Alone this Valentine's, Mouwafak Chourbagui has decided to express his love to the city instead.
I can see your tired eyes watching over all the broken souls that call you home. You do your best to keep your heart open despite all the abuse. They’ve built roads on your neck and malls on your hips, and now your shoulders can barely carry the weight of our dreams. Your feet keep moving forward nonetheless; the Victorious never gives up.
Your beauty has seduced many men throughout the years: The Fatimids, the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the French, The British. They’ve all come to take a piece of you, but it is you who has ended up taking a piece of them. Your body is now an endless maze filled with mesmerizing snippets from different lovers, their silhouettes lingering over your skin, your skin flowing into our veins.
Your current lover isn’t very kind I hear and you’ve taken up chainsmoking to cope with the bootstraps that trample all over your body. But you’ve outlasted them all, my darling, and I promise this time will be no different. Everything eventually returns to square one. Your scars are not a sign of waning splendor, but of resilience. They make up your character.
This is why Sufis still whirl in your grace, artists still create in your honor and cats still purr in your belly. In your hidden alleyways, I have seen you turn a beggar into a poet and a pasha into a beggar. Your beautiful chaos may inspire or unsettle, harm or heal, but it leaves no one indifferent.
It must not be easy to offer your children hope after everything you’ve endured, but know that your love for us is not unrequited. They might inflict you with scars, but the architects of your decay will never steal your soul. It is still visible in the dust that rests above abandoned cars, in the wooden turquoise doors that open parallel universes, in the old elevators that embrace shadows of yesteryear and in the wrinkled hands of craftsmen who haven’t digitized their passion.
When you whisper into our ears the burden of your desolation, we revive your fragile heartbeat with an endless loop of sounds; from your thousand minarets, to our million car horns, we remind you that as long as we are alive, you are too. It must be overwhelming, though, to host so much life; the young and the old, the affluent and the destitute, the citizen and the passenger. Not everyone appreciates you, I know. Some litter your body with their gluttony, others climb on your back believing you owe them the summit.Everyone has the right to break down from time to time.
At sunset, I float on your teardrops on a little wooden boat. You wink at me through the gentle flutter of the felucca sail and caress my loneliness with your warm breeze. We need not talk to connect; life and love can be found in silence too. As you take me to shore, I am catapulted once again into your bosom, into that bittersweet cacophony of noises and colors that make you so unique.
At night, I worry about you as you suddenly transform into a harem of men, your liver absorbing their melancholy in decrepit bars, your eyes witnessing their lust, your heart pounding for your daughters courageous enough to still set foot on your balcony. But the kind often outnumber the vicious, and despite the lingering aura of fear, your nights tend to flicker with lullabies of nostalgia, your arms rocking fully grown children – homesick for your past - gently to sleep.
But you never get to sleep, only rest. As the cars return to their ashrams and the stray animals regain control of the streets, you can finally take your shoes off and lie next to the moonlight. I wouldn't want to infringe on that space, so I let you be and wait patiently for your light to return. At dawn, I climb hastily to the roof and watch nightingales sing you back to me.
I sit on your lap and light one up in honor of both our corrupted lungs. I observe my cigarette smoke dance in the air towards you like drunken feathers in clouds of twirls, winking at my insignificance before being swallowed into oblivion by your almighty sun.
The picture in this article was taken by Raouf Salama