Holly Jackson translates Salah Jamal

from Far from the Perfumed Horizon

My name is Mohammed Pirjawi Unnab Jaliledin Osrama Lumary. Jacobo, to my friends in Barcelona. Throughout the seventies and better part of the eighties, everyone called me by that new fake name. Even my mother, who lived and still lives in the desert that spans Palestine and Jordan, called me Jacobo. She was confused at first, then resigned. Why Jacobo? Basically, because of the minor but frequent altercations I got into during my years in the City of Counts in Catalonia. Because of those little adventures, I made more visits to police stations than to the university, which was the real reason for my being in Barcelona. 

What I remember most from the stations is the walls. They were some indefinite color, peeling, and they reeked of urine. Inside the station you heard shouts, insults, moans, expectorations. After my first visit, though, none of the chaos seemed strange to me. One day at the station, a cop who barely understood me asked me to identify myself. The friend I was detained with told him I was a Jew named Jacobo. As with all Palestinians, the fact that I was stateless meant that I had some provisional documents at my disposal. On that occasion I took out a document issued by the occupying Israeli forces. The policeman barely glanced at it. On the front page it said “ISRAEL” in big letters. That word facilitated my national cross-dressing. I still didn’t get out of having to spend the night at the station on Conde del Asalto Street, though.

It was clear that my compatriots’ ignorance and my own regarding the severity of the Franco regime gave wings to our mischief. We never even thought of Franco’s guys as the police. Contrary to what we were accustomed to in our land, here you hardly ever saw police on the street. It cracked us up when the officers would make that anticipatory salute to any citizen who approached them to ask a question. We tested this on more than one occasion, without any other reason for going up to them, just to confirm that yes, they would greet us that way, too. Surprising. 

I was a good immigrant back then. I still am, albeit in another corner of the world, and will continue to be, a good immigrant. I’m referring more to “immigrant” than to “good.” Anyway, being a good immigrant, I immediately adopted a new identity when Franco died and democracy, autonomous governments, and the recuperation of Catalan identity and language arrived in Spain. I exchanged my unintelligible surnames, which belonged to ancient and legendary Palestinian families, for one that was much shorter but also more incisive and convincing. Initially, I didn’t know how I would do it. My first name, Mohammed, was given to me in honor of the prophet, and so it was untouchable. On the other hand, it pained me to lose any of my surnames, each of which represented my belonging to the honor and glory of the lineage. It finally occurred to me to do the following: I took the first letter of each surname and put them one after another. So, from the first surname, “Pirjawi,” I took the “p,” from the second, “Unnab,” the “u,” and so on and so forth. Imagine my surprise when I read them all together: Pujol. Yes, yes, it was that simple. “Hallelujah! Allah is great!” I exclaimed. A more harmonious integration of identities would have been impossible. 

It took my friends a long time to stop calling me Jacobo, now my ex-fake name, and get used to the new name, no less contrived than the first, though slightly more logical. Thanks to my will and insistence, however, they ended up calling me by my name: Mohammed Pujol. At least, they called me that whenever I was around.

When I was filing my petition for a name change after the transition to democracy, I confess that the idiotic expression on the face of the civil registry official really bothered me. Looking at his round, red, oily face, I could tell he wanted to wring my neck, or at least tell me to go fuck myself. Sitting behind the counter, he began to mumble and curse in Spanish, “change Jorge to Jordi, amen, María de las Nieves to Neus, sure, but change this mess of a name to Pujol—that’s too much! Don’t get me started! I’ve had it up to here with Polacks and their BS about being Catalan. And now, just what I needed: I’m supposed to Catalanize the Moors!”

I heard everything he was muttering and, in a subtle but intimidating tone of voice, hinted that I would report him for being anti-Catalan. The man, a little confused, began to soften his tone. As it softened, I pressed him even more. He finally processed my petition, sending it along for a judge to rule on whether or not to change my name to Mohammed Pujol. Naturally, I didn’t leave until the civil servant had given me a receipt for the petition that bore the new name I was requesting. Aside from wanting me out of his sight, I’m sure he also gave me the receipt because he was more than convinced that my petition would go nowhere. 

I began a new phase of my life with that receipt. I never learned the judge’s decision, and the truth is I didn’t care. I got through all my day-to-day activities thanks to the receipt. Hoping to make things easier for myself, I greeted Catalans as Mr. Pujol, and my compatriots as Mohammed. But life is very cruel and stubborn: in an ironic twist, Catalans would call me by the name Mohammed, which they still haven’t learned to pronounce, and my fellow countrymen, not without sarcasm, called me “en Pujol.” Yes, “en Pujol,” in polished Catalan, and not “el Pujol,” like most Catalans would say. Anyways, what can you do. I guess you can’t just go around using whatever name you want when you live among Catalans and Moors.

Years have passed since all that. Things have changed a lot, especially for me. Even so, it’s worth remembering the historical and personal convulsions from that time, with their treasure trove of knowledge and stories. Being a Palestinian in Catalonia allowed me to see clearly not only the reality of the end of the dictatorship and of the Transition to Democracy, but also the truth of the lives of a cast of characters who would become my Catalan family. Above all, it allowed me to star in a thousand episodes that were lightyears from what I could have imagined as a young man back in the desert. Everything I am going to explain here really happened, to me or to those around me. Does that make this a biographical novel? Yes, for the most part. I must emphasize that biographical does not necessarily mean autobiographical, however. The whores, the friends, the police commissioner, the Senyora, the bothersome neighbor… all of them have names and surnames, but their real identities don’t matter. What matters is what all of us experienced those years we were together.

I got some empty cardboard boxes from the patio to make a table, on the theory that good presentation is one of the pillars of culinary pleasure. It was a bit low, but it went with the sofas I had fashioned from some pillows. The Senyora and I had never used a table or chairs in the Bedouin hideout. I set the table with white towels and two white plates. I placed glasses—simple, with tasteful engravings—in front of the plates, a fork to the left of each plate, and a knife to the right. Forgetting nothing, I put down a small vase with two roses, and a candle off to the side. 

I let her know dinner was ready. She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel and began to dry herself in front of the mirror, humming. I didn’t move from where I stood. It was a delight to watch her sing and sway like a mermaid. Mesmerized, I shamelessly looked at every inch of her body. She let herself be gazed at with satisfaction.

Taking her hand, I escorted her to the table. I invited her to sit and made her wait a bit before surprising her with the dish I’d prepared. 

“Wow!” she exclaimed, “where did you get the table?”

“I knew where to look.”

“I can imagine. And it’s so nicely laid. Where did you learn that, Bedouin?”

I was too embarrassed to talk about my job at the restaurant and the money problems I was having. “At the restaurants where I have dinner,” I replied from the kitchen, adding the finishing touches to the beans.

She went around the table discreetly adjusting the tableware as we talked. She asked me if I had prepared soup. I said no. She removed the spoon and changed the position of the knife so that the sharp part faced the plate, and not away from the plate, the way I had left it. 

“These roses smell great!” she said, switching around the vase and candlestick. 

I returned with plates and, setting them down, noticed the changes to the table. I fell silent, cautious. As I thought about it, I realized that the changes she had made were correct. The dancing flame of the candle at the center of the table spread its light evenly over the details, the most beautiful of which was her angelical, glowing face. 

“Do you think that’s too much light? This candle is so bright.”

“I had it on the side of the table and you moved it to the center,” I said. 

“Sorry. It’s just that having it on the side isn’t aesthetically pleasing. And this might sound silly, but having it there also goes against the rules of table setting.”

“Then let’s break the rules and move the candle,” I suggested. “It’s not like we’re dealing with famous candles of Caliph Al-Ma’mun.” 

“That name sounds familiar. I think you’ve mentioned him before.” 

She took a bite from her plate.

“It’s thanks to him that you and I are here.” 

“I don’t understand what you mean… Hey, this is good!”

“Yes, you do! Al’Ma’mun was the caliph that spared the lives of the hedonist prince and his—”

“Oh yeah! And his concubine, Badi,” she interrupted me excitedly.

“Did you forget how you’re Badi now?”

“I didn’t forget. But I didn’t remember the name of the caliph. So what happened with the candles?”

“During his wedding celebration, which lasted forty days, he ordered that candles weighing six hundred kilos each be set up around the palace. He changed night into day in order to please his beloved and future wife.” 

The Senyora rested her head in the palm of her hand. “How romantic, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but the faithful were very critical of this.” 

“That makes sense, because it must have been wasteful.”

“No! It wasn’t because of the waste; it was because of the blasphemy. Some religious leaders argued that the Qu’ran says that only Allah can turn night to day. Wastefulness had nothing to do with it. The candles were nothing compared to the gifts that the caliph handed out to his friends and to the people.”

“Who gives and who receives the presents at weddings in your world?”

“In Moorland, we—”

“What did you say?”

“Moorland. The land of the Moors. The other Arab students and I get a kick out of calling it Moorland. It’s like England, Holland, Disneyland… Moorland comes from Moor, which is what you all like to call us, and land, which means—”

“I know what land means. But don’t you realize that the word ‘Moor’ has derogatory connotations?”

“What does ‘connotation’ mean?” 

She clarified what she meant.

“Oh, yes!” I let out a little laugh and continued, “we know, but we don’t care. What do you want me to say? Look, we like the Moorland thing. You don’t?”


“So you don’t like Moors.”

“I don’t know any.”

“But you went to Morocco.”

“Yes, for a few days of tourism. We stayed with some European friends.”

“Well, you know me, anyway. And you brought me into your house the first day we met.”

“I recall you saying you were from Bethlehem.” 

“No, I said I was from Palestine. You were totally uninformed and didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s why I resorted to saying Bethlehem. I thought you might have heard of Jerusalem or Bethlehem.”

“Hey, Bedouin, I’ll have none of this about me being uninformed,” she replied lightheartedly. “As far as I know, Palestine doesn’t exist as a country, that’s why I was a little confused. The same would happen to you if I told you I was from Catalonia.”

“That actually isn’t a country.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s part of Spain—”

“So what?” she interrupted me, “about a century ago a lot of countries in South America were also part of Spain, and now they’re not.”

“But Catalonia is too small to become something important.”

“I don’t think Palestine is all that big. In any case, I have no interest in belonging to a big empire. Catalans—the patriotic ones, that is—probably love, defend and fight for Catalonia because of its smallness. The truth is, deep down those who love Catalonia do so out of pity,” she replied in a lofty tone.

“Fight for it? I haven’t seen a single attempt at fighting.”

“Every people fights in its own way,” she declared.

“How? By going to see arthouse and experimental films? By wearing corduroy jackets with high-necked sweaters? Or by going up to ‘Mosserrat’ to sing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’?” I said.

“Do you think fighting to the death is better? Boy, we live comfortably here. No one wants to die.”

All of a sudden there was silence, the fruit of a dialogue that had taken us both by surprise and somehow made us angry.

“So… do you want to go back to talking about gifts and weddings, or not?” I asked.

“Sure, fine. That’s more entertaining.”

“Ok. So as I was saying, it’s the rich and powerful who hand out gifts to the guests. And you know what Caliph Al-Ma’mun gave on his wedding day?”

“I don’t know, the usual? Irons, washing machines, toasters…” she trailed off. 

“Silly Christian! I’m telling you about the ninth century and you bring up washing machines!”

We laughed.

“For your information, the Caliph, in addition to throwing gold coins into the crowd, also handed out folded papers at random to all the guests. Their present was written on each of the papers: a horse, a concubine, terrain, a palace, government positions, titles of nobility… Those in power see these events as a business operation. They don’t celebrate them out of any innate generosity. They spend on banquets and gifts in order to garner more prestige and, from there, more power. It’s just another investment.”

Then, instead of just ending my little sociological analysis there, like an idiot I proceeded to ruin the magic of that afternoon saying the stupidest thing.

“Did the groom give out gifts at your wedding?”

She didn’t get upset, surprisingly. She didn’t have to. I knew how to sense her disappointment, her feelings, and the reaction that followed. Instead of punching me or calling me a jerk, she responded discreetly and indirectly. Getting up from the table, she took the wine glasses to the kitchen and exchanged them for others. She said:

“You shouldn’t serve wine in engraved glasses. The glass isn’t transparent and it changes the color and appearance of the wine. Understand?”

“I understand perfectly. I understand that and everything else.” 

I paused. I looked at her and reached out my hand in search of hers. She moved hers closer so that I could caress it.

“I’m sorry. That was thoughtless and inappropriate of me.” 

It was time to leave, but she didn’t want to go with such a bad taste in her mouth. For the first time, we stayed in the apartment until late into the night. That delay getting home turned out to be a mistake. When it was time, she refused my offer of accompanying her. 

“Do you think we’re in New York or something? We have peace in this country. Nothing ever happens! Don’t worry about it.”

She gave me a kiss and, before leaving, said, “I’ve been in the United States these last few months.”

“Is it nice?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything. I went from the hotel to the hospital and from the hospital to the hotel.”

And then she left without giving me a chance to ask anything else.

I was quiet and pensive in the apartment after she left. I wondered how it was possible, after getting to know her over the course of so many passionate hours, that I didn’t know her at all. The truth was that it wouldn’t have required much tenacity to find out everything I wanted to know. Just inquiring the name of the owner of the Maresme mansion would have been enough to follow the thread to its end. But I didn’t do that. Deep down, I was probably excited by the mystery, the nightlife, the game, the imagination, and the fantasy that was, at the end of the day, hers.


from Lluny de l’horitzó perfumat

Em dic Mohammed Pirjawi Unnab Jaliledin Osrama Lumary. Per als amics de Barcelona, Jacobo. Al llarg dels anys setanta i part dels vuitanta tothom, fins i tot la meva mare, que vivia i continua vivint al desert que abasta part de Palestina i de Jordània, es va acostumar —ella al començament confosa i, després, resignada— a aquell nom nou i artificiós. ¿Per quina raó Jacobo? Senzillament a causa dels petits però freqüents altercats que vaig protagonitzar a la Ciutat Comtal i a Catalunya durant molts anys. Com a conseqüència d’aquelles peripècies de poca volada vaig fer més visites a les dependències de la policia que a la universitat, que, al cap i a la fi, era la raó de la meva presència a Barcelona. De les comissaries recordo sobretot les parets pelades, d’un color indefinit, i l’olor d’orina que destil·laven. A l’interior de vegades se sentien crits, insults, gemecs, expectoracions… Tot aquell terrabastall, però, després de la primera vegada, ja no em va semblar estrany. Un dia, a la comissaria, quan el «gris» amb qui amb prou feines m’entenia em va voler identificar, l’amic que m’acompanyava, i que també havia estat detingut, va deixar anar que jo em deia Jacobo i que era jueu. Com tots els palestins, el fet de ser apàtrida feia que disposés de diversos documents provisionals. Per tant, en aquella ocasió vaig lliurar la documentació expedida per les forces d’ocupació israelianes, que ni tan sols es van mirar. A la primera pàgina i amb unes lletres grans hi deia «ISRAEL». Allò va facilitar el meu transvestisme nacional que, de tota manera, no va evitar que aquella nit dormís a la comissaria del carrer Conde del Asalto.

Era molt evident que el meu desconeixement i el dels meus paisans sobre la rigidesa del règim de Franco donava ales a les nostres bretolades. De fet, als policies de Franco mai no els vam considerar com a tals. En contrast amb el que estàvem acostumats a la nostra terra, aquí, pel carrer, pràcticament no es veia policia. I ens feia molta gràcia aquella salutació anticipada que tributaven els policies a qualsevol ciutadà que se’ls acostés per formular-los alguna pregunta. Nosaltres ho vam voler comprovar més d’una vegada, sense tenir cap raó per dirigir-nos-hi, només per constatar que sí, que a nosaltres també ens saludaven. Era xocant. 

Quan va arribar la caiguda formal del franquisme, la democràcia y els governs autonòmics, la recuperació identitària i lingüística catalana, immediatament, i com a bon immigrant que era —que encara sóc, tot i que sigui en un altre racó de món, i continuaré sent; em refereixo més a immigrant que a bo—, vaig adoptar una nova identitat i vaig canviar els meus cognoms inintel·ligibles, que pertanyien a antiquíssims llinatges llegendaris de Palestina, per un que va resultar molt més curt però també més incisiu in contundent. Al principi no sabia com fer-m’ho. El meu primer nom, Mohammed, me’l van posar en honor al profeta, per tant, era intocable. I, d’altra banda, m’angoixava haver de prescindir d’algun dels cognoms, perquè tots representaven la meva pertinença a una família ancestral i comportaven l’honor i la glòria de la casta. Al final se’m va acudir el següent: triar la primera lletra de cada cognom i posar-les l’una darrere l’altra. Així, del primer cognom, Pirjawi, vaig agafar la lletra «p», del segon, Unnab, vaig agafar la «u» i així successivament. Quina no va ser meva sorpresa quan les vaig llegir totes juntes: Pujol. Sí, sí, així mateix. «Al·leluia! Al·là és gran!», vaig exclamar. Aconseguir una immersió d’identitat més reveladora hauria estat impossible. Als meus amics els va costar molt desfer-se del que ja era el meu exnom postís, Jacobo, i acostumar-se a un de nou, no menys protètic que el primer, tot i que una mica més coherent. Però gràcies al meu anhel i la meva insistència van acabar anomenant-me —només quan eren amb mi— pel meu nom: Mohammed Pujol. 

He de confessar que em va molestar molt la cara d’imbècil que se li va posar al funcionari del registre civil quan, acabada d’estrenar la democràcia, vaig presentar la meva sol·licitud de canvi de nom. Vaig llegir a la seva cara rodona, vermella i seborreica, les ganes que tenia de torçar-me el coll o, en el millor de casos, d’enviar-me a la merda. Assegut rere el mostrador va començar a murmurar en castellà i entre renecs: 

—Jorge en Jordi, amén; María de las Nieves en Neus, amén, però aquest cony de nom convertir-lo en Pujol… és massa! Ni parlar-ne! N’estic fins als ous dels polacs i de la matraca de la seva catalanitat… I ara, el que em faltava: catalanitzar els moros!

Vaig captar tot el que remugava i, amb un to subtil però intimidatori, li vaig insinuar que el denunciaria per anti-catalanisme. L’home, una mica confós, va començar a suavitzar el to —i a mesura que se suavitzava, jo el vacil·lava encara més— i va acabar tramitant-me la sol·licitud per ser sotmesa al criteri final del jutge i convertir-me o no en Mohammed Pujol. Lògicament no vaig marxar sense que el funcionari m’hagués lliurat un resguard de l’expedient en el qual constava el nou nom sol·licitat. A banda de les ganes que tenia de perdre’m de vista, el funcionari segurament me’l va lliurar perquè estava convençudíssim que aquella sol·licitud no arribaria enlloc.

Amb aquell resguard vaig començar una nova etapa. Mai no vaig saber la decisió judicial, i en realitat m’importava poc. Gràcies al resguard gestionava tots els tràmits del dia a dia. Amb la intenció de facilitar les coses em presentava als catalans com a Sr. Pujol. En canvi, amb els meus paisans ho feia com a Mohammed. Però la realitat és molt crua i tossuda; els catalans, amb molta sorna, m’identificaven amb el nom de Mohammed —que encara no han après a pronunciar— i els meus paisans, no sense sarcasme, m’anomenaven «en Pujol», en català polit, i no «el Pujol», com acostumen a dir la majoria de catalans. En fi, què hi farem. Realment, entre catalans i moros, un no pot anar pel món amb el nom que vol. 

Ja han passat uns anys de tot allò. Ara les coses han canviat molt, sobretot per a mi, però aquella època, convulsa històricament però també personalment, va ser rica de coneixences i d’anècdotes, i val la pena recordar-les. La meva condició de palestí a Catalunya em va permetre descobrir, amb una mirada verge, la realitat del final de la dictadura, la transició i la democràcia, uns personatges que van convertir-se en la meva família catalana i, sobretot, protagonitzar mil episodis que, de jovenet, quan era al desert, quedaven a anys llum del que jo podia imaginar. Tot el que explico va passar realment, a mi o als del meu voltant. ¿És un llibre biogràfic, doncs? Sí, en bona part. Però cal recalcar que això no vol dir necessàriament que sigui autobiogràfic. Les putetes, els amigots, el comissari, la senyora, el veí carregós…, tots ells tenen nom i cognoms, però no importa la seva identitat real. El que de debò importa és el que tots plegats vam viure durant els anys que vam estar junts.

Vaig recollir unes caixes buides de cartró de la terrassa i vaig improvisar una taula, perquè una bona presentació satisfà un dels pilars més importants del plaer culinari: la vista. Va resultar una taula una mica baixa però justa i adequada als divans que vaig disposar a base de coixins. En aquell amagatall beduí mai no havíem tingut ni taula ni cadires. Sobre la taula, vaig col·locar unes tovalles blanques, dos plats buits també blancs, i la cristalleria, senzilla i amb uns discrets gravats, davant dels plats. A l’esquerra del plat, la forquilla i a la dreta, el ganivet. I perquè no hi faltés res vaig posar un gerro petit amb les dues roses i, en un racó de la taula, un canelobre amb una espelma. 

Vaig avisar-la que el sopar ja estava a punt. Ella va sortir de la banyera embolicada amb una tovallola gran i, davant el mirall, va començar a eixugar-se cantussejant. No em vaig bellugar d’allà. Era un plaer veure-la cantant i bellugant-se com una sirena. Em vaig quedar clavat, inspeccionant descaradament cada centímetre del seu cos. Ella es deixava mirar amb complaença. 

La vaig agafar de la mà i la vaig acompanyar fins a la taula. La vaig convidar a seure i la vaig fer esperar uns segons per sorprendre-la amb el plat preparat. 

—Quina meravella! —va exclamar—. ¿D’on has tret la taula?

—Un que s’espavila…

—No ho dubto. I tan ben col·locada. ¿On ho has après, beduí? 

Em feia vergonya a parlar-li de la meva feina al restaurant i de les angúnies econòmiques que havia passat. 

—Als restaurants on vaig a sopar —li vaig respondre des de la cuina mentre feia els últims retocs a les favetes. 

Mentre em parlava, ella anava canviant i desplaçant, de manera discreta i sense pedanteria, els objectes de la taula. Em va preguntar si havia preparat alguna sopa. Li vaig dir que no. Llavors va retirar la cullera i va canviar la posició del ganivet de manera que la part esmolada mirés cap al plat i no cap a fora, com l’havia deixat jo. 

—Fan molt bona olor, aquestes roses! —va dir i va intercanviar la posició del gerro i del canelobre. 

Vaig tornar amb els plats i, en col·locar-los, vaig adonar-me dels canvis a la taula. Vaig callar prudentment i, pensant-ho bé, els vaig trobar encertats. La flama dansant de l’espelma al centre de la taula repartia al seu voltant per igual el reflex i en feia destacar alguns detalls, el més bonic dels quals era el seu rostre angelical lleugerament il·luminat. 

—Potser hi ha massa llum, ¿no? Il·lumina moltíssim, aquesta espelma. 

—Jo l’havia posat en un costat i tu l’has desplaçat al centre —vaig replicar. 

—Perdona. És que en un costat és antiestètic. I sé que el que et diré ara et semblarà una bajanada però també contradiu les normes de la taula. 

—Doncs trenquem les normes i apartem l’espelma —vaig suggerir—. Per fortuna aquí no tenim les famoses espelmes del califa El Maamun. 

—Em sona, aquest califa. Em sembla que me’n vas explicar alguna cosa.

Llavors va començar a degustar el plat. 

—Gràcies a aquest califa tu i jo som aquí…

—No entenc què vols dir… Ei, que bo que és això!

—Sí, dona! El Maamun era aquell califa que va perdonar la vida al príncep gurmet i a la seva…

—Sí, sí! I a la seva concubina Badi —em va interrompre entusiasmada. 

—Ja no recordes que tu ara ets la Badi…

—Mai no ho he oblidat. Però no recordava el nom del califa. ¿I què va passar amb les espelmes? 

—Durant la celebració del seu casament, que va durar quaranta dies seguits, va ordenar col·locar al voltant del palau espelmes de sis-cents quilos cadascuna per convertir, a plaer de la seva estimada i futura esposa, les nits en dies. 

La senyora va recolzar el cap sobre el palmell de la mà i va dir:

—Que romàntic, ¿no?

—Sí, però va ser molt criticat pels creients. 

—Lògicament. Pel malbaratament…

—No! No va ser pel malbaratament sinó per la blasfèmia, perquè alguns líders religiosos van insinuar que només Al·là, tal com diu l’Alcorà, pot convertir la nit en dia. El malbaratament no hi té res a veure perquè les espelmes eren una misèria comparades amb els regals que el califa va repartir als amics i al poble. 

—¿Però, qui regala a qui, a les bodes del teu món?

—Nosaltres, a Moroland…

—¿On dius?

—Moroland… El món o la terra dels moros. Als estudiants àrabs ens fa molta gràcia el nom de Moroland. És com England, Holland, Deutchland… Moroland ve de moro, que és com us agrada anomenar-nos, i de land, que vol dir…

—Ja sé què vol dir land… ¿Però no us adoneu que la paraula «moro» té connotacions despectives?

—¿Què significa aquesta paraula, «connotació»?

M’ho va aclarir. 

—Ah, sí! —vaig deixar anar una rialla sorneguera i vaig continuar—: En sabíem alguna cosa però ens importa un rave. ¿Què vols que et digui? Mira, ens agrada això de Moroland. ¿A tu no? 


—O sigui que no et cauen bé els moros. 

—No en conec cap. 

—Però vas ser al Marroc… 

—Sí, uns dies, en un tour túristic. Dormíem a casa d’uns amics europeus.

—Bé, en tot cas, em coneixes a mi. I el primer dia ja em vas ficar a casa teva.

—Recordo que em vas dir que eres de Betlem.

—No, et vaig dir que era de Palestina i tu, totalment desinformada, et vas quedar igual. Per això vaig recórrer a Betlem, perquè vaig suposar que Jerusalem o Betlem et sonarien més. 

—Ei, beduí, de desinformada, res —em va replicar desenfada—. Pel que tinc entès, Palestina no existeix com a país, per això em vaig quedar una mica dubtosa. A tu et passaria igual si jo et digués que sóc de Catalunya.

—Això sí que no és un país. 

—¿Per què? 

—Perquè forma part d’Espanya… 

—¿I què? —em va interrompre—. Fa pràcticament un segle molts països de l’Amèrica del Sud també en formaven part i ara ja no.

—Però Catalunya és molt menuda per arribar a ser alguna cosa important… 

—No sé si Palestina és gaire gran però jo no tinc cap obsessió de pertànyer a un gran imperi. Probablement la petitesa de Catalunya és el que ens incita als catalans, bé, als patriotes, a estimar-la, defensar-la i lluitar a favor d’ella. En realitat, els qui s’estimen Catalunya ho fan perquè, en el fons, els fa llàstima —va replicar amb un to transcendent. 

—¿Lluitar per ella? Mai no he vist cap intent de lluita. 

—Cada poble lluita a la seva manera —va sentenciar. 

—¿Com? ¿Anant a la filmoteca a veure pel·lícules d’art i assaig? ¿Portant jaquetes de pana i jerseis de coll alt? ¿O anant a la muntanya de Mosserrat a cantar «Blowin’ in the wind»? —vaig contestar parafrasejant el Gallina.

—¿La lluita a mort et resulta més convincent? Noi, aquí vivim de manera acomodada i ningú no vol morir. 

Es va fer un silenci sobtat, fruit d’un diàleg que ens havia sorprès a tots dos i que ens resultava, en certa manera, enutjós.

—Bé… ¿Vols que tornem als regals i a les bodes o no?

—Sí, sí. És més distret.

—Doncs mira, són els poderosos i els rics els qui reparteixen regals als convidats. ¿I saps què va regalar el califa El Maamun el dia del casament?

—No ho sé. El que s’acostuma a regalar: planxes, rentadores, torradores… —va dir, i es va quedar tan ampla. 

—Natzarena boja! T’estic parlant del segle IX i tu em dius rentadores!

Vam riure.

—Perquè ho sàpigues, el que va fer el califa, a banda de llançar a la multitud monedes d’or, va ser lliurar a l’atzar uns papers doblegats a tots els convidats. Dins de cada paper hi havia un escrit que indicava la mena de regal: un cavall, una concubina, un terreny, un palau, càrrecs per governar, títols nobiliaris… Tots els poderosos conceben els esdeveniments assenyalats com una operació mercantil. És a dir que no els celebren sense estar-se de res empesos per una generositat innata, sinó que, en realitat, el dispendi en forma de banquets i regals té com a objectiu guanyar més prestigi i, posteriorment, més poder. No és més que una altra fórmula d’inversió. 

I, ruc de mi, en lloc de concloure aquella «anàlisi sociològica» que havia parafrasejat del Pollet intel·lectual, encara vaig deixar anar la següent estupidesa que va acabar amb aquella tarda màgica:

—¿En el teu casament, el nuvi va repartir regals? 

Ella, sorprenentment, no es va immutar. No calia. Jo sabia copsar les seves desil·lusions, els seus sentiments i la posterior reacció. En aquell cas, en lloc de donar-me un cop de puny o de reprendre’m per ser un esgarriacries va reaccionar de manera discreta i indirecta. Es va aixecar de la taula, va portar les copes de vi a la cuina, les va canviar per unes altres i va dir: 

—No s’hauria de servir el vi en copes amb gravats perquè el vidre, com que no és transparent, altera visualment la tonalitat del vi. ¿Ho entens? 

—Perfectament. Ho entenc. Entenc això i tota la resta. 

Vaig fer una pausa. La vaig mirar i vaig estirar la mà buscant la seva. Me la va acostar perquè la hi acariciés. 

—Ho sento. He sigut matusser i inoportú. 

Era l’hora de marxar però li sabia greu fer-ho amb aquell mal gust de boca. Ens vam quedar a l’apartament, per primer cop, fins a altes hores de la nit. Aquella tardança a tornar a casa va ser una relliscada. Arribat el moment, no va acceptar que l’acompanyés. 

—¿Et penses que som a Nova York? Aquí, en aquest país, hi ha tranquil·litat. Mai no passa res! No t’hi amoïnis… 

Em va fer un petó i abans de marxar va dir:

—He estat als Estats Units, aquests darrers mesos. 

—¿És bonic?

—No ho sé. No vaig poder veure-hi res: de l’hotel a l’hospital i de l’hospital a l’hotel. 

I va marxar sense donar-me l’oportunitat de preguntar-li sobre el que acabava de dir.  

Em vaig quedar quiet i pensarós a l’apartament, després que hagués marxat. Pensava: ¿com és possible que després d’intimar amb ella durant tantes hores i tan apassionadament, en realitat en sàpiga res? De fet, si m’hagués entossudit a esbrinar tot el que volia saber, no hauria estat una feina gaire àrdua. Només preguntant el nom del propietari de la mansió del Maresme ja n’hauria tingut prou per seguir el fil fins al final. Però no, no ho vaig fer. Probablement, en el fons, m’excitava aquell misteri, la nocturnitat, el joc, la imaginació i la fantasia que era, en realitat, la seva fantasia.


Translator’s Note:

The novel Far from the Perfumed Horizon (2004, Lluny de l’horitzó perfumat in Catalan), by the Palestinian-Catalan writer Salah Jamal, reimagines Jamal’s biography as a Palestinian exile in 1970s, pre-democratic Spain. Jamal’s firsthand account of the absurdities and political shortcomings of Spain’s Transition to Democracy offers an unfamiliar perspective on the uses of nationalism, the limits of liberalism, and the racialization and criminalization of the migrant working class—issues that remain pressing in many parts of the world today, not just Spain.

Although Far From the Perfumed Horizon won a Palestinian award in 2014, it remains little known. This is in part because it is still accessible only to readers of Catalan; it also presents an inconvenient critique of Catalan liberalism.

The translation that appears here is a selection of two representative excerpts from the novel: the first, the complete introduction chapter, establishes the character of Jamal’s semi-autobiographical narrator; the second, a scene from late in the novel, reveals the dynamic of exotification and commodification that fuels his affair with a wealthy, self-described progressive Catalan referred to only as “la Senyora” (“the Mrs.”). The first chapter is a preview of some of the novel’s most important scenes, including Mohammed’s encounter with the police culture of Spain in the 1970s; his fluid practice of ethno-racial, religious, and national “cross-dressing”; and his satirical misuse of Spain’s societal shifts in nationalist/racial constructs (Muslim immigrants as “Moors” and Catalans as “Polacks”). Mohammed changes his name in order to facilitate his movement in Catalonia, ultimately weaponizing the surge of Catalan nationalism against the racism he experiences. Shortening his Palestinian surnames to their acronym, he adopts an extremely common Catalan surname, Pujol, which also happens to be the surname of the most famous Catalan nationalist of the time, Jordi Pujol. In the sign of this felicitous acronym, the novel presents Mohammed as a kind of Catalan everyman. In the second excerpt I’ve included, Mohammed and the Senyora’s relationship frays as geopolitical realities creep into their fantasy of a romance out of Arabian Nights—a fantasy that is really, as Mohammed acknowledges at the end of the scene, her fantasy.


A Barcelonian of Palestinian origin, Salah Jamal was born in Nablus in 1951. He left home three years after the Israeli invasion of 1967. Life’s twists and turns led him to Barcelona, where he has lived for over 50 years. Settled in the City of Counts, Jamal learned to speak not only Spanish, but also Catalan, at a time when the latter was still banned under the Franco regime’s command that Spain “speak the language of the Empire.” He studied and worked, ultimately becoming a medical doctor, surgeon, and dermatologist. He later earned a degree in contemporary history and geography from the Central University of Barcelona.

Jamal is a professor in the Arab and Islamic World Master’s Program at the University of Barcelona, and was a professor of cultural diversity at the University of Vic. As an invited speaker at different universities, he has given classes and conferences in multiple disciplines. He has also been a speaker at the cultural center Ateneu Barcelonès. Jamal is the author of several books, published in multiple editions and translated into many languages, including: Aroma árabe, recetas y relatos, which won the 2000 Gourmand Award for best foreign cookbook; Palestina, ocupación y resistencia; Lluny de l’horitzó perfumat; Todo lo que debes saber los árabes; Catalunya en cuatro pinceladas; La resistencia de la economía palestina; Resistencia a la guerra total, co-authored with Noam Chomsky and others; and, most recently, Nakba, 48 relatos de vida y resistencia en Palestina. He has also written numerous articles published in various media outlets. He won the Nijmet Al-Quds Prize, awarded by the Academy and General Union of Palestinian Writers and Poets.

Holly Jackson is a translator and professor. She interprets and translates for Spanish speakers in the Bay Area and Arizona. She is working on a translation of Lluny de l’horitzó perfumat.