Wine Today, Everything Else Tomorrow

So a few years ago I did an test and was delighted when it came back that I might possibly be 1% North African. At the time I was going through an incredibly difficult time in my personal life (divorce, sister had just recently passed...stuff like that), and found so much solace and splendor in traveling to Marrakech.

In two months I went like three times. I even wrote an alphabet book and chose my favorite city in Morocco as the title--

You can get your copy at

So lately I've been back on an Arabesque creative kick. I've just finished up a fairy tale set in North Africa entitled The Empress's New Clothes which is being illustrated by Elena Tommasi Ferroni. Behold the glorious artwork for what will be the cover.

The original painting has been acquired but signed prints are available.
Email [email protected] for details.

I'm also working on a collection of Arab proverbs to publish. It will be illustrated by Iraqi calligrapher Amjed Rifaie.
Like in every culture, there are many gorgeous proverbs to be found in the Arab language.
Here are a few of my favorite--
*What you hide in your heart is read in your eyes.
*Half of a person's beauty comes from their tongue.
*Trust in Allah, but tie up your camels.

So this morning I headed over to Amjed's studio here in Rome to see his creative process and talk about how this book is gonna come together.
During our visit I sipped coffee that was already waiting for me when I arrived, and soaked in the culture and artistic tips he was dishing out.

Amjed uses Arab words within his illustrations, which is something I hadn't seen before I met him.
I adore this journal that features his art on the cover and a button for fastening it closed.

Always so interesting to see artists' tools, I think.
Most of Amjed's materials come from Turkey and Baghdad.

This one reads, "Between one love and another, I love you."

After deciding which proverbs to include in the book, I asked Amjed a few questions.

Me: So where are you from exactly? What city?
Amjed: Tikrit.
Me: Are there other calligraphers in your family?
Amjed: Yes, my brother and my cousin.
Me: And what's your creative process like?
Amjed:To be a calligrapher, you need someone to follow you. Like a mentor. My cousin mentors me. He will tell me how to improve if I send him what I'm working on. You need discipline. It's spiritual. If you're not in a clean mood, physical state, or mindset, you cannot do it. Even if you have the best materials, the best things, you can't do it. Late at night is the best time to create calligraphy--before bed. Your mind is clear. It's a spiritual art, not religious. I always shower before I create calligraphy, I make sure that my working space is very clean.
Me: Who's the best calligrapher, in your opinion?
Amjed: Abbas Al Baghdad. He's the teacher of my teacher. He has one of the most difficult styles in the world.

I asked Amjed if he had a favorite Arab proverb, and he shrugged, pulled out his phone, and began looking some up in Arabic. He came across one and chuckled.
"Ah yes, this is a good one..." he began, "This one says--Wine today, everything else tomorrow."
I immediately exclaimed, "That's my proverb!!!"
He grinned and replied, "That's how I live my life. I live for today. We don't know about tomorrow."

I went right home and put the wise words I'd just learned to good use.

Wine today, everything else tomorrow.
Written in Arabic in black ink above.
Look for the children's book of Arab proverbs from The English Schoolhouse this spring.

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