserved.

The men from the Italian South tend to be sexually free, while the women are kept under control (or kinda.)

A patriarchal behaviour that is still alive in many Islamic societies (see Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad, a Naguib Mahfouz’s character) and whose roots are prior to the Greco-Romans.

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South Italian men try to seduce women, no matter what, when, how: they think they are all Casanovas.

And the Italian women? They are very provocative too in their own way although here we will concentrate on the men.

[Sept 2013 update: examples of South Italian women’s provocative behaviour are provided by some characters depicted by Andrea Camilleri in inspector Montalbano‘s series of novels and TV series]

Another Side of Julius Caesar

Caesar's bronze statue (modern copy) in Rome, via dei Fori Imperiali

There is something we have to understand. Searching far back in the past might shed light on present behaviours. Let us consider one of the most admired (and loved) Romans of all times, Julius Caesar (see above flowers from tourists at the feet of his majestic bronze statue.)

He had greatness in all he did, such a supreme soul, more rational than Alexander, abstemious, with intense intellect, courage, utmost strength and daring even in old age.

He had a great vision and many historians think today that without Caesar the Greco-Roman world could have perished many centuries earlier with massive consequences, which makes him even more a giant compared to the average man.

[below an updated Feb-2014-related-posts list]

Caesar's daughter Julia, wife to Pompey
Julia, Caesar’s daughter, became Pompey’s wife. Pompey was Caesar’s friend, ally, relative. Caesar nonetheless cuckolded him

And yet there is another side of Julius Caesar we might like less.

He was totally addicted to sexual pleasure (only ambition in him was greater, argues Montaigne) and he endangered his career a few times because of this.

Caesar was very good-looking and narcissistic. He tried to hide his thinning hair (like our prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.) He plucked the hairs of his body and made use of the most exquisite perfumes. He liked his skin to be as perfect as that of a woman.

He changed wife four times. He probably had an affair with the King of Bithynia Nicomedes IV (was Caesar bisexual? read here,) with Cleopatra queen of Egypt, with Eunoe queen of Mauritania. He perhaps slept with many of his soldiers.

He chose himself extremely beautiful male slaves (same-sex love not being such a misdeed in Rome provided men took the dominant, penetrative, role: read here.)

He cuckolded and was made a cuckold. He made love to Tertulla, the wife of Crassus; to Lollia, the wife of Gabinus; to Posthumia, the wife of Servius Sulpicius; even to Murcia, the wife of Pompey, to whom he later gave his beloved daughter Julia as a wife.

He also had a life-long affair with Servilia, the sister of Cato the younger, his great enemy. Servilia was the mother of Marcus Brutus, one of Caesar’s murderers – and possibly Caesar’s son.

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Ok, ok, ok.

(if these were the ways of the best man in Rome …)

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

[Note. All anecdotes regarding Caesar’s sex life are from Suetonius’ Caesar]

Related posts:

Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna (comments section)

Sex and the city (of Rome) 1
Sex and the city (of Rome) 2

Sex and the city (of Rome) 3
Sex and the city (of Rome) 4

About Caesar and France:

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)

On Caesar opening a ‘New Frontier’ to the Mediterranean and shaping the future of the ‘West’:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Sicilian old men. 2008

Secrecy & Omertà

At the end of an earlier post we had invited Naguib Mahfouz (see picture below), the Nobel-prize Egyptian writer, to help us to understand the ancient world of the Mediterranean. Let’s consider today how the charming characters in his Cairo trilogy do tons of forbidden things: they drink alcohol, they cheat and eat pork, but all is done in secret and keeping up the appearances.

Two daughters of Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad – this Egyptian patriarch par excellence and main character of the trilogy – quarrel and one of them angrily denounces her sister’s husband to her mother: “He drinks wine at home without hiding!”

Which reminds us of some Tunisian people who were drinking beer in a coffee house in Tunis and who confessed: “Nous on fait tout, mais en cachette” (we do everything, though in secret).

It is irresistible not to think about Sicily, where doing things in secret is well ingrained (Sicily was under Tunisian rule for 400 years). And what about omertà, which makes defeating Mafia so difficult?

Omertà is a code of silence that seals the lips of men even when innocent and protects mafiosi in Italian southern regions like Sicily, Calabria and Campania. We’re sure there is some connection between the said secrecy behaviour and Mafia’s omertà.

[By the way, is all this so remote from that omertà that protects Osama bin Laden in territories where everybody is so capable of keeping secrets? A weird association? Hard to say. Back to Mahfouz and to the Mediterranean]

The Power of Man on Woman

Naguib MahfouzAnother element is the power a husband exerts on his wife. That same angry sister tells her mother about the other sister’s misdemeanours: “She drinks and smokes, acting against God and with Satan.”
Her disconsolate mother replies: “What can we do? She is a married woman, and the judgement of her conduct is now in the hands of her husband…” (I am freely summing up the text).

This is Islamic society, one could say. Ok, but this patriarchal power is much older than Islam and was present both in ancient Greece and Rome (although from the late Republic onwards Roman women – especially within the upper classes – gained a wider freedom). So it is a misconception to think of all this as Islamic. Many Muslim societies (not all of them) simply stick to ancient traditions widespread in the Mediterranean and elsewhere much before Islam arrived, which doesn’t mean we like women to be submitted to man’s power, no, no. And this is certainly not Italy’s contemporary life, even though in the South something of a more ancient patriarchy still seems to survive.

The honour of the family

Speaking of patriarchy, the honour and dishonour of the family falls upon the father or husband. Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad, called by his daughter’s mother-in-law because of his daughter’s misconduct, thus reproaches her: “Nothing that was raised in my house should be stained by such behaviours! Don’t you realise that the whole evil you are doing brings dishonour to me?”.

Again it is tempting to think about Neapolitan Eduardo De Filippo‘s Natale in casa Cupiello, a delightful comedy in which Luca Cupiello (Eduardo), exasperated with is wife Concetta, cries aloud: “La nemica mia! La nemica della casa!” (This enemy of mine! This enemy of the house!), where he clearly considers himself to be THE house, in such a funny and masterly way, because Eduardo and the Neapolitans are so refined and adorable (the Greek cousins of Rome) despite all the problems now Naples is facing.

Naples. The castle and the Volcano

And again it is clear that patriarchy is prior to Islam, Naples, Sicily etc. It was previously present in Rome, Greece, Carthage etc. And it existed in Mare Nostrum and elsewhere long before these civilisations arrived. Records of it seem to be as far back as the 4th millennium BC.

We have tried to explore some Mediterranean traditions with the help of Naguib Mahfouz, and we have mused about some possible influences between the North and South shores of this sea. It seems clear to us that every study of present ways of thinking (European, Islamic, Sicilian, Neapolitan etc.) is not wholly understandable without looking at the endless past of the civilizations (see also the concept of the mind like a museum in the last section of our post Knowing Thyself).

(to be continued)

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Other related posts:

Permanences I
The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean
Love Words from Egypt
Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1
Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2