Happy Shem en-Neseem from Out al-Kouloub’s ‘Three Tales of Love and Death’

Today is, of course,  Shem en-Nesseem, of “Smell the Breeze” day, a celebration of Egyptian spring.

Out el Kouloub’s 1940 book, Three Tales of Love and Death, published in English translation in 2000, contains a description of a village Shem en-Nesseem. From  a love story on the Nile Delta, translated (from the French) by Nayra Atiya:

Ahmad and Zariffa were thrown together not only when working, but on holidays. On Sham el Nessim, the first day of spring, the villagers abandoned their fields for the threshing grounds and greeted the new season with singing and dancing. Only a few weeks later, with their animals, they would be toiling on the Norag, the thresher, extracting the heavy wheat kernels from their castings using the Norag’s sharp, circular blades.

At sunrise on a bright spring day, the villagers formed a circle around pairs of men stick dancing. The men, calm and dignified, confronted one another, sticks poised over their heads. Their supple bodies moved artfully and spontaneously until one rival touched another. The loser stepped out silently, making way for  a new competitor. Three flutes and a drum accompanied the dance. The flutes played a mournful tune to usher out the vanquished and a merry one to celebrate the victor.