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.

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