Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shop talk

I'm sifting through loads of photos from the last ten months, looking at curves of water and shore, sky and mountain, or blurred figures hurrying through the frame -- not many faces except those of loved ones. I keep thinking about that photographer’s phrase -- "unearned intimacy": the camera is the way in -- it forges a path for you that's particular, not false, but defined by that tool. I've got all sorts of discomforts surrounding just this thing. My cousin sent me a link to the travel blog of a professional photographer ( who recently buzzed through Morocco. Beautiful faces, lovely lines. I'm pondering the ways in which, because of my French, I've kept Darija, Moroccan Arabic, at bay (listen to that way of putting it). In what ways, precisely because of language, have I locked myself out? It seems, with less than three weeks to go before we leave, there’s a lot I wish I had done.

I asked a friend of Abderrahman’s if I could take a cooking lesson from her—which turned out to be more of a delicious demonstration than a hands-on participatory adventure (and I subsequently lost all the photos I took—but I will post the recipe anyway). Maryam is lovely.

An American friend, who came for the lesson, had to take off right before the tagine was ready (chicken with preserved lemon and green olives), and Paul left for a much-anticipated football match between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. So it was the three of us—Maryam, no-nap Hazel, and me—sitting down at table. Breezy, doors open, late hot light streaming in. The tagine, of course, is amazing.

Maryam tells me that she’s one of five sisters—she herself is 36, right in the middle of the five; her youngest, at 17, is still at home. Her mother has been sick. She supports the three of them. She makes 2400 Dirhams a month -- that’s about $300 -- cooking full time at a riad in the Medina. She’s been there four years. The Frenchwoman who owns the riad has refused her a raise and says Maryam can go find another job; the proprietère can hire someone else in the blink of an eye. Maryam says she has a friend in France, a woman like herself, who cooks for a family there and makes so much more money in comparison. That wouldn’t take much.

I know you can read about lives like Maryam’s in the section of your guidebook labeled Economy or Women or Post-Colonial Culture. But it’s different when you eat a meal with someone in your own home and converse across the same space you share with your family. Hazel and I were in the Medina this week and met Maryam at Abderrahman’s shop. She had a work story. Last night the guardian broke an 8000 Dirham fountain. The proprietère would not hear Maryam’s protestations otherwise—and was threatening to dock her salary. This is the same guardian who broke a plate, made others take the fall, and only later, after Maryam had paid for it, fessed up to the proprietère. Anyway. Abderrahman, with his typical grin (aimed at both of us -- Hazel was busy eating olives and finishing her tea), said that sometimes when Maryam stops in for a glass of tea, he says to her just breathe, do not talk, calm yourself, clear your thoughts.

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