Thursday, February 7, 2013



Ruin


   ‘If the Movement should ever fall silent, even after thousands of years, this witness here will speak,’ said Farouk al Rami with a dramatic wave of his hand. The Emir of Al Jabal clapped heartily from the front row and was promptly followed by applause from the audience of architects and other intellectuals behind him.
   ‘In the midst of a sacred grove of age old oaks, the people of that time will admire in reverent astonishment this first giant among the buildings of the Third Reich.’
   The Emir clapped cheerily again. But there was an uneasy lull behind him. Perhaps the mention of the Nazis had shocked the listeners or perhaps the thought of age old oaks in the deserts of the GAE simply didn’t jell well.
   ‘Thus spake Hitler,’ smiled Farouk. ‘The Third Reich ended in a terrible tragedy, but it began with a dream. Hitler, like so many other dreamers wanted to build for glory. Monumentality for Hitler and his architects, just as for the rulers of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, was the only appropriate architectural expression for an eternal empire.’
   The curtains behind the speaker had parted and the giant screen within flickered to life. An image of a thoughtful Sheikh Ahmed gazed at the audience.
   ‘And so in memory of Sheikh Ahmed the founder of the Greater Arab Emirates, the great great grandfather of our gracious Emir, I present Al Arabiya, a monument to an eternal empire that will speak forever.’
   Applause thundered unequivocally now as a vista of imposing structures glowed on the screen. Colonnaded avenues, massive brick buttresses holding up the ramparts of a fort and towering minarets adorned a green landscape of trees and ornamental gardens. But all in ruins. The building roofs were all crumbled, arches broken, their keystones long fallen, the walls of the fort weathered by decay. Intricate capitals that once belonged to imperial columns lay fallen in disarray as a few remaining gargoyles and cherubim held guard along with terrifying sculptures depicting djinns, spirits of the desert lands.
   It was a scene of pillage and destruction and both man and nature seemed to seek credit for the ruins of Al Arabiya. The scale of this great devastated city evoked gasps of awe from the audience. Architect Farouk al Rami was world renowned as a ruin consultant, but this time he had outdone himself. Tears rolled down the cheeks of the Emir and his podgy belly heaved with emotion. For the rest of the presentation, Farouk held all in thrall, royalty and intellectuals alike, everyone believing that this great ruined empire had indeed existed in the GAE’s ‘glorious’ past.  

   Not content with the massive development projects spanning from the CyberCity to AeroCity and even the new Louvre Museum, the ruler Sheikh Mustafa had wanted something even more glorious and nobler. He envied Egypt for its Pyramids and India for its Taj Mahal. The Sheikh loved the ruins of Rome and ancient Greece. Why don’t we have any such great inspiring ruins, he had asked his ministers.
   Architect Farouk al Rami had come to his rescue. After building well acclaimed ruin parks for the Sheikh of Zatar and the Emir of Nevhrain, he had designed this – Al Arabiya, a ruined city that would stand alongside Babylon and Egypt for all of history.
   ‘It does not matter that Al Arabiya never ever existed in the past. Its ruins exist today, that is what matters,’ he told the journalists at the press conference later that evening. ‘My team has scripted an entire history for this city, complete with heroes, battles and beautiful princesses. We have the best fiction writers working for us,’ he smiled and the journalists laughed at the irony of it all.
   ‘Wasn’t Speer the man behind Hitler’s vision of ruins?’ asked the lone woman sitting among the journalists.
   Farouk’s eyes lit up and he smiled at her. His gaze dropped instinctively to the full calves of her legs and traced a curve upward over her taut skirt and well filled blouse on to the blond locks of hair that framed an attractive face.
   ‘Miss…’ he paused.
   ‘Carter. Julia Carter,’ she offered.
   ‘Julia Carter! You are the writer of those historical novels and that biography on Rommel, are you not? Very pleased to meet you.’ Farouk’s demeanour had brightened noticeably now, like a hawk that had sighted a mouse from high up in the sky.
   ‘You are a writer of literary fiction, Miss Carter,’ he added. ‘I like to consider myself a creator of architectural fiction!’ Laughter rippled around again. 
   ‘Yes, Speer was the man. In 1934 architect Albert Speer proposed a theory of Ruin Value, on which the dreams of men like Adolf Hitler would be based. Let me quote Speer,’ Farouk began reading from a notebook. ‘Speer says - The idea was that buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form that ‘bridge of tradition’ to future generations which Hitler was calling for. It is hard to imagine that rusting heaps of rubble could communicate these heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in the monuments of the past. My ‘theory’ was intended to deal with this dilemma. By using special materials and by applying certain principles of statics, we should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds or thousands of years would more or less resemble Roman models.’ Fascinating, is it not!’ Farouk paused to ask the journalists listening in rapt attention.
   ‘Speer then says- To illustrate my ideas I had a romantic drawing prepared. It showed what the reviewing stand on the Zeppelin Field would look like after generations of neglect, overgrown with ivy, its columns fallen, the walls crumbling here and there, but the outlines still clearly recognizable. In Hitler’s entourage this drawing was regarded as blasphemous. That I could even conceive of a period of decline for the newly founded Reich destined to last a thousand years seemed outrageous to many of Hitler’s closest followers. But he himself accepted my ideas as logical and illuminating. He gave orders that in the future the important buildings of his Reich were to be erected in keeping with the principles of this ‘law of ruins’.’
   ‘Yes, gentlemen, the awe that Hitler saw in the future ruins of the Zeppelin Fields the same awe that Sheikh Mustafa saw in the ruins of Al Arabiya today. Hitler dreamed of the ruins that would be. Mustafa will see his ruins in six months. We do not want to tax our ruler’s imagination, do we?’ He smiled coquettishly.
   Julia listened to him intently, engrossed in his fascinating explanations.
   ‘It is very interesting, gentlemen…and lady,’ he smiled at Julia. ‘Unlike the motivation behind the building of the pyramids in ancient Egypt, it was not the preservation of monuments that was the ultimate aim of the Nazi builders, but their controlled decay!’ 
   ‘But Mr.Farouk,’ Julia interrupted him. ‘Isn’t your work a larger form of the so called follies that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries by English architects – as part of landscaping of their estates? Newly built ruins with columns broken and fallen, bust heads lying around, plaster resembling decayed stonework? Possibly driven by nostalgia for Empire?’
   ‘Yes, you are right, Miss Carter. I admire the efforts of Sir John Soane and others. But my folly is king-size, driven by my ego alone! And it may interest you to know that my ego is not the only king-sized thing about me! Julia flinched at his blatant pass and the laughter that followed. It reminded her of the centuries old chauvinism of Arabia. Despite so much development, men here still did not take to women with bare calves very easily.
   ‘Pardonnez-moi, habibi,’ apologized Farouk, his eyes laughing. Then he turned serious again. ‘We do not have the luxury of waiting like Speer and his Fuhrer, for ruin to come upon us. We must build our ruins now itself.’
   ‘As a professional, I build for the posterity of my clients. But personally, I build ruins as art. Is not a ruin beautiful? Evoking emotions of many kinds? Sadness at the ruin of Pompeii, envy at the the glory of Rome, horror at the ruins of Auschwitz!’
   ‘Remember 9-11? That horrifying spectacle of the twin towers on fire with people jumping to their deaths! Did not that terrible tableau of ruin move each one of us to tears? And tell me honestly, did we not almost relish that sight, take a macabre delight in it?’
   ‘We do not like to admit it, but tragedy moves us, in theatre, in cinema, in music…and a ruin is a real-time tragedy…even when it is happening live on our television sets!’
   ‘But let us move on now. What about today’s architecture? I refer to the architects of the living. I am after all an architect for the dead…and the undead!’ The journos laughed on cue again. Farouk was a showman, he knew all the right buttons. Julia was drawn to him despite his antics.
   ‘You have seen the work of Ole Scheeren. Take the Mahanakhon. A great tower of apartments with blocks of space removed from here and there all along its height. Like stone blocks fallen from a great masonry fortress. It is an urban visual ruin! It moves us because we are tired of seeing the smooth perfect blocks of Modernism. Form and function! Hah! What about death and decay! The Mahanakhon stands like a subliminal beacon of decay and death, yet all the time looking splendidly beautiful! A bombed out building, and yet an expensive piece of real estate! Ruin sells, habibi!’
   ‘But what of the new Deconstructionists? They are so absurd sometimes, are they not? They pile stone and rubble in a heap like a silly art installation and say – ‘This is a house.’ I am more honest. I pile stone and rubble in a heap and say – ‘This was an empire!’ Let us just say, I have taken the ‘con’ out of ‘deconstruction’!’
   The media laughed heartily and applauded the brilliant young architect in front of them. The conference came to an end and they moved toward the dining hall. The clink of champagne glasses soon joined the polyphony of multiple languages. Julia walked up to where Farouk was chatting with a turbaned reporter.
   ‘Mr.Farouk, would you have time for a more detailed interview?’
   He turned toward her and his eyes flashed in delight. ‘Indeed Miss Carter. Perhaps ‘intimate’ is the word you are looking for, no? But I am tired. It has been a long day. After these drinks perhaps? At my suite upstairs?’
   There was a teasing innocence in his blue-grey eyes. Julia could see no danger there but his mouth curled slightly at the corner and she felt uneasy. She had heard of his lusty exploits on both sides of the gender wall and even astride the wall itself, but the quest for a closer interview of this complex man had been her sole agenda this evening.
   ‘By the way, Miss Julia,’ Farouk paused to drink deeply of his whisky. ‘You are very beautiful. You must surely be the ruin of many a young man. Are we perchance in the same business…of ruin? Ha ha!’
   Again the same innocence and the same curled mouth.
   ‘That we shall see,’ she laughed, tossing her hair in mock seduction.
   
      Later in the evening they stood looking at the photographs on the walls of Farouk’s hotel rooms. The suite gave the appearance of being well lived in. It was home away from home, Farouk had told her, a convenient base in the GAE from where he worked on projects in Europe, the Middle East and even the Americas.
   ‘Isn’t that Dan Miller’s Cybertopia?’ Julia inquired pointing at a futuristic looking ruin.
   ‘Aiwa, habibi, I have done a lot of work for science fiction films. They too seem obsessed with ruins…ruins of extraterrestrial civilisations. The need to gaze upon ruins seems to be universal.’
   She looked at some photographs of Farouk posing with turbaned men holding machine guns with curiosity. They hung on the wall alongside Jedi Knights holding light sabers. The incongruity seemed to hold a poetic congruity, thought Julia. Boys playing amid ruins.
   ‘What is it about the aesthetics of ruins that inspires you so much?’ Julia was keen to delve deeper into Farouk’s psyche. They had moved to a couch and were seated sunken deep in its folds, a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand and a flute of absinthe in hers.
   ‘You are a curious woman, ma cherie. As they say in your language, curiosity killed the pussy, is it not?’ he laughed throwing his head back and Julia felt a flush of arousal looking at the adam’s apple bobbing hard in his neck. This was a sexy man, she warned herself. The olive skinned beauty of his Lebanese mother and the fierce appearance of his Egyptian father had produced a handsome man. With a strange mind to top it!
   ‘People look upon a building in its beauty and admire it. I see a structure’s present beauty and its future ruin and thus I love it fully. I see you Julia Carter, lovely in lip and full of breast like a sand dune, but I also see an old woman with shrivelled skin, with furrows in desert sands blown by the winds of time. And I can love you both. I see you alive, I see you dead, I see you eternal.’
   A slight shiver ran down Julia’s spine and against her wishes curled beneath and upward to her bosom. Death…sex…love…desire… ruin… how well everything fitted together in the presence of this man. The liqueur was making her feel lightheaded now. His fingers had reached across the folds of the couch and were curling into the tendrils of her hair. Her eyes roved lazily across the photos on the wall. Buildings shattered, smoke rising from ruins, firemen frozen in movement like ballerinas in a Degas painting.
   ‘Do you get your inspiration from those bombed out buildings?’
   He followed her gaze to the wall as his fingers gently kneaded the muscles of her neck. ‘Tel Aviv Embassy. New York Civic Hall. London Trade Tower. Aren’t they beautiful?’
   ‘Aren’t you taking your ruin aesthetic too far, Farouk?’ Julia protested feebly as she yielded to the caresses of his large hands. He had moved closer to her and she felt the heat of his body envelope her. She shook her head to clear it. ‘A lot of people died in those bomb blasts. What is beautiful about that?’
   ‘Julia, Julia,’ he moaned into her hair, flicking his tongue into the inner folds of her ear. ‘What is beautiful about the death of Romeo and the murder of Caesar! What is awesome about the thousands of dead Jews lying in the ravines of Babi Yar! What is beautiful in the death of Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans at the Hot Gates!’
   ‘Some of my best work,’ he said looking at the wall with what seemed like pride.
   Julia’s body tensed in horror as the impact of those few words dawned on her. What was he saying…could it be true? Farouk al Rami…renowned architect and ruin consultant…Anarchist?...Mass Murderer?...Terrorist?
   ‘No, I don’t do it for any blessed cause,’ he said as though reading her thoughts. ‘I care a fuck for jihad or any of my damned brainwashed Muslim brethren. I do it for art, for that higher cause, greater than Allah. Of course, I take a little help from my friends at Al Qaida and Lashkar-e-Toiba and other misguided bastards. They think they are using me, they are very happy. But they are my paintbrushes, my chisels, my pencils. And this is my art.’ Farouk quaffed the rest of his whisky and let the glass fall.
   ‘All my life I longed to create a true ruin. All these theme parks and ruined cities for sheikhs and billionaires are all shams. Only a true ruin can satisfy a ruin artist. An instant ruin, an authentic ruin. You understand, don’t you, Julia?’
   ‘I see the golden light seconds before I hear the blast and smell the smoke. And then I see the ruin, an existing structure takes on a new form, mutated by instant death and decay. How mindblowing!’
   He had unbuttoned her blouse now and his hands were moving beneath the fabric, gently teasing her with the tips of his fingers.
   ‘So did you carry out all these bombings, Farouk? The New York blast of 2012, Tel Aviv and London Trade Tower in 2014?’ she asked him pointblank.
   ‘Yes,’ he answered directly. She had a feeling that if he had been standing, he would have bowed in acknowledgement.
   Julia hesitated for a moment. She looked at the ruins of those modern cities and the images of the Parthenon and the temple at Petra and then back to Farouk’s hungry eyes. She was quite drunk now and her breasts and loins were on fire. She suddenly pulled off her blouse and tossed it aside. Then she stood up, unhooked her bra and flung it to the farthest corner of the room.
   And then she was upon him like a tigress, kissing and biting his face, sucking his tongue into her mouth and grinding her crotch into his knee. She pulled him off the couch and onto the bed and tore his robes open. He was already aroused, standing like an arrogant flag on the ramparts of a fort. She impaled herself on him and began rocking steadily, sucking on his lips and running her fingers through the forest of hair on his chest. They bucked violently against each other and were soon frozen, she arching her back with eyes clenched shut and he opening his mouth in a silent roar.
   She had barely rolled off him and covered herself with a bed sheet when the door of the room exploded open and four men in black swarmed in. Julia looked at the gun wielding commandos and nodded at their leader. Two of the men pinned Farouk down.
   They saw no point in a body search. Farouk was stark naked. They hastily got a robe around him and yanked him away towards the door. The men were in a hurry. The GAE was no place to openly capture the deadliest terrorist mastermind of this century. Not when he was a state guest of Sheikh Mustafa himself.
   ‘We are in the same business after all, Miss Carter’ Farouk turned towards her and smiled as he was led away. ‘Yalla habibi, au revoir for now!’
   The squad leader was the last to leave. He gave a cursory glance around the room. ‘Are you okay, Julia? Did we get here in time? We lost your transmission after he admitted to the bombings.’
   ‘Oh yes,’ drawled Julia, her body still damp under the bed sheet. ‘Just in time. Not a minute too late.’
   After he left she lit a cigarette and moaned to herself – ‘And not a minute too early either!’




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