I have sort of reached a place of lull, a kind of no-man’s land of drifting. This last week especially our talk has pendulum’d between staying beyond this first year and going home (in mid-July, which amounts to eleven months really, not a year), perhaps accounting for my not writing or feeling much like writing these last couple days. So here goes, just a hodge-podge of this’s and that’s of observation and thought.
My birthday this last week came and went on an aberrantly cool and cloudy day (reminiscent of dear old northeast Ohio); and the day too was unaccountably empty. I have to pause for a moment and try and describe to you how I hear the word “empty” right now. As I mentioned briefly in the last post, I think, Hazel has this routine that she goes through in varying forms—a cobbling together of several stock sentences, one version of which I captured in a tiny movie a couple weeks ago. She’s wearing my glasses, is otherwise naked, and throughout the following dialogue kind of rolls here and there, sits and sprawls on our orange bedspread, looking back to the camera lens every now and again to make her point. It goes like this: “I go to work,” she says energetically, hands to either side of the black glasses frame—placing extraordinary emphasis on the word work, drawing it out over several beats and almost completely losing the already shy “r” in there, and then nodding firmly at the end of this first statement as she arrives at the final “k”. Then she’ll say, almost whispering, “There were so many people,” shaking her head as if marveling at the sheer number and mass of them, again landing on the two p’s of people with a special emphasis of the 2-year old variety. Next she says, “Looked in my pocket—empty,” each consonant given its full percussive due. And that last word, empty, by itself like that, the terminus of both its own sentence and the scene she’s just rendered, just kind of hangs in space for a moment, an embodiment of the word itself. Looking steadily at the camera, she holds out both hands, palms upturned, to illustrate her point.
I think she picked up this idea of looking into your pocket and finding it empty from Ezra Jack Keats’ more-than-amazing picture book, The Snowy Day. In it, Peter packs a snowball “round and firm and put [it] in his pocket for tomorrow. Then he went into his warm house.” Needless to say, the snowball has melted by the time he checks his pocket before bed. “His pocket was empty,” Keats writes. I love how Hazel poaches and appropriates these snatches of stories. Isn’t that how found language and experience and storytelling happily cohabitate?
So anyway, the day was empty—grey, tending toward rain; we saw virtually no one till Paul came home in the early evening. What did I do all day? I call up this day in particular because it typifies a liminal space I fall into sometimes here, one that amounts to nowhere. We didn’t do much of anything at all particularly Marrakech-esque—no Jemaa el Fna, no Majorelle bleu—well, come to think of it, nothing but a trip next door to Café Amandine for croissants and thé à la menthe. A birthday treat for the both of us. Brief tangent—there’s a group of mostly young men who work the omnipresent scooter-parking and car-washing on our block. The young guys are joined often by an older gentleman who works at a car-parts place, also on the block—I say “older” in the sense that he’s balding and probably twice their age; he said one time that he’s 50. They hang out mid-morning and late-afternoon under the huge fig trees drinking mint tea and talking across the scooters, and whenever we walk by we stop and chat, bavarder, they coo at Hazel’s antics and generally adore her for a couple of lovely minutes. She eats it up—especially the mint tea, which they shared with us one Saturday afternoon. The elder statesmen is gallant, full-tummied, ever-gracious, once emphatically telling us not to eat the pizza from across the way—they drink too much there (he makes the international sign of bottle-to-mouth); another time he guides me to the boulangerie around the corner instead of the one we’ve liked and been going to almost since we got here (I like ours better! The guy there is so nice!). My point, getting there, is that the first time we drank mint tea with them (Hazel’s fave, second only to the olives), he said, Thé à la menthe? C'est le whisky marocain. And just yesterday when we talked he amended his earlier statement to add—pour les pauvres. Mint tea is Moroccan whiskey for the poor.
Back to our empty day: We didn’t go to the store to buy food or diapers or other necessaries. We didn’t explore a new part of town. We mooned about in the morning at home—did I do laundry? Did Hazel mash and press her red crumbling play-doh on the black coffeetable-top? We must have gone out, if only briefly across the street to buy milk or mandarins (now deliciously in-season)—and we did indeed have tea. She napped half-heartedly—and of course, I think my fault—this is so because we just didn’t get enough exercise, didn’t do much of anything this morning. She woke from her nap after only an hour and a half, a full hour short of the usual. What am I to do with the next two and a half hours till Paul comes home? Here you see the dilemma of the fish out of water—or rather the family uprooted. By no means unusual anywhere, but for me the empty time echoes (at least it did last week) with the remembered shouts and whoops and diminutive running, jumping, climbing bodies at the playground back at Live Oak Park in Berkeley, the buzz of the Cheeseboard in late afternoon, the calls across our shared driveway on Vine Street. How can I convey the simultaneous ache for home and our now-passionate, now-apathetic embrace of the new?
We took the stroller, Hazel alternately walking and riding, and made our meandering detour-filled way out Mohammed V to the Cyber-Parc, a lovely long swath of towering green over-spilling the brick and grill-work fence that holds it back from the sidewalk on the long block before arriving at La Koutoubia. (One section of fencing has been cut away to give space to a huge-trunked tree that lolls one enormous green nodding branch far out over the sidewalk.) The sky, grey and moving, threatened our whole walk out; we arrived at the park’s far brick steps that lead in from just beyond the old city wall—and Hazel refused to go in. Despite the name (which I’ve yet to find an explanation for) the garden from the street is delicious and green and inviting—red-gravel paths twine among well-tended olive, palm and locust trees; stone benches tuck themselves inside the deep shade; thick carpets of grass belie the scant six inches of yearly rainfall. When we’ve walked back from the souks in the evening over the last few weeks, really after dark, the garden emits—even from across the street where we’re usually walking—an exhalation of deeply cool, fresh air that is intoxicating. Your body feels it. The nights have been warm still, though my friend Natalie down the hall (married to a Moroccan—she too has a 2-year old) claims it’s never been so warm so late into the fall. Paul reminds me that in Boston, people would always say, “It’s never been this cold!” in a wild but predictable fit of amnesia that arrives with each successive winter. So we turn around and hail a petit taxi that I’ve been promising we’ll take home. The traffic has steadily increased in the forty-five minutes since we left home, but even so—this I find incredible!—a young woman on a bicycle pauses long enough—and it’s a long pause—to glance at Hazel as she and I make our way to the curb to cross over and catch our ride in the right direction. She’s cycling with a huge city bus about to pass on her left shoulder, in addition to all the rest of the madness, and she’s cycling and smiling at my girl. I have yet to wrap my mind around the bikes. And can I tell you one time we saw these kids—three kids maybe, all not more than 13—roller-blading, slaloming, slicing through the lanes and lights and the intense post-dark exhaust-choked melee of dozens and dozens of scooters and motorcycles, cars, buses, horse-drawn carriages, all jockeying for space and primacy. It was heart-stopping to see these small lithe bodies, obviously athletic, but fragile. Come on! No match for a car that doesn’t see you.
We got home, Paul did too (after an insane day of grades-and-comments due—I have so far refrained from writing about school for obvious reasons); we gathered ourselves up and caught another petit taxi to the Medina to meet Abderrahman at the appointed hour for tagine at his shop. The previous Saturday (when we finally managed to reconvene, after all the Marrakech mischief and such, and finally retrieved our rug), we’d been invited to join a visiting French family, the husband a long-time friend of Abderrahman’s, and come the following week for tagine. The day fell, because of Paul’s work schedule, on Wednesday, also my birthday…so we go.