Friday, March 5, 2010


My sister-in-law and her husband are here for a few days. All of a sudden the immediate world shifts, just slightly. I’m aware that the year is winding down (a little more than three months left to us); the movement is minute, but palpable. They arrived on one of those beautiful evenings where the sky is blue-blue and the air sings. The city knows when you have visitors and pulls out a few stops. They arrived by train from Casablanca. They described rounding a curve to the sudden drama of the Atlas, the wide stretch of emerald green that climbs up to its feet.

I can almost feel what it will feel like after we’re home and this year is “the year we were in Morocco.” But I write out the name Morocco and I get a little tremor of the unfamiliar. Where have we been this year? Is it here? It feels kind of silly to affect such a sense of un-knowing after this many months, but it is just a few months, a collection of a handful of days. You think of your own life, childhood stretching back and back, the stories from your parents’ childhoods, your own college years (and years), the time spent here and there, in that job and this. These days here feel few.

The hollowed-out place the questions made fills in—the waiter at the café in the Jardin Majorelle this morning who lifts Hazel’s stroller up out from its tight boxed-in spot between a wall and several occupied tables, then sets it free beside me—he turns and smiles at me; the feel of this particular early spring heat laced thoroughly with grey exhaust; the view of the walking world from Abderrahman’s tiny shop; the pungent wall of horse-piss you walk through to get to the Jemaa El Fna; the sidewalk eye-contact—sometimes smiling, sometimes simply taking you in; the intimate jumble of rooster-crow and donkey-bray and scooter-beep and the calls to prayer from innumerable minarets from every direction as you stand with your eyes closed on a rooftop in the Medina. These things are the familiar—they are now. Having visitors makes this so, in a way.

The other night we met a guy on our hall, back from Los Angeles after eleven years. He’s from Casablanca. He came back to be closer to his parents, and at their request. His mother stood smiling in the door of the apartment. They’re in Marrakech on holiday. He spoke English with the most amazing accent—amazingly familiar, unfamiliar. “Umm—whatchamacallit,” he said at one point, hand to forehead, trying to think of I can’t-remember-what. He spoke like a Southern Californian, kind of slowly, smiling as he talked—and he is a Southern Californian, in addition to being Moroccan. Last year I would not have stopped for a moment to notice a man with that face speaking English with that particular inflection. I am noticing that I have become unhinged from what was familiar. Whose scientific principle accounts for the variable that is, in fact, the person conducting the experiment? Always in search of perspective, I guess, nothing completely true for ever and ever, everything shifting, unfamiliar—now suddenly familiar.

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