Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blue in the Red City

We went a couple days ago to the Jardin Majorelle, an oasis of cool blues and greens hidden away from the dusty red city on the other side of a surrounding wall. Once upon a time (in 1923) the French painter Jacques Majorelle came to Morocco, settled in Marrakech to convalesce from tuberculosis, and built himself a villa surrounded by gardens and pools, decorating its various features in a color he coined Majorelle Blue—an intense lapis-cobalt-just-at-deepest-dusk hue. Here and there throughout town in front of shops and cafés you see plants in pots of that same vibrant blue. (The color reminds me of the evening sky in a Maxfield Parrish painting called Hilltop Farm, Winter.) Marrakech, incidentally, is called the Red City because so many of its buildings, new and old, are either painted this deep ochre color or built from the earth on which the city is founded—and the earth here is red. We saw a huge back hoe the other day gouging out enormous mouthfuls of rust-red earth from a narrow lot while a crowd of us watched, intent as Hazel on the carefully articulating "mah-sheen." The French, while in power early in the last century, laid down an ordinance that mandated all new buildings follow this already-established color scheme. Yves Saint Laurent eventually bought the Majorelle villa and gardens and studio, and the gardens continue to be open to the public. 

So we walked the 20 minutes from our apartment—paid our 60Dhs and, backing away from the sellers of silver baubles and leather belts, slipped through the door and past the first fountain in blue and green tile (though Hazel went back and back to it before we could move on), fell into the cool bamboo and palm shade, listened to the running water, and generally disappeared from the hot afternoon on the other side of the wall. Red brick and polished red concrete walkways pull you through the arching green, make you pause at the side of lily pools to look down at carp and turtles (who gather beneath you looking up for food—it's a heavily traffic'd tourist destination), invite you to sit, breath, be still—or caper about through sun and shadow if you're 2. Because of the cool blue and water-green, maybe because of the YSL connection the place draws a healthy crowd—we heard by turns Italian, German, French spoken by Belgians and French (we talked to one such couple) and others not of European descent, and British English spoken by a couple with their four blond kids in tow. On the streets, in the souks, in the gardens, there are plenty of people from elsewhere here, but perhaps especially in the holiday month of August, even despite the fact that this year Ramadan straddles both August and September.

Before we made it into the garden, I'd told the guy trying to sell me a silver necklace that what he held in his hand was beautiful indeed, but maybe later, not now. And an hour and a half later as we left, there he was, offering, asking, showing, pleading as we walked the 50 yards back out to the main thoroughfare. "My wife at home, please, Madame, 50 Dirhams, 40, 30—20," he said finally. $3.50 for a silver-studded necklace of turquoise and jet-black beads? Who knows who made the necklace, what the materials or value really. He was slight, dressed in dusty pants and jacket, his face browned and wrinkled beneath the curled brim of hat. He wasn't smiling or jibing with humor. "My wife at home," he repeated, tilting his head to one side. When it was clear the three of us with Hazel (in her expensive British-made stroller) had no intention of being persuaded, he turned away not with disdain exactly—was it resignation? or a mixture of disgust and disappointment?

There's a great disparity here between people who have money and those who don't. I saw an older woman curled up sleeping on the street the other day as we walked back along Mohammed V. She lay on her side on a length of cardboard at the base of one of the columns of the arcade there, hands palm-to-palm beneath her head, grey hair close-cropped but matted, her knees tucked up, naked and dirty cracked feet together, dressed in filthy white shirt and colorless pants. I saw another woman again this morning while Hazel and I were out for a walk, tall, dressed in the same tan pants and navy blue jacket, the same zip-bag over her shoulder, greasy henna'd hair bunched in the same way at the nape of her neck, hand out-stretched, palm up as she moved against the main flow of pedestrian traffic. There's a crippled man we saw again today too who sits at the base of another column further along the avenue—he smiled broadly just as he had the other day, "Ca va, madame?" he asked just as before. By contrast, the towering glass-walled stretch of the Spanish Zara store, also along Mohammed V, contains 2,000 Dirham duvet covers and pewter pitchers for 229 Dirhams, approximately $250 and $30, respectively—and spanking white Mercedes and flashy BMW roadsters tool about the city among the donkey-drawn carts, the many teams of horse-and-carriage, the endlessly dodging scooters. Again, a disparity not unlike any other city, right? 

Yes, and no. All I manage to see right now is the uneasy relationship between a French colonial past, a further past of Arab influence, and a past beyond the past of Berber independence. (In general, the Berber term for themselves is Imazighen, the "free people.") Maybe this story of the powerful and the powerless is universal, especially now that industrialized nations stretch their long and indiscriminate arms virtually anywhere on the globe. And white as we are, walking along the streets, it feels like we are perceived only as the face of that double-edged global reach—maybe only as an immediate source of potential gain. I'm reading Beryl Markham's West With the Night, her 1942 chronicle of British East Africa in the 19-teens and '20s. The writing is lyrical in an old-fashioned sense, her descriptions lovely, her turns of finely wrought phrase and her use of metaphor a pleasure. But she is also of her time; she writes of one of her dearest Nandi (native Kenyan) employees and friends that he would touch a horse "with animal respect for animal dignity." But what am I asking of her? Maybe Markham's frame of reference, the way she sees black and white—sensitive and thoughtful as she is—has poisoned, or over-sensitized, how I'm able to see the world around us now in 2009. So I find myself anticipating real conversations with people who are from here who could counter some of these post-colonialist preoccupations of mine.

The Majorelle garden, this beautiful island of rippling blue calm, is a product both of the European fascination with the exotic and its supposed dominion of it—or at least ownership. First the Frenchman Jacques Majorelle, then his countryman Yves Saint Laurent, then the rest of us. Beautiful, blue, even so.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

We go it alone

OK. So it happened again. The being had. Please witness photo (to right) as evidence of the Mark of the Tourist. I only found out later from the 6th generation Berber Herbalist that the "henna" the woman used was not henna at all but chemicals and lord knows what else. He showed me a box of black hair dye in contrast to the natural henna product and explained that tourists wanted something darker than the soft brown of the natural henna tattoos, something that would last, something closer to the "real" tattoos of home. So the hawkers on Place Jemaa El Fna (and elsewhere, presumably) started using this black stuff that's probably not unlike L'Oréal No. 389, Black Beauty. Anyway. There is the lovely smudge on my right hand for however many months to come, marking me out as the idiot tourist who in a moment both maternal and inattentive picked up her 2-year old and ruined not only said 2-year old's lovely flutter-cap-sleeved white shirt but also the henna-job.

So this is how it happened. We wanted to go into the Medina, the old walled city and the warren of souks, the shops selling all sorts of goods—arranged, for the most part, by trade, and laid out for the most part in the shade. We took our petit taxi for not-very-much all the way up Mohammed V, one of the main arteries of the city ("Oh, les filles!" cried the driver as a slow-moving sedan, driven by a woman, inched its way across our path), getting out beneath La Koutoubia (as I've mentioned, the landmark of Marrakech, the 11th century mosque built by the Almohads to mark their defeat of the Almoravids). The plaza, awash in morning sun and enormous in its expanse, was relatively empty in comparison to the packed feel of the teeming crowds swirling beneath the night sky last week. I dropped a couple post cards into one of the yellow post boxes arranged by twos in front of the packed post office, classic tourist move, then we turned to make our way, without Moustafa, toward the entrance to the souks along Rue Souk Smarine on the far side of the plaza. And before you could say Jack Robinson (as my mother would say), they were upon us—the snake charmer, wrapping a snake around my neck (we, the snake and I, locked eyes for a fleeting moment, six inches from each other's snouts) and rubbing the body of the snake on my arm for good luck, the man with the blond-furred monkey in his arms, pushing Paul to take a picture of Hazel and me and the monkey, and then the woman with a long syringe pulling at my hand and squirting the beginning loops and dots and curls of her design onto the back of my trapped hand. I'm looking at Paul, Hazel is with him, I have the stroller, but not my wits. 

I get caught in these moments where I want, dutifully, to do what people expect of me, to agree or nod or affirm in some way—impulses borne of years of being taught not only to get along but to connect with people, to be kind by default, to make others feel at home or ok. However. It's hard to do this when you don't really speak the language, can't expertly navigate the intricacies of human interaction, let alone traverse the trickier passages of culture—and want to exit tactfully and without offense. So the various pliers of this and that fell away (I was falling all over myself, turning to right and left saying "Non, merci. Merci quand meme. Desolee. Pas aujourd'hui") with the single and persistent exception of the woman speaking to me from beneath the black flutter of veil that covered the lower half of her face. She had me by the hand and was not letting go, had already made her mark and was going to see some money for having done so. Which is only natural. Paul had read the guidebooks (or was taught from a young age to be mean, he just said), and was standing well outside the forcefield looking in at me. In my flustered state I fished around first in my wallet, then in Paul's change purse and gave the woman what amounted to $0.75—"Bonne chance, madame," she said in what sounded a lot like disgust and was turning away before I could say—what? "A vous, aussie"? What do you say? Ach. Only the satisfaction of writing it all down (and taking a picture).

Then into the souks, all that you imagine but alive (this time we saw 15-foot hammered double brass doors, mountain ranges of sticky honeyed sweets, inlaid wooden trays and octagonal tables by the dozens and dozens)—and amidst the overwhelming abundance, found a pair of orange leather sequined slippers for Hazel, for which I paid way too much. Again, the learning curve of the person trained to be kind is steep here. Rashid, the proprietor or at least the frontman for the leather goods shop, has a brother who's an herbalist, and the family also has a silver-shop—come, let me show you, just around the corner. So we did go, but only to see the herbalist, leaving behind promises to come back again (we live here! and though I bear the mark of the idiot, we aren't like that!).

The herbalist was something else altogether—his shop, just around the corner in fact, a wonder of meticulously arranged heaps of clove, stacks of bundled cinnamon, jars and bottles and packets full of substances of every hue. It really felt like you imagine a film set might feel—things set at just this or that precise angle, colors a little brighter and sharper, the wooden painted sign outside almost from the props department of one of the Harry Potter films. (This is my point of reference.) At any rate, the herbalist (he seemed so young—was he owner or engine or what exactly?) made clear the difference between a pharmacie and his own shop—nothing chemical, tout naturel. He went through an entire spiel (that sounds pretty trite, he was warm, gracious, good at his job and good at making us feel welcome), assisted by a young woman in headscarf, expounding the wonders of argan oil (have you heard of this? an interesting substance, a magic elixir and cure-all, it would seem, only from Morocco I think, or at least the Sahara), dotting each of our arms in turn with first orange-oil, then rose-oil, demonstrating the proper technique for testing saffron, giving both Paul and me a good strong snuff of nigella seeds he'd rubbed warm (like Viks VapoRub, but packed with a much different and organically sharp pungent kick), and on and on about as long as Hazel could last. He also kindly explained the black gook on my hand, smiling ruefully (as it seemed to me). We bought some of the most intensely cinnamon-y cinnamon I've ever encountered and a couple other packets of spices—fenugreek and a typically Moroccan blend, said our thanks (received Hazel's gift of a curious tube of green lipstick than when applied turns pink—a big hit), returned by way of Rashid (paused to converse), then had Hazel asleep on my shoulder before we'd left the shade of the souks.  

[Footnote to an earlier post—the brass dog has disappeared, and it's not because I've shopped early for Hazel's Christmas stocking.]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meditation on size and space

We have a Hobbit-size washing machine just outside the kitchen on the closed-in balcony (and no dryerit turns out that sopping laundry, at 107 degrees Fahrenheit, will dry stiff as a board in about an hour), the chilled milk is sold in petite pints, so too the orange juicebut the spices, the olives, even the supermarket variety are all sold out of gigantic bins that put Whole Foods and other expensive US purveyors of taste to shame. We bought a giant tub of capers because that's how they come (and they are pungent little suckers for sure, somehow more gamey than their tiny cousins packed in slender bottles that make it into the States), but the ice cream cone that Hazel managed mostly on her own was quite modest in comparison to the giant scoops from Kimball's Farm in Littleton, Massachusetts (as big as your head, no joke) that we devoured without batting an American eye. Granted, Hazel's boule the other day cost $0.75, but still. The circumference of a roll of toilet paper here does not rival that of a mature deciduous tree (and does not come in 24-paks for x-tra val-u) and the supermarket itself could fit seven times over inside the local Acme back in Hudson, Ohio. And yetthe gracious tiled courtyard outside our apartment window, the huge Jardin El Harti around the corner full of olive, locust, palm and fig trees, abundant and gorgeous blooming red-orange lantana and periwinkle plumbago, the parade of public fountains that she played in, the wide boulevard outside the main train station (itself a grand sweep of tile and canopy). 

We visited the campus of the American School of Marrakech for the first time this morning. It sits outside the city a ways, not too far, maybe a 15-minute drive from our apartment. Our place is in La Guéliz, the quarter built in the 1920s when Morocco was a Protectorateso it's the part of town with office buildings that (in scale) would feel at home in downtown Cleveland, say, apartment buildings done by English developers, facades on a Western scale. Heading roughly southeast, rounding a series of traffic circles, we gradually left the city (Moustafa at one point swung wide out into on-coming traffic to pull around a little slow-moving truck), skirting the old walls of the city, passing La Palmeraie (a centuries-old palm grove now increasingly nibbled at by developers)while out the window flashed the modern facades of unfinished single-family homes and condos sitting empty in the morning sun. We turned onto a stretch of narrow road and passed a herd of shorn sheep and a lone donkey and lean-limbed dogs in the dust outside a group of single-storey low-to-the-ground houses massed together. We zipped by the Atlas Golf Resort (big colorful billboard), also unfinishedyou get the sense that the city is creeping closer, but that it may take another decade to reach the school's gate. Which there isa closed wooden gate, a guard (several in fact) and then a long stretch of green, the gracefully arching roofline, cool outdoor hallways and covered staircases still wet from a morning wash. There are orange trees, those tall pines with small close branches that together form a single column, beds of roses, rows of nodding miscanthus, olive trees, green grass. What a vision. It's a beautiful space. Both of us breathed in the moving air, the vista beyond the school's grounds, felt grateful to be at home where there's a place for Hazel to run. "Take off shoes," she nodded, sitting down on the stone step, pulling off both crocs, setting out into the grass and fluttering up two grey moths that were settled there. 

So back in the apartment, snuggled up against strangers like you are in a city, walled away from open green spaces,  I'm remembering the two weeks we spent at my folks' place—Hazel went outside before bed to say goodnight to the fireflies and the garden, she splooshed water from the wading pool onto the waiting tricycle, ran out across the neighbor's yard totally naked save for her bonnet (diminutive pioneer sprite). It's an adjustment that has to happen in my head—recalibrating home space, public space, setting aside the old ease of access to outdoor space that's "ours." Recalibrating proportion of all sorts. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jemaa El Fna

Wednesday night, August 19, and we’re sitting on the couch in our apartment. Paul pops open a Flag Pils, at $1.60 a can, and we realize this is Hazel’s first day in Marrakech not having eaten an ow-ow (that’s olive). And so we tumble back into last night’s trip to Jemaa El Fna—a plaza that sits almost in the shadow of the city’s landmark mosque, La Koutoubia—an outing fueled mostly by a big bag of olives that keeps Hazel alive into the night:

She looks out the Citroen window from my lap as Moustafa, the school’s driver, takes us to Place Jemaa El Fna; she’s watching the horse-drawn carriages going by us to right and left, “Gallopa-gallopa-gallopa,” she says, and then wonders where the horses go. “So many people,” she says.

The people are pouring out from wherever they have been during the day, into the gathering evening and the streets, scooters zing by on both sides, one with a baby sandwiched between the driver in front and the scarf-clad woman on the back (her scarf hangs down and covers the scooter’s brake-light, the baby looks back over her shoulder); above us strung every so often across the boulevard are arabesques of white lights, getting brighter as evening descends. Everyone beneath them on sidewalk and street are weaving this incredible tapestry of movement and energy, people watching and pausing to cross at just the right moment, go and more go. Moustafa noses the car around a large traffic island where a woman in a lace headscarf poses for a picture beside a cannon (she looks and nods at what her friend has taken), and a Caucasian couple stands with backpacks and front packs each facing the other but looking out around over each other's shoulders at the swirling scooters and cars and the standing traffic police in their blue and darker blue and white holsters and extended white cuffs. Given the couple's expressions, wide-eyed and dazed, I wonder where they’ll find to stay tonight. An older woman—small, swathed in long tan dress and scarf, hesitates, gauging the flow, then steps out from the island into the moving tide of people and cars—one of those faces in a flash and then gone. Mouad, a young Moroccan teacher at the school, had said to us the day before as we walked out to buy groceries that people just cross the street as they can, wherever, “That’s how it’s done here.” Bryan, head of school, was with us on that excursion and said that in Vietnam he was instructed to just keep his tempo steady as he plunged into the stream of bikes and scooters and cars, that everyone else will adjust as you move along, and you’re safe only as long as you keep your chosen pace.

By the time we’re dropped off to meet Bryan and his family and Moustafa returns from having parked the car who-knows-where, it’s dark. The group now includes Vladimir, the new history teacher, and his wife Natalia, their 5-year old son Niki, Bryan and his wife Cha-cha (she’ll be Hazel’s Montessori teacher, already “Mizth Thca-thca”), and their high school senior son. Moustafa, now our guide, snaps shut his cell phone, leans down to kiss Hazel, takes her hand, I take her other—and there she is walking bravely between us toward the great bank of lights illuminating the blowing curtains of smoke from the cooking fires of the food stalls at the center of Jemaa El Fna. There is a sea of people between us and the lights and the smoke—all beneath the great bowl of the dark sky. Her little face is flushed, her dress swinging, and once she spots the single star you can see right above us here, she’s singing her version of “Star light, star bright.”

And it’s a crazy scene. We stop first to watch one of the many monkeys with handlers—this one is in a purple pleated dress (her handler gestures to us to pet the coarse, grey, oddly abundant fur of her forearm), she does several back flips when vigorously prodded, and then lays herself coyly back on the cobblestones, on her side, tail curled just so. Endless sellers, mostly teens or children it seems, hocking this or that drum, bouncy-sparkle toy, single packet of tissues, wooden but undulating snake, move through the throng (no live snakes after 6PM, however, much to Hazel’s dismay). We drink fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the dozens of juice stalls—Moustafa chooses one, for what reason I’m not sure and neither of us recalls which number (the stalls are each numbered, but not lined up chronologically), and I wish I spoke enough Arabic to know what he is bantering about with the juicers up behind the counters, probably a good three feet above us. He gestures, he laughs, they joke—clearly part of the culture of choosing one but not leaving the others out. At one point he leads us off the plaza and into the twisting streets of the souk—shop upon shop, leather goods, pottery, silver, clothing, and then the olives—great glistening pyramids, pale, black, green, spiced. We buy a bag (Moustafa, since he is here, enacts the exchange)—and we’re good to go for at least another hour. We have a late supper at one of the food stalls (be prepared to say no to each emcee at each stall until you reach the one you want—one says to us, smiling, encouraging, pegging us in a heartbeat, “Fingehr leekin ghood!” ). And then it’s home through the streets still thronged with people, lights still lit, the guards at the King’s Marrakech residence chatting in their booth, home to bath and bed. 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Little brass dog on the sidewalk

Yesterday we went for an evening stroll out our door and down the block. We crossed the first street and walked by the shop with the small brass dog that sits on its haunches and holds open the door beside the group of men who always sit in their rattan chairs, chatting and passing the time. Hazel plops down to pet the patient creature, and soon we're in the shop, shaking hands with the proprietor Abdul, accepting his offer of mineral water, looking at pictures of him with his arm around clients in LA whose homes he's decorated (Samuel L. Jackson, Lawrence Fishburne), watching one of his men ask Hazel which necklace she'd like to have from the great painted bowl of necklaces conveniently situated at her feet, looking at each other when he says what size rug do you want to buy, or do you like which mirror? Here are some beautiful mirrors (he speaks low and fast to his assistants and snaps fingers for them to bring down mirrors in sizes I might like), we can send anything to anywhere, no problem (he lived in La Jolla he says, and Florida). He speaks a mixture of French and English to us, always gracious, but also pushing, pushing, and then even better price since you live down the block and don't need to send anything to the States. Here are pictures of my two girls, my wife, he pulls them out of his wallet and we watch as he offers Hazel a view of his smiling 8-month old. Good prices here -- this henna'd camel-bone mosaic bound mirror? Other shops? in the Medina? much more expensive -- here, 300Dh.

And just like that we find ourselves folded into Abdul's car, being zoomed (as it turned out just around the corner) to his vaster emporium of North African wares -- he pulls up, stops with a jerk, I just catch Hazel as she lurches forward almost off my lap. We're ushered down a hallway lined with silver decanters and trays gleaming from behind glass, then into a high-ceilinged room, leather bags and purses and sacks of all sorts stretching up to the rafters, other clients sitting with empty tea glasses and crumpled napkins, slipper upon curled slipper stacked on shelves, elephants of all sizes and brass camels parading along the floors, more mirrors bound in silver and bone and silver tea pots and glass tea cups all tucked into alcoves to right and left along the main aisle, then finally rug stacked upon colorful rug and lining all four walls of the the great room at the back, this one lit by the sun still stretching long dusty shafts through a high bank of windows. We are whisked and urged and cajoled and petted by a series of sellers, while shop-assistants, who must still be in their teens, unsnap and spread on the tiled floor kilim after lovely kilim. Pour vous, moins cher -- bien sur, un prix spécial. For you, 20% off our normal prices. Hazel chases the elephants and Paul wrangles Hazel while I look first at the deep red and bright orange tapis and then that deep blue one with the red fringe (dyed using indigo, the gentleman says) then another more beautiful than the last, before we thank all concerned as profusely as we can manage, say how beautiful the wares, really and truly, walk empty-handed down back through the leaning towers of goods and down the glass and wood hallway, and finally spit ourselves back out onto the cooling tile of the sidewalk, wondering what just happened.

I guess we look like we have the money, the look of an obvious and quick sell. Anyway. Paul said later that when he was Hazel-chasing, Abdul asked him if we were buying anything and when Paul said he thought not, he took off down the aisle towards the exit. We walked by again today (Hazel got down on her knees to say hello to the dog and give him some water from her sippy-cup) and the kinder, less hustle-hustle assistant said hello and asked if we'd bought anything the day before -- no-no, we live here, we'll take our time... so maybe that's how it goes the first time around when you look like we do in this place.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Apartment, for the first time

Paul said yesterday that he's never lived in an apartment building, and so one of my first thoughts after we'd walked through our apartment's wide front door for the first time (the kind of door with the European-style non-turning handle placed squarely in the middle instead of connected to the lock-and-bolt gizmo off to the side) -- first thought peering out our fourth-floor window into the courtyard below was a moment from Hitchcock's Rear Window -- the one you think of too, probably: Jimmy Stewart rolled up to the nighttime window (we see what he sees across the way and down below), Grace Kelly sneaking from room to room just as the nefarious villains return. No chance of burying a body in our courtyard, though -- it's all stone tile from stem to stern, no hiding anywhere, unless you can manage, Keystone-Cops style, to make your tip-toe way from one potted plant to the next all the 50-meter length of one side or the other of the echoing courtyard.

I stood down there this morning talking with Jihane, a young woman who works in the building -- I'd seen her before in our comings and goings over these last couple days, she'd cooed at Hazel and said bonjour before, but this time she pulled out her phone and took a picture, two of them even, kissed her, said thank-you. And so this will be Hazel's experience in Morocco -- already has been -- kisses a-plenty and more inside each rug shop, around every corner, from old and young. Of course the guide books predict all this, but it was shocking when the Royal Air Maroc attendant at JFK swooped down to Hazel's 2-foot level, whooshed her with a pinch and a twinkle and a ruffle of her blonde head, and then sent us into the warren of glass-walled hallways that wound us eventually down to our plane. So we managed, Jihane and I, between French and English and a few words of Darija (Moroccan Arabic), to learn each other's names, to exchange telephone numbers, and to promise Darija lessons in exchange for English. It has been (predictably) completley frustrating not knowing how to say exactly what I mean and with the right inflection and intention. It's a handicap that's hard to manage sometimes -- I was thinking no wonder people come to a new place and recreate the old, or even sequester themselves from the surrounding and incomprehensible culture.

Two nights ago just after dusk it rained a booming thunderstorm (frustrating not to be able to get access easily to the sky to see it coming), and so we dashed from window to window and finally down into the slippery courtyard (where in fact two men were moving along one side from potted plant to potted plant -- taking slight shelter under the slim eaves 40 meters above). After only a few seconds amidst the drops Hazel slipped once, caught her balance, then was headed back up the stairs. We watched the rest of the storm from the living room in the dark, windows closed since the temperature I'm sure was still in the 90s. And so here again was a Jimmy Stewart moment -- there was the big-boobed lady two floors down reclining relaxedly with her naked-torso'd male companion on a bed right underneath their window, and the place across the way with the gorgeous carved wooden panels and the huge lantern and the tv that seems to have been on all day and still is, and another naked torso'd guy with a woman and their kid, all three leaning out into the courtyard and the rain. From this apartment we hear people doing what people do at home in a way we never did in Berkeley in our little duplex, never on the sheep farm in Groton, not ever really anywhere else we've lived. Duh. This is city-living just like in any other city for sure, but here it's another part of the new.

[A literary post-script: I did in fact read Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky -- and found that it was true to its post-WWII era in attitude and content, that it had bleak things to say about our ability to communicate with one another and across cultures, that it viewed the Arab as "The Arab," full of mystery and romance and the Exotic, that the East is an inscrutable screen on which to project Western desire -- so the book is of it's own time and I'm happy that it's not mine. I heard that the late Paul Bowles was a great friend of the late founder of the American School of Marrakech -- characters maybe from a lost time of expats abroad. I'm curious about that expat culture here now, post-September 11, 2001 and in the era of Obama. So far no t-shirt sightings.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the city

So now we really are here, despite the subtitle up above. Because I'm-not-sure-why, it takes a thousand years to switch from one screen to another, from one "I want to post now" to another "now it's time to add peeps to my list of who can read me" -- so apologies beforehand for whatever the final version reads or looks like to you -- it will take a bit of doing to get what's in my head or on my camera onto the screen. The computer part is mostly a mystery to me anyway, made all the more so by the Moroccan air through which these signals and blips are moving. World Wide Interweb, indeed.

I've written a bunch already on my own laptop, but so far Maroc Telecom won't let me onto our wireless configuration at home, so I'm hunched over Paul's laptop while both of us sit here on the black leather banquette, drinking Flag Pils and glorying in the fact that the girl has gone to bed, we have wireless, we skyped with Paul's folks and with mine this evening, and the dust of the first 72 hours is settling, albeit haphazardly and in fits and starts. (The sudden thunderstorm last night at 7:00 made some dust settle, I'm sure -- Hazel came running down the hall from the back of the apartment into the living room shouting, "It's raining! It's raining!" in her way -- and sure enough, great ropes of water were tumbling down and then the boom and flicker and clouds above us moving swiftly, the green fan of a palm on the roof of our building bobbing away in the wind. Still it must have been in the 90s. It's hot here.)

It's amazing how the old life falls away (the Cheeseboard, the baths at home, the trips to the park with her pals and mine and the patch of grass that Hazel liked best to run in) -- not really of course, but the present is so consuming, with its green tiles and sandaled feet, the smells of piss and incense, the toothsome grin of the gentleman across the street from whom I bought a head of cauliflower, 3 zuccinis, 1 red onion, 3 tomatoes, 3 oranges, 1 bunch of parsley and 1 free banana for Hazel all for $2 -- these things, faces, new corners and smells leap up in the now.

So this is the first post here -- we are here. We did make it out of Casablanca (only after the two hour layover turned into five -- there's a strike at Royal Air Maroc and we were lucky even to make it out that day), and though we don't all of us have wireless right now, at least one of us does, Hazel has been sleeping beautifully and generally marching through her days with joy, we have each other, and so the year begins.