Quiet Planet

Quiet Planet

 
 

Karim's upcoming book is a magical realism retelling of his unorthodox nomadic experiences in New York City. 

 

The music of a new beginning, the tone of goodbye. Hello? Are you still with me? Yes. Well, let’s go then.

From Rafic Hariri International Airport to John F. Kennedy: a long journey over the seas and oceans with a layover in London Heathrow. The sun polished the exterior of the plane and projected a shadow on the transparent waters beneath. The shadow continued to exist wherever we went. My mind absurdly never drifted off on a plane, which denied me necessary hours of rest. By the time I arrived to my destination, I was asked if zombies really existed. You somehow tend to forget who you were eighteen hours ago or who you are at all for that matter. Ultimately, I only had to make that phone call from home and tell Jade that I was staying at his place for about a week. He was more than happy to welcome me to his little apartment in Brooklyn right by Prospect Park. Getting to Jade’s was rather simple; hopped into a NYC Taxi at the airport after steering myself through the cars that came across as a swarm of bees. I wanted to treat myself by taking a cab instead of commuting another hour and a half on the subway. “First time to New York, sir?” the driver asked as he eyed me via the rear view mirror. “Yes, not sure why I’m here though. I sort of came here then decided to come here. I’m supposed to be starting my life in Berlin right now but sometimes life steers you elsewhere and you have no clue why,” I responded whilst eyeballing him back. He didn’t say much after that, but cracked open his window for ephemeral gentle winds every once in a while. Nothing better than the scent of fresh air whilst traveling. Moments of introspection later, I caught a glimpse of Manhattan’s skyline which was truly hypnotic. The image of the buildings was similar to that of the random option on a treadmill where the square blocks are stacked on top of each other reaching varying heights in separate columns. A series of four story brownstones followed by skyscrapers followed by five story buildings and so on. The Statue of Liberty stood still only a few miles away with its arm raised, ready to launch itself like a rocket into and out of the clouds. I couldn’t imagine what Brooklyn looked like, although I heard many parts of it were being gentrified. A recurring image in my head was one of the train tracks situated above the streets as they appeared in films. It was an enormous borough anyway, so every area could possibly have a character of its own. “Is this Prospect Avenue?” I asked while glancing around unsure of my whereabouts on the map. “Yes, it is sir,” he replied whilst eyeing me again. A green sign on the edge of the street confirmed my arrival. “Oh I see it,” with a smile on my face shaped like a sweet yellow banana. The car stopped, and there I was, where I was supposed to be. My inception, similar to Christopher Nolan’s, I just felt in my gut. Maybe every person that arrived here for the first time believed they were a part of a film. A dream within a dream—but that was generally my feeling whenever I traveled somewhere for the first time. Sundry other experiences traveling preceded New York such as a voyage to Indonesia. I had ventured across the east waters in order to document the landmarks of Indonesia over the course of three weeks. The Indonesian embassy in Lebanon had decided to send me over to film parts of the country so that the Lebanese people could embroider their thoughts and knowledge about the culture there. The Far East to me adequately felt like some sort of filter that cleanses the soul in the purest of ways. Akin to what a French press does to its ground coffee beans when compressed. The people were incredibly accepting of the camera pointed at them, which simplified my job to many extents. Following Indonesia, a memorable trip backpacking around ten countries in Europe for a number of months. After filming in Indonesia, I decided to call my video a film diary. So a six-minute ‘Euro Diary’ came afterwards, with all the details and feelings I had gaged along the way. ‘Memories of Istanbul’ followed, and I thought why not do the same wherever I go next. That way, I wasn’t just traveling and wandering, but also documenting my travels and editing the clips into a sensitive and inventive short film. This time, I had arrived bereft of any plan and simply no connections in the film industry. Two weeks prior to New York, I had intended to make my way over to the land of techno. Berlin was my ultimate choice. Back to Berlin, back to its frantic underground music scene that made me feel like I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. In the course of my Euro trip, I rented a bike for that entire week in Berlin and cycled my way past the boulevards and observed the city’s architecture intently while deliberately dragging my bike beside me. I wore a tourist’s look on my face: head tilted up and panning while jaw slightly opened. A few friends had been awaiting my arrival, anticipating to work on several film projects alongside myself. I was certain it was the quintessential venue for any upcoming artist. The German language was on my mind too, so I would bike around with a sharpie marker and ask strangers to write sentences on different parts of my body. By the end of that week, I would have several sentences that I could view on myself through the mirror. “Where is the bathroom” on my left arm and “would you like to dance” on my right. A “why” on the palm of my right hand incase she says no and so on. A simplified technique to learn the language, create mementos and meet people on this lonely planet. Unexpectedly, my mind was transmuted into another preference and I went with my instincts. I went to New York instead and I had no idea why, Mr. Taxi Driver. I was drawn to this other world, this enormous challenge of doing much more than being just a plain tourist. The people living in New York City, on this island, lonely and isolated just like me. I was ready, or so I thought. How alluring would it be, shooting a film diary there? I hadn’t even worked on my resume, or contacted any production companies for that matter. The chances of making it into the film industry were as thin as a sad needle standing erect on a chopstick. But then and there, nothing mattered but my drive to explore the city and its people. To get lost within an untried space and find out what exists in between those dimensions.

I hung around Prospect Park, observing how people went on with their lives. Strollers went by, dogs, humans, space ships and gusts of wind. The world was steadily rotating around the sun as my brain whirled around my body. I could close my eyes and smell all of it, the fresh scent of the world and my brain in a new clearance. It was all a circle around a circle within a circle of thoughts. The park blew me away with its beauty, greenery, and depth. I could stay there for hours on end while levitating towards the unsullied trees. I sat there, pasted to bench by the waters and began to read Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. Every morning, I’d walk over to a coffee shop nearby and pass Mike’s Deli on the way. The Brooklyn Commune a block away served delicious grilled chicken sandwiches and flavorful coffee. Hipsters decorated the café with their colorful plaid shirts, beards, beanies, and thick leather boots. Around the corner from Jade’s, Bene Pizzeria prepared mouthwatering fresh pizzas. Fort Hamilton Parkway, that’s my subway stop. Noted. I could even see the stop from Jade’s room. It was that near and that comforting to watch the New Yorkers coming in and out of the subways aperture. Our worlds separated yet still one. One world rests above the clouds, where people admire the unique landscapes and embrace the sun. Another on ground level on a horizontal and stressful plain. Worlds underground on platforms with trains, underwater with sea creatures. Ultimately, a blind and quiet planet full of dreams and fascination existed somewhere on every level out there. I was still there, observing the mortals entering and exiting the manmade hole. And right beneath the window was where my very own quiet planet existed.


photo by Karim Kassem | cover photo by Osman Rana

photo by Karim Kassem | cover photo by Osman Rana

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