De hond John Lennon

الكلب جون لينون

Hassan Blasim

Hassan Blasim

Hassan Blasim (1973, Irak) is vooral bekend als auteur van korte verhalen, maar schrijft ook poëzie en theater en schreef en regisseerde films. Na zijn studie Filmwetenschappen in Bagdad ontvluchtte hij in 1998 het regime van Saddam Hussein naar Iraaks-Koerdistan en reisde daarna als illegale migrant door Iran, Turkije, Bulgarije en Hongarije tot hij in 2004 Finland bereikte, waar hij sindsdien woont en werkt. Hij won de Independent Foreign Fiction award in 2014 met The Iraqi Christ. Het was de eerste Arabische titel en de eerste verhalenbundel die ooit deze prijs toegekend kreeg. Ook won hij drie keer de PEN-award. Zijn boeken werden in meer dan 20 talen vertaald. Zijn recentste verhalenbundel De lijkententoonstelling, waarvan de Nederlandse vertaling in 2017 verscheen bij uitgeverij Jurgen Maas, werd lovend onthaald. NRC schreef ‘Een wrange merkwaardige verzameling verhalen die even fascinerend als gruwelijk zijn.’ en The Guardian noemt Blasim ‘perhaps the best writer of Arabic fiction alive’.

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الكلب جون لينون

Listen to the audio book (mp3).

 

الكلب جون لينون

حسن بلاسم

 

 

كتب حسن بلاسم هذا النص بعد إقامة لمدة أسبوعين في مدينة ليوواردن
الهولندية، كجزء من مشروع ( مدينة كتب) في ليواردن وبدعوة من :
the Flemish Dutch House deBuren

 

 

منذ ان وصلت قبل اسبوعين والمدينة مبللة، مثل ذهني الذي تمطر فيه الصور والأفكار على مدار الساعة: تتجمع المياه، تتجمد، ثم تبخرها شمس ذاكرتي! انه يومي الأخير في مدينة ليوواردن. في كثير من الاحيان اشعر ان ذهني مجرد قدر يغلي، وليس لدي أي فكرة عن كيفية رفع هذا (الذهن) من فوق النار! امشي وسط المدينة من دون وجهة محددة. مطر مع لسعة برد خفيفة. أشعل سيجارة واتوقف عند بناية بيت الوزن وأتأملها. تبدو من أبرز معالم وسط المدينة وهي تجاور القنال. البناية فيها مطعم. التراس مفتوح، لكن البرد يدفع الزبائن للاحتماء في بطن البناية. اجلس وحيدا وسط التراس. تأتي نادلة شابة مبتسمة: هل تحتاج الى غطاء، الجو بارد؟! اشكرها وأقول لها انا من هلسنكي، لدينا هناك برد وثلوج كافية لخوض تمارين العتمة والبرد. تبتسم النادلة، تقول: اه.. لم ازر هلسنكي من قبل، لكنني ذهبت الى ستوكهلم، واحببت المدينة كثيرا!

اشرب قهوتي، متأملا المارة. اغلب مشاة الرصيف يرتدون اللون الأسود والازرق الغامق. واغلبهم يرتدي جينز. أحاول ان أحصي الذين لا يرتدون الجينز. انهم اقلية. وكأن الأغلبية هي قبيلة جينز والأقلية هي قبيلة قماشية. قبيلة تطرز الزهور والنباتات على الاقمشة وتغني عن الشمس والعتمة. عن الحياة والموت. لا خلاص من وسواس التأمل العشوائي! هكذا هو ذهني الذي يحاول الان سحب طمأنينتي الهشة الى الهلوسة.

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citybooks hassan blasim arabisch

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De hond John Lennon

De Nederlandse vertaling van het citybook van Hassan Blasim over Leeuwarden wordt binnenkort gepubliceerd. Intussen kun je de originele Arabische tekst en de Engelse vertaling hier al lezen.

 

Beluister hier het audioboek (mp3) in het Arabisch, voorgelezen door de auteur. De Nederlandse vertaling zal binnenkort ook te beluisteren zijn.

 

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John Lennon the Dog

Listen to the audio book (mp3) read by the author.
The English audio book will soon be available.

 


Since I arrived two weeks ago the city has been flooded, rather like my mind, in which images and ideas rain down around the clock: the water gathers, freezes and then evaporates in the sunlight of my memory. It's my last day in the city of Leeuwarden. I often feel that my mind is just a pot on the boil and I have no idea how to lift it off the stove! I walked through the city in no particular direction. It was raining again, with a slight nip in the air. I lit a cigarette, stopped at the Waag building, the old weigh house, and examined it. It lies next to the canal and seems to be one of the landmarks in the city centre. The building has a restaurant with an open-air terrace but the cold had driven the customers to take cover inside. I sat down alone on the terrace and a young waitress arrived with a smile. “Do you need any cover? It's cold,” she said. I thanked her and told her I'm from Helsinki and there we get plenty of training in how to handle the cold and the dark. The waitress smiled and said, “Oh, I've never been to Helsinki, but I've been to Stockholm and I liked the city a lot.”

I drank my coffee, watching the passers-by. Most of the pedestrians were wearing black or dark blue, especially jeans. I tried to count the ones who were not wearing jeans. They were a minority. It was as if the jeans tribe were the majority and the minority was the chino tribe. One tribe embroiders flowers and leaves on the material and sings about sunshine and darkness, life and death. There's no escape from the temptation to contemplate at random. My mind's trying to impose hallucinations on my fragile sense of tranquillity.

I've come to Leeuwarden as part of a literary residency. The idea is to write about the city. In fact I have no idea how to write about a city by discovering it in only two weeks. I'm very slow. I've written at a snail's pace ever since I embarked on this strange pastime as a teenager. I was born in Iraq forty-four years ago. They say that the woman who lived next door pulled me out from between my mother's legs under a palm tree at noon on a hellish summer day. In the shade of the tree the woman let out a strident trill of celebration. As a child I was baptised by the land of the two rivers: the river of blood and the river of pain. For more than ten years I've lived and worked in Finland. A refugee whose mind the Finnish fridge wasn't been able to freeze, to give it some relief. Maybe my memory is a warehouse of burned skins: human skins and the flayed skins of animals, skins transformed in my sleep into startling art exhibits. Terrifying art, intriguing and exciting. Truly ingenious nightmares that smell as putrid as human pain. Okay, so let's get down to the work I've been assigned. I didn't come here to write about the art of burned-skin minds, but about Leeuwarden.


To outsiders cities are silent and mysterious. So I have to speak to Leeuwarden to have it speak to me. Discovering things is a classic device that's not bad for starting to write. What did I want to find out? What should I write about? My plan was to wander around the city, have conversations with people and take notes, and then when I got back to the Helsinki fridge I'd try to place my impressions in some kind of framework. A short story or maybe just a diary. The bars, restaurants and marijuana coffee shops are the quickest and easiest way to strike up conversations. And that's what I did. In fact I didn't achieve much. It was obvious that Leeuwarden is not yet accustomed to strangers. The looks from customers and staff suggested that. As soon as my Middle Eastern face crossed the threshold into these temples of food, alcohol and marijuana, the Leeuwarden people turned on their radars to identify the stranger. The looks of suspicion aimed in my direction did not trouble me. I've been used to living as an outsider for years. In fact I have special ways of turning my exile and my strangeness into scenes in satire and drama. So what is this weigh house then? I light another cigarette. Okay, since I'm the only person blowing smoke into the air and freezing on the terrace, I shall resort to the Google god instead of speaking to other people. How vast and frightening and surprising knowledge now seems in the world of the Internet! If you put these empty chairs on the terrace into the arms of the Google god, he would offer you his answers. Books on the history of chairs and the shapes and contents of the chairs. War chairs and peace chairs. Chairs to laugh at in videos, films and pictures. Chairs for suicide. Chairs for sick people and chairs for office workers. Chairs shaped like trees, on their way to factories. Antique chairs and chairs in the museum of art. Leeuwarden chairs and Baghdad chairs. Buried chairs from ancient dead civilisations. Chairs of authority and poor people's chairs. If you go on searching, you'll end up looking like a dwarflike animal scampering between the legs of giant chairs. The information that the Internet has gathered and continues to gather every day seems to have turned us into microscopic creatures. But hasn't human knowledge in all eras been a vast ocean compared to the speculations of a puny and bewildered human being? Or the information that humans produce is now much too fast for us to keep up with. Information expands while our time shrinks. We don't have time to run this noisy and exotic marathon. I go to Wikipedia to solve some of the riddles of the weigh house.

 

A public building at or within which goods were weighed. Most of these buildings were built before 1800, prior to the establishment of international standards for weights. As public control of the weight of goods was very important, they were run by local authorities who would also use them for the levying of taxes on goods transported through or sold within the city. Therefore, weigh houses would often be near a market square or town centre.


I paid for my coffee and resumed my stroll. Leeuwarden looked quiet and pleasant, a beautiful place to live at peace, far from the bustle of big cities. The city exudes, however, the melancholy of small Scandinavian towns. I passed by the city library and took pictures of the Achmea tower. Then I wandered through the narrow lanes in the city centre. I've long loved the narrow lanes in cities. They convey a sense of serenity and intimacy. Narrow lanes give you the impression you're moving along the city's arteries. How long will it take me, I wondered, to reach Leeuwarden's brain? I took more pictures that might later help me sketch a scene in something I write. I was tired and I retraced my steps to where I was staying. The people organising my literary residence had rented a small room for me that was tidy and beautifully arranged. The room was above the apartment of the man who owns the building and a bakery that makes pastries. All day long the smell of cakes and pastries filled the house. There's a café attached to the bakery and in it they hold worskhops on how to make cakes and chocolate. The bakery also does special requests for customers. It's a lovely place and a personal project that bears the name of Tonny the owner. He was a nice quiet young man and he had a dog called John Lennon. The dog never left its assigned space. It never went downstairs to the bakery and never came up to where my room was. I had to walk past it and greet it whenever I went upstairs to my room. I gave him my hand to sniff, then stroked his neck and said, “Oh, how are you, John Lennon?” He looked at me sadly and said, “Imagine.”

Darkness fell fast. My legs hurt from walking so much. I noticed a fast-food restaurant called Shalom. Our Jewish cousins no doubt have the same food as us Arabs, I thought. I went into the restaurant and found that all the people working there were Arabs. An Algerian and his Egyptian colleague turned on their radar and, even before I uttered a word, they realised I was a stranger and not from Leeuwarden. I'm not sure if many people are aware that as soon as Arabs meet each other the floodgates of politics and historical wounds swing open and the sobbing and wailing begin. In my presence the Egyptian and the Algerian vomited up a spate of grievances about the state of the Arabs and what has become of them, without even knowing my name or why I was in Leeuwarden. I bought my take-away and said goodbye to my Arab brothers: “Shalom!” I said, and fled the gloom of complaints. I didn't know if Shalom's food was good. A few days earlier I had eaten falafel that were more than good in a restaurant called Mouni. I had a conversation with a pleasant and pretty young woman who works there. She was originally from Azerbaijan. She was surprised I was visiting Leeuwarden and even more surprised, childishly so, when she found out I was a writer. In general I suffer in my life from my chaotic diet. There are days when I live on red wine, bread and cheese, then suddenly I'm overwhelmed by a desire to make new dishes. I go to YouTube and learn. Then I go shopping, cook and eat like a horse.

In Leeuwarden I had breakfast for free at Tonny's bakery. I usually scoffed down lunch in the tourist restaurants in Nieuwestad Street in the city centre. Several times I took an evening meal from fast-food restaurants, with a bottle of red wine of course.

I hadn't previously noticed the marijuana coffee shop near my place. It's called Relax, and that's what I needed on my last evening. I'm not much in the habit of smoking marijuana. Alcohol is my way of drowning my mind with poisons and trying to get wasted. Marijuana gives me rapid mood swings: relaxation, then paranoia, then a deep dive into the well of absurdity. When I smoke the plant my concerns and experience in life lose all value and I feel that my soul is a pile of autumn leaves that need a wind to blow them away so that they're lost forever.

I ordered White Widow ready-made, sat and smoked. A young man came over and joined me at the table. He opened his laptop and started typing. The resemblance between him and Eminem in the film 8 Mile was really striking. “Have you found a story?” the young man asked, without turning towards me.

“Sorry? Are you talking to me?” I replied.

“I know you're here to write about Leeuwarden,” he said.

“Yes, indeed.”

“My girlfiend's a journalist. She was the one who told me. I can give you a story if you like.”

“You mean you have a story to tell me? I'm all ears,” I said.

“No, I'm a writer too and I have stories I don't need.”

“Sorry, I don't understand.”

“Forget the White Widow, try some of this.”

I took a drag on his joint and gave it back to him. “So you're a writer. What do you write?” I asked.

“Short stories and poems. All my stories are about Leeuwarden but I haven't had a single one published. I've only had some poems published.”

“I understand that to some extent. What do you mean when you say you can give me a story?”

“It's simple. You're talking with other people and going round the city looking for something that inspires you. What do you know about Leeuwarden?” he asked.

“To be honest, all I know is that Mata Hari was from Leeuwarden. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have heard of the city.”

“Give me your email address and I'll send you a collection of stories, and you can choose any one of them. I have stories I've written in English. My mother's Australian and my father's Dutch.”

The man rolled another joint, while I gave the White Widow a rest in the ashtray, where it went out.

“In fact I find what you say rather strange. You told me to take one of your stories about Leeuwarden.”

“Yes, you can rewrite it in your own style. I think I have some good stories but I don't have style.”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“I can see why you're surprised. You're going to say it's plagiarism. But if I hadn't told you I'm a writer, and I'd told you one of the stories I've written, you wouldn't have any scruples about writing it your own way.”

“You're very interesting.”

“And you're too serious. Give me your email. I have to go now. I'll send you three stories in English tonight.”

“Do you have a pen?”

He opened a Word document on his laptop and turned the screen towards me. I typed my email address and said, “I can read your stories but don't expect a proper critical opinion from me. My opinions are haphazard and I'm lacking in judgment.”

The man closed his laptop and put it in his backpack. He put out his hand to shake mine. “Don't worry. You can use my stories. I won't accuse you of theft. Say you heard it from a dopehead in the Relax coffee shop. Bye!”

I relit the White Widow joint and smiled to myself. Maybe this young man had smoked too much. I thought about what he had said. Then suddenly I felt very anxious and frightened, so I left.

I went back to my house. I opened the front door and the smell of baking hit me. I went upstairs towards my room. John Lennon rushed up to greet me. “Hi John,” I said.

“Imagine,” said the dog.

“Imagine what, John?”

“Were you really talking to a young man who looks like Eminem?” asked the dog.

“Imagine.”

“Imagine what?” asked the dog.

“That you've been killed.”

“Yes, imagine. I've been killed.”

I undressed and went to sleep naked. I woke up. I stood under the shower, trying to piece together the fragments of my dream: I was naked sitting in a cave, and there was a fire. John Lennon the dog was at the cave entrance howling. I was writing on the cave wall in coloured chalk: “I've been killed too.”

I was killed in one of the crusades centuries ago. My head was cut off in a single stroke by the sword of a valiant knight. I was killed yesterday by a car bomb in Baghdad. I was killed on my way to market where I was going to buy rice and fish. They'll find my head near the bag of fish. I was killed in a cave in the stone age. Someone wanted to eat my child. In the evening I drowned; the sea killed me after I said goodbye to my village. My father's from Somalia and my mother from Tanzania. The boat will capsize and I'll never reach the coast of Spain. I was killed when Muslims invaded my country. I was killed with a long spear on the Asian steppes. I was killed last year at midsummer celebrations in a Finnish forest. I was burnt to death in a fire pit as drunken people played around it. My little town was wiped out by a hurricane and, before the broken trunk of a tree pierced me in the chest, I saw my child crushed under a wall. I was killed by a heroin overdose in Amsterdam. A plane dropped a bomb and killed us all in the trench. A World War Two plane pissed on our heads. Drug dealers killed me by mistake in Colombia; they wanted to kill my cousin. I was burnt in a Nazi oven, though I was already dead when they put me inside. A car driven by a drunk young woman hit me in the street; it was raining over Paris that day. They took my life in revenge for another man's life in an Afghan village. I was killed in a civil war. I was killed in a revolution. I was killed and killed and killed, and I will be killed. I was killed in a news bulletin. I was killed so that my name would go down in the history books. I was killed to be lost forever in the crowded graveyard. I was killed because of ambition. I was killed for someone else's sake. I was killed because of stupidity. I was killed because of my kindness. I was killed by lung cancer; I thought smoking cigarettes was better than dying by smoking loneliness. I was killed defending the devil. I was killed in the ranks of the angel's army. I was killed for a reason. I was killed for no reason.

 

 

Translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright

 

 

Jonathan Wright is an award-winning translator whose translations include three winners of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction: Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk, for which he won for the 2016 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize, and Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel, which was joint winner of the 2013 Banipal Prize, as well as Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ (2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize). He studied Arabic, Turkish and Islamic History at St. John’s College, University of Oxford, and worked for many years as a journalist in countries across the Arab world including Tunisia, Oman, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.