Imaging to listen to the stories of a contemporary Sherazade: COUNTING ISLAM’s CULTURE AS ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS
Today counting, reading or talking about Islam and its culture can be very difficult. I tried to imagine sitting drinking a mint tea to Alexandria, Egypt rather than to Beyrut or through the dunes of the desert with friends eager to discover new cultures and to undertake a journey sound in a culture where the watchword is the cultural diversity, but also artistic.
My guests and friends for this very sweet and scented tea are two prominent Italian scholars of this civilization. Giulio Soravia, former Director of the Center for studies on the Islam of Bologna CISDI, and Anna Spinelli, expert in Islamic art, a discipline very rich but unfortunately banned from most European universities. With the curiosity of a young reporterI, I started to assemble a puzzle of information to get a picture on the culture of Islam through cross-culture conversations in old-fashioned style.
So we dive into recovery for works of the famous text of “One thousand and one nights” with Soravia ( in homage to the beauty and
complexity of Arabic World) and I let myself be inspired by a Sherazade view in a modern key, to share stories and real life stories that go beyond the revolutionary news in recent months “the so-called Arab spring” , and do not reduce to mere speculation and Eurocentric, Western civilization that continues to surprise and give invaluable assets from an artistic point of view, what you can appreciate and
discover without stereotypes or prejudices. It is therefore with Anna Spinelli that I raise curiosity about Islamic architecture, gardens, design, mosaic, and relations with the neighboring civilizations, from the far India and Lebanon or Iran, China and more.
I’m immediately criticised on the importance of distinguishing between countries and civilizations according to the experience and studies ofAnna: “the Architecture in Islam represents a happy blend of everything that may serve and delight, a clever mix of different solutions from different places in order to get better. The entire architecture and Islamic art is the result of a brilliant, mediation in the past as in the present day. Think of places like Dubai, where tendencies and contrasts it perfectly exemplifies the city skyline”. Soravia agrees while
Watching my cup of tea I remember the colour that we associate to slam is always the Green. Yet Islam to me immediately evokes the colour of gold (from the desert) and cobalt, and the many varieties of spices. Anna once again guiding me through a splendid culinary metaphor, on a journey more respectful of Muslim tradition: ” Imagine a beautiful cake, perhaps with Pistachio cream (originating in the Middle East
and Central Asia, not of islamized Sicily), with a bit of aroma of rose water (Persia-or Iran), and some candied violets as decoration (found in Ferghana in Central Asia before in Provence). All accompanied by a cup of tea from China, through the Mongols, touched on the Tibet, the Indian region and then the Indian Ocean, to get the Europeans like us as quintessence of exotic dreams.
The Near East, Middle East, Africa, India, and along the Silk Road to the Celestial Empire. In those territories, even today, there are Islamic community whose art is coming up to us to camel. And by the way, the camel was brought by the Arabs from Chinese Turkestan people a few thousand years ago … ”
These descriptions evoke in me, although I don’t know why, the Gardens of Andalusia, in Spain. And so began to question about this ancient art. Once again Anna warns from easy stereotypes “Even the idea of being seated in what remains of the green areas of Alhambra ‘s difficult to lead to Orient . It is the substance of that environment that has remained unchanged, because since most remote antiquity the garden is a microcosm, image of paradise on Earth, and wishful thinking of all humanity. Gardens of the world have maintained the boundaries with religious architecture, while the Western humanism tried to sever ties with a medieval past often considered unwieldy and awkward. But the garden remains, as a universal collective imagination, a place of meditation, rest, recreation. A protected site, a place of memories, speculations “.
As Anna talks I think of the Gardens of islamic contemporary world I’d like to visit, as the “Garden of peace and Hope in Kabul“, curated by Global Hope Network International but dreamed and conceived in the atmosphere of Italian gardens by a British architect, or the ancient Gardens of Beyrouth, constantly threatened by Urbanization. Also in Bologna the hortus conclusus have almost entirely disappeared from the historical centre and risk degradation and abandonment, as happens to the Guasto Garden , micro-robinsoniano Park.
And then there are the Japanese tea gardens, contrasting with an hyper-technology…
About Asia, I’m intrigued with nearby civilizations, I wonder if there is something that deserves to be rediscovered. But we end up talking about Mosaics , the first art form with which we have really met the opulence of Islamic civilization.
Anna explains patiently again “The ancient art of mosaic is probably universal. It is likely to be a product in the making of the textile art of carpet, and also of degradé. An artistic element that would become an advertisement for many empires, far beyond the Byzantine period, and has been preserved, in part to create the great ceramic mosaic centroasiatici and Middle Easterners, whose season happier was that of Timurid art (14th-15th century). To us it would come in the form of tiled tiling, with the success that we all know also in popular residential architecture “. Although, personally, I prefer to think to archaeology, from Byzantium to Tivoli (as in Villa Adriana) or to Aquileia.
Tea is finished, and is time to suspend this nice conversation on Islam. I am convinced that the Fables that mentions by Giulio Soravia from Sherazade stories that I remember for magic, princesses, and gardens are still valid today even though the landscapes and fashions have changed.
It remains the charm and the importance of maintaining a dialogue about a relationship that dates back to the mists of time, whose guardian is the desert, so full of surprises, as I know from my trip to Arizona. The hope is to find the time for a conversation like this. And while in the background we hear notes of Chambao Chill and vivaciousness in suq evoked a dancer of belly dance costume search, seems to perceive an atmosphere of eternity and quietness.
Thank you. Namaste until the next conversation, and the next journey through cross-cultures themes .
PS: Books to read on the subject:
“Liban” by S. Stètié & Caroline Rose
” Arte islamica. La misura del Metafisico” by A. Spinelli
“Islam. Oh Islam!” by Giulio Soravia
“Islamic Art” by ARwin