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.]

1 comment:

  1. A delight to read of your daily life...and your vivid descriptions allow me to feel, smell, hear, and experience the events...thinking of you all. deb