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DAY FOUR BACK AT HOME LEARNING QUITE NICELY TO ADAPT TO LIFE SANS JOB
Friday / 15 June '01
Wall mural, Larache, Morocco
Enough about Brooklyn, onto travel topics: I wanted to share an entry from my e-journal, which I kept by emailing friends and family from really cheap CYBER CLUB internet cafes from the road, in Morocco.
Here's an entry from about three-quarters through our trip:
Hey from Fes,
Well I will start off with obligatory mention of the fact that I am sweating through my kaftan, as they say. and of course I have already had two pots of minty, sugary green tea this morning.
It's a good hot though. I am embracing it. Priest and I both have come down with bits of a cold, he got the runny nose, headache... me the sore throat and some coughing. Could be worse.
I have so much to tell you but always have troubles with these funky foreign keyboards... but here goes:
...Our visit to Meknes was filled with Moroccan magic... just when we were reaching a bit of a low point ::: priest and I both stroppy, a bit sick, getting also occasionally sick of eachother— which is to be expected considering having spent every moment together, nonstop for 3 weeks— and sick of the constant haggling and struggling everytime any exchange of money or even information occurs...
...But in Meknes, we broke down and ate at McDonalds, (which your cab drivier won't be able to find unless you pronounce it MAC-donn-ALDS, like a Frenchman) which I am not even ashamed of for some reason, because that McDonalds tasted so frighteningly good, being something other than oversteamed carrots with couscous. We then walked towards the old medina to poke around the souk markets at sunset, where all the vendors buy their goods from their sources... the goats' head stall, where goat heads are all neatly lined up in rows on carts, like blood-gushing bowling balls with hairy faces and teeth: smiling, bodyless goats ...
And we smelled wafts of garlic and red onion in enormous piles in the arms of kids weaving their way through the crowds. We also smelled freshly baking French bread, mule piss, burning garbage, and rosebuds... We saw stalls selling only gigantic, hanging cows testicles, kids selling boxes of baby, yellow chicks, or bushels of fresh mint, spices...
We wandered to the western edge of town to watch the sunset from an old symmetry (edit: I actually wrote symmetry, where I actually meant cemetery)... when a sweet looking, old man, missing his front teeth, gestured to us and said "non; vous n'y allez pas" or something... we gathered that he was indicating that it was forbidden to non-Muslems, so we apologized and exited the graveyard. We said "pardon" and he kindly said "pas de probleme".
Continuing in French, he asked if he could help us find anything. Usually when people ask us this, we politely decline in Arabic "La shokran" meaning no thanks, but he didn't seem like a hustler: older and warm, majestic long beard, kaftan and babouche slippers, typical muslim beanie-hat. So we explained that we were just going to go back to the music-instrument souk to see if anyone there wanted to play a little Oud for us (all said in French, with hand gestures of course to describe the playing of the oud). "Unless you know of some local musicians who might be gathered to play tonight, who we could go listen to making their music?"
He said "oui" he did know "un proffesseur de musique qui travaille les instruments et qui joue dix-sept instruments, aussi".
Sounded like his friend, the professor and instrument maker, who plays 17 instruments, might let us into his home to hear some music! A rare opportunity! So Priest and I look at one another, size up the situation... decide to go for it, despite the fear that it might be somewhat risky. He could lead us down a narrow medina alley to be greeted by some younger, bigger thugs... he could take us deep into the medina and rob us... Well, we figured that was the worst that could happen, and neither of us had much money on us, and both had left our cameras at the hotel (except both sporting our spycams) Also we had been walking around the medina for a few days previously, and figured we could find our way back out if necessary, which was probably only somewhat true, as it was now growing dimly lit outside since the sun had set. But not to overdramtize the story, we felt at ease with this man, and needed to trust our instincts, otherwise, might as well stay home.
As we were walking into the winding streets of the medina, conversing with our new friend Mohammed in elementary French along the way, the call to prayer from the mosque sounded. He asked if we wouldn't mind sitting down at this nice coffee/tea vendor and waiting for him to go to mosque to pray (or alert his thug friends to be waiting for us at the dead end, we wondered)... We sat and had some water... waited 10 minutes, I took that opportunity to have Priest hold my Dirham (money) in his money belt... Just In Case! And he returned.
I had to pee, so Mohammed took me to the hammam (public baths which are open to men during the day, and only women at night) to go pee. I rounded the narrow hallway to emerge inside the steamy bath, where I was enveloped in hot, cedar-smelling steam, and suddenly surrounded by enormous naked women... big, sagging, blobby boobs and folding flesh of women sitting on the floor, scrubbing their skin, combing their wet long slimy hair! I hadn't seen women's skin, other than my own relatively pale self in the shower, in over 2 weeks. Even at the beach I saw no women! Most women walking in public cover themselves almost completely, including their heads. It was like entering a secret haven where women are finally uncovered (although now, in Fes, we see the occasional shoulder). So that was a treat in itself. Priest was taken around back and shown where they pile the cedar wood chips into the big furnace to heat the hot water for the baths.
So I emerged giddy with that insight into Moroccan female life... and we continued to march deeper into the winding corridors of the old medina (medinas are the old cities, built as wall-like mazes, winding, winding, winding and narrow) sometimes going through corridors which were so narrow we had to turn sideways to get our shoulders through. Everyone who passed our man Mohammed stopped to greet him, kissing his cheeks, alternating 2, 3, or sometimes 4 kisses. For this I felt we were safe. Eventually we strode down a dead end dark alley to a small, ancient, maybe 4-foot-high wooden door, with a small inset window... he knocked, we waited... and nothing. Knocked again, silence... "Peut etre il n'est pas chez...peut etre nous retournons demain" we said, (maybe he's not home, perhaps we return tomorrow) with a touch of hesitation, still unsure if this was a smart idea...
Then a small interior sound, a shuffle... and an answer at the door. Greeting us was an old man, sallow sunken face, his jowls protruding despite a deep pocked scar on his cheek. He was the Professeur et Musicien de Musique. He invited us into his home, and through a pitch-black hallway we finally emerged into a courtyard, open to the night sky and the glowing moon. A large tree grew out of the floor into the opening towards the sky... Open to the courtyard on our right was his small workshop, brightly lit by exposed bulbs; a swath of bright yellow paint just randomly smudged in one block on a wall. A typical artisan's studio. Pictures of a few beautiful women on the wall. More instruments hanging on the wall, and wood shavings piling up on the floor. He had two protegees there working with him. They were forming ouds, repairing, sanding, building.
The old man was called Luthier-- stringed instrument maker-- he was really welcoming... and eventually played for us some oud, which andy recorded with his permission, and he played for us some flute, which he let us struggle and try to play ourselves, which Priest unfortunately also recorded. The old musician spoke so eloquently, a spiritually beautiful voice. Then our friend Mohammed, after hours of struggling in French to communicate with us, finally said "Excuse Me, now I am going to speak English to you... I can speak English, but I didn't tell you before because I was afraid you would not trust me... So many travelers are aware that often the hustlers are the ones who learn English, and I knew you would be wary of me thinking I was a hustler if I speak to you in English!" I was stupefied. I'm so grateful Priest got that on tape, too!
He was one-up on us and he was also quite right about the truth of the matter, that unfortunately often those who speak Enlgish have learned it to take advantage of travellers from whom they might honestly or dishonestly relieve them of their money. But our man was truly dear and sweet, honest and generous. He left for a bit to retrieve a letter to show us from a friend of his in San Francisco who had spent about 6 months there studying oud from the luthier, and while gone the luthier talked about music, religion, praying and getting closer to Allah by playing the oud. Getting tranquila... all-the-while he is either playing instruments or sifting through kif, the local word for marijuana. He smokes it a lot... his hands sift it automatically, he doesn't even look down as they work the leaves like they're playing an instrument. He uses kif medicinally, as is common here, although it is officially illegal, it is tolerated in discretion. He told us about his mother who is a healer of teeth and mouth ailments, cures children's pain by of her hands on their heads. As he tell us about this he says "ooh lah lah!" and his eyes open up widely.
It was just such a rare and lucky evening. To see a real medina home, meet a world renowned (it turns out) instrument maker... Eventually we made our way home, ecstatic and giddy... We have much of the evening recorded on mini-disc thanks to Priest, and I plan on incorporating it into my e-slide show, in time.
Luthier, musicien et professeur de musique, Meknes, Morocco.
BACK TO BROOKLYN, NOT BACK TO NORMAL
Wednesday / 13 June '01
Hi. I'm home. In my noiseless yet sound filled apartment, back again. Sitting at a laptop (blow away cat hair from the keyboard) I'm not playing any music. Listening to the street noise: someone's been table-sawwing all morning, there is street sweeping going on, the neighbor's stereo provides a soundtrack of The Rolling Stones (not the usual Dance Hall beats blowing out car speakers, Not Big L rapping from the 3rd floor across the street). And I hear semi-trucks driving down Metropolitan Ave. I hear someone yelling down the block. Families. Frequent honking.
Brooklyn is the same.
But different things are noticable after being gone. The level of street fashion has taken on the potency of a satire movie. We had forgotten about that. We, who left that all behind as we proudly sweated in the same, dusty clothes, day after day, for the past month in Morocco. Back here, on Bedford Avenue, there is much intent and deliberate energy dedicated to the sporting of fashionable shoes! And the display of uneven, contemporary versions of late-eighties-rocker-haridos has caught me slightly off guard after a month of women's hairstyles almost completely represented by the draping scarves over the head.
But I am adjusting quickly. Having bought new kicks myself in paris en route home, I will sport them aloofly with my best "got them in paris" verve, right up until i see them for sale on Broadway and Bond at Transit, Inc.
GONE TO MOROCCO, back soon
MONDAY / 21 May '01
I am off, spending some time in Morocco and Paris. If you want, you see, you could share this month with me, either mentally or vicariously. Like, you could rent the juicy, beautiful film Hideous Kinky, or read the book that movie was based on... or you could choose to read Paul Bowles' Sheltering Sky, or do some online exploration at the Adventures in Morocco website.
I'll see you mid-June 2001. In the meantime, visit some archives. Amen.
[this just in: Arlo came home!]
+ + +
[click image for big version] Briget Jones reader on the L platform late at night after the Tortoise show, which we didn't even enjoy very much.
[click image for big version] Reader of Liz Smith on the L train.
[click image for big version] At some Conde Nast gig... Mrs. Doubtfire?
I got some thing from some folks...
+ this kid's from brooklyn
+ a cute org = red
+ mad orange fools
+ bfg stands for what?
+ textures in fred's head
+ bklyn girl at last
+ we are fresh
+ mat...mark...Luke Holder
+ mcsweeneys dot net