Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It has rained now several times in the last couple weeks—most recently in a sky-boiling late afternoon deluge that, after we dashed the two blocks from the bus to home, left us looking like we’d taken baths fully-clothed. The clouds, piling greys and blues and whites, had gathered in the southeast over the mountains—clear blue sky to the north and west—gathered in mass, color and intent as the otherwise sunny afternoon wore on. We got on the bus just in time it felt like, everyone looking over their left shoulder at the layered thunderheads towering, oncoming, then looking out the bus windows at the unusual grape-like curling clusters of charcoal-dark cloud almost overhead. We got to town and the skies closed to black like a curtain falling prematurely on a stage scene still lit, the rain-sound crescendo’d, the windows streamed, trees thrashed and branches came down (the traffic beyond the enormous out-of-scale bus windshield a soaking zig-zag’d pell-mell frenzy), and then it was our stop. One large step from bus to sidewalk over the gushing torrent, thought for a split-second about hugging each other and the building under an eave, and then went for it, Hazel already a drowned rat in my arms, tiny orange sundress plastered to her tiny goose-bumped frame, legs pressed tight around me. I’m sure she could feel the urgency of the moment, didn’t protest the dash or the rain, didn’t make a sound, in fact. I hugged her to me as much to keep myself warm as her and we all three ran (Paul with all our bags), waiving off the many groups of people urging us under an awning (I had to shout as we ran by, “We live just right there!” to convince people we weren’t insane in addition to being foreign). One of those moments of collective (though mild) panic, motion, witnessing. The streets had turned to rivers in a flash—three, four inches of water moving swiftly to where?—gone by morning except for the innocent glisten of a puddle here and there in the freshness and sunlight of the 8AM streets.

The mountains had first appeared early last week. Paul saw them in a flash down a southeast reaching side-street from the bus as we headed off to school. A clear morning, maybe it had rained in the night, fresh-feeling and cool in a way that was new. Is this what it feels like when the season changes here? Someone, a native of Tangier, said to us recently that of all Moroccan cities, Marrakech is the only one with four true seasons. We’d been waiting for them, the mountains, wondering how high they’d be when they came out from behind the haze that seems to sit in with the heat, hunker down, press close, blot out anything but what is in the present, what is on your mind this moment—you just can’t see beyond that perfect sin-wave undulation of brown hill down that avenue, or what’s at the end of that green stretch of palm-lined boulevard down that way. But then there they were, revelation.

The Atlas tower. They float. They are close. And these days they seem to send out daily emissaries, stacked and urgent, and whether or not they deliver the message, the source of it is clear. Someone else, a native Marrakechi, explained that these weeks now, the last days of August, the first weeks of September, this is when the rains come. And then looking up at the sky from our apartment window, or out the moving frame of the bus, I wonder what the wide and busy space of the Jemaa El Fna looks like in the deluge, what the narrow cobbled streets of the souks look like when the rains pour down, what the view of the coming drama is like from the top of La Koutoubia. The mountains hug themselves around the southeast border of the city—or, rather, Marrakech gets as close to their mass as possible without crowding that bulk. The city sits at an appreciative distance. 

It turns out I latched on tight to one high school chemistry experiment in particular. In 1989 M.F. poured a liquid into a liquid and lo and behold, the two made a solid, just like that, spontaneously and seemingly out of nowhere. The pumpkin-colored bits sifted lazily down through the unappealing cloudy liquid and settled on the bottom of the beaker. That’s my vision of how things can sometimes happen—bolt from the blue, thunderbolt-sudden. One thing precipitates another thing entirely, none of the rest of it expected.

I burst into tears the other day and had to put down Reading Lolita in Tehran—nothing to do with Lolita or Tehran or reading, only Nafisi remembering how old her daughter was when a certain something happened (the daughter was eleven). I just convulsed in that way—spontaneous well of tears. In that briefest flash I was overwhelmed with gratitude for what is to come for Hazel—and of course for me, too: the years of growing and laughing and talking together (I will cry, she will cry, I know that too). But it was there for the first time—this unfurling ribbon of yet-to-happen that I could all but see, just begin to imagine. She’s beginning to tell stories (she said the other day, and I wish I had the steel-trap mind to catch her words verbatim, that Ms. Tammou had gotten a tissue for one of the kids who was crying in her class—she says this to me as we are eating lunch in one of the cozy nooks at school, sitting together on a curved stone bench that hugs the inside wall of an open-air alcove, backed by what I’ve been telling her are Hazel-size windows: she can stand on the bench and look full out onto the school’s southeast-facing view toward the mountains when they’re there)—and when she does relate a tidbit of her vision, her eyebrows go up, or she tilts her head down and looks out from beneath her bangs, or lets out a little puff of air for emphasis once she’s made her statement, or stretches both her arms up and out, fingers spread wide, when the words fail her—all these narrative flourishes have arrived in just the last two weeks. 

On the bus to school yesterday I had another thought—what are we doing here? A replication of my parents’ experiences abroad, my grandparents’, aunts’ and uncles’, brother’s even—Mom growing up in Tehran, Dad in the Peace Corps in Tunis (and again together there later), Taylor in Ain Batoum in Tunisia too, my extended family in Saudi Arabia, Beirut, India, Afghanistan, so many people in so many elsewheres. And here we are in Marrakech. Now we’re in Marrakech. Replication with what intent exactly? Connection to what exactly? My perception of the inherited belief in the imperative of the importance of knowing another place? I think of that moment growing up when I realized that if I look a little like mom, and she looks a little like her dad, and he looked like his mother a bit—how far back do you go? You go back and back endlessly searching for the original (as Virginia Woolf would have it, searching for “the thing itself”), a search embarked upon in the first place to stave off encroaching insecurities? or to erase the yawning chasm of meaninglessness just on the other side of living and doing, thinking, feeling—being? These thoughts, shuffling, reshuffling for a long time now—precipitate here, in this place.

A former student just wrote (after seeing a picture of Hazel) and said, among other delightful things, that Hazel is a perfect combination of both of us. And she is her perfect and very own self, her own original, her own source, whatever it is we have given her, whatever it is that she’ll perceive of who came before and what they did where, and in full view of what mountains.  


  1. Wow! You are REALLY a parent! I loved reading about Hazel, the family connections, the generations of family members living in the world. I read these entries with great interest and joy.


  2. I love that moment of parenting--pausing and being overwhelmed to tears about the *weight* of all-that-is-to-come. It got me with Ellie when she was very small and I was, at my wits end with her colic, reciting "Twas the night before Christmas". Miraculously, she stopped crying, and miraculously I saw all the years, like a ribbon as you say, roll out ahead of us, and realized that the now of little baby crying was not really that long.

    Ellie came with us on a recent jaunt to Portugal, and it was wonderful to watch her, as the plane came in to land, put her walkman away carefully into her backpack, make her seat upright, and otherwise prepare for landing--a five year old copy of the adults around her.