Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Morocco Journal, Summer 1980, Part 3

A Trip to Ouezzane

We arrange to meet Driss at 8:30 the next morning but we are late – he finds us at the breakfast table. Ouezzane is in the foothills of the Rif mountains. We take a round-about route, a bus to Suk-a-Labat and a cab from there. On the crowded bus, Driss tries to move the Moroccans around, being bossy and cocky now that he has American friends that he either has to impress or feels bigger around or both. I feel extremely uncomfortable and the Moroccans are offended. Driss explains that we are “upper class” and that was why he made such a stink. There’s a beggar who herds a crying young girl ahead of him down the aisle of the bus, holding an infant in his arms; he gives the alms to the baby to hold. Also a religious chanteur who makes his way through, and children selling cigarettes, gum and pastries. I had been up all night coughing and fall asleep, banging my nose on the seat in front of me.

In spite of the DEFENSE DE FUMER signs, much kif (tobacco and hash, mixed) is passed about, and the mood improves. Driss tells me he’s seen all about the USA and Vietnam from movies and T.V. shows. Deerhunter has as its French title Journé au bord d’enfer. On the bus they play the music of Oum Kaltoum, Egyptian singer of ancient melancholic songs, who can sing for two hours straight and who once performed at the pyramids for an audience of a million people. Out the window, groves of trees, shacks of grass and metal in the middle of nowhere with Coca-Cola signs on them, cattle, burros, the arid, scrubbed landscape rolling by in the heat, evidence of slash-and-burn agriculture. They like to wear watches here; every man has one. They don’t like to open windows; the bus is stifling, no breeze. One of the students we are sitting with had a parakeet in a cage.

We pass groves of oranges, purple flowers, tents with potters surrounded by fields of pottery, six-foot tall baskets you could hide Cleopatra in, brightly-colored laundry hung over hillside bushes for to dry. We see hay bales stacked up like Mayan pyramids, or like long houses with chimneys that Driss says look “like Chicago.” There’s an amazing friendliness and closeness on the bus which I contrasted with the alienation one feels on US busses. Of course, the seats are more tightly packed together, and there are no armrests.

“You know it,” Driss keeps saying in English. Driss’s favorite things to say: “fuck off,” “shit fine,” and “haraam” (which means “forbidden” and therefore, in this topsy-turvy world, a good thing).

When we arrive at his village it is mid-afternoon. Driss had come home, he said, to sign a document at the school where he worked and to get his check, and to pick up new clothes. We go into a café and sat down. He offers us tea and fresh figs, torn apart to reveal their rich red fleshy insides, like the sweetest, softest, sexist plums I ever tasted.

I write to Cindy: 
Here in this café in the mountains it is hot outside; inside the walls are cool and thick and high, painted pink to the height of a man and white from then on up, to a series of small, arch-shaped windows which allow shafts of light that the smoke makes solid. Driss is smoking. It is good after eating, he says, like mint tea and spicy food, it helps you sweat, cool off. We have eaten mocheoui (spiced meat), figs, mountain bread, and tea. I am slightly suspicious of Driss but I laugh at myself for these feelings. Mark and Clara lie indolently on benches. There is a man asleep in the corner. I am writing a poem for you, written from what I imagine to be your perspective. There is a closing stanza I have not written, something about moods changing suddenly but I haven’t voiced it yet:
       We learn to say goodbye. It takes
       Time. You seem
       To have learned well. You say:
       “Your tears have the taste of sadness.
       It is as close as you get to it."

Mark announces he would like to eat food that is the color of these pink walls. Driss grabs the plate of a protesting friend and shows us green vegetables, as the wall is also green in parts. We laugh. Then he takes us up the winding cobbled streets to his house.

The house was built on the side of a hill, with an atrium, open at the top, with a well right in the middle that goes down about thirty feet to a pool of foul water. On the second floor, where the women live, the floor is tiled in a red and orange pattern with green highlights. In one corner stands a T.V. set tuned to Barrio Sesamea, and the room is filled with old women, young women and children sitting on benches along the walls. Driss’s mother is heavy-set, with a face like a bull-dog and blue lines and dots down the center of her forehead and chin. Three younger women bustle about doing chores. There’s a girl, about 16 or so, with an appealing smile, playing a game similar to jacks only with stones. Mark and I communicate with the kids by playing this game and making faces. A serious dark girl with big eyes (they all have such big eyes, like droplets of oil) holds a baby. A quiet boy with a bracelet, and another boy with more spunk who measures my nose with a ruler. A pretty girl in a purple dress with an orange top smiles at me. Another girl with curly hair in green, and a pair of twin moppets with black hair that was really curly, and with the biggest eyes of all – one of whom is quite taken by me (and I with her) and she stares intently and unwaveringly into my eyes, and I into hers. A strange feeling.
An old woman with a face like the side of a hill, with cliffs and plateaus, comes over and shakes our hands, kissing her own hand each time. A moment before she’d been sitting on the floor, but she is astonishingly spry. Driss puts on the Four Tops and dances around. The kids dance around a bit, but I don’t want to. I would rather watch. They are watching us, and we are watching them. Then the old woman gets up and dances too, really well, and we cheer. Later, Driss tells us that she’s a mountain woman, who comes to town only occasionally to stay with people. Usually, she lives by herself, alone in a grotto in the mountains. She knows how to read the stars, and people’s palms.

Then we visit a friend of Driss’s who is laid up with a headache, a doctor of psychology or philosophy who apparently studies too much. He offers us a Coke and plays chess with Mark. I fall asleep. When I wake up they’re all gone. I dash out just in time to hear the chanting for prayer start; the sun has gone down, Mark having compared it to a coin falling into a slot to amuse Clara. Driss convinces us to stay until after sundown so as to avoid traveling by day. But his document still has to be signed, something he did not tell us, and could not be signed until the next morning.

Driss quickly leads us up the side of the mountain, past boys throwing rocks at us, past a garbage dump, past the highest houses, to where shepherds live. Mark says that when he was collecting welfare, he used to tell them that the position he was looking for was “shepherd.” At the top of the mountain the view of the village in the valley and the hills and the purple mountains beyond is staggering, the sunset to our left soaking the haze in deep orange. It is nightfall when we come down the mountain. We stop in at another house for a while, smoking kif and listening to Pink Floyd, before convincing Driss to move on. We are finally on our way the bus when Driss tells us that we were invited to stay the night. In fact, we more or less had to stay, because there are no more busses, and Driss still had to sign his contract or whatever it was. Was this something we missed, a miscommunication? Is it a peculiar trait of Moroccan hospitality that hosts do not want their guests to leave?

Life just goes on here. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever happens must happen. So, we go to a party. Driss has basically been taking us around, showing us off to all his friends, giving them Marlboros and generally being a big man. It strikes me that, perhaps, in his village, Driss was in fact not particularly well respected. His actions, ordering people around, his pride, seem like the actions of an insecure man. It takes one to know one.

The party – Chaud Soleil – cheap Moroccan wine. Mark and I realize that the party is undoubtedly in our honor, and Mark says that since Americans are reputed to be such great partyers that they will try to drink us under the table. A nauseatingly green room with sofas all around, tapestries of the Kaaba and of belly-dancers, a naked electric light bulb dangling in the center. There is much kif and much wine and much music on the cassette-player; music by “the folk pope of Morocco,” whoever that is, weird piping and drumming, as intricate as the patterns on their tiles and rugs, and music by Lamchaheb, a pop group, and James Brown even. The music of centuries, perfect for getting stoned. A little man dancing and singing, telling us to “shush,” pursing his lips and running his fingers and thumb off them, then making a graceful “stop” motion with his hand. He wants us to just listen to the music, but he starts talking. There are four Moroccan guys there and they are pretty drunk. Then Clara is moved to dance, that subtle belly-dance thing that only involves the hips and shoulders, a loose piece of cloth tied about her thighs. I begin to suspect an ulterior motive to their urge to get us loaded, and I was grateful Mark was there with his South Bronx and Southeast Asia experience.

One weird moment makes me quite nervous: there had been some hashish on the table which, along with the spicy dinner of meat and egg and bread, had been swept up and by accident thrown away in a frenzy of cleaning. When I tell Driss about this he gets very upset, throws his cigarette on the floor, slams his wine down on the table, and goes into a deep pout that is sullen and tearful. I am afraid that he suspects that I stole it, since I’d asked him earlier if I could buy some from him. I am afraid that he is upset because his trusted friends have turned out in his mind to be thieves. It is at that moment that I realize our terrible helplessness, both in that room, outnumbered, and in that village, as the only Americans, with such a language gap, no Arabic, only halting French and Spanish, and with Driss our only means of getting back to Tangier.

But it all ends well enough. The little man dances with Clara, and lewdly pretends to kiss her groin, so Mark makes it clear the she is his. Driss’s brother tries to smooch Clara goodnight. Only the other man, very sweet, mustachioed and sensitive, refrains from the nonsense. Then Driss finally takes us home.

The 3:00 chanting has just started. They chant at sunrise, at noon, at sunset, at last light, and at first light. We hear the loudspeakers blaring as we went outside, and the little man, carrying a bottle, careens drunkenly down the inclined street right into a wall, then over a little to a door which he bangs on, shouting, presumably to his wife to wake her up and let him in.

As we are going up to Driss’s we encounter a young man with a desperate, intoxicated look on his face, blood all over his shirt, and a flat-ended knife in his hand, sort of like a sharpened putty-knife, also bloody. He and Driss start shouting. We split. Mark is visibly upset, having been stabbed once in the Bronx and only that afternoon showing me his scar and describing the glint of light on the blade as it arched toward his arm, held up to block. He picked up a rock and when we got inside his fist is still clenched around it. Driss goes out again and when he comes back in, Mark grabs a flowerpot thinking he might be the guy with the knife. Crazy. If they’d been trying to freak us out at the party, shouting at us, banging their glasses, that bloody knife made it all seem pale. We never found out what had happened.

Driss throws up. He had thrown up once, earlier in the evening, and then had returned to drink three shots of wine in succession and thus recover his manhood. We sleep the night on damp sofas that smell like dung under the lambskin covering and under blankets so thick they weighed 10 or 15 pounds. That morning, we have breakfast with Driss’s family, an uncomfortable scene as he talks for a long time in Arabic, making the women uncomfortable, irritated, upset. We are no longer welcome guests.

Driss takes us out to show us the village, holding hands with Clara, showing us off again, though Clara’s clogs are not fit for cobbled streets on hills. His delicate, beautiful friend Hamid accompanies us, as he too is going to Tangier, though Driss barely speaks to him. We go to his school and finish his tasks, and then around to where artisans work (women stay inside all day long). The bakery, where people bring their bread to bake (no ovens in the homes). Men at a loom weaving rough fabric, a pipe-maker at his lathe, making flutes. They work, listen to music, talk, smoke kif, work. Driss tells us the flutemaker is an apprentice, though already accomplished. Very mellow and timeless scene.

Driss wants us to stay longer but we absolutely force him to get us to the bus on time, not an easy feat. He insists on showing us the local mosque, fantastic tile-work and men lying around. For reasons known only to Driss, he takes us to the public bath, toilets along the wall just holes in the ground to squat over and a bucket of water to wash your (left) hand in when finished. Moroccans eat only with their right hand, which makes the traditional penalty for thievery – having the right hand chopped off – an enduring punishment.

We barely make the bus. Again, no open windows, stifling: a man stands in a djellaba, a wool suit underneath, with layers of shirt and undershirt, absolutely sweatless and imperturbable. Driss continues to ignore Hamid to fawn over Clara, to embrace her and caress her hair. Clara doesn’t mind; she likes the idea of a Moroccan boyfriend.
Outside the bus at a stop along the way, there are slaughtered goats hung upside down, their weird faces still intact, a man hacking pieces off of one with a flat knife. They’re getting ready for a celebration; the week before the fast of Ramadan, which was approaching, is a time for weddings and feasts. Later I watch as a man drives cattle over piled hay to separate the wheat from the chaff.

There is an old woman sitting next to me, and I become aware that she has her hand up to her nose in an unmistakable gesture of disgust. I imagine it’s because of the way I smell, though Mark, across the aisle, confides to me that he himself can hardly breathe, sitting next to a noxiously obese woman. We crack jokes about filthy Americans.

What’s really happening is this: in the seat behind me, Driss is burrowing his head into Clara’s lap and he’s taken his shirt off because of the heat. A group of young Arab men have been pointing at us and laughing, probably commenting on Driss’s behavior. Driss ignores them, and Mark and Clara and I, being stupid Americans, do not understand the jokes that are being made at our expense. At the town of Azila, one of the men gets off but before he does he lunges at Driss (Mark insists darkly that he took something out of his pocket, though I missed that). Driss laughs but pulls back, and the guy gets off and then comes back, shouting, and the driver and others pull him off the bus again. Mark and I realize that it was Driss’s offensive conduct that caused the woman to cover her nose and caused the fight scene. As soon as they guy is gone, Driss gets off the bus and buys a straight razor, then returns to the bus and speaks bravado in Arabic for at least a minute to cover up his earlier unwillingness to respond to the guy’s challenge. Mark gives Driss a shirt and tells him to put it on.

Driss never paid us back for his bus fare. When we got back to the compound they were all in an uproar about our disappearance, and they’d even called the police about it. After that, they insisted on sign-out sheets. When I told Paul Bowles about our adventure, he was incredulous: “Ouezzane?” he asked. “That’s like going to Elkhart, North Carolina. Why?”

Yesterday Mark ran into Driss down town and Mark told him he wanted to score some hash, so they went to a café, rolled a kif joint that Driss smoked most of. They were joined by a few of Driss’s friends, all sitting around, laughing, and Mark asked Driss to buy them all drinks, which Driss did, thinking Mark had the tab. When Driss got up to go to the bathroom, leaving his wallet and keys on the table, Mark excused himself and left the café, sticking Driss with the bill. Well, at least, that’s what he said.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Morocco Journal, Summer 1980, Part 2

We were sitting in a café and this crazy Arab man came up and grabbed a girl’s cigarettes and then tried to sell them back to her for a quarter. He had an elastic face that was fun to watch. The pamphlet we were given suggested that we sit in cafes and watch “the kaleidoscope of life” go past.

I saw a little boy selling cigarettes tonight to other little boys. Selling things is the big game here, a bizarre and intense ritual when Europeans are involved – the merchant tries to keep the customer off-balance with a combination of obeisance and threat.

The women stay home at night; the men take to the cafes in droves, smoking, talking, wearing dark brown, grey, black, navy blue suits, westernized but utterly lacking in color – which surprises me in such a sensuous culture, a culture that gives you mint tea to quaff, for instance, unbearably minty and unbearably sweet, the perfect counterpart to hashish smoke, or marvelous patterned rugs and ceramic tile, amazing spiced food, sugars, a written language that suggests that letters need never be separate islands of ink but that line and communication is one continuous flow. Mark calls this “a culture without boredom,” that people seem to just sit around, but their lives are fully dictated so it doesn’t matter. No dancing, no fooling around. Just conversation and smoke, lots and lots of smoke. Making a bargain with boredom, not running from boredom like we do.

Japan tries to mimic the US, which is weird in the wake of Hiroshima. Morocco is very different culture from ours. I am just passing through. I can call it “sexist” but so what? If I consider this culture sexist, I apply my own criteria to a culture that could care less what I think about it. They think the US is decadent because it allows women freedom. Here, boys and girls are equal till puberty, then girls are wrapped up and given away. Mark says Hassidic Jews and Arabs both believe ejaculation is a loss of spiritual and vital fluids that make you less complete. How does he know this? The American women here have been advised not to wear shorts or even short sleeved shirts, as that might invite trouble. Manliness is important, men hang out only with other men. For a man to wear shorts is considered un-manly. Yet Morocco is a sort of gay destination…

Sunlight, 10:30 am. Mark is talking about how Spanish architecture flows “like liquid.” A guy named Juan, a teacher, remarks that to be “foreign” is to notice every window and every door, every sound and scent, a heightened sensitivity. In the compound we is fenced in proper, cyclone wire with barbed wire at the top, all around, only one entrance. But it’s nice here in the sun, the wind keeps it from being too hot, and the sun keeps you from being cold. Delightful and breezy, our little slice of America, a sensation of space and freedom (we’re at the top of a hill) that is not prevalent in Tangier, where the steps of narrow streets wind around buildings like thread on tiny spools.

Last night: dogs barking, a parade of honking cars, crickets, the distant call to worship.

People are always reading the same book, no matter what the book. Put stories together to make other stories. Put events together to make a character. Collage!

The flowers here: 3-chord cluster-targets, a ring of red buds, an inner ring of orange buds, a couple of yellow buds at the center. Often, there is purple or magenta in the modulation. Other flowers are pink bells, some are like red trumpets with tongues twisting out. Closer to the ground there are little white trumpets with yellow innards and blue halos along the rim, a rich blue, like lapis lazuli. The flowers in Oz when Dorothy steps out of the house and into color film: Not in Kansas anymore.

My roommate Mark is 27, and has done some stuff. He was in Vietnam, in the Air Force, riding endless hours there in a cargo plane. He had a desk job but he still had to learn to parachute. He became a junkie there, and they strapped him to a bed for withdrawal and he had visions of worms crawling over him, in him, devouring his flesh. He’s been a reporter for a north Jersey newspaper, which focused his observational and inquisitive faculties. He says the old saw about drunk reporters is true but that nowadays they mostly get high. One story he covered concerned a cop who apprehended an escaped mental patient in a hotel lobby, but he had left his keys in the patrol car and the guy bolted, stole the car, went on a joy-ride, speeding on the thruway, playing the siren, making nonsense radio calls. When he was finally caught he put up a big fight. It turned out he was originally self-committed. He told me about Vietnamese mama-sans who for $5.00 a month would do all sorts of camp jobs but who at night were actually Viet Cong. He’s really into apocalyptic imagery and the Gnostic gospels. He explained the dots on Indian women’s foreheads: a dot indicates marriage. If a husband dies, even after 50 years of marriage, the dot must be removed. If a man goes out in the morning and sees a dotless old hag, he has to come back home and wash his hands. Does it matter if these stories are true or not?

The ancient Egyptians painted by starlight, Mark says. Clara adds that they broke the stones for their pyramids with sound waves. Clara doesn’t buy Mark’s bullshit but plays along. She’s a graduate student in creative writing somewhere out west, dark hair and sleepy dark brown eyes, and darkness inside under her placid exterior, like a cat, and she doesn’t talk a lot. I never know quite what to say to her.

Today we went into Tangier and met a young guy named Ibrahimi Driss who asked us for a cigarette. He’s a phys-ed teacher from Ouezzanne (wa-zan) a village outside Tangier. Mark and I agreed to go there with him tomorrow. It was fun trying to talk French with him – four years of classes and I can speak pidgin French. It’d be nice to polish that up a little.

There go the American students with their cameras, click-click-click. Gino, a photography teacher, told us about wedding feasts and tea-ceremonies, and how the souks smelling of shit and spices were beautiful and human.

First class today with Paul Bowles, elegant gent in tailored sportcoat, sunglasses and cigarette-holder. Says he hasn’t the slightest idea how to teach writing or if it can even be taught, but they’re paying him, so here we all are. In the course of the "class," he burned a hole in his pocket with his cigarette and didn’t seem to mind. No one minds anything here.

Thursday – so much has happened since I last wrote. Just had a chat with Mr. Blaine Blaine – that’s his name, apparently – the impatient “real artist” with the book he wrote. He and Mark did most of the talking, actually. Blaine Blaine says he was “raped by the American Middle-Class” and ran away to Cairo to grow up. Pretty bizarre. He’s never held a job, he says, but was thrown in jail for seven years in the 1950’s for stealing a car. Mark says he was on a chain gang for a few weeks in South Carolina for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Experiences I will never have. Blaine seems crazy but interesting, if you can bear him. He’s obsessed with Dostoevsky, talking about Mme Dostoevsky going door-to-door with copies of The Brothers Karamazov; about Dostoevsky at the firing squad, ready to be shot when the reprieve came through; how Dostoevsky was a terrible speller who never proofread his manuscripts. Blaine to Paul Bowles: “You may not believe this, you may think I’m crazy, but I believe I have a destiny.” Well, everybody does, says Mark. Blaine’s, according to Blaine, has been pretty interesting: rape, drugs, murder, suicide; he reads the litany off almost as if he’s proud of it, as if it gives him more of a right to be an artist than anyone else. He may be correct, at least here anyway, on this three-acre compound, a refuge for the American middle class (three acres was what the brochure says, anyway). Paul is amused by his name and calls him “Blainblain.”

“I have a humorous bent to me,” Blaine Blaine explained to the class, “but I have led a serious life.” He was telling us about his novel, Blueboy, about being raped, a tragic novel: “I am a tragic writer.” To me, he seems bitter – a thin man in an ill-fitting suit, with a face like the farmer in Grant Wood’s American Gothic only with long hair severely parted in the middle and cut evenly at the shoulders.

We hear the cock crow every morning at 3 am. Bells outside clanging – hammers on tin, iron. Smithies.

Christine K. is an artist, very sexy with deep dark eyes, with tremendous enthusiasm for everything around her, constantly describing the colors and the shapes, aquas, pinks, yellows, curves, lines, drunk on what she sees, the glistening of nightlife-lights on the café teacups, and constantly voicing that enthusiasm, very nice to be around.

A girl here, Laurie, was riding her bike in NYC and some guys drove by and pinched her ass. When they drove around again, she spat on them, so they drove around one more time and hit her, knocking her off the bike and onto the street. While she was lying there, hurt, someone stole her bike. A New York story. It’s a hard-luck world, man. This planet just does not give a shit about you or how you feel. It just unwinds, unrolls. Some men try to tamper with the unwinding, speed it up, slow it down, direct its energies, but it still unwinds and unwinds, the vast unveiling of huge and unimaginable forces…

If there were so many candidates for this program here that they had to be “screened out” by rigorous committees, so that the writing class would only have 12 students, why are there only 11 people in it?

Pretty women who are not in the slightest bit sexy and sexy women who are not especially pretty. In the Kasbah, someone asked Keith if he’d trade Stephanie (a shy blond girl from California) for some Camel cigarettes. Much hilarity over this, but you have to wonder.

A cross-eyed old man gave me directions to the American consulate.

We drink bottled water: Sidi Ali, or Sidi Harazem.

When Somerset Maugham was in his 80’s, he disowned his daughter and adopted his secretary, and regularly injected himself with “youth serums” made from the fetuses of lambs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Morocco Journal, Summer 1980, part 1

I like the word decadent. All shimmering with purple and gold. It throws out the brilliance of flames and the gleam of precious stones. It is made up of carnal spirit and unhappy flesh and of all the violent splendors of the Lower Empire: it conjures up the paint of courtesans, the sports of the circus, the breath of the tamers of animals, the bounding of wild beasts, the collapse among the flames of races exhausted by the power of feeling, to the invading sound of enemy trumpets.

-- Paul Verlaine, circa 1886

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), 'Sleeping Figure With Blanket,' Austrian, 1910. Watercolor and charcoal on tan paper. (Photo by Allan Macintyre, HUAM © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

In June, 1980, I graduated from college and, on a whim, flew to Morocco for a summer workshop with the expatriate American writer Paul Bowles. I had never really read much by Bowles, but I had heard him mentioned in connection with the Beat writers, and I was curious to go and do something out of the norm. So off I went, on a program organized by the School of Visual Arts in NYC. What follows is pretty much a verbatim redaction of my journal of that summer, for better or worse:

Went to the Times Square art show with Gina: huge portraits of genitals, coats spray-painted green, a corridor lined with broken glass, a motorized James Brown in front of gift wrap, rats nailed to walls. We talk about Tom Otterness, who’s made a film called Red Curtain in which he executes his dog. A sharp cookie serrates your stomach. A woman in L.A. had herself buried with a car, her car, to use in the afterlife.

Lunch with Candia O. uptown, near FAO Schwartz and the Plaza. She’s working as a receptionist at Harper’s. Nothing much to say. She’s lugging around Rousseau’s Confessions, says she’s reading it. The obscure object of my desire: light pours out of her. Standing on the street with cars all around, I have to blow my nose and have nothing to use so I use my hand and a ridiculous amount comes out, which I nervously try to conceal from Candia, who fortunately is looking away while I wipe my hand on my leg.

Trip out to Coney Island with Frank T. Rode the rickety Cyclone roller coaster twice. Toured the wax musee: reproductions of sex murders, rapes, stabbings. The woman outside called it “educational.” Painting on a pinball machine of a man playing pinball, viewed from behind the machine: the back of the machine is a woman’s face, and the man playing the machine is ramming himself into the front of it, head tilted (no pun intended) in ecstasy, ass-fucking female technology. Frank asked about my sister’s “debutante” party coming up and I just got flustered, unable to explain the thing and then pissed off at the whole gesture of it, and that mom and dad will have her do it regardless of what she wants.

Tomorrow is the flight to Morocco. Up till 4:30 am talking with Gina G., sharing perceptions of people: Lisa C. feels more than she speaks, Cindy S. is an odd mix of confidence and insecurity, self reliance and dependence. Mark R. and his dark virtues, his earnestness and his tall stories (“I’m worried about Gina…she doesn’t seem to be eating but she may have gained weight from drinking…”), his image of being “misunderstood” which he creates by coming on with such odd eye-contact and by lying and gossiping so much.

Casablanca, 8:55 am (3:55 am NYC time). What a crew. Martin Flusser, who put this trip together for the School of Visual Arts in NYC (and whose wife is lovely), is running around putting out fires, dealing with delays, luggage. A parched-looking middle aged creep corners him at his busiest, insists on showing Martin the book he wrote: “I’m not like these people, I’m a real artist!” Flusser says his time is precious, and the guy says “so is mine” and stalks off, fuming, muttering that Flusser’s “lost his chance.” A frail, morbid woman from New Zealand named Ann, who consults a big book of world diseases when she travels abroad, tells me that Malaria is endemic in Morocco this time of year, though she has come prepared with quinine tablets to take. They make your sweat distasteful to mosquitoes. “It is how the British Empire prevailed, my dear. Gin and tonics!”

Sat next to an affable man with a trim beard named Mark B. on the plane. Wrote a letter to Cindy, mocking the stewards who wouldn’t let me pee before takeoff (“you know this is not permitted”) and how, when I did, they were disgruntled. I imagined a night-time airplane crash as a jewel in a velvet case (I took a small life-insurance policy out in her name at the airport). I described how the moon looked on the wing of the plane, and the Atlantic at night, and the islands, mountains, fields, cities of clouds beneath us. I told her about the beautiful child behind me with her sensual smile, her tongue and dusky skin. I described a mother with two kids asleep on her lap. I did not tell her how I tried to hide the snot on my hand from Candia. I did not tell her that fake gold leaves a green stain on the skin. I did not mention Virginia Woolf's suicide. I did describe how there were no horizons visible from the plane window, only shifts of color tones, and the way the clouds looked so solid as we descended into them.

A question from a dream: are we sad victims or jubilant squid?

Mark is full of stories, some of which may even be true. In Vietnam (he served there in the early ‘70’s) cobras travel in pairs, so if you see two it’s cool, but one alone is bad – if you shook your boot and one came out, another was close at hand and time to worry.

A poem on the airplane menu – a grace for supper. I write my own on it:

My hands feel the soft warmth of yours

Your lips kiss mine and soothe my sorrows.

Miracle of imagination,

Which engenders the whole world.

All the universe, mere illusion.

Blessed, this imagination

Which makes us find women beautiful,

And awakens our hearts to the singing of birds,

And the rustling of the trees.

Going through customs: nothing to declare. A tight tailored young man looking cool in a blue velvet suit.

Everybody tries to sell you something here, usually it’s not theirs.

The American School in Tangier: a fenced-in compound on the outskirts of Tangiers with a soccer field, classrooms, basketball courts, dorm rooms. When we arrived we were greeted by Arab guys playing drums and banging pieces of metal together and dancing, wearing “folkloric” green and red costumes, with headdresses of black velvet studded with seashells and bits of broken glass. There were high as kites. There is no age limit for this – some of the folks in the program are elderly women, most are here to paint.

Out our window, there is a field behind the school and beyond that a street that leads to a hill that’s covered with tossed boxes: all buildings, with small windows and bright colored shutters. Myriads of boxes, all layered and sharp-cornered, some white and some dun-colored, some with balconies. The angles and recessed sections of some of these houses, the way they are set irregularly or back from the street, capture the angles of shadow, wells of dark geometry. It all looks lovely against the blue sky.

First off, I walk around Tangier, but do not get to the beach, nor do I get to the bustling center of town. I get lost on side-streets full of chickens, kids pissing, women at cisterns with plastic jugs of water. Perhaps they are discussing Little House on the Prairie, which is aired here – so many TV antennas! I get some tomato rinds sprayed on me, an accident I hope but perhaps not. These beautiful children who will grow up to be the fine-featured old men and women I see in their robes, reflecting and staring as they sit and talk in the shade, or perhaps beggars who plead in Arabic for pennies. I look into quiet shops as I walk by, down alleys and up winding stairs, peeping into buildings whose doors were wide open and from which emanated strange language and the smells of cooking food. I walked through an overgrown graveyard (Shams al-din said that's the first place to visit in a strange town) but realized I might offend. Thought of going into a mosque, found out later that it’s illegal and I could have been beaten up if I had. Or so I was told.

A mosque tale – the great mosque of Tangier: In 1515 the Portuguese (who took over the city in 1471) heard a voice and discovered a shaft that led down to an ancient Roman chapel that contained in it a statue of Hercules (whose mythic labors took him to Morocco). The statue later vanished, but the Portuguese built a Christian church there, which was taken over in the 1600’s by “Moors,” who built a mosque there. The tower that the Portuguese had built remained, but the clock they installed had broken, and local craftsmen were unable to repair it – it was believed to have become possessed by a Jinn, and exorcisms were performed to no avail. A Christian clockmaker from Genoa was asked to repair it, but it is not permitted for infidels to enter a mosque. Wise men deliberated: should planks be laid? Should the pavement stones be removed after he defiled them? For his part the craftsman refused to remove his shoes, saying that he was never required to do that even when he visited the Chapel of the Most Holy Virgin. Finally, it was decided that since it was permitted for an ass to wander of its own accord into a mosque, and because it was a dumb animal it did not offend Allah, then it would be OK if the “Nazarene” craftsman entered the mosque as a donkey would – so he came and left on his hands and knees, so that, in effect, only an animal had entered the sacred space. And the clock was fixed. Layer after layer of history in this place. Oh, the lingerings of religious spaces. Mark said Christians used “Druid oaks” to make floors for their churches. Plundering the night. What persists and what disappears?

When economic trends go down, people wear bright colors, as now – people are wearing bright colors in NYC. But a newspaper article says “Fall fashion forecast: The season’s ‘in’ color will be grey.” Grey is the color for fall! How awful! I am in a strange and scary place and all alone. Streets of corrugated steel neighborhoods and the eyes of passers by who mark me immediately as foreign.

Everything is exchanged here: time is 5 hours ahead (I’m 8 hours ahead of Cindy in Seattle). Money has to be exchanged, and you cannot leave the country with dirhams in your pocket (and even if you do they’re useless).