“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain”
from Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau.
More than a week ago, I wrote about designing book covers (Read here), and at the end of the article, I refereed to my room and promised to write and suggest some tips about designing your room, I got a few email asking for the article, bust watching Football kept me away, now, the World Cup is over (I was cheering for Argentina, but it wasn’t to be), I got some hours of spare time, so here is how I planned and designed my room:
As I mentioned in the previous article; designing a book cover is not much different from designing your room, or as a matter of fact; in designing anything that exist in nature, there are a few elements you have to consider; Space, Objects, Layout, Theme, Colors, and Time.
Having a deep passion for cinema, I wanted my room to become like an inside of a theater, the reason for that is because I use the room mostly to watch film and write, and in order for one to feel comfortable in an environment, one must reshape that environment to one’s liking and taste, only then can one become creative and feel comfortable.
One of the question that I’m always asked as to why I choose the color Red as the primarily color for the room? I chose is for the simple reason that it is my favorite color, and also; by its nature, Red is an active color, it attract the eye, move and animate one, but to balance the Red, the second color that I have used it Black, almost every object that I choose to decorate the room has a tone of black to it; from the DVD/Book Shelves, to the wood on the door, tables, furniture and even the frame of the posters on the wall, Black is the secondary color.
I like to think that I have divided the room into Seven different parts, each function independently from other in term of its suggestive layout, rather an abstract notion to explain, but I will try my best to point out the reason I divided the room into Seven parts:
1. Passion for Cinema: When you walk into the room, the first think you encounter is a collection of Film Posters on the wall (Read about my selection of Posters here), there are a total of 38 Film Posters, they are my favorite films from my favorite directors, I have designed some of the posters myself, others I have collected, some were given as a gift by friends (thanks Ruben), and I have printed most of them. The frame are made of wood, all in the same style; black. In a way, one side of the room is almost like a small wall on a museum to be looked at.
“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”
― from Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau.
2. DVD and Book Collection: On the other side of the wall, hang floating shelves, therefore taking very little space, for now; space are filling up, which mean in the future, I might have to add more shelves at the bottom of it. So far; it hold more than 720 DVD cases (total of 3330 DVDs in them), and more than 200 book. Although I primarily collect DVDs from Criterion, Master of Cinema, and other known publishing label, I also have large quantity of Film that I brought back from the States with only the disk and no cases, a reason that I decided to display the DVDs by directors and countries, for example; I have the complete works of Hitchcocks both on DVDs and Blu-rays, for the blu-rays they are in their own cases, but for the DVDs, I have combined many film into one case, therefore saving space, same is true for Soviet cinema; I managed to display one hundreds years of Soviet films into at total of 96 DVDs cases, there are total of 645 DVDs in those 96 cases. Continue reading “On Design: Room Design”
76 years ago, on April 1, 1937, Yilmaz Guney was born: He was born in the small village of Yenice near Adana in North Kurdistan under occupation of Turkey, to a peasant Kurdish family and went on to become a the most beloved Kurdish/Turkish filmmaker, and if had lived a full life, he could have been 76 years old today, but fate took him away at his peak, he died in 1984, in exile in Paris. He was called “The Ugly King”, labeled as the “People’s Artist”, he was never afraid to stand up to what he considered injustice, and for that, he paid dearly, spent half of his life either in prison or exile, yet, he left us with many cinematic gems. He was and is viewed as a mix of revolutionary of a pop icon, as someone put it, “Something like Clint Eastwood, James Dean, and Che Guevara combined”. Looking back at my film diary, here are a few of his film that recently I had a chance to write about:
Seyyit Han (Yilmaz Güney, 1968) As always, Guney leave you at the end of a film, breathless. Among his early work, Seyit Han is a part folktale, part western and a part revenge/superhero film, full of lyrical touches. The story of a tragic love affair between Seyyit Han, whom after seven year hunting down his enemies is back to claim his bride, Keje, but he soon find out that she is getting married to the village Agha, the same day as he get back. Brilliantly scripted, the film soon take a tragic turn as by mistake, the Agha tricks Seyyit Han into shooting Keje, when Han find out, he goes on a revenge spree in a masterful climax, with Guney’s direction, he makes times stop, the last ten minute is a visual tour force that matches any Kurosawa or Leone’s action scenes, one thing is sure, Guney know how to direct actions, the man seems to be a master everything. Beautiful. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE (IN KURDISH)
Umut (Yilmaz Guney, 1970) After watching Guney’s Umut, Elia Kazan was so moved by the film, he wrote an article to the Miliyet newspaper; “Umut is a poetic film, completely native, not an imitation of Hollywood or any of the European masters, it had risen out of a village environment”, he went on to describe how the characters in the film came across as the most realistic portrayal of the working class; “I had not been able to forget the people in Guney’s story. The notion of hope is seemed to these characters a grotesque notion, something to be ridiculed. After I have seen the film, for the rest of that day, I felt anxious about them, “What is going to happen to those people to those people?”, I asked”. My friend, watch Umut, the one film that revolutionized the Turkish cinema, brought the realism to the screen that few other film could match. READ ELIA KAZAN’S VISIT TO GUNEY IN PRISON HERE (IN KURDISH)
Baba (Yilmaz Guney, 1971) Baba means Father in Turkish, and the father in the film is Yilmaz Guney himself; the story of a poor country father who end up taking the blame for a murder he has not committed, take the guilt of a rich man upon himself for the sake of his family, as he leave them behind, telling the lie that he travels to Germany to find work, only to come back many a years later from prison, old and grey, he finds he ugly truth; the was betrayed by the rich man, and what has remain of his family is his daughter, force into prostitution to make a living. Heartbreaking tragic story of a common man lead a stray by the greed of a few. The film was an inspiration for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys (2008)
Umutsuzlaraka The Hopeless One (Yilmaz Guney, 1971) When one think of Yilmaz Guney, one think of him as a great director, but he is also a great actor, just watch Umutsuzlar and notice how he had created a characters that from the first frame of the film to the last has a continuity to him that few could achieves, a characters full of pain and sorrow expressed through gestures rather than dialogues. Umutsuzlar is a visual film, there are few dialogues, instead, the visual and music tell the story, it has a slow pace, rather a beautiful pace to it that one could find in Fassbinder’s films. Few could compare Guney to Hitchcock, but there is a similarity between Umutsuzlar and Vertigo and I could even go so far as to make the statement that it is among the fewest film to captures the spirit of Vertigo; both films are about a man’s desire to create a woman in his own vision, past and the memory of the past dominate the film. There are scenes in Umutsuzlar that are as powerful as Vertigo in expressing the desire and the love between the two characters, compare the wedding scene Vertigo‘s hotel scene, even the camera work is similar, they both move in a circle as the two lover embrace each other. Then there is the music, a theme that is played from the beginning of the film over negative images of the character in red, and keep playing the same theme every time the two lover recall the pain of separating, the theme connect the space between them. The power of cinema is to create a feeling, to create a thought in the viewer indirectly and Guney manages to create that with empathy to the character’s pure emotion that we share. Umutsuzlar is a purist film, a visual tour de force from Guney, a forgotten masterpiece. A tragic film about love, grief, pain, memory and longing. Continue reading “Yilmaz Guney”
I have been watching Football since I was a little kid, and in my lifetime, I have never seen such perfection and mastery in playing Football as watching FC Barcelona play for the past four years, they were and are in my opinion and that of many the greatest team ever played the game, especially under Pep Guradiola, the club lifted 14 trophies out of 19 competitions, a record that will never be broken, nor a team like that will ever to be seen again playing the beautiful game, they are one football team that I love and admire most.
Pushkin once said, “What has been will not be Again”, it is true for this beautiful team also, despite annihilating all their opponents in La Liga this year, and ahead of their main rival, Real Madrid by 16 point, therefore, already in the driving set for another La Liga title, yet, some questions has been asked as to Barca’s “ending era”, for in the past few weeks, the team lost two match, one very crucial, the away game of the Champion League to AC Milan, losing 2-0, and last night, a less significant match, losing to their arch rival, Madrid in el clasico, 3-1, for all the talks of Barcelona’s era ending, it is total nonsense, for the same players who won everything under Guradiola can do the same again under a brilliant tactical coach, and they were doing it under Guradiola’s assistance and Barca’s new coach, Tito Vilanova, but since his temporary departure from the club and treatment for Parotid gland cancer, Barcelona had suffered unlike before, the team is lacking something, they are missing a coach, a tactical one, and that only made their opponent to out maneuver them tactically and therefore defeating them even if Barca were the better of the two team. Continue reading “FC Barcelona in a Game of Chess”
A few weeks ago it snowed in Suli, I took my camera to the roof, and took some pictures, snow is perfect for photography, for the texture of the snow itself work as a light reflector, even at night, the landscape is flooded with light, when shooting indoor, it is a perfect source of soft light. After taking the picture, added some over the top filters from Photoshop, the result is not bad:
I have seen many houses in my time, traveled many places, many cities, towns and villages since my childhood, and each time revisiting the places, I had noticed many changes in them, from tragic to that of joy, but one of the houses that had always kept a vivid memory in me, the changes in that house, of the people in the house, has been so tragic, that just thinking of it make my heart heavy.
The house, or rather, the mud house that once were, is located in the upper northern part of the Shadala village, a 45 minute care ride from the city of Suliaimani now, but in the old days, it took half a day to reach it; the house with its mud roof, gray walls and big rooms looks upon the whole village as towering figure. The first time I visited the house was many years ago, I was a little kid of seven, I remember vividly playing Football on the roof of the house with other kids, every few minutes the ball would roll down into the ground, down into the village, across the streets, one of the us had to make the long journey of bringing the ball back.
Every summer, with my father, we would make a journey to Shadala village, for my grandmother was from the village, and most of my Father’s distance relative reside there. The house belonged to kak Ahmed, he was a distance cousin of my father. It was my first visit to the house, and I remembers it very distinctly.
When we got to the house, my Father left me alone in a little room, as he went with kak Ahmed to visit the village, I sat in a corner, shy, not knowing what to do, until a little woman of forty, the wife of kaka Ahmed walked into the room, seeing me sitting alone, she shouted to his little son, who was playing outside, “Come and play with Haji Sharif’s son”. Everyone in the village, then, and even know, referred to me as “Haji Sharif’s Son”, for my father is almost like a cult figure among the people of the village.
Her son, Rejan, was of the same age as me, skinny with green eyes, he seemed fragile and pale, we became friend right away. He told me about a beehive they had, and being mischief of a boy, I wanted to see the hive, he took me to it, all the time telling me on the way not to touch it. I picked up a stick, into the hive, suddenly, bees everywhere, attacking, a few bite here and there, I started to cry as loud as possible, all the time, Rejan trying his best to comfort me, “It is nothing, look, I got bitten many times”, he took a handful of mud and put it on the places where I was bitten, comforting me, “It is nothing”
Five minute later I was sitting on a big soft carpet, eating lunch with the family. There were smell of freshly baked bread, goat milk and chess, sweet honey and hot tea. On the mud walls, hang three portraits; two young boys and a little girl, on the corner of the room, the mother was sewing little socks for Rejan, now and them, she would look at us with a smile.
After dinner, I could not help but whisper to my Father; as to whom the people in the pictures were? “They were the children of kaka Ahmed”, but as I looked across the room, there were only Rejan, his older brother, Ibrahim and younger sister, Sazan, and the pictures on the wall were not of them, “Where are they now”?, I whispered again to my father, “They are dead”, he whispered back to me.
On the way back home, my Father explained to me the tragic story of kak Ahmed; As a young man, he had married his cousin, and living in the countryside, the place lacked medical facility, and even in the cities back then, there were no such things as “screening tests” or “blood testing” nor “genetic testing” for newly weeded couple. The tragedy is that their blood did not match, whenever they had children, they’ll have thalassemia, an inherited disease occurring primarily among people of Mediterranean descent, that is caused by defective formation of part of the hemoglobin molecule, it cause in increasing numbers of red blood cells, the only cure is to have blood transfusions every month in order to keep the children alive. They had three children, and each of them died when they reached the age of 18, a painful slow death, for the multiple transfusions needed to sustain life lead to an iron overload throughout the tissues of the body and eventual destruction of the heart and other organs. But, they kept having children, hoping; at least one of them would be born healthy, but none were. Each month they had to have blood transfusion for the children, but even that was helpless, for by the time they reach the age of 18, they would die a slow painful death. “Will Rejan die when he is 18?”, I asked my father, he was silent for a while, then in a whisper, “God only knows”. I felt desperate and sad, knowing that the young boy whom I had just become friend, so full of life, will die when he is 18, and no one could do anything about it.
I left for America few years later, forgetting all about Rejan. 11 years later after my first visit, I returned to the house again with my father, the same mud house, with the roof looking down on the village, as I entered the house I heard the same “Haji Sharif’s Son” echo through it, they recognized me at once, the mother kept looking at me, “You are grown so tall”, sadness in her voice, her green eyes full of sorrow, her hair was already getting grey. There was the same smell of freshly baked bread, goat milk and chess, sweet honey and hot tea, but yet, there was a change; beside the portrait of three children, hung a portrait of little Rejan, his death had occurred a year before. Reminiscences began, as I looked at the portrait; I recalled Rejan’s smiling face, and his ringing voice, comforting me when I was bitten by the bees, “It is nothing”. I had to walk out of the room, as I knew if I had stayed any longer, I would burst into tears. Maybe I reminded the mother of Rojan, or maybe she knew about my grief, for as I left the room, she began to shed tears, I could hear her crying.
At dinner, I sat beside Ibrahim, despite being older than Rojan, he had outlived him, he was 23, but he already looked like an old man; his face wrinkled, yellowish, with no color in his skin, yet, he was as cheerful as Rojan, laughing all the time in a ringing voice that reminded me of Rejan. His younger sister, Sazan also looked much older than her age; she also had beautiful green eyes, just like Rejan and her mother. Each month, they both needed new blood transfusion. I looked at the mother on the corner, she was breast feeding a new baby, a new girl, kaka Ahmed kept saying that the Doctor had told them that his new girl needed no blood transfusion, was healthy to live a long life, but the doctor was not sure nor was kak Ahmed. When we drove home this time, I did not ask my father any question, we both kept silent.
A few days ago, once again, I visited the little house, alone this time; it was for the wedding of kaka Ahmed’s nephew, I had promised the groom to take picture at his wedding, and as I was busy taking pictures, a beautiful, green eyed little girl of 7 ran up to me, with her ringing voice, she shouted to me, “Are you Haji Sharif’s son?”, “Yes, I’m, and who you might be?”, “I’m Suzan”, “Well, Suzan khan, who is your father?”, “My Father is Ahmed?”. There it was, little Suzan, she had the same green eyes as that of Rejan, the same cheerful smile. “Can you take some picture of me? Please”. I took more than a dozen pictures of little Suzan, all the time a dreadful though in me kept growing, is she also sick? That evening, I went back to the house, no longer a mud house; a two story modern brick house, with all the modern convenience furniture decorating the place. Walking to the room, I saw the mother, she was sitting on a sofa sewing, the television was on, little Suzan was watching a cartoon of Tom and Jerry, on seeing me, the mother stood, “Haji Sharif’s Son”, her hairs all gray now, she was already an old woman.
I sat beside kaka Ahmed at dinner, the room was crowded, many people from the wedding party coming in and going out of the room, laughter and cheerful smiles. I had the burning desire to ask kak Ahmed about little Suzan, was she was sick or not? but I dared not too. Looking at the portraits on the wall, there were now seven pictures, beside Rejan, there were also Ibrahim and Sazan and another little girl that I did not recognize. Seeing me observing the pictures, kaka Ahmed asked, “You were friend with Rejan and Ibrahim?”, “Yes, I was” I felt uncomfortable, and trying to change the subject, I asked him, “I didn’t know Suzan was your daughter, I took some great pictures of her at the weeding, from whom did she get such beautiful eyes?”, “From her Mother’s side of the family”, kaka Ahmed said with a smile, looking at her wife.
I found him a cheerful man, always smiling, despite the fact that he had to live with the agony of losing seven children. “You know, my little Rejan had the same eyes as hers, he was beautiful like her, and he was so smart, he had the brain of a grownup man. One time I took him to the city to get a blood transfusion, it was during the time of Iraq-Iran war, we went to all the civilian hospital in the city, none had any blood, and my little Rejan was already weak, he couldn’t walk, I had to carry him on my back, I feared for his life, and I became desperate, searching from one hospital to another, but he kept comforting me, ‘”we will find it daddy”’, he kept saying. I managed to get a piece of paper from a Doctor, allowing me to get blood from the military hospital in the city, back them, the Azadi park was an Iraqi military hospital. We had to walk an hour to get there, all the time carrying Rejan on my back, and he kept kissing me on the neck, ‘”we will find it daddy’”. When we got to the hospital, the place was like hell on earth, Iraqi choppers flying in and out, brining in the wounded and carrying out the dead, the road leading to the hospital was like a bloody river, red from blood of wounded and dead soldiers laying around. When I saw that, my knee gave in, I told Rejan that they will never give us blood with all the wounded soldiers laying around, but he kept saying with a smile, ‘”we will find it daddy”’. I went to the head doctor in the hospital, at first he refused to give us the blood, but when he saw Rejan, his heart got soften, he took us to a refrigerated room, and gave us two bags of blood. When he gave me the bags, I shed tears of joy, knowing my little Rejan will live another month. He was so full of life, always happy and smiling. He liked chocolate candies, and there was a shop in the village that sold it. One day he told me to buy him some chocolate candies, I took him to the shop, there were a group of Iranian Peshmerga forces stationed around the village back then, one of them was in the shop, when he saw Rejan, he started to hug him and kiss him, “I have a little son just like him in Iran”, Rejan reminded him of his son, he took him to the shop and told him to get anything he wanted, “I will pay for it”, but Rejan would not pick anything, he did not want him to pay, when he left the shop, then he picked the chocolate candies, and I paid for it. That is how he was; he always cared for others more than himself. A week after he died, when the same Peshmerga heard about his death, he came to our house, before he reached the front door, he went down on his knee, in the mud, shouting and crying, hitting his fist to the ground, I had to go and comfort him, “Come on now, you should be comforting me, I’m the one who have lost a son, but instead, I’m comforting you.” He was crying all day, telling me that he had seen many of his friend die in battle, but never cried like he did for Rejan, “Why did God take him away, he was so innocent, so full of life”, but God’s will is God’s will. Every Friday until the day he left back to Iran he visited his grave, I wish to know where he is now, he was a gentleman, Rejan reminded him of his son, that is why he was so taken by his death”
As I looked at Suzan, with her beautiful green eyes watching the television, I could not help but ask kak Ahmed the burning question, “Does Suzan also needs blood transfusion every month?”, “No, thanks God, she is healthy. God gave her to us healthy”. Just then, little Suzan, knowing we were talking about her, ran to his father, gave him a big hug, her little arms around his nick, I could see kak Ahmed’s eyes smiling with joy, “Do you know who this young man is who has come to our house?”, he asked her, pointing to me, “Yes, he is Haji Sharif’s son”, she whispered into his ear, they both laughed.
I could not bear it anymore, at that second, the tragedy and the joy of life combined were too much to bear, I picked up my camera and walked out of the room; into the cold, windy, dark night, and my heart was heavy.
Ah, the face, the expression of the face is a beautiful thing, captured in time, it is the most beautiful thing in the universe. You may say, what is expression of the face captured in time? It is those little split of second, when only the visual expression is capable of connecting the emotion that one is hiding, as time slows down into eternity, at that split of a second, language become secondary to the visual in connecting one’s deepest thoughts, almost like a magnate, both side are at the end of the receiving, giving and experiencing the same feeling.
If you ever been love, if you ever been out of love, meet the one you love most again, but unable to talk, you use expression in time in showing your emotion, you maybe be talking in language about Nuclear Physic, but your face express your emotion more than your deceiving language, as time slow down into eternity. Ever been guilty of something and the person you talk to know your guilt, but both avoid talking about? or ever lied to someone and the one knows you are lying? or ever expressed a moment in which your life in a danger, you think you will die any second? as time stops, everything slow down, and you expression is lost in time, language in unable to express you emotion at those times, your memory became almost like a mirror reflecting the imagery in your expression, that is the most beautiful, because it is the only time in which one can tell that the ultimate truth in communication is reached.
Charles Darwin wrote a brilliant small treatment on Expression of Emotion, not just in Human, but all other creatures, it is a recommend reading; The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)
In life, those precious seconds passes in real time for an observer, stored in the subconscious, it is the task of Art to capture it, and above all the arts, it is Cinema that can capture that split second of magic of the human face so brilliantly, and no one, and I say it loudly, no one can capture that magnificent emotion like the great Japanese master, Yasujiro Ozu. The last 10 minute of Tokyo Story (1954) is a text book of capturing Human Expression in Time, such masterly in little calculation of gestures, actions, and movement of the face, just watch the great Setsuko Hara, how she avoid in language showing her true feeling, but the expression on her face communicate her emotion to the audience as if in whispers, it is such a universal language in communication that you could read all her thoughts, and you can’t help yourself bursting into tears with her in the train, at the end of the film, as finally, the emotion became too much to carry on silently.
After cinema, it is Photography that manages to freeze those tiny moment in time, to me, Henri-cartier Bresson comes to mind, once in high school I saw his famed photograph, Boy carrying a wine bottle (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954) in a textbook, and the happy expression on the face of that little boy, carrying those wine bottles was stuck in my mind, so stuck, that even now, I could clearly recall his happiness; so pure, innocent and gentle, and that little girl behind him, mouth wide opened, clapping, eyes full of laughter as if saying, “oops, I’m in the picture”, the images spoke the language of emotion.
There is also Painting, the master of capturing expression in time is no other than the Dutch master, Rembrandt, at times, looking at his painting, one could hear sounds, language spoken in gazes of the eyes alone, or the little twisting the lips, whispers, communicating a world full of secretes.
Then comes language, describing that magic moments in literature and poem, for poetry, Poe is the master, for he speak in images. For literature, it is no other than my favorite author, Tolstoy. The moment that always comes to my mind is from War and Peace; when Natasha meet Prince Andrew, after so many years, she meet the wounded and dying Prince Andrew; he got little tome to live, and Natasha, well, Natasha is incapable of expressing in word what her emotion express:
From War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1869)
“….and she saw Prince Andrew clearly with his arms outside the quilt, and such as she had always seen him.
He was the same as ever, but the feverish color of his face, his glittering eyes rapturously turned toward her, and especially his neck, delicate as a child’s, revealed by the turn-down collar of his shirt, gave him a peculiarly innocent, childlike look, such as she had never seen on him before. She went up to him and with a swift, flexible, youthful movement dropped on her knees.
He smiled and held out his hand to her.
Prince Andrew collected all his strength in an effort to recover his senses, he moved a little, and suddenly there was a ringing in his ears, a dimness in his eyes, and like a man plunged into water he lost consciousness. When he came to himself, Natasha, that same living Natasha whom of all people he most longed to love with this new pure divine love that had been revealed to him, was kneeling before him. He realized that it was the real living Natasha, and he was not surprised but quietly happy.
Natasha, motionless on her knees (she was unable to stir), with frightened eyes riveted on him, was restraining her sobs. Her face was pale and rigid. Only in the lower part of it something quivered.
Prince Andrew sighed with relief, smiled, and held out his hand.
‘You?’ he said. ‘How fortunate!’
With a rapid but careful movement Natasha drew nearer to him on her knees and, taking his hand carefully, bent her face over it and began kissing it, just touching it lightly with her lips.
‘Forgive me!’ she whispered, raising her head and glancing at him. ‘Forgive me!’
‘I love you,’ said Prince Andrew.
‘Forgive what?’ he asked.
‘Forgive me for what I ha-ve do-ne!’ faltered Natasha in a scarcely audible, broken whisper, and began kissing his hand more rapidly, just touching it with her lips.
‘I love you more, better than before,’ said Prince Andrew, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes.
Those eyes, filled with happy tears, gazed at him timidly, compassionately, and with joyous love. Natasha’s thin pale face, with its swollen lips, was more than plain, it was dreadful. But Prince Andrew did not see that, he saw her shining eyes which were beautiful.”
A year ago, I experienced a near death incident, and for a split second in time, everything stopped, it is hard for word to describe that feeling when one’s life is in danger to someone who had not experienced it, for it is beyond the law of Science and Logic, time seems to stop; as I was running, in the span of a short time, covering no more than 8 feet, so many different images and emotion flashed one after the others in my mind. Let Tolstoy describe best that split seconds of expression in emotion as time stops, how masterful the following description is of the last 5 second in the life of Praskukhin, only 5 second in time, but eternity in emotion:
From Sebastopol Sketches (Leo Tolstoy, 1855)
Praskukhin, who was walking abreast with Mikhaylov, had just left Kaliigin, and was beginning to revive a little, as he approached a less dangerous spot, when he saw a flash gleaming brightly behind him, and heard the shout of the sentry,” Mortar!” and the words of one of the soldiers walking behind, ” It will fly straight to the bastion!”
Mikhaylov looked back. The bright point of the bomb had just stopped in his zenith, when by its position it was impossible to determine its direction. But this lasted only a moment: faster and faster, nearer and nearer, so that the sparks of the fuse could be seen and the fatal whistling could be heard, the bomb was settling down straight over the battalion.
” Lie down,” cried somebody’s voice.
Mikhaylov and Praskukhin lay down on the ground. Praskukhin closed his eyes and only heard the bomb’s thud against the hard earth near by. A second passed, — it seemed an hour, — and the bomb did not explode. Praskukhin was frightened: had he been cowardly for nothing? Maybe the bomb had fallen some distance off, and he only imagined that the fuse was hissing near him. He opened his eyes, and it gave him pleasure to see Mikhaylov lying near his very feet, motionless on the ground. Just then his eyes for a moment met the burning fuse of the bomb spinning around within three feet from him.
Cold terror, which excluded all other thoughts and feelings, — terror seized his whole being. He covered his face with his hands.
Another second passed, — a second during which the whole world of feeling, thoughts, hopes, and recollections flashed through his imagination.
” Whom will it kill, — me or Mikhaylov ? or both of us ? And if me, where will it be ? In the head, — then all is ended ; but if in the leg, they will amputate it, and I will insist on their giving me chloroform, and I may still live. And, maybe, it will kill only Mikhaylov: then I will tell how we walked abreast, and how I was bespattered by blood, when he was killed. No, it is nearer to me — I will be the man!”
Here he thought of the twelve roubles which he was owing Mikhaylov, and of another debt in St. Petersburg, which he ought to have paid long ago; the gipsy melody which he had sung the night before passed through his mind. The woman whom he had loved appeared before his imagination in a cap with lilac ribbons; he recalled a man who had insulted him five years before, and whose insult he had not yet avenged, — though inseparably from these and from a thousand other recollections, the feeling of the present, the expectation of death, did not leave him for an instant.
” Still it may not burst,” he thought, and, with desperate determination, wished to open his eyes. But at this moment, even while his hands were closed, his eyes were startled by a red fire; with a terrible crash something struck his chest; he ran, tripped over his sabre, which was dangling between his legs, and fell on his side.
“Thank God! I am only contused,” was his first thought, and he wanted to touch his breast with his hands; but his arms felt as though fettered, and his head was as if in a vise. In his eyes flashed the soldiers, and unconsciously he counted them: ” One, two, three, soldiers ; and the one with his overcoat rolled under him is an officer,” he thought. Then a lightning flashed in his eyes, and he was wondering what it was they were firing, — a mortar or a cannon. Then they fired again; and there were more soldiers: five, six, seven soldiers passed by. He was suddenly horrified at the thought that they might crush him. He wanted to cry out that he was bruised; but his mouth was so parched that his tongue cleaved to the palate, and terrible thirst tormented him.
He felt that it was wet near his breast; this sensation of wetness reminded him of water, and he wanted to drink even that which caused that moisture.
” I must have braised the flesh as I fell,” he thought, and, beginning more and more to succumb to the fear that the soldiers, who continued flashing past him, would crush him, he collected all his strength, and wanted to shout, ” Take me !” But instead of this he groaned so terribly that he was horrified at the sound he himself made. Then some red fires leaped in his eyes, — and he thought that the soldiers were putting rocks on him; the fires leaped about ever less frequently, and the rocks pressed him more and more. He made an effort to push aside the rocks, and he no longer saw, nor heard, nor thought, nor felt. He had been instantly killed by a splinter that had struck his chest.
How about Music, the most abstract of all the art, can it capture human expression in time? Yes it can, when music speak in images, Richard Wagner does it best, he uses silence in order to stretch the time, painting pictures in Music, those magnificent long chords in Tristan und Isolde, stretched into eternity.
I’m currently working on a documentary with John Simpson for the BBC on the 25th anniversary of the chemical attack of Halabja in 1988. John was the first Western journalist to report on the attack, ignored by many in other Western media outlet, he flew on his own in an Iranian chopper from Tehran to Halabja.
Yesterday, we met Nasrin, one of the survivors the attack. She was 16 years old when it happened, she lost 17 relatives, including her Mother, Father, two Brothers and two Sisters. She told us a tragic story of how she managed to escape the city, carrying with her three little children, two of them on her back, carrying the third one on her arms, by the time she managed to get to safety outside the town, the children and herself went blind from the effect of the mustard gas that was used.
She told us that she did not know that Sarin gas was also used, which made many of the victim lose their mind and consciousness, becoming delirious before they died, “I thought the children were sleeping on my shoulder and dreaming, for the kept calling their mothers, one of them was repeating, ‘I haven’t done my homework, I have to finish my homework’, before they died, they keep saying that they can’t see anything, that everything was dark, and I thought they were talking in their sleep, I keep telling them to go back to sleep, “You will see when you wake up from the sleep, it won’t be dark anymore”
We interviewed her by the same cellar that many of the victims had died. She told us that the effect of the gas could still be felt, John and the cameraman, Duncan, went into the cellar, they stayed for a few minute, when they came out, with eyes red, running nose, they told us that there was a cat hanging on the wall, seem to have died recently from the effect of the gas. I myself felt the effect later, as I was standing by the entrance to the cellar, doing the interview. After 25 years of the attack, you could still feel it. Nasrin told us that once they put chickens into the cellar, in less than a week, all of them were dead. They no longer used the cellar, for it was too dangerous. Later, when we asked an export about our running nose, red eyes and that tickle in our throat, he told us that were were exposed to a very light dose of mustard gas, and it was of no danger. He examined another cellar at a short distance from Nasrin’s house, and indeed found small dosage of mustard gas, he had a detecting devise with him. The effect lasted for about two hours, we were advised to wash our face, we went into a mosque and washed our faces, still, the headache lasted for another six hours.
This is Nasrin’s story, the way she told us, in her language ….
I was 16 years old when Halabja was attacked. All that day, on March 16, 1988, the town was under heavy artillery bombardment from the Iraqi army. Many people had taken shelters in basement and cellars. Like the days before, a war between Iraq and Iran was raging. Daily bombardment was taking place between the two countries. Halabja was a border town, close to the Iranian border. To shelter ourselves from the bombs, daily, we would take refuge in cellars and basements. On that day, we thought it would be a usual day of bombing, we had no knowledge that a catastrophe would take place. We came down to this cellar, which belong to my family. My own house was at a distance from here. I was not the only one to take refuge here, I could say that there were more than 300 people who where gathered in the cellar; relative, neighbors and strangers. We took shelter here waiting to see what would happen. The place was crowded, my mother told us to get some food prepared for those who were staying.
Earlier that day, in the morning, Iraqi choppers were flying over Halabja. I saw the choppers flying overhead. I was here in the garden. One of the chopper was flying very low overhead. I knew it was Iraqi chopper, because one of the door had an Iraqi flag on it. One of the crew by the door was taking pictures of us. This cellar was crowded, and the children didn’t realize the danger, I remember, the children waved at the choppers, waved to the pilot. The chopper kept going around, taking pictures, the flash of the camera was hitting us. Some of the people told us that we should take shelter, it was not normal that something like that was happening, we should be scared. We should all go down to the cellar, but the house was crowded and we could not fit everyone into the cellar.
Some had to stay up here to prepare the food and what was needed. I, myself, with two of my sisters were preparing the food for the people. It was around 11 AM, toward afternoon,we were ready to serve the food, ready to eat. My uncle’s family came to our house and told us that it was very dangerous, we heard unfamiliar sound of bombs falling. They told us that in the northern part of the city, around Sarai Halabja, heavy bombs were falling, we could hear the sound, and the grounds was shaking under our feet.
Then, I heard a sound that was unfamiliar to me, I never had heard such a sound before, sound of a bomb falling to the ground near our house. Suddenly, the cellar became dusty, heavy smoke filled the place. I ran out of the cellar. Because there was no water and no electricity, we had brought up the water from the well to use it. When I came up, I saw the water, it was black, what look liked black powder covered the water. The food plates that were prepared for lunch was covered with what looked like black ashes. We had birds, partridges in our garden, they were jumping up and down. I picked one of them from under the trees. They were dying, trying to take their last flight, taking their last breath. I didn’t know what was happening, I told my brother about it, he told me, “Nasrin, leave them, come down to the cellar”. I went down to the cellar, everyone in the cellar had red eyes, they were vomiting.
Before the bombs had fallen, some of the people from the cellar went outside to a field across from the house. When they had seen the smoke and the bomb falling, some of them came back to help us, one of them was my husband. When he came to the cellar, he shouted , “For God sake, come outside, we have been attacked by chemical weapons”. At that time, he was a doctor at the military hospital. He was trained on chemical warfare and the use of gas masks. He was aware of what precaution to take. He told us that Halabja is under Chemical attack, that the smoke was that of a chemical weapon. When we came up from the cellar, we notice that our place had a different smell from the one across the street. The wind was coming upward, bringing the smell here, you could notice by the smell that the air was poisonous.
As I mentioned, because of the daily artillery attacks, we never predicted a chemical attack. When we came out, we tried to escape, to get way from Halabja. The gas smelled like that of a rotten eggs, apples, from times to times, the smell would change. Apple, other time a rotten smell. We looked for a car, we didn’t have one ourselves, we tried to find one and take the people away. We couldn’t find any car. One of the man who was in the cellar had a tractor. He told us that he would bring his tractor and take away the children, old people and those who were severely wounded.
We put the old people and the children into the tractor. Some of us went with them to help, myself, my brother, Luqman, the wife of the driver of the tractor and a few others, we went along, the tractor was crowded. It was getting late, toward evening when we started to leave. We had plan to go outside Halabja, to Sarkani Tawera, to stay there and see what would happen to Halabja. We never expected to leave Halabja, we had plan to go to the edge of the town, hoping to return once the attack was over. When we went up toward the northern part of the town, a bomb hit the road, the driver had to make a turn. I saw that many people were laying on the roads, I couldn’t believe that they were all dead. I thought they were asleep, or had walked in their sleep to that place. It was not just one or two person, there were so many, they all looked asleep, no wounds or blood on them. At first when we saw few of the bodies, you could imagine they were dead, but when you saw so many of them, on the road, laying down there, you couldn’t believe they were all dead, it was hard to believe.
When we escaped, just outside of the town, the driver of the tractor, because of the effect of the gas could not drive anymore, he could not concentrate, as if losing his mind, he told us that he could not drive anymore, the engine of the tractor turned off, he tried hard to start it again, but he could not. We had no choice but to get off. By now it was dark, it was nighttime. At that place where the tractor broke down, we had an Old Man with us by the name of Hama Khan, to this day, we don’t know what happened to him, he was lost. We had a plan to meet my Mom, my Dad, my brothers, sisters and my cousins in Sarkani Tawera, because of that, everyone in the tractor wanted to go to that place to meet our relative again. We were not familiar as to where we were at, because it was dark and we were in a desperate situation. We had planned to save the children in the tractor, each person would carry two children, one on the back, and holding the other in our arms. Then, we took on the road, to escape, but we we could not find the place, we couldn’t. Someone came and asked us as to where we were heading? We told him that we were heading to Sarakani Tawera. He told us that we would not make it to Sarkani Tawera. He told us to go toward the lights that we could see in the dark, a place called Ababaili.
We took the road toward the light, a village called Ababaili. Once we got there, we saw that the place was deserted, it was also attacked. Because we were in a desperate situation, and on the road the children kept vomiting, and they were walking in their sleeps. I didn’t know what was happening, on the road, some of them kept saying, “Sister, I have to do my homework”. I didn’t know that the nerve gas had made the children lose their mind. I thought that they were asleep and were dreaming, talking in their sleep. No matter what, we had to carry them with us. We arrived in Ababaili, there was a house, half destroyed. We tried to get inside, on the other side, a door was open. We called out to the owner to come out, we didn’t know it was empty. There was nobody in the house, I told the other that we have no choice but to go inside and take refuge until next day.
When went inside the house, you could tell the place was crowded before, there were signs of life. We went into a room, all tired, wounded and in pain. We had come by the road, with the children, as if walking in a sleep, vomiting all the way, tired and confused. We put down the children in a room, they crawled to a corner. I went searching to get the children something to eat. I looked around, I could not find any food ready to eat. I opened a top of a container, it had milk in it. I tried to get the milk ready for the children. I could hear one of them shouting, “My eyes, I can’t see, I’m blind”, I thought that she was exhausted and wanted to sleep, that is why she was saying, “I’m blind”. Another one shouted that he was also blind, then, everyone kept shouting that they were blind. They kept asking me how I could see? I told them, trying to comfort them; “No, you all are tired and sleepy, you are not blind”, I didn’t know what was happening. When I was about to warm up the milk, it didn’t take long, I went blind also. I sat down on, crawled into the room, joined the others, and from that moment on, I lost consciences.
There were nobody around to help us. Next morning, when my family had arrived at the place that we were supposed to meet, they could not find us. My husband started to search for us, he had looked everywhere, asked around. He had visited the Mosque in the town, and they had told him that there were some people in that house. When he found us, he thought that we were all dead, he came into the room crying. My brother, Luqman shouted to him that we were not dead, that we were alive, but all blind, we could not see anything. He took our hand, took each of us to the Mosque. He washed our eyes and face. Told us that this had happened to all the people in Halabja, we were not the only ones, that we had no choice but to escape to Iran.
After all the suffering in the hospital, and living in Iranian refugee camps, we always had a dream of coming back to our homeland, to return to our homes. After the death of all our relatives, all the suffering, we had no choice but to return to Iraqi Kurdistan again. We returned, the story of our return is as tragic as the attack on Halabja, it will take along time to tell it.
This is Halabja. This house is not the only example, in many places of Halabja, the same weapon was used. You see all over Halabja, houses like this. We lived here for many years, now it is empty, it is empty because nobody want to come and live here. If you look closely into my eyes, you could see that I’m still wounded in the eyes. The wound that I have in my eyes is under constant doctor’s watch. I have lost my lungs, they no longer function. I have to get a surgery for my eyes in the future or I will go blind, there are many victims who had to get eye transplant because they were going blind.
Among the many who died in the cellar, from my family, I lost four of my sibling, two brothers and two sisters. Hawraman who was 8 years old, Ashna who was 10 years old, Wazera, who was 11 years old and Awesar who was 9 years old. I lost my Mom, my dad, and 17 other relatives. The final result that we got from hospitals, 22 victims from the cellar died in Iranian hospitals.
Every one want to live, to continue on living. But, what kind of life? A life without pain. We, in Halabja, after all that had happened to us, 25 years later, our suffering and pain still goes on. Everyday we live the day of the attack, because we are wounded, psychologically and physically, there are scars all over our bodies. The pain is still in our hearts, deep down, I suffer each second, remember that day on March 16, 1988, the day I lost everything that I cherished in life.
Here is also links to a few documentaries that I worked on in the past year:
Survivors of Iraqi Mass Graves aka One Thousand and One Apples (Taha Karimi) POST-PRODUCTION
Dress in Iraqi Kurdistan (Fulvia Alberti) WATCH HERE
The Dark Side of Democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan (BBC) WATCH HERE