Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Z is for Zerzura

Phew! I almost dropped the challenge on the last day! I have been busy.
But, fortunately enough, part of what kept me busy starts with a Z. So, it all works out in the end.

Zerzura is a legendary lost oasis somewhere in the Sahara. It is one of the most famous lost cities in world literature, particularly because it is featured in one of the most amazing tales of the Arabian Nights.

But, let's tart from the top.

A year ago I was working as a screenwriter for an online game called Nadirim. My job was to take stories from the Arabian Nights and other related oral traditions, and turn them into parts of the game. Well, one of the stories that I have always found fascinating was the City of Brass - basically, it is the story of an expedition sent out by the Caliph of Damascus to hunt for djinn sealed into bottles by King Solomon. It is Indiana Jones meets Arabian Nights meets... well. Djinn. The expedition is lead by a soldier, a diplomat, and a sheik who is kind of an archaeologist, and they do end up finding the City of Brass, following an ancient book called the Book of Hidden Pearls. This text, by the way, actually exists, and have been used by countless treasure hunters in the past centuries for it contains descriptions of lost cities and hidden treasures all over North Africa. It mentions the oasis of Zerzura, or, the Oasis of Birds, that have been associated with the city in the Arabian Nights.

The story, however, does not stop here. The Hunt for Zerzura was a series of expeditions at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries - German, British, French, everyone wanted to find it first. Among them, a Hungarian gentleman called Almásy László - generally known from the movie as "the English patient". He brought an airplabe into a car race, and enede up finding wadi Abd-el-Malik, one of the three wadis that form the rain oasis in the heart of the Gilf Kebir in southern Lybia - a rain oasis that appears and disappears according to rainfall, is on a bird migration route, and is also known as Zerzura.

I took the three stories - the book, the Arabian Nights, and Almásy's journal - and turned them into a full-hour storytelling show, titled The Book of Hidden Pearls. I have been telling the three parts separately, but did not have an opportunity to do the whole show on stage... until this weekend, when I had the honor of being invited to the Connecticut Storytelling Festival as a performer!

I was excited and nervous at the same time. I have worked a lot with this story, and it is one of my favorites ever; but it has a lot of details that need to be done just right, and one has to keep the timing, and... just, generally, a first full performance always feels like a jump in the deep end. The performance space was pretty, and comfortably small; we had a full house of about 30 or 40 people. I shared a 90 minute session with Bob Reiser, an amazing storyteller who started the show with his tale of the civil rights movement, and was a very tough act to follow!

Finally, it was my turn to tell the tale of Zerzura. At this point the smiling faces and the atmosphere of the festival had dissolved my nervousness, and I was able to just sit down, look my listeners in the eye, and tell my story with the "you are all gonna love this because this story is awesome!" attitude. That is one of the many reasons why I only tell stories I absolutely love: they give you a sense of "I must share this with you!" and the enthusiasm takes care of the rest. The telling went really well, I certainly enjoyed every moment of it, and in the end, people stood up and applauded. And what made this experience even better, I kept getting questions from people all day later on about Zerzura, and the City of Brass, and Almásy, and all in all, how much of it was actually true? I enjoyed these conversations immensely, and was happy that I could share a glimpse into a different culture, a different time, and a different dream.

I really need to turn this into a book right now.

In the meantime, happy A to Z to everyone!!! It has been a lot of fun blogging with you, see you all next year!
Next stop: More posts about the CT festival. Yay!


  1. Well done on the story and the performance and for finishing the challenge. It was great fun.

  2. A great experience and this is the first I've seen of this word in the Challenge or elsewhere.

    Congratulations on making it through the A to Z Challenge. Join us on May 7th with your Challenge Reflections post.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  3. Hello there.
    I came across your blog during the Z to Z Challenge and think its a wonderful concept well executive. I nominated you for the Versatile Blog Award. You can learn about it here.
    Use it you need and enjoy.