Calligraphie of the desert



Saqi Books publisher, London 2020

Introduction by Isabelle Massoudy

128 pages 14,3 x 18,1 cm - english/arabic

It was 1973 in Algeria and we were crossing the stony plateau of southern Oran, in a bus bumping along a road straight as a die up to its vanishing point. I had seen our first Bedouin tent and our first camel. Hassan and I were going to Aïn Sefra. A few houses lay half-buried beneath the ochre sand.
Of course I found the desert beautiful, but I felt no special attraction to it. I should add that it was July and my body, which had never previously been outside Europe’s temperate climates, had other concerns than a full appreciation of the landscape. A few years later, we crossed Tunisia, going as far as Douz. The dunes there were of a paler sand, luminously white. The powerful attraction and the dream began there.
In Egypt, we returned to the desert on two occasions but still it remained impervious to us. Naturally its appeal grew all the greater and I was seized with an irresistible desire to go, and go straight into it.
For his part, Hassan began to extract from his reading statements
about the desert, about its silence and its space. Then he began to hand-write these lines in shades of sand while dreaming of the Iraqi childhood in Najaf, a spiritual desert hidden deep in his heart.
Then one day the desert came to us, opened up to us, in Mauritania, beyond Chinguetti. This long-dreamed-of desert was there, but quite different. A true desert, crushing and exalting at once, majestic, with a fluid, ungraspable sand, a desert of sensual, flesh-coloured dunes. My life was as if suspended, my eyes fixed upon the space. There, like so many before me, I was caught, spellbound.
Leaving was a great wrench; nowhere else had impressed me to such a degree. And from the moment of my departure, I thought of only one thing: how to return.....

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