Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku, and short stories. He writes in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose and experimental poetry. Member of four writer groups in Ireland. Lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 25 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany. Published in over 160 anthologies, literary journals, and broadsheets in USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Bangladesh, India, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Some of his poems, and haibun have been published in French (own translation), Romanian, and Russian language. He writes also under his penname Eadbhard McGowan.
Leaving a busy Paris behind for a few days is a relief. A fascination, however, is to go through a gate to leap across the way, to another continent – Africa.
It is a small step over the Alboran Sea, and Spain and France are not out of sight. I can cling to Europe, do not relinquish it.
The airport is a collection of faces, sounds, bodies, memories, and languages; like a hive from which bees take off and often the start of complicated stories. Individuals with different fates and destinations rush by, unconcerned about the other travellers. All happens in a parallel world: People in close contact for seconds who will never meet again.
My heart beats faster after this two-hour flight when I see below the green light-blue foam-capped waters of the North African coast, its green slopes, on the horizon the vast Sahara.
After landing in Oran, the town envelopes me and I sink into Wahida’s arms, touch her soft lips, the sand-coloured skin, look into her green sad eyes which are filled with tears like pearls. A gaze clouded with sorrow, like of many in this wounded land, with the blood-soaked alleys of the old towns, the kasbahs, the blood-stained walls, the shroud of the past, the whispering shadows, the dried blood of the turmoil of Algeria.
Birds chirp in the branches of the sycamore trees. It is an afternoon with a powerful, almost white sun that illuminates and enlightens me.
We walk, hand in hand, through Oran, the city with the deep soul whose dominant colours are yellow, ochre, and white. We stroll past the popular cafés and the falafel stands, listen to the singsong of the vendors and, seduced, taste a few falafel, these spicy chickpea balls, wrapped in flatbread along with “tahini” sesame sauce.
Her name, Wahida, means ‘alone’ but also ‘unique’. Her melodic French, mixed with a guttural Arabic, competes with my abstract French of business and administration. This latinised idiom is our common foreign vehicle. Her soul and motor is the Berber language.
Her French has the colour of Oran, mine that of the Normandy. We model our passion, poetry, like clay figures by means of an adopted language that we bring to sparkle like a diamond-studded dress – glistening and multi-faceted. It reflects the mood of a country, rich in contrasts, emotional treasure; here Oran, where Yves Saint Laurent was born and grew up in 11 rue Stora in the Plateau Saint Michel, and a country where Albert Camus lived. Fertile artistic ground.
The Pic Murdjadjo can be seen from where we stand, in the distance Mers el Kebir, to the east the bay of Oran, the harbour with its docks and container cranes, and the striking silhouette of pine trees. The city is sprinkled with shouts and laughter. The street musicians play ‘chaabi’, those Arabic-Andalusian songs whose poetry is at the same time ironic and lascivious, in which we rediscover our lost roots, where two continents meet. A gentle breeze carries the scents of wisteria, lavender, and wild roses from the slopes of the mountains.
I wanted to entice her to Paris, two strangers to share the magic of a metropolis, but she will not go, will not leave, will not part with the mountains of Kabylia. She calls the idea ‘love in a foreign land’, el houbb al-rumi, to where you take the unfamiliarity, the sadness and the lostness that corrodes everything, decomposes affections, destroys feelings.
She wants to prepare for me chakhchoukha – a stew made with diced lamb, tomatoes, chickpeas, onions, and flavourings such as cumin, ras al hanout, caraway, and red chilli peppers served with msemen, the traditional flatbread.
A symphony of scents, taste, care, warmth, and affection.
And the unborn poems that have already taken embryonic shape patiently rest, ferment and grow. A woman and a man in Algeria, homeless in their own countries, holding poetry by the coat tail, what do we say to each other?
We have so much to say, and for that very reason, we say nothing.
We wait for the poem, the rhyme, the intuition, to put words together, to unfold melodies to fold them into a solid structure, to get close, to lean head-to-head to find the right word, to merge lines, to conjoin, and finally to unite, inevitably.
When I close my eyes,
I hear you before I see you,
hear a song.
I smell you, breathe you in.
When I open my eyes again,
I have your taste on my tongue.
And if you would ask me
how Béjaïa smells,
what scent it has,
which aroma it emanates,
I would not know the answer.
I listen to your music,
which floats through the streets,
the sound of many languages,
which are guttural, fast, carried,
Arabic, French, Tamazight.
I hear the Raï music,
its melody, its impatience,
its clear vivid lyrics.
Hear footsteps on the pavement,
the humming of the market,
and the sounds of the harbour,
the market criers, the passers-by,
the quarrelling, joy of reunion,
birdsong, the noise of the streets,
I feel, smell, the desert air.
I smell the dust and the shadows,
the mint, the aubergine,
the garlic and coriander,
as they force themselves
into every dish,
the scent of the tangerines.
Fig trees, agave, eucalyptus,
date palms cast shadows.
Then I translate all the smells
first into the spice mixture
on the market,
yellow, red, orange,
roasted onions with cardamom,
sultanas and fenugreek,
cumin, cinnamon, turmeric.
Then into the pale yellow
of the stones,
the ochre of the rocks,
the dust of your streets.
I can also smell the longing,
which is quiet, obscure,
and yet bitter, hurting,
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Poetry, prose in this post: © Eduard Schmidt-Zorner
Published with the permission of Eduard Schmidt-Zorner