It was early 2006 when I met Ala Bashir, subject of your article in “For Saddam’s surgeon, a new (Haven) life” (9/23). We were introduced by a friend who knew of my background in writing, a modest career parallel to another in industry and education. We have met many times, for me an educative process. Now and then I get to look over his shoulder as he works. The frail canvas on his easel takes on form of a kind durable as that of a Renaissance master. Mostly, Ala and I meet in country taverns where we find a quiet corner and talk. Saddam is rarely mentioned. What keeps us talking is the creative process and how it has shaped the output of the physician-artist. As artist, he carries the legacy of a civilization not merely centuries old, but millennia. A painting of Westrock Mountain, part of the landscape of New Haven, has images imposed on it from those most ancient of times.
Our ultimate and inexhaustible topic is life itself and the irony of a state whereby the physician’s duty is to compete with death while, in the privacy of his chamber, he ponders the inescapable — life’s “brief candle.” He paints to oblige no higher authority than himself, but the freedom to do so is overshadowed by the inevitability of death. The human condition, man’s flight from darkness to darkness, keeps him at his easel in an effort to make sense of it. To this purpose the whole canon of great art, often applied with wit and wry good humor, is at his fingertips, but he remains uniquely his own man.
University of Nottingham ’74