French-Syrian poet and photographer Khaled Youssef was about to publish his new book when the world screeched to a halt. His message could not be timelier.
Dr. Khaled Youssef is a well-known and highly respected surgeon. But he is just as much appreciated for his artistic work. Maybe his name is not yet on the tip of everyone’s tongue but his “bubble photography” or his soulful poems instantly ring a bell. And for good reason. His images and his words are… well, there is no better way than calling them “luminous, enchanting, magical, timeless”. When he puts them together to tell a story, they radiate sunshine, warmth, and humanity. Or quite simply, love. He has coined a name for his art, “poétography”. And all of this he has channeled into a new book titled Un Sole che cerco di scrivere (Un Soleil que j’essaie d’écrire / A Sun that I am Trying to Describe).
Khaled Youssef is a world traveler, on the go any chance he gets. But long before tourist attractions, he seeks out The Other. Although an accomplished and technically skilled photographer, he is not interested in picture-perfect objects. He shoots what he sees, and how he sees it. He is guided by his heart and intuition. Often he finds what he is looking for in the faces of children, their eyes wide with wonder when he blows his giant bubbles for them.
Khaled connects with these kids with the same level of curiosity and innocence that they show him; he has preserved his sense of awe of the big and small miracles of everyday life. He lovingly illuminates the beauty of ancient civilizations in his travel series. But he also shrouds mundane situations and even abject poverty in a cloak made of care and compassion. Sometimes, his poetry and prose go hand in hand with a picture, sometimes they exist in their own space, and in their own right.
Every now and then, there is the faintest tinge of melancholy in Khaled’s work, and memories of his beloved homeland of Syria which he left for France over 20 years ago. He misses his family and friends, knowing they live in a war-torn country. He misses simple things like the scent of Damascene jasmine pervading the air…
But he never dwells on somber thoughts. He takes the reader on a journey in his world of “You” and “We”. He is a dreamer and a uniter, someone for whom it is vital to share. He heals through his artistic work, like he does in his daytime profession. When you are a doctor, you are necessarily confronted with the underbelly of life. But for every death he witnesses, every suffering he sees, every human tragedy he encounters, he draws a potent antidote from the depths of his heart, made from love, compassion, hope, and empathy. He bundles these emotions into words that are simple and authentic, born from that ancient and unique blend of poetry and philosophy that flows through Middle Eastern veins. And they resonate in Western ears with the pristine clarity of a Sunday morning church bell:
Que savons-nous de demain? Entre devoirs et attentes, nous nous laisserons embarquer dans les vagues du quotidien avec l’espoir d’échouer sur des rives paisibles.
Nous voguerons ainsi entre ce qui nous échappe et ce que nous saisissons ou croyons saisir, en oubliant d’offrir à nos sens la chance de s’épanouir, et à nos émotions la possibilité inouïe de s’exprimer pour tordre le cou à la banalité de l’existence.
L’indéfinissable loi du hasard s’emparera comme toujours de notre vie, et nous tenterons en vain de la dompter. Mais ce hasard, dans sa douce folie, ouvre des voies prometteuses à ceux qui savent l’accepter et l’intégrer.
Que savons-nous de ce qui se passera demain?
Demain, le sourire d’un inconnu au coin d’une rue nous surprendra et bouleversera notre destin, une odeur d’un jasmin jaillira et incarnera le bonheur, un murmure bleu du ciel glissera sur nos paupières et se traduira en lueurs, une lumière tremblante se fera caresse sur nos visages, et une mélodie prolongera un instant d’extase pour le détacher du temps.
Demain, nous nous laisserons emporter par une parole douce ou trouverons la sérénité dans l’éloquence d’un silence, nous laisserons des empreintes qui parlerons de nous, et dessinerons des souvenirs inoubliables, qui, à chaque moment de doute, nous indiqueront la position du cœur.
Demain, un espace vide donnera un refuge à notre imagination, un rêve d’une intensité pétillante se tiendra debout au croisement de nos chemins, et nous avancerons en laissant des traces perceptibles avec une volonté irrésistible de souligner la beauté pour que chaque instant du quotidien devienne le reflet de nos songes.
Ce que nous ne savons pas de demain… fait toute sa beauté…
Che cosa sappiamo del domani?
Che cosa sappiamo di domani? Tra doveri e attese, ci lasceremo imbarcare tra le onde del quotidiano con la speranza di arenarci su rive tranquille.
Navigheremo così tra quello che ci sfugge e quel che afferriamo o crediamo di afferrare, dimenticando di offrire ai nostri sensi l’opportunità di fiorire, e alle nostre emozioni la possibilità inaudita di esprimersi per torcere il collo alla banalità dell’esistenza.
L’indefinibile legge del caso s’impadronirà come sempre della nostra vita, e noi cercheremo invano di domarla. Ma quel caso, nella nostra dolce follia, apre strade piene di promesse a chi sa accettarlo e integrarlo.
Cosa sappiamo di quello che accadrà domani?
Domani, il sorriso di uno sconosciuto all’angolo di una strada ci sorprenderà e sconvolgerà il nostro destino, un odore di gelsomino irromperà e incarnerà la felicità, un mormorio azzurro del cielo ci scivolerà tra le palpebre e si tradurrà in bagliori, una luce tremante si farà carezza sui nostri volti, e una melodia prolungherà un istante d’estasi per separarlo dal tempo.
Domani, ci lasceremo portare da una parola dolce o troveremo la serenità in un silenzio eloquente, lasceremo impronte che parleranno di noi, e disegneremo ricordi indimenticabili che, in ogni istante di dubbio, ci indicheranno la posizione del cuore.
Domani uno spazio vuoto darà riparo alla nostra immaginazione, un sogno d’intensità spumeggiante si reggerà in piedi all’incrocio delle nostre strade, e avanzeremo lasciando tracce percepibili con una volontà irresistibile di sottolineare la bellezza, perché ogni momento del quotidiano divenga il riflesso dei nostri sogni.
Ciò che non sappiamo di domani… ne costituisce la bellezza.
What do we know about tomorrow?
What do we know about tomorrow? Between duties and expectations, we will let ourselves embark on the waves of everyday life in the hope of being stranded on peaceful shores…
We will thus navigate between what escapes us, and what we grasp or believe we grasp, forgetting to offer our senses the opportunity to flourish, and our emotions the unprecedented possibility to express themselves to twist our necks to the banality of existence.
The indefinable law of chance will, as always, take over as the seed of our lives, and we will try in vain to tame it. But this chance, in its sweet madness, opens paths full of promises to those who know how to accept and integrate it.
What do we know about what will happen tomorrow?
Tomorrow, the smile of a stranger on a street corner will surprise us and upset our destiny, a smell of jasmine will spring up and embody happiness, a blue murmur of the sky will slip between our eyelids and translate into gleams, a trembling light will caress our faces, and a melody will prolong an instant of ecstasy to detach it from time.
Tomorrow, we will let ourselves be carried away by a sweet word or we will find serenity in an eloquent silence, we will leave footprints that will speak of us, and we will draw unforgettable memories that, in every moment of doubt, will indicate the position of our heart.
Tomorrow an empty space will give refuge to our imagination, a dream of sparkling intensity will stand at the crossroads of our paths, and we will move forward, leaving perceptible traces with an irresistible will to emphasize beauty, so that every moment of everyday life becomes the reflection of our dreams.
What we don’t know about tomorrow… constitutes all its beauty.
This unique view point at the crossroads of cultures, science, art, and humanity captured the interest of Chiara De Luca. The great Italian fellow poetess and photographer is also the founder of the independent Kolibris publishing house in Ferrara, Italy, which specializes in bilingual poetry. It all began when she first noticed Khaled’s 2013 photo poetry book titled Reflet-xions and realized his fascination with things that go unnoticed for everyone else’s eyes. The way a cloud is mirrored in a puddle or how the branches of a tree grow bigger and bigger the closer you get to the ground… Then Chiara was struck by the beauty of Khaled’s texts and translated them into Italian. Like so many before her, she was drawn to the essence of his writing… pure love.
“Youssef is a messenger of peace, who looks at the world through his big soap bubbles, to exalt its beauty, to capture its love,” she writes in her foreword. “Conscious of the hatred and ugliness, of the conflicts and wars that as a Syrian he pays the price for with his body, his land and those he loves, Youssef has decided to desperately, obstinately seek the beauty and the luminous side of the human soul, as only those who know the depths of darkness, only those who have sunk to the end of the night, blind and without a foothold, can do.” And what Chiara de Luca summarizes so succinctly here, is perfectly reflected in the book’s key topics of Peace, Joy, and Eternity.
Un Sole che cerco di scrivere (Un Soleil que j’essaie d’écrire), a bilingual French-Italian compendium, is already stocked in Italian bookstores, and soon in France as well. Of course, with the world currently on virtual standstill, only online orders for later fulfillment can be placed right now. But once things return to “normal” and the book arrives in France, Khaled Youssef will hold a signing session at Librairie Jean-Jaurès in Nice.
You owe it to yourself to get a copy, and to your friends and family to get one for them as well. Nothing could be more soothing, nothing could lift the spirit more in these complex and dark days than Khaled Youssef’s book.
All photos courtesy and © Khaled Youssef