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. 


  1. Hi Heather... I am new to your blog, as I just heard about it at a little grandbaby shower for Carolyn Howell last night. Having read everything, I want to respond, respond, respond. But for now, two things... Jack and I fell in love with Paul Bowles and The Sheltering Sky years ago. There was a movie that wasn't as good, much more "lurky" and dark, with Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Rent it if you have not seen it, but be prepared for a feeling of desperation. Also, your description of comparing Marrakech and Hudson from a child's point of view resonates. It is not Marrakech, but big cities. Our grandchildren live in New York City and Shanghai as you know, and their parents feel the same wistfulness. However, they immediately would say, "But on the other hand..." I look forward to many more beautifully written observations! Love to all three of you!!

  2. This is amazing. I've been reading it since your first entry, but have had trouble commenting. S is helping me now. This is a test.


  3. I think am please to see Hazel is growing up with sheep. We hope that you'll visit us again when she is older and can appreciate the real thing.


  4. Can you tell who majored in Mathematics and who majored in English?