UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 
London dealer Peter Harrington Rare Books is taking part in SIBF for the second time. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 November 2020

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 
  • Highlights from Peter Harrington Rare Books’ offering at Sharjah International Book Fair

DUBAI: This month’s Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), which runs until Nov. 14, offers book lovers over 1.7 million titles from regional and international publishing houses. 

London dealer Peter Harrington Rare Books is taking part in SIBF for the second time. The company was founded in 1969 and has built a strong reputation in the antiquarian book industry for its rare and valuable first editions and manuscripts related to travel, literature, history, science, and more.

“A lot of these books come from a period before cinema and sound recording. There’s no other way to access what life was like (then) except through books,” the firm’s senior specialist and head cataloguer of the SIBF catalogue Adam Douglas told Arab News. “Perhaps paintings as well, but — in the orientalist field — you’re not sure if you’re seeing a realistic view of life (in paintings); you’re seeing romanticized views. Books quite often have more details and realism in them.”

Peter Harrington Rare Books is showcasing 40 of its works hailing from or inspired by the Arab world in Sharjah. “We’ve taken on experts in various fields and we’ve been able to deal in those books related to Arabia generally. It’s been exciting and a learning curve for us,” said Douglas. Here, he talks us through four of the highlights. 

Gulf Aviation photo albums (1948-55)




Engineer Freddie Bosworth set up his multiservice company ‘Gulf Aviation’ in 1950. (Supplied)

Photography and history enthusiasts will find these albums particularly fascinating and insightful. Containing more than 550 original color and monochrome images, they reveal the early days of commercial aviation in the Gulf region, Iraq and Persia at a critical time “when the region was just opening up to Western oil companies,” according to the firm’s fair catalog. Demonstrating the long relationship between Britain and the Gulf, one of the pioneers of regional aviation was British military pilot and engineer Freddie Bosworth, who set up his multiservice company ‘Gulf Aviation’ in 1950. It eventually developed into Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air. 

Aside from capturing landed planes and modest airport buildings, everyday scenes of locals and architectural towns are also portrayed in these photographs, which were taken with standard professional equipment by an unidentified British aviator. “He had a good eye and was going there at a key time for the foundation of aviation in the Gulf and of course, that’s really important now because there are major airports there. In his photographs, you can see small sheds and the contrast is fantastic,” explained Douglas. 

‘A Pilgrimage to Nejd, the Cradle of the Arab Race’ (1881)




This elegant pair of journals tells the tales of her travels through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the vast desert area of Nejd in the central part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

In the late 19th century, it was uncommon for a Western woman to travel in Arab lands. But Lady Anne Blunt, an aristocrat and passionate equestrian, was an exception. Blunt was born in England and spent the last years of her life in Egypt. This elegant pair of journals — accompanied by a foldable map and containing several sketches — tells the tales of her travels through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the vast desert area of Nejd in the central part of modern-day Saudi Arabia.

One charming illustration shows Blunt and her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt — who traveled with her and was also a writer — dressed in Bedouin garb and standing near an Arabian horse. 

“They made a striking couple,” remarked Douglas. “What drew them to the region was (a search) for Arabian horses. They were part of a tradition which was prevalent at the time among a lot of English people who were fascinated by the region. The distance in language and in culture was so vast that it was really exciting to go and explore Arabia.”

Monumental Qur’an (1870/1)




Meaning ‘copy’ in Arabic, the legible and simple Naskh format dates back to the 10th century. (Supplied)

In this massive, salmon-pink-toned manuscript, one can see rows and rows of miniscule Arabic writing, which actually represent the entire text of the Qur’an, marked with a few corrections. Douglas notes that it took one hand to carefully carry out this body of writing, executed in the Naskh style — one of the six major scripts of Arabic calligraphy. Meaning ‘copy’ in Arabic, the legible and simple Naskh format dates back to the 10th century and was commonly used by scribes to copy administrative, literary and Qur’anic texts.  

With its repetition of shimmering gold floral motifs, there is a subtle decorative element to this approximately six-feet-wide wall hanging. Its place of production was Mughal India — probably Delhi. The Mughal Empire lasted for nearly three centuries and achieved a level of refinement in its artistic and architectural landscape under royal patronage. Looking at the manuscript’s lower part, the colophon suggests that it was made for the Mughal Empire’s last emperor, Bahadur Shah II Zafar, who was also a Sufi poet and calligrapher. 

Varthema’s travel account (c. 1511)




The travel-themed gem’s author is the intrepid Ludovico di Varthema, who was one of the first non-Muslims to enter Makkah. (Supplied)

Another travel-themed gem, described as “one of the most remarkable travel books of the Renaissance.” It was translated into Latin (having originally been published in Italian) during the 16th century. Its author is the intrepid Ludovico di Varthema, who was one of the first non-Muslims to enter Makkah. He disguised himself as a mamluk called ‘Yunus’ escorting a pilgrim caravan. In addition, Varthema’s travels led him to Yemen, India, Persia, Somalia, and Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). 

“He was a great traveller and was as famous in his time as somebody like Marco Polo. He is so far in advance of any other description of Makkah by a Westerner — there’s no other printed account of Makkah that early,” Douglas explained. “There was a tendency in travel literature up to that date for people to cobble together travel narratives from different sources, so you never quite trusted those. Varthema actually went. And this is his sole narrative.” Aside from giving a first description of Makkah in Western literature, Douglas added that it also gives the first eye-witness account in print of what is now the UAE: "He mentions visiting Julfar — modern Ras Al-Khaimah. There is only one reference in print I can trace preceding that, which misdescribes Julfar as an island and is a compilation from earlier manuscripts by Fracanzano da Montalboddo, who did not visit the region himself." This work is also extremely rare. The firm claims it is “the only copy of the first Latin edition to have appeared at auction in 40 years.” 


World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet
Updated 16 October 2021

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet
  • Artefact, nearly 3,500 years old, never exhibited as male and female figures so faint
  • Curator: ‘It is a Guinness Book of Records object, because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?’

LONDON: The oldest depiction of a ghost recorded in human history has been discovered at the British Museum.

The image, on an ancient Babylonian clay tablet nearly 3,500 years old — acquired in the 19th century — shows a bearded man being led to the afterlife by a woman, with his hands held out before him, tied together.

Dr. Irving Finkel, curator of the Middle East department at the museum, said the tablet — which has cuneiform text accompanying the image, and which has never been on public display — was meant to help the living remove unwanted spirits by aiding them to settle unfinished business.

The nature of the tablet, Finkel said, had been missed for years because the image of the ghosts is so faint and only visible under certain light, while it is also significantly damaged. 

“You’d probably never give it a second thought because the area where the drawings are looks like it’s got no writing,” he told The Guardian.

“But when you examine it and hold it under a lamp, those figures leap out at you across time in the most startling way. It is a Guinness Book of Records object, because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?”


Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 16 October 2021

Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

LONDON: For the most part, British director Orlando von Einsiedel’s new Netflix documentary, “Convergence: Courage in a Crisis,” manages to strike a balance between poignant and harrowing without straying too far into self-indulgence. But only for the most part. The filmmaker, the creative voice behind the excellent “White Helmets” and “Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul,” has created a new documentary that is equal parts loving tribute and critical dissection, as he weaves together a series of different story threads, all following those impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

 

The movie’s subjects are varied and diverse — from a first responder in the Brazilian favelas to a couple under lockdown in Tehran. An expectant mother and father in India tell their story, while a Syrian filmmaker volunteering at a hospital in London is also highlighted, alongside a young driver transporting staff and drugs in Wuhan and a doctor and activist working in Miami. Each story has something unique about it. Von Einsiedel’s greatest creative stroke in this movie is giving his subjects the room to tell their own stories, because each is heartbreaking and life-affirming in its own way.

 

Where the movie gets harder to follow is when the director tries to do too much in too short a time. In less than two hours, we get commentary on governmental mismanagement, the Black Lives Matter movement, institutional racism, nationwide inequality, and a handful of other topics made all the more pressing during the pandemic. There are also tantalizing glimpses inside the World Health Organization, and the Oxford University vaccine development program. But we must make do with just a few minutes of each, before we are whisked off to the next story. There is deep, resonant and powerful storytelling running throughout “Convergence” — if only we were given a little more time to take it all in.


Actress Salma Hayek shows off Elie Saab suit in Los Angeles

The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 October 2021

Actress Salma Hayek shows off Elie Saab suit in Los Angeles

The actress showed off a leopard-print suit by Elie Saab in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Mexican actress Salma Hayek made an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in Los Angeles this weekend wearing a feisty leopard-print suit by Lebanese designer Elie Saab.

The actress, who is of Spanish and Lebanese descent, appeared on the TV show alongside fellow actor Kumail Nanjiani to talk about their latest film, Marvel’s “Eternals.”

For the occasion, she looked glamorous in a coordinating set by Saab, hailing from the designer’s pre-Fall 2021 collection.

The wide-legged animal-print pants featured a single black stripe on each leg, while the fitted blazer boasted black lapels and was worn over a sheer black top with a high collar.

(Getty Images)

The film’s star-studded cast includes Hayek, Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden and teen Syrian refugee-turned-actor Zain Al-Rafeea, among others.

Directed by Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao, the plot centers on an immortal alien race with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years. The film is set to be released in theaters in November.

While chatting with show host Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday, Hayek revealed why her co-star Jolie smashed her face into a birthday cake in a video that went viral online in September.

When the show host asked about her 55th birthday celebration last month, Hayek said: “There was no birthday party. All of those people were crashers. I said, ‘I don’t want a birthday party this year.’ I had to work all day. Twenty-five people, that I told them there is no birthday party, showed up anyway,” she said, referring to the party documented in her September Instagram post. 

The actress then explained that it’s a Mexican birthday tradition to push a person’s face into their cake — and Jolie was tasked with the job.

In the video, a group of friends are gathered around the actress chanting, “Mordida!” as Jolie pushes Hayek’s face into her birthday cake.

“After you blow the candles, you have to mordida,” Hayek explained to Kimmel. “It means a bite. You have to bite the cake with your mouth, without your hands holding or anything. Then, there’s always one that comes and hits you and sticks your face inside the cake.

“We were starting, ‘Mordida!’ She’s like, ‘What’s happening?’” Hayek said of Jolie’s apparent confusion over the tradition, before she got in on the fun and smashed Hayek's face into the coconut cake.


World’s largest floating nightclub opens on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner

World’s largest floating nightclub opens on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner
Updated 16 October 2021

World’s largest floating nightclub opens on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner

World’s largest floating nightclub opens on Dubai’s historic QE2 cruise liner
  • Float Dubai, billed as ‘the world’s largest floating nightclub,’ still faces COVID-19 restrictions
  • Ship, launched by namesake Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, has sailed over 6m nautical miles

LONDON: The world’s largest floating nightclub has opened onboard the retired Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship in Dubai.

The luxury Float Dubai venue, which can accommodate 1,000 people, hosted an opening party on Thursday ahead of its first weekend.

Celebrities including American actress Lindsay Lohan, rapper DaBaby and British boxer Amir Khan are expected to appear aboard the ship this weekend, which once hosted the likes of Hollywood stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, partying will be limited, with tables needing to be booked in advance, security guards preventing people from standing up and dancing, and plainclothes police officers patroling the venue to prevent infringements. 

Dubai extended the strictest anti-COVID-19 measures in the UAE, with seating rules in many hospitality venues only relaxed in August this year.

Many are now allowed to stay open until 3 a.m., but social distancing measures remain in place.

Rob Smith, a British expat who attended Float Dubai’s opening night, told The Times: “It feels so good to see things opening back up again. It feels like things are getting back to normal.”

The QE2 was bought by Dubai government entity DP World, controlled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, in 2008 for around $88 million.

Parts of the vessel were converted into a hotel in 2018, with plans to base it off the Palm Jumeirah island resort.

The club’s opening was delayed by the onset of the pandemic, with the rooms left vacant and the QE2 subsequently relocated to Rashid Port, where its monthly upkeep is estimated at around £650,000 ($893,424).

British expat Lara Rogers added: “The ship has an eerie vibe to it. It’s a shame to see it like this. It needs some TLC (tender loving care) to bring it back to life because it has so much history here within these walls. Maybe the club can help inject some excitement for it again.”

The QE2 was originally launched in 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland. At 963 feet, it is estimated to have carried over 2.5 million passengers over its lifetime, traveled around 6 million nautical miles, circumnavigated the globe 25 times, and even served as a British troop ship during the Falklands War in 1982.


Stars shine on the ‘Casablanca Beats’ red carpet at El Gouna Film Festival

Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk arrives for the screening of ‘Casablanca Beats’ at the Festival Plaza, on 2nd day at 5th edition of El Gouna Film Festival, in El Gouna, Egypt, on October 15, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2021

Stars shine on the ‘Casablanca Beats’ red carpet at El Gouna Film Festival

Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk arrives for the screening of ‘Casablanca Beats’ at the Festival Plaza, on 2nd day at 5th edition of El Gouna Film Festival, in El Gouna, Egypt, on October 15, 2021. (AFP)

EL GOUNA: Egypt’s El-Gouna Film Festival screened its first movie on Friday — the Moroccan film “Casablanca Beats.” 

Stars, including Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk and Egyptian actress Amina Khalil, arrived on the red carpet in glamorous gowns. 

Zarrouk opted for a voluminous grey gown by Dubai-based fashion house Maison Yeya. She accessorized her look with jewelry from Yessayan Jewelry, founded in Lebanon. 

Meanwhile, Khalil chose an asymmetric golden dress designed by Egyptian couturier Sara Onsi. She completed her red carpet attire with a clutch from the Egyptian brand, previously championed by Kylie Jenner, Okhtein. 

Amina Khalil. (AFP)

Egyptian actress Youssra wore a hot red satin gown from Egyptian fashion house Nazazy Couture. Her chunky gold earrings and bracelet were custom made by Egyptian label Dima Jewelry. 

Youssra. (AFP)

Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen was among the guests who attended the event. This is Wazen’s first time attending the festival. 

In an interview with Arab News after the event, she said: “I was so impressed, from the moment I walked in everything was extremely organized. It was such a beautiful venue. We’ve been to a lot of film festivals, a lot of red carpet events, and I don’t think we’ve seen something on this level.

“So, I am super proud to see something like this coming out of the Arab region. I can’t wait to be there again hopefully next year,” she added. 

The eyewear designer wore a one-shouldered golden gown by Lebanese couturier Nicolas Jebran.  

Egyptian actors Jamila Awad, Rogena, Ola Roshdy, Ahmed Dawood and veteran actress Laila Eloui were among other celebrities who posed for pictures before the screening.

“Casablanca Beats,” which was in competition for the prized Palme d’Or, had its world premiere in the official competition of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Directed by renowned French-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, the film tells the story of a former rapper, Anas, who takes a job at a cultural center in a working-class neighborhood in Casablanca.

Encouraged by their new teacher, his students try to free themselves from the weight of restrictive traditions in order to live out their passions and express themselves through hip-hop. 

The director and actors were not able to attend the screening of the film in El Gouna, said the executive producer who attended the red carpet.   

It is competing for the feature narrative award at El Gouna Film Festival.