Thursday, January 24, 2013

"When a man is tired of London...

He is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." - Samuel Johnson.

Well. Maybe this was true of an Anglican, committed tory in the 1700s*, but in my experience London has 'afforded' me much less of all that than other cities. I hadn't spent enough time in the city to deem myself 'tired' of it really, and in any case being 'tired of' something implies having liked it at some stage, but London did not have it's grey, expensive tendrils in my heart. I had spent a grand total of approximately six weeks in London - once in winter, once in summer. In winter I had found it grey, miserable, expensive, boring and moist. By contrast, in summer I found it oppressively stuffy, packed full of people, expensive, stressful and exhausting. And this coming from a person who adores the likes of Bangkok, Ha Noi, Los Angeles and Paris, so the usual "well, if you're not a city person" defence doesn't stick. To repeat, I actively enjoy spending time in Bangkok and seek it out, and found London too sticky, full and generally oppressive.

* And for many of my modern day friends, to be fair. 

My mother says that snow makes a place basically new; that it covers all the dirt and brings out a new colour in a city. Arriving to a snowed out London late on a Saturday night and heading straight to a party in Ealing Broadway certainly made me feel like I was  in a city I had never been in before. People were laughing in the streets, and yelled out the windows of their warm houses: "nice night for a walk!" before falling about laughing. I must have looked quite comical trudging through the snowed-up, icy streets at 11:30pm with my massive pack and a confused expression. 

The party was a rag-tag team of hilarious, boozy expats in full body animal costumes, and I was greeted to a cup of hot mulled wine and several hugs - and a place to pass out. 

The next day, I ventured into the snowscape to attend the best exhibition of my life. I looked up something vague like "Islamic miniature art London" on google to see where was best, and stumbled across this exhibition: an incredible collection of paintings, architectural drafts and original poetry books from the Mughal empire.  

I jumbled myself into the British Library, had a coffee under the impressive wall of books and headed into the exhibition, where I actually felt like I was getting faintly nauseous from Stendhal syndrome. I've wanted to see these paintings in real life, my whole life. Finally, to make me audibly gasp, there were transcriptions of Hafiz's poetry from the 1400s, with accompanying miniature paintings. I've posted one of my favourite 'Hafiz' poems, translated/ interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky after the jump. 

p.s. I like London now. 

I Think We Need A Password

I think we need a password, or let’s make that
a pass-sentence.

That way, in case you ever come to my door in
an emergency and the Divine and I are busy inside,

we could just shout, “Tell us the password!”
if you really want to snuggle.

And part of the password will be you knowing
it is really… a pass-sentence.  And here it is
in all its glory and truth:

Love kicks the ass of time and space.

Upon hearing that God and I would look at each
other bewildered, but with delight.  We would be
glad someone had reached us… with the
golden key on their tongue.

Though just to make sure we heard you right, we
might say in unison, “Sing it loudly, baby!  Cut loose!
We need to double check!”

And then if you did, a strength and smile might
rise inside of you, and right next to my heart you
might be for a moment… beaming like an eye
that knows.

Don’t forget now: LKTAOTAS

Maybe even tattoo that somewhere so you will


Unknown said...

Best poem ever! x Katherine

Rachel F said...

This is a fantastic fantastic poem. Initially, I didn't read the fact it was "interpreted" and basically died at the thought of this being written in the 14th century but holy cow has this poem and its co-conspirator managed to capture the essence. I'm glad you liked London, I haven't really been there (except when I was 10) but I think I liked it (when I was 10). XX