Bleak as our enraged city certainly is, it is also a passionate city. It is a genteel city. A faithful city. It is a city of warmth, kindness and hospitality, in many ways, unlike any other city the world over. And perhaps that’s why the coldness, callousness and cruelty startle you in a fashion so much more disconcerting than in some other cities.
How is it possible for a people so intensely warm and alert to so quickly transform into such infuriatingly pathetic, inattentive asses in a blink of an eye?
You clearly see the grounding of the fidelity you encounter in our city in that could be clause of the last post. It is both one of our most debilitating weaknesses and our greatest strength. It holds our lives together. You could be anything you want to be, and you still remain a brother, mother, husband, father, sister, or a childhood companion, adored teacher or an old flame.
And that curse of long-term memory protects and preserves those ties.
It mostly averts such heart-wrenching scenes as that of the expectant gaze of the elderly in front of some nursing home on the weekends—waiting, hoping, wishing and praying for the visitors who never come.
You could be all wrinkly and a disruption to the routine of life, or could have outlived your “value,” to the society, or you could be a single mother or an unemployed divorcee, and, yet, those enduring obligations remain. And they remain with a vengeance.
Even the Dead beckon us unsparingly every Thursday or Friday—and this indeed even after decades. Go visit one of our burial grounds and judge for yourselves the hustle and bustle. Touch the fresh flowers, smell the rosewater, and read some of the most moving engraved poetry you’ll find anywhere and watch closely the tears of the heartbroken and those offerings of dates, sweets and fresh fruits.
In our city, some ties precede (and are privileged over) civil and religious laws and the various divisions and sub-divisions of the evolving social organization of the city that normally result from the interventions of myriad economic forces, or those ephemeral structures of state or religious institutions.
A tad more strongly, perhaps, than in some other cities!
And here we sense the essence of an ancient proverb that—in one of its many different formulations-- we should all be familiar with by now, no? I against my brother and my brother and I against the neighbor or the tribe and all of “us” insiders against “them” outsiders! (Khodie vs. Nakhodie/Either with us or against us!)
How a city, though, approaches those almost identical (human) impulses, desires, drives, and bonds of affection, as well as the prevailing attitudes of the city dwellers determine the nature of the city and its vibrancy.
Look again at those powerful images our aggrieved brother offers in his reprimand.
They are bedazzling: the violated sanctity of the castle; the tortured body, the unrecognizable presence, the broken hearts, the snapped neck; and the image of a distraught, forlorn mother. Ultimately that of the dolorous dancing body on the rope!
They touch you in ways akin to the soulful laments of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruits.” Those Southern trees are not the only ones bearing strange fruits, with “blood on their leaves and blood at their roots.” And it is not merely the image of those swinging black bodies that haunt you now. This city too has cultivated more than its fair share of strange fruits.
And as the song reminds us, there must be justice, and Justice remains distinct from a lynching.
Here, then, we come up against that bolted gate, and our nemesis which, in my view, is mostly one of our own creation. It has been and remains the source of my quarrel with the man who is chastising me.
It is also fundamentally my grievance against the city of my birth long-term.
Think about it: Even if or if not…still.
It is an astonishing attitude to have; one that does not allow itself to be affected by much of anything. It is not willing to test itself, and is not open to negotiations or falsification. A friend calls it flexible inflexibility.
It is somewhat of a perverted, subversive can-do Spirit.
It is tormented, tormenting and vengeful. It anchors itself in something “higher” and is “mystical.” It recreates petty bickering, gossip and meanness wherever it goes. It corrupts anything it touches.
If you send it to university, it comes out even more arrogant, pompous, entitled and condescending. Without access to education, it becomes more resentful, hate filled and destructive.
Blocked by laws or regulations, it will circumnavigate them and bribe its way out. When asked to reconsider, it will charge you with hypocrisy.
Put it to work and it is a law unto itself. It is just as ruthless as it is sycophantical. Sent home and given the oil money, it won’t let anyone be. Nothing is ever enough. It is perpetually indignant and envious. It is covetous and ravenous.
It is cocksure and so self confident of its own righteousness and utterly self-indulgent and ruinous. It has a kind of godlike outlook on life because it has seen the past already and fully knows the future. One that is “intuitive” in modern sense because it “just knows’ about the nature of things, the order of things, and how they’ll turn up--always.
In victory it becomes even more belligerent and boastful. Defeat it and it’ll write it off as bad luck or due to some vast conspiracy. It never tires of wallowing in self-pity.
It knows no shame.
Even if or if not…still.
This attitude is also one of the reasons our city is so unbearable when it comes to the routine and the mundane--the real stuff of life.
You wait your turn in line for an hour in a bank, grocery store or some government building, and even if it is a line, it still is not a line. Some punk cuts right in front of you without a second thought. So there are endless fights.
Even if the light is red and even if the street is a one way street, they remain still green light and still a two way street. And even if the road is the highway intended for cars and trucks, it is still the skating rink. And tens of thousands die!
Even if it loves beauty and even if it lives in some of the most enchantingly decorated, immaculately clean surroundings, and even if it is a park, picnic ground or public space, everywhere still is a dumpster when not the sole proprietor.
Even if the woman doesn’t want to be bothered, and even if she is wrapping herself in multiple layers of black cloths, she is still a slut, and still asking for it and still getting pinched. So women avoid walking alone and hardly ever smile. And this doesn’t begin to consider the laws of our reigning imbecility.
Even if there are building codes and even if the architects know how to design more resilient buildings and even if there are sturdy materials available, it is still a poorly constructed house and it still caves in, still killing untold numbers.
Even if you have millions, you are still poor. Even if you are pampered and spoiled, you are still a martyr.
Even if Daniel, Esther, and Mordacai have shrines visited by thousands of pilgrims a year within its sight, the Jews still belong in
Even if what they offer you is not good for you, it remains still good for you. And even if tens of millions refuse to consent to the Islamic government, it remains still consent and a shining example still of national unity.
Politics and culture are atrociously difficult to delineate.
And even if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder and even if you have pleurisy and even if you are allergic to penicillin, it is still bronchitis and the cure still penicillin and you remain still condemned to sudden death by callousness.
A callousness and inattentiveness which immediately vanish once you could be the physician’s brother or even if not, still a friend. And so nepotism, corruption and injustice reign wherever you go.
So you see, the fate of our city has not been carved in stone for me. It never had been. And neither has Ganji’s fate. It could be different. A change of attitude will do wonders. It could be that it partially releases the sort of creative energies suffocated too long in our city. More minds at work, and more participation and many more forces, and more possible solutions.
Or perhaps not, who knows for sure? But no city I know of has ever suffered seriously from an excess of empathy, wonder, introspection, critical thinking and attentiveness to the truth of things.
But as it stands, this even if or if not…still clause is an acquired habit that goes on to justify whatever it intends to see, do or say at any given moment. It comes close to being an addiction. Wordplay is merely so many footnotes and an afterthought.
And so long as this dreadful even if or if not…still attitude remains, we’ll tangibly have nothing more than false hopes and grand illusions when it comes to the possibilities of bringing to life a more civil, vibrant mode of being for that city no matter how many more bloody regime changes or peaceful reform movements we continue to have.
Although they remain a necessity, one fears that life will get much worst, or perhaps even slightly better with any luck, although, not anywhere close to what we desire or is within reach or palatable.
Because so long as we are unwilling to cease being self absorbed; as long as we prove incapable of looking past our own noses and remain unable to let go of our own vendettas or that unwillingness to briefly contain those impulsive, immediate petty ambitions or loathing; if, that is, we are unwilling to consent to surrendering a measure of our unbridled sovereignty to some norm slightly more enduring than ourselves, we effectively prevent the emergence of the sort of Wisdom that might then go on to formulate wiser or more just Laws. The type more suitable to the need of the city.
It is my desire and one wish to witness in my life time changes in our attitude and behavior so we can have a culture more nurturing of that orientation which might give us a secular democratic regime. And we can’t have that regime and its ancillary Wisdom without that requisite distance and due attentiveness to the truth value of things.
And if by some miracle, chance or change we appropriate or copy the already existent laws from somewhere and subsequently succeed in building a most beautiful
And if there were any, there would be no citizens who’d let them be without corrupting them. The type of citizens who’d consent to being respectful of those limits imposed by the judges and the enforcers of those laws on their behavior.
Yes, there are all types and all different causes at work here. But addiction remains addiction pure and simple. And all the rest only cunning wordplay to avoid the cures that are within reach. It is always possible to fight multiple causes on multiple fronts. Some are a lot easier to fight and win than others!
I might be unable to control the world, but me, I can control. Attitudes matter a great deal and they make or break a city.
So our city remains a loving city while being hateful. It is a city full of life and joy although terribly dreary and sad. It remains one hell of an intense city. A most sensual, coquettish city! You can taste life and see color and touch texture. It is a city you love to hate, but can’t help but love—in that pestering, tormenting, enduring kind of way.
And the city dwellers share a curious sense of time as well. This aspect we’ll explore next.