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The Scrumptious Sultan's Cosmopolitan Cuisine — Un Menu

Youssef Rakha
Youssef Rakha
DINER
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A delectable variation on the long quote/short extract theme, featuring images and videos as well as text in two languages with your choice of dressing – moody, comical or outraged – and beautifully presented by year. Some of our unique ingredients: 
  • Fresh k-punk (Mark Fisher)
  • Seasoned Thomas Bernhard
  • Homemade Roberto Bolaño
  • ​Marinated Thomas de Quincy
This rich concoction of book review takes as its base a late 17th-century recipe of immense – spicy – appeal: the greatest ever satire on the fellahin [and wouldn’t you agree the wily, whining dung-eaters deserve twice as much]. With our meticulously sourced ingredients including Nile Delta geography, Rakha family history and Sultan’s Seal-inspired philology, it packs, as they say, a punch. A tantalizing taste:
In the space of a single century, as a result, written Arabic was transformed from a multifarious living language in ever evolving conversation with its earlier (Qurʾanic) form to a single, standardized simplification of said form, purposefully divorced from day-to-day speech. In place of a Middle Arabic that seamlessly combines colloquial with classical registers of discourse, a stuffy, homogeneous, and dialect-phobic Modern Standard Arabic became the order of the day.It was a bloodbath, and it has engendered no end of self-estrangement among generations of readers and writers who would have been more self-possessed had they been able to use Middle Arabic unproblematically. Shirbīnī is the most compelling proof of the massacre.
Not for the faint of heart, the current house specialty [in Robin Mogers truly brilliant English translation, which still hasnt found a fucking publisher, thats right] is a piquant if poetic experience with a signature Old Testament texture, a flavourful, beefy base of pure Egyptian evil and a wealth of serial-killer and sadomasochistic herbs. Cat lovers beware!
I remembered bringing him home from the friend who sold him to me as a kitten. Eight months old: a miniature version of that mythic creature called the puma. I looked online, by the way. There’s no such thing as the puma, just big black cats in the genus of that name—mountain lions, cougars—but even so, Atris was a miniature puma and had about him an air of nobility, or dignity. From the very first there was a dignity about him whose sheer force so puffed him up, so aggrandized him, that you were seduced into degrading it.
 
This is one of two meals to have survived the burning kitchen of the English novel’s false start [the English novel being the gargantuan task with which we’re charging ahead despite having been dumped by our agent, ah well…] You can try the second meal here. A luscious soupçon:
You are a Ptolemaic painter mixing pigments in hot wax on a wood panel in Fayyum. You work fast, standing just inside the door of your patron’s austere courtyard, so that the light falls diagonally on the subject. Tinkling water in the orchard behind you and a distant lyre heighten the tension in the exchange. You’ve been fasting since morning, your patron is pondering his own death. And the likeness that emerges in a matter of minutes is more convincing than any photograph could be.
No words can describe the sheer heat of this encounter. A mouthwatering morsel:
I feel I belong in the 1500-year-old canon. I’d say my strongest affinities are Mameluke; I’m more connected with 16th to 19th century prose writing in Egypt than anything. So, while I don’t think I am in any way separate from the modern Arabic literary tradition that started in the late 19th century (although in many instances I might differ sharply with aspects of it in terms of my thinking or taste), I definitely exist in a state of tension vis-a-vis the current literary scene, for ethical and psychological reasons. And this is mainly why I transformed my blog into a cosmopolitan hotel, to create a wider, more satisfying community not based on personal connections as such.  
Le Caire, Novembre 2018
 
Les disclaimers
Due to budgetary constraints [whose idea was it to float the Egyptian pound, huh – no, I mean, really] thesultan.blot.im and cai14.com no longer exist. Photographs by Youssef Rakha can be found using the #cai14photo hashtag on Twitter (wherein also look for #ѕυℓтαηѕѕєαℓ and, in Arabic, #يوسف_رخا) and as photo essays here, here and here. Writing by Mustafa Çorbacı has been collected here
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Youssef Rakha
Youssef Rakha @Sultans_Seal

In 1963, when he came to Alexandria, David Hockney used Cecil Hotel stationary to make a beautiful sketch…

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