Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Salon


This beautiful image from Tara Bradford (who has a blog called Paris Parfait) captures the spirit of this week's post. In Monday's New York Times, I read this:

At the end of a week that included two spectacular bomb attacks, Ali al-Nijar left his home to talk about poetry. Mr. Nijar, a retired professor of agriculture, was squeezed in among 60 others at a weekly literary salon on Baghdad’s Mutanabi Street, one of about a dozen salons that have sprung up around the city in the last two years as violence has dropped.
“This is a product of freedom,” Mr. Nijar said, waiting for the featured speakers to arrive. The topic for the week was a poet named Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, one of the founders of modern Iraqi poetry. “Of course, there is fear in the city right now,” Mr. Nijar said. “But people don’t care about the bombings. I know the risk I’m taking, but I don’t care.”
For centuries salons were a vital part of Iraqi intellectual life, places where people of different classes or sects met to discuss culture, literature or ideas. At one time Baghdad had more than 200 salons, about a quarter of them run by Jews, said Tariq Harb, a lawyer who is a regular at several salons and hosts his own.
The article went on to describe a second salon, attended by both Shiite and Sunni clerics, women in headscarves and others without, even women smoking cigarettes, which John Leland, the author of the Times article, notes is a taboo in Iraqi public life.
     Usually, this blog focuses on divisions between people or dividing lines, so I'm happy to have an occasion to focus on people coming together around art, culture, ideas, eager to listen and exchange--even in the face of possible danger. 
     A few more images to celebrate the spirit of the salon:


Etta Worthington said...

That makes me think. Has our high tech connectedness replaced the salon? And what have we lost by not connecting in person?

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Etta. Good questions. I don't think high tech has entirely replaced the salon--thank goodness. People do still gather for poetry and conversation. Think of all the book groups, as one example. And the open mics and poetry slams as another. As for your second question, we do lose SOMETHING by not connecting in person, but we gain other things with the ease of high tech. The internet makes certain kinds of connections possible that would have been previously unimaginable. So . . . with every gain comes losses. Still, the willingness to face the dangers in the streets of an Iraqi city in order to discuss poetry . . . that's truly uplifting to contemplate. And Sunni and Shiite sitting together to do so . . . also uplifting.

Jim Poznak said...

The existence of salons in Iraq shows that culture has a sophistication and openness to diversity that belies our narrow understanding of it's history and current circumstance. Susan, thank you for enlightening us.

Susan Messer said...

And thank you for commenting. The pleasure is all mine.