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Temple Bar

Temple Bar: A Novel

BAHAA ABDELMEGID
Translated by Jonathan Wright
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7mdn
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  • Book Info
    Temple Bar
    Book Description:

    Dublin is alien territory for young and impoverished Egyptian academic Moataz, who is preparing a PhD on Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Moataz has enough problems with his family’s high expectations and the unrequited, idealized love that he left behind in Cairo. Now he has to deal with cantankerous landlords, inscrutable local women, the Irish judiciary, haunted seminaries, and cold winter nights selling flowers on the banks of the Liffey to make ends meet. His own personal demons travel with him, especially the clash between his sexual desires and his reluctance to become emotionally entangled with anyone other than his version of the ideal woman. In his year away from home Moataz learns how diverse the world is, but returning to Cairo is a shock that tests his physical and mental strength. Only when he passes that test can he make a promising new start.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-613-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Moon Rising

    • Chapter 1
      (pp. 3-5)

      The rain began to come down in torrents. Moments earlier he had heard it tapping on the windowpanes. He stood up and lifted the blue curtains his mother had chosen when they left Shubra and moved to this house in Maadi. He opened the window and looked out at the water pelting down on the long street. The drops were so big you could see the neon lights reflected in them. A large truck passed by, shaking the whole house. It frightened him and made him feel that the end was near.

      The dark woman who lived in the building...

    • Chapter 2
      (pp. 6-7)

      What can I do to escape from these characters that surround me? They accompany me everywhere. Now they are phantoms that pursue me in my waking life and in my sleep. They have become elements in my dreams, the rites of my escape and the content of my words. The characters and the people I met on my journey to this distant land, Ireland: the land of rain. Now they sit with me and talk to me. Their bodies and their spirits are heavy rocks that weigh on my chest. I see them walking down the city streets with me...

    • Chapter 3
      (pp. 8-14)

      I walk along the downtown streets. Magical, bustling Cairo. The city that never sleeps; the city that the moon watches over to keep her company. Talaat Harb Street with its large square; Ghad Party posters demanding the release of Ayman Nour. Next to Groppi’s, a group of security men are sitting within sight of armored police trucks. The exhausted heads of policemen look out from the small window openings. On the other side people from the Kefaya movement are demonstrating, holding placards that call for ‘change’ and carrying pictures of Gamal Mubarak. I look behind me fearfully and sneak toward...

  3. Hibernia the Land of Rain

    • Chapter 4
      (pp. 17-21)

      I was waiting for someone to help me carry my bag, but no one volunteered. Aggrieved that I asked, one young man said my bag was my business, while a woman suggested that there were bags with wheels that didn’t take so much effort to drag. Then she laughed. I would find out later that there was a scare about strangers and bags, which might contain explosives since terrorist operations were common, especially in Belfast in Northern Ireland.

      Dublin didn’t seem surprising at all. It wasn’t as I had expected a European city to be. The streets were narrow. There...

    • Chapter 5
      (pp. 22-24)

      When I left Maynooth I didn’t know what to do or where to stay. I was alone, with a heavy bag that was breaking my back, so I went to the students’ hostel at Trinity College Dublin, where I was going to study. But I found that it was very expensive to stay there, at thirty Irish pounds a night. That was beyond my means. I left the hostel sadly. But I was delighted to see this ancient university, founded under Queen Elizabeth of England in 1592, and its fine old buildings and the statues in the middle of the...

    • Chapter 6
      (pp. 25-26)

      When I went into the house where I was going to live, accompanied by my supervisor, there was an old woman sitting alone on a sofa. I have always been afraid of old people and I run away from them, frightened of the way they look at me, which always makes me think of senility. I was filled with a sense of dread at that gray hair, which made me think of Noah’s hair as he gathered his people together at the time of the flood. The smell of the tomb seemed to live in that house. It gave me...

  4. Harp Players

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 29-31)

      My clothes were soaked from the pouring rain. I took off the coat that my mother had given me before I left. “Moataz,” she had said. “This will ward off the winter cold.” But she added in a warning tone, “Look after it, because it belongs to your brother, and bring it back.”

      I put the coat on the table halfway down the corridor and went to fetch a cup of tea from the cafeteria in the hope that it would warm me up and drive the smell of cold out of my blood.

      On my way back, amid a...

    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 32-34)

      When I started at Trinity College Dublin, I couldn’t work out the university women. I couldn’t tell whether they were conservative and shy, or whether they just didn’t welcome friendship with a young foreign man. They didn’t speak to me and I couldn’t find the right words to start a conversation with them. Perhaps I was shy too; perhaps I had little knowledge of women or too many misconceptions about Western women—that they were easy and available, so why was it difficult to get to know them? The young women always rushed toward the library or the lecture halls....

    • Chapter 9
      (pp. 35-38)

      I live in a small room that looks out on a back garden. It has simple furniture but what annoys me is that the bed didn’t have sheets or blankets. When I mentioned this, my supervisor commented that she would sort it out. The room had a radio, and my neighbor lent me a black-and-white television that I would leave on all night to dispel the sense of loneliness around me and the phantom of the old woman. I stayed in this strange house long enough to get used to the cave of loneliness and the cold smell of my...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 39-42)

      Can I find fulfillment with a woman other than my beloved Siham? It’s true that she has her own world completely different from mine, but perhaps we will meet one day. Simone is ready and prepared to make love and has opened all doors for me to possess her. She has surrendered all her keys to me and told me all her secrets.

      After several meetings she said she was Catholic and sometimes went to church and confessed to the priest. But, embarrassed and with a smile, she said she had already known three men. Then she suddenly said, “I...

    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 43-49)

      “Warning: do not swim in the river. This river water is contaminated with rat urine, which may transmit Weil’s disease. Anyone who falls into the river should consult a doctor immediately.”

      I read the warning posted on the embankment wall. I wanted to jump into the River Liffey. I felt a desire to swim. Perhaps this would lead me to the River Nile.

      “Are you thinking of suicide?”

      “No, absolutely not!”

      The question took me by surprise, and I answered quickly. It came from a man who appeared to be over sixty. “Life is beautiful,” he added, “and the most...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 50-58)

      I went to Edna’s house in Walkinstown. It was in a quiet street lined with trees on both sides. Spring had started to work its influence on the trees and the greenery was running rampant.

      When I opened the door I noticed a dog sitting next to the stairs leading to the upper floor. It looked old and the place had a strange smell. I realized it was the smell of the dog with the sad dull eyes. The woman who received me was short with a pale complexion and her hair cropped short and dyed brown, and some wrinkles...

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 59-61)

      At Cairo airport I pick up my bags. My elder sister is standing at the gate smiling. I am silent and sullen toward her. I have come back before finishing my mission in Dublin. Then I shout, “I want to get on the plane back to Dublin. I don’t want to come back to Cairo.” She laughs, pulls me by the arm, and says, “You have to wash your father and bury him because he’s dying.” This recurrent dream was interrupted by the sound of the telephone ringing, insisting that someone answer. I got out of bed, still lazy through...

    • Chapter 14
      (pp. 62-65)

      I took along some white carnations I had bought from the Spar supermarket for two pounds. The flowers had called out to me and begged me to buy them, so I did, although I didn’t want to give the visit a romantic quality or ask for more physical intimacy. Flowers do bring people together physically and enable the language of emotions to come into play, rather than the language of reason. That’s why they have become the language of lovers, the language of harmony and sentiment. I read the address: Rathgar, Garville Street. There were houses regularly lining both sides...

    • Chapter 15
      (pp. 66-70)

      “Moataz, you’re only a lodger here. What you pay covers only lodging, it doesn’t allow you to steal food. Please don’t touch the fruit and other food in the fridge. This isn’t appropriate behavior.”

      I found the message stuck to the table in a corner of the kitchen. After that, messages became the method of communication between me and Edna, who I didn’t see often.

      I had in fact devoured her bananas. I was hungry and couldn’t find anything to eat while studying at night. So I went downstairs, afraid of the ghosts that lived beyond the window in the...

    • Chapter 16
      (pp. 71-80)

      Whenever the bus went through Harold’s Cross, I noticed a large iron gate and a long driveway ending at a church. On Saturday and Sunday every week I saw hundreds of people—old people, young people, children—going though this gate, and I asked a passenger who was sitting next to me, “What’s behind that gate?”

      “It’s the cemetery,” he replied.

      One day I decided to visit it. The bus stopped and I headed toward the iron gate into Mount Jerome Cemetery. I bought some flowers. The caretaker rushed out, saying, “It’s too late. We’re going to close the gate...

    • Chapter 17
      (pp. 81-86)

      I consumed all my energy moving from one library to another. The university had several reading libraries: the Lecky, the Berkeley, and the library for rare books. I usually sat in the Lecky because it was close to the department where I was studying, so I could have a drink in the cafeteria in the building and chat with the students and faculty, then go to the theater to see some plays or rehearsals.

      Sometimes I would go to Eason’s bookshop, which lies on the Northside, to buy some books. It was always crowded with visitors. Like paradise, it had...

    • Chapter 18
      (pp. 87-89)

      I felt lonely even though the streets were full of people. The sun shone briefly and its rays lit up the horizon. It wasn’t very cloudy that day. There were posters everywhere inviting the public to attend poetry sessions, theatrical performances, and readings from James Joyce’sUlysses. One announced a trip to the center of Dublin to trace the same streets, the same lanes, and the same bars and shops that Bloom, the hero of the novel, visited on that day more than ninety years earlier. I went to the university and photocopied some material, and while I was coming...

    • Chapter 19
      (pp. 90-92)

      Edna’s daughter Britney was always silent. She didn’t talk to me at all. She was only interested in her dog Fraser. I asked Edna if she could take the dog out to the garden, where it had its own kennel, or at least give it a bath. Mark shared my opinion and told me he had argued with her several times over the dog. I explained to him why I didn’t like dogs. I said Muslims think that dog saliva is unclean and if a dog licks its owner’s hand or puts its mouth into a jug or a pot...

    • Chapter 20
      (pp. 93-96)

      How Eve feels after tasting the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

      But I feel

      Farr otherwise th’ event, not Death, but Life

      Augmented, op’nd Eyes, new Hopes, new Joyes,

      Taste so Divine, that what of sweet before

      Hath toucht my sense, flat seems to this, and harsh.

      On my experience, ADAM, freely taste,

      And fear of Death deliver to the Windes.

      When Simone invited me to her house for dinner, I thought she would be alone, but I found her house crowded with guests. As usual, she welcomed me warmly and introduced me graciously to...

    • Chapter 21
      (pp. 97-104)

      She pulled me forcefully toward her and pressed her warm hands into my backbone and ribs. “Don’t get up,” she said. “I want you to stay longer.”

      She kissed me close to my ear. Then she pressed her mouth to my neck. I felt the wetness of her saliva, hot and moist, and we ended up kissing deeply.

      The candles burning in the room gave me a sense of seclusion and primitiveness. Although the weather was cold outside, I was sweating. When I tried to get up, she pulled me by my hand and her pudgy fingers touched my fingertips....

    • Chapter 22
      (pp. 105-108)

      One night I ran out of money. It was a cold night and the frost had made my limbs stiff. It began to rain and I missed the eleven-thirty bus, which was the last bus. I had no money with me.

      I stood in Dame Street, after one o’clock at night, begging for money.

      “Sir, do you have twenty-five pence?”

      To my surprise someone gave me fifty pence.

      Moataz. What are you doing? Are you begging? What if your friends saw you? What if your head of department saw you? I would say that the public transport had stopped and...

    • Chapter 23
      (pp. 109-111)

      The sellers gathered around the flower cart that was dragged along on rickety wheels, and because they were so well-dressed, I didn’t think of them as sellers but as ladies preparing themselves for a romantic evening by arranging flowers. They handed them to customers and looked around anxiously as if they felt they were in imminent danger. When I saw them, they reminded me of my experience selling flowers in Cairo, especially in the nightclubs there. When I was a child I used to sell flowers on Qasr al-Nil bridge and in front of the Semiramis Hotel.

      “How much are...

    • Chapter 24
      (pp. 112-113)

      Fall came early that year, or so they said. The leaves fell dead on the narrow pathways, and only the Angel of Death knew their number and what type they were. The faces of the passers-by and the students turned white because of the bitter cold. I wrapped myself up in many layers and the coat I had brought with me from Cairo stopped the cold penetrating my bones, which began to ache in a way that was unusual. My friend Mario advised me to drink alcohol—the elixir that would help me acclimatize to Ireland. He said, “If you...

    • Chapter 25
      (pp. 114-119)

      The streets of Dublin are long and narrow. The center of the city is divided into a northern and a southern part, defined by the River Liffey, which runs through the city. There are numerous bridges linking the two halves, including the O’Connell Bridge and the Ha’penny Bridge. The houses are no higher than three or four stories, and the most important feature of them is their beautiful doors. With its houses and its doors, the city looks like a large mural made of colored rectangles. The deeper you go into the southern district, the steeper and more twisty the...

    • Chapter 26
      (pp. 120-124)

      The Northside of Dublin was completely different from the Southside. I think that’s why the bridge was called the Ha’penny Bridge, because pedestrians had to pay half a penny to cross to the Southside where the rich people live. In front of the bridge there were bronze statues of two poor women: the Hags with the Bags. Northside Dublin was a deprived area. You would always see poor faces, drug addicts, and beggars, especially in O’Connell Street down which I strolled when I went to the General Post Office, when I visited my Algerian friend, or went to buy books...

    • Chapter 27
      (pp. 125-131)

      Edna comes home drunk at night, unsteady on her legs, swaying right and left. She laughs hysterically. Patrick is a little more coherent, but his face has turned the color of a barrel of vintage wine. I hear the sound of the key in the lock, and I rush down the fifteen stairs to open the door for them, to save them their fumbling attempts to open it. She looks at me with weak eyes and stares. She says, “You’re still awake. Did you make much money from the flowers today? You’ll disappoint your mother. Did you come to get...

    • Chapter 28
      (pp. 132-134)

      The mirror in front of my desk frightened me because it showed me how I had changed since coming to Dublin. My face had been somewhat plump. The mirror showed me how much weight I had lost from not having enough food, from the energy I expended every day, from thinking about my family and how they were, and from the tension I regularly faced in the street. I would go to university from noon until sunset, then sell flowers from early evening until the middle of the night. When I came back I would cook some food, which usually...

    • Chapter 29
      (pp. 135-144)

      I see him on my way to university. As massive and as strong as Hercules, with a golden complexion and hair. He leaves the buttons of his shirt open to show off his bulging muscles and the stiff hairs on his chest. He moves around with self-confidence, like the mayor of Dublin. He inspects the lanes of the city and asks after the inhabitants. At first I was frightened of him. I grew more frightened when I felt a desire to find out who he was. Once he bought some flowers from me and gave them to an Irish woman....

    • Chapter 30
      (pp. 145-149)

      Belfast is drowning in rain. Dark, lonely streets, with no one moving, nothing astir. It lies silent under the umbrella of the Great British Empire. I imagined it as a different city, full of activity and revolution.

      I arrived late. It was raining as usual. I stood in Ulster Street, trying to think of a reason for leaving Dublin and coming to Belfast. I had a strong and insistent desire to see a different city. Politics and struggle were here, and not in Dublin. I remembered my friends’ warnings to avoid the city because it was a hotspot of violence,...

    • Chapter 31
      (pp. 150-153)

      I started looking for the court. The weather was clear and, unusually, the sun was shining. Its light filled the air. The streets were empty in Dublin’s Northside. I thought the court was on the banks of the Liffey, but they said it was close to Church Street, in Chancery Place to be precise. On both sides of the street there were buildings that looked like the low-cost housing the appliance company Ideal had built in the Cairo suburb of Shubra. When I arrived I asked the guard where the courtroom was. “There are many courtrooms,” he said. “That’s why...

    • Chapter 32
      (pp. 154-157)

      Things are getting worse on the streets. The rain is pouring down, the cold is freezing everything, and the Russian coat is no good because it restricts one’s movement. Violence reaches its peak. You’ve started to get upset for trivial reasons and to clash with racist customers and tramps as well. One of them took some money from you and promised to get you a gold trinket. You thought you’d keep it for your mother. But he didn’t produce the trinket but ran off with it and you didn’t tell the police because you knew him and you had been...

    • Chapter 33
      (pp. 158-162)

      Rose came on time to take me to her church. I opened the door for her and took her to the new room I had rented in Nelson Street. The smell of her perfume filled the place. I noticed that she had bright polish on her fingernails. Her fingers were delicate and enticing.

      “Bright colors make you more beautiful,” I said.

      I sat down and felt a strong desire to embrace her. “Be prepared,” I said to myself. I made her a cup of coffee and played the Amr Diab song “Here’s the innocent angel” on the cassette player. I...

    • Chapter 34
      (pp. 163-164)

      I saw Frida one Saturday night with Rebecca and her husband, as she came back from the bar. I was selling flowers outside the Zanzibar. She was walking along Bachelors Walk, and I was surprised at the way she looked. She had changed into another person. She seemed to be drunk and was saying and doing strange things. She looked rather trashy; that was obvious from her tight clothes, which did not suit her age, and her choice of colors. Rebecca, on the other hand, was pretending to be a lady, walking arm in arm with her husband at a...

    • Chapter 35
      (pp. 165-167)

      Moataz, you don’t know what you want.

      You have to know yourself first. You have to ask yourself who you are. What’s your essence? Your nature? It’s imperative that you define what you want and what you are doing in your life. That you search for your identity to know who you are. Isn’t that the secret that nature placed in mankind since he was first formed from a drop of sperm in his mother’s womb? The puzzling code of humanity. Then he told himself, “You’re not King Oedipus to solve the riddle of humanity and then to be cursed...

    • Chapter 36
      (pp. 168-171)

      I regretted leaving Edna’s house, because I felt at home there and I realized how gentle and kind she was. I hadn’t understood her behavior from the start: she was single, even if she did have children, and she wanted to live a free life, and when her children grew up they had to be independent, though if they needed her, her house was open to them.

      I missed the trees around Edna’s house, which I felt protected me from evil spirits and from loneliness and homesickness. I missed the bar where the kind woman worked. I used to visit...

    • Chapter 37
      (pp. 172-176)

      The woman who lives in the basement told me that the two men have been living together since she moved into the building. She has a grudge against one of them because he’s in the habit of stealing the underwear she leaves in the washing machine. I imagined the scene as a farce, with the man putting on woman’s clothing. This neighbor is married to an African whose nationality I don’t know, but I think he’s from Zambia. At first, I was frightened of the way he looked at me when he stood next to the door talking on the...

  5. The Tears of Heaven

    • Chapter 38
      (pp. 179-182)

      Frida went and never came back. They said she had died having an abortion. She had died to gratify the mistaken beliefs of other people. She was dreaming of another child and then this child was conceived through love, her love for that Englishman. She didn’t love her Irish husband. I remembered her putting her hand on her stomach and looking at the River Liffey, after Rebecca referred to the fact that she was living in sin with a man other than her husband. For the first time, her tears mixed with the waters of that ancient and eternal river,...

    • Chapter 39
      (pp. 183-184)

      It was like the Day of Judgment, with people rising from the dead! Voices shouting. I saw it on television: mangled flesh and the bodies of children, women, old men, and youths. The camera focused on a pair of shoes stained in blood, the face of a girl bleeding, with her burnt doll by her side, a severed foot lying next to a young man. Why do people kill each other? Why do we thirst to destroy each other? Why does the myth of Cain and Abel play out again and again across the world? If it’s not killing with...

    • Chapter 40
      (pp. 185-189)

      Simone was killed in a terrorist attack in Omagh in Northern Ireland, in County Tyrone, when a car bomb blew up. It had been planted by the Real IRA, which objected to the IRA’s decision to accept the Good Friday Agreement. She died with 28 others.

      She paid the price for her love of peace. She died betrayed. Her blood spilled on ground that had not known peace since the English set foot on it, and she died in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

      I was told about it by her friend Laura, who was working in the Meath Hospital in...

    • Chapter 41
      (pp. 190-192)

      Sameh, her ex-husband, told me, “Siham is an actress and she wants to play a variety of roles. Perhaps that’s because of the multiple personality disorder she has and the existential angst she has to live with and the dualism that disrupts her life: body and soul, desire and creativity, an eternal conflict. Her demons divide her into multiple personalities.”

      He advised me not to think about her, because her preoccupation with herself prevented her from seeing anything but herself. She was in a state of spontaneous combustion and would vaporize as the days passed. “You misjudge her,” I said....

    • Chapter 42
      (pp. 193-196)

      Roaming the streets of Cairo after coming back from Dublin, you saw Siham. She was sitting in the Café Riche, with a cup of coffee in front of her and a copy of the literary weeklyAkhbar al-adaband Kawabata’s novellaThe House of the Sleeping Beauties. She was looking at the dark Nubian waiter so that he would come over and she could order another cup of coffee. When she saw you through the window, coming along the passageway that leads to the Zahrat al-Bustan coffee shop, she waved to you, and you went in. You took no notice...

    • Chapter 43
      (pp. 197-199)

      In a black tuxedo, a white dress shirt, a tie, and a vest, and with a paper flower in the lapel of your jacket, you smile, spruce yourself up, and take up the groom’s position outside the hairdresser’s. You look very clean, dazzling white thanks to your stag night, when your friends came to visit and asked you to give yourself a thorough cleansing, so you got into the bathtub and sank into the warm water, poured vast amounts of Sunsilk shampoo and Herbal Essences shower gel over yourself. Then you started to scrub your body with the loofah in...

    • Chapter 44
      (pp. 200-204)

      Since you left Dublin and came back, you’ve been very restless, always tense. You hear ringings and whisperings in your ears and you concentrate on a single idea that obsesses you for many days: the idea that there’s someone who’s going to kill you. You’re confused and you stare at nothing, you have wandering eyes that flash with madness, and you see letters that form strange, frightening words whenever you read a book or a newspaper. You’ve started to be afraid of letters when words were once your profession. You don’t finish your conversations with those close to you or...

    • Chapter 45
      (pp. 205-210)

      Hagga Fawziya died: the woman next door and your mother’s friend, who used to make you mushroom soup, and who never upset your mother by asking her why you were so reclusive and introverted even when she could hear you screaming at night. She never intruded on you by day by asking why you were so disturbed. She died after a long struggle with kidney failure. You used to see her going out to have dialysis and you were amazed how she could sustain her optimism despite the pain and the fact that her end was nigh. You saw her...

  6. Glossary
    (pp. 211-212)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)