Jun 25, 2008

History Slivers - Gateway to Irak

This is a recurrent feature on the site in which I briefly describe some arcane aspect of history that I came across, but about which I am too busy or lazy to write in greater depth, yet which - sliver-like - I cannot simply ignore.

In my ever-growing library is a 1965 tourism book entitled Gateway to Irak: A Pocket Guide to Irak with Maps and Illustrations that was published by the Dar Al-Hikma Bookshop in Baghdad. I doubt that the bookstore is still in business, what with three major wars in the past three decades, but the guide contains a folding map of Iraq and a city plan of what Baghdad looked like in the innocence of the 1960s.

The following are excerpts describing Baghdad as seen through the eyes of a writer desirous of attracting Western tourists; I suspect that much of the beauty described therein no longer holds.

Left: My copy of the 1965 tourism guide Gateway to Irak: A Pocket Guide to Irak with Maps and Illustrations

Here, then, are the promised excerpts from the book, but I am not sure whether I should laugh or sob at what I read, at least in comparison with modern-day Baghdad. Feel free to offer your analysis of the merits of the 1965 descriptions, or your eulogy on what has been lost since the guide was printed.

Baghdad has always intrigued the imagination of travellers as the city of the Arabian Nights, where Shahrazad spun endless tales of love, magic, and wisdom to the Sultan. Shahrazad, of course, has long since vanished, but not the city nor the magic. A big metropolis today, with a population of nearly one and a quarter million, Baghdad lives on as a city where an ancient past mingles vividly with a modern present, setting off a picture of charmingly striking contrasts and a delightful blend of native traditions and exotic customs...

All cinemas in Baghdad run four shows daily at 10:30 am, 4:15 pm, 7:00 pm, and 9:30 pm. First-class theaters, all of which have numbered seats and are air-conditioned in the summer, present mostly American films in the original...

Cabarets in Baghdad are not many. There are six in all, of which three offer exclusively western music and floor-shows, two offer only oriental songs and dances, and one offers a combination of western and oriental programs. In summer, all cabarets are held outdoors in a cool, breezy setting of green, where one may wine, dine, and dance in the enchanting atmosphere of Baghdad's famous, clear, moonlit, star-studded skies...

The largest bookshop dealing exclusively i Arabic books and publications, and which should be of interest to orientalists and Arabic-speaking scholars, is Al-Muthanna Bookshop at Mutanabbi Street, with a newly-opened branch at Tahir Square.

1 comment:

microdot said...

This is the kind of historical trivia I love. I have a cookbook that was issued for American Mormon missionaries living in Pakistan from the same period.
It is the strangest almagamation of traditional American adapted to Pakistani ingredients with tips about speaking to the servants.
It is an amazing mix of kitsch and the banality of racism.

A have a book to recommend, Martyrs Day by Michael Kelley.
Kelley was a reporter who covered the 1st Gulf War and was killed while covering the present Iraq Occupation.
Martyrs Day is a description of Baghdad, Tel Aviv and Amman, Jordan and a few other places in the days leading up to and during the beginning of the Gulf War.

It probably is the one really great piece of literature that came out of the Gulf War. Kelley's eye for people and skill as a writer, mixing tragedy with humor and analytical political history was a rare gift.