Lorca In Beirut: Who brought him here?
Hassan Daoud - 26/10/2005
The sign hanging across the road lacks something of the presence of other signs, as if it has lost the power to convey its message. The passer-by is forced to read it once, twice, maybe even three times, if he wants to grasp its meaning. Even then its meaning is not as straightforward as one would like: a three story building raised on brittle foundations. It's as if each word pulls up, confused and uncertain about how to make the leap to the next word along and convey its meaning. "Suicide's piercing whistle revives us every morning", says the sign, breaking all the conventions of sign-writing. It is not just the tone of the sentence that is so bewildering, but the very function of the words themselves.
We are not accustomed to signs that go further than 'Yes' and 'No', acceptance or rejection, support or condemnation. The message is direct, a sharpened arrow searching out its target. Whoever reads such signs wavers between irritation at their slogans and despair at their irrelevance and soon forgets what he's read.
A second sign by Lorca: "There are bodies that will not survive the dawn". The city is suddenly exposed to speech, strange words that contradict everything that has come before and which consciously expose themselves to ridicule. It is like a man who bares his innermost soul to people only to be criticized and blamed. Somewhere else in Beirut in another such poster that warns against the pain that lurks in thin air, and beneath these words we find the name Lorca. Lorca: alone; by itself. He has come to shock us, to force us to re-read words like "dawn". We have forgotten what "dawn" is: it has become an empty word, whose rich range of meaning has shrunk to encompass no more than that void that sits between the night and the day. Lorca: no more, no less. The instant we saw this name in place of the usual organizations and parties singing their leaders' praises, we instinctively completed it: Frederico Garcia Lorca.
It has been many years, many decades indeed, since his name was last raised to the rooftops, but he has not been forgotten. We must have been 22 or thereabouts when we abandoned him for Pablo Neruda. Neruda, or so we thought, was the next step on the staircase we all climbed together. We took Lorca with us thus far, then abandoned him. So who has brought him back after all these years? Who has rescued old Lorca, alone and forgotten by the generations that followed after? Who has hung these signs over Beirut's streets? Could it be those who knew him in their youth who are now bringing him back, returning to Lorca's time in protest at their present?
"Lorca," they are saying, "remember Lorca. Raise him up once more; dust off his name." We must do this, not for Lorca's sake alone, but for all those names we fear to forget lest they disappear forever. Others imagine that it was not us, but those too young to have lived with him, who brought Lorca back, just as they wore shirts bearing the face of Che Guevara, a man who dies before they were born. So Lorca has come again, plucked from obscurity by a generation who are recreating art and reinventing creativity. They have chosen him--selected him--for dying young. Poets who live out their lives are rarely reclaimed. Lorca's young blood has saved him from mouldering in the memory of a single generation. Lorca is another Guevara, a successor to the T-shirt king. So it was young people after all. But who are they? Where are they? Help us out Ziko, show us where to find these young things bursting with energy and dynamism, climbing lampposts and dangling off strangers' balconies to hang their signs. How real their efforts to create the unreal! Risking life and limb to show those driving down Spears Street words they can't understand.
These were Lorca's days in Beirut. Perhaps his words still float above the streets as they did last week, confusing even those who have heard of Lorca, those who have memorized his poetry. And why? Because there was no reason for them being there. It wasn't his birthday, nor the anniversary of his death. There was no celebration taking place elsewhere, in Spain for example, that could explain the appearance of these signs. It was a celebration for the sake of it; an awakening. A reminder to the city that the path it had made it forget that there are other worlds, other views on offer. A cry uttered by those who wants to remind us that we have neglected them, denied their existence. We are full of energy, they seem to say, we are here: climbing lampposts, hanging from balconies, setting up signs they can't possibly protect. The days of Lorca: in Al Hamra Street where they have restored him to his former glory; in Al Jamiza Street where the young people gathered in their hundreds; in Al Barbeer Al Mathaf Avenue which even now seems to bid the passing cars farewell; on the Ain Al Marisa Corniche where they jog by day and promenade by night. Lorca was everywhere. These were his days. Chance, maybe fate, allowed him to stay with us for a week or two.
Taking advantage of the relative calm and the consequent lack of other more political signs, his disciples hoisted their banners. A stolen moment that ended without any need for someone to sever the ropes tied around the lampposts. It was enough that something real took place. As if that former poet had shot himself in the head so the people would pay no more heed to what was written on the banners fluttering over their heads. Hassan Daoud