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woh so I summarize: “The main thing is, in a place in one of his most famous
novels, he’s telling about a kid who goes to get wisdom from some big-shot
who’s living on his own in a palace.”
“Cut to the chase.”
Ignoring his great performance I continue: “The sage gives him a spoon
with a drop of oil in it and tells him to enter the palace right foot first and to
A H M E D A L A I DY
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look around and observe without spilling the drop of oil. The kid goes into
the palace and comes out again with the oil in the spoon just as it was and
right as rain. The sage asks him, ‘What did you see inside the palace?’ The kid
tells him, ‘Nothing. I was too afraid of spilling the drop of oil.’ So the sage
sends him back again with the same drop of oil and tells him that this time
he’s to take note of the things in the palace. The second time, the kid stares
and notes everything carefully and then goes back to him and the sage says,
‘What did you see?’ and he tells him, ‘I saw a bunch of paintings and a bunch of
carpets and a whole bunch of other weird stuff’ and the sage points to the spoon
and says to him, ‘Yes. But you spilled the drop of oil, my little chickadee!’”
And the moral is?
“You have to enjoy the world without spilling the drop of oil you have
As I said this, I looked at Abbas through the grime on the mirror.
How pleasant it is to give one’s wisdom a workout from time to time!
(We do it all the time, to make others look less important, or more bad.)
“You think so?”
(Improve your intellectual image and the shortcomings of others will
“What do I have to swear by to make you believe?”
“There is no god but God!”
“I never liked all those fancy stories and I really get pissed off by people
who write like they’re saying. ‘I’ve been shaving for four thousand years and
you’re still calling toffees ‘offees.’”
“Look, Abbas. Take it from your buddy here and then you can throw it
out the window: there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes. The only thing
that’s wrong is not admitting them.” Let’s hear it for all those who showed us
we’re not all alone at the bottom of the glass; there are those who are even
closer to the bottom than we are.
Let’s kiss the hands of all those who gave us a chance to scream at them:
“Get up and dust off your clothes!”
Blessed be the saint who gave us the chance to right ourselves every time
A D R O P O F O I L
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A H M E D A L A I DY
“I have a slightly different perspective.”
“And what might that be?”
Abbas bares his teeth in a smile and says: “That sage guy wasn’t a lousy
sage or anything. He was just some piece of shit kid from the ’hood who’d
taken ruphenol and was getting wasted on his own so he said, I’ll get someone
and mess with his head a bit. Like, ‘Take this spoon, boyo, and wander around
inside and don’t spill any or there’ll be trouble . . . ’”
He said nothing for a bit and then went on:
“I bet you while the boy was holding the spoon and feeling his way with
his feet the guy who’d taken the roofies was rolling on the ground laughing
hard enough to bust his hernia. After a bit, he gets around to dissolving
another couple of pills. . . .”
“So then suddenly the roofies up and tell him to work the boy so he can
get the ‘mood’ up to ‘hyper.’ ‘Boyo, take the spoon and go back and take a
look at the pictures on the walls and the carpets on the floors the like of which
never entered your house except for your mother to wash.’ ”
“Ruphenol gives you the best high.”
“Sure, but what are you trying to get at?”
Abbas says that—Zizzzt. Zitttt.—he’s telling you that to arrive you first
have to leave.
And there are seven rules for leaving, as is well-known from the beginning
Translated by Humphrey Davies
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Being Abbas El Abd, 2006
Kent R. Weeks’s “Thebes: A Model for Every City” is from
The Treasures of
the Valley of the Kings: Tombs and Temples of the Theban West Bank in
Luxor, edited by Kent R. Weeks, 2001.
Zahi Hawass’s “Women in Society” is from
Silent Images (© Zahi Hawass), 2008.
Aidan Dodson and Salima Ikram’s “Egyptian Mortuary Beliefs” is from
The Tomb in Ancient Egypt (© Thames and Hudson), 2008.
Regine Schulz’s “Temples in the Middle Kingdom” is from
Egypt: The World
of the Pharaohs, edited by Regine Schulz and Matthias Seidel
(© Tandem Verlag GmbH), 2000.
Lise Manniche’s “The Egyptian Garden” is from
An Ancient Egyptian Herbal
(© Lise Manniche), 2006.
Max Rodenbeck’s “Cities of the Dead” is from
Cairo: The City Victorious
(© Max Rodenbeck), 1998.
André Raymond’s “Cairo: Fatimid City” is from
Cairo: City of History
(© President and Fellows of Harvard College), 2001.
Jason Thompson’s “The Mamluks” is from
A History of Egypt: From
Earliest Times to the Present (© Jason Thompson), 2008.
Lesley Lababidi’s “Muhammad Ali and Modernization, 1805–82” is from
Cairo Street Stories: Exploring the City’s Statues, Squares, Bridges,
Gardens, and Sidewalk Cafés (© Lesley Lababidi), 2008.
Writing Egypt_Chapters_Final_Layout 1 07.07.10 09:58 Seite 337 (Schwarz Auszug)
Edward William Lane’s “Boo’la’ck” is from
Description of Egypt, edited and
with an introduction by Jason Thompson, 2000.
Qasim Amin’s “The Family” is from
The Liberation of Women and The New
Woman (translated by Samiha Sidhom Peterson), 1992, 1995, 2000.
Hassan Hassan’s “Marg” is from
In the House of Muhammad Ali: A Family
Album, 1805–1952, 2000.
Ahmed Fakhry’s “Siwan Customs and Traditions” is from
Siwa Oasis, 1973.
Cynthia Nelson’s “Storming the Parliament (1951)” is from
Egyptian Feminist (© Board of Regents of the State of Florida), 1996.
Nayra Atiya’s “Alice, the Charity Worker” is from
Khul-Khaal: Five Egyptian
Women Tell their Stories, 1984.
Ahmed Zewail’s “First Steps: On the Banks of the Nile” is from
through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize, 2002.
Jehan Sadat’s “On My Own” is from
My Hope for Peace (© Jehan Sadat), 2009.
Galal Amin’s “Egypt and the Market Culture” is from
Whatever Happened to
the Egyptians? Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present, 2000.
Bernard O’Kane’s “The Ayyubids and Early Mamluks (960–1170)” is from
The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo, edited by
Bernard O’Kane, 2006.
Michael Haag’s “The Cosmopolitan Capital” is from
Photographs of the City 1860–1960 (© Michael Haag), 2008.
Cynthia Myntti’s “The Builders and their Buildings” is from
Paris Along the
Nile: Architecture in Cairo from the Belle Epoque (© Cynthia Myntti),
1999, paperback edition, 2003.
Viola Shafik’s “Toward a National Film Industry” is from
Cinema: Gender, Class, and Nation, 2007.
Edward W. Said’s “Farewell to Tahia” is from
Colors of Enchantment:
Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, edited by
Sherifa Zuhur, 2001.
Margo Veillon’s “Letter to Doris” is from
Nubia: Sketches, Notes, and
Azza Fahmy’s “Jewelry for Special Purposes: The Zar Ceremony” is from
Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt: The Traditional Art and Craft, 2007.
Writing Egypt_Chapters_Final_Layout 1 07.07.10 09:58 Seite 338 (Schwarz Auszug)
Taha Hussein’s “Love Story” is from
A Passage to France (translated by
Kenneth Cragg, © E. J. Brill) in
The Days, 1997.
Tawfiq al-Hakim’s “Miracles for Sale” is from
The Essential Tawfiq
al-Hakim: Plays, Fiction, Autobiography (translated and edited by
Denys Johnson-Davies), 2008.
Yahya Hakki’s “Story in the Form of a Petition” is from
The Lamp of Umm
Hashim and other stories, (translated by Denys Johnson-Davies), 2004.
Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Father” is from
Palace Walk, translated
by William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny, (volume I of
Gamal al-Ghitani’s “Naguib Mahfouz’s Chidhood” is from
Dialogs (English translation © Humphrey Davies), 2007.
Samia Mehrez’s “Respected Sir” is from
Egyptian Writers between History
and Fiction: Essays on Naguib Mahfouz, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Gamal
Khairy Shalaby’s “Fist Fight” is from
The Lodging House (English translation
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