“It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear,” writes Italo Calvino so beautifully in his novel ‘Invisible Cities’.
He describes distant places, so remote we may never reach them. We all have these cities deep within us, beating as one with our own heart.
When I first met Laila, a Palestinian chef living in Paris, she told me about her grandmother in Hebron (al-Khalīl), about her parents, about pigeons roasted in sumac, and how her family had to flee one day, suddenly, leaving their home behind. forever. There were tears in her eyes, as she remembered Hebron of her early childhood, and Jerusalem covered in snow.
We have met so many times since, laughing and dreaming of the future, but if you could only hear her sing so beautifully all those songs of Umm Kulthum, with the musician from Gaza beside her plucking the strings of the Oud, you would then hear the sound of longing, for all that has been lost and shall never return.
In this entanglement, there is only one possible path, which leads straight into the jumble of relationships, between the cities – as living spaces, and human beings – who dream up these places and tie into them all their passion and anxiety, that are with us always. It is a journey of regret and forgiveness, and a desire to live in dialogue where each of us offers the other this ethical claim for the right to exist, to equality and love.
On the Hummus Route is a futuristic journey, and if we had one more chapter added to this book, it would have definitely been about Hebron, al-Khalīl of Laila’s grandmother, and about the Hebronite cuisine, with pigeons in sumac, and this long line of beautiful, powerful women who sing and dream of one day realizing their right, which so begs to be, to return, to that one place. To that invisible city.