Friday, August 7, 2009
Jerry’s friend Azziz, talking about magic in Morocco: “In Europe, not so much, but here, it exists.” Paul Bowles wrote in a story about spells here “burrowing” into the night. But I think that, if magic exists here, it is dying. Perhaps I am on a magic quest – I want to go to those places on earth where magic is possible. Geneva, New York was one of those, in retrospect – a decaying ghost town on the fringe of the “burnt-over district,” near where Joseph Smith got his visions and where Freemasons killed ex-members who revealed some secrets in Canadaigua in the 1840’s. A corrupted spirituality, not unlike Tangiers, actually.
Clara and I went to see “Reggae Sunsplash” at Ciné le Paris; sat in the balcony, packed tight as sardines – almost all the patrons were male. The volume was too shallow, and we were not high, but it was enjoyable to watch Bob Marley do his thing. Then up for a chat with a “spy” that Clara met on the street, an energetic young Turk who claimed to be an international policeman, here to make 1,000,000 Dh. for cracking a counterfeiting operation. We sat for a while in their hotel room. He had a pudgy, blonde Dutch wife, and both of them hated Morocco and couldn’t wait to leave. He showed us the passport he had for his little dog, a little white speck named “Sugar,” with room for a photo and a paw print. An international dog. The dog and the papers, he told us proudly, cost him $1300, but it was worth it. His wife had a homemade tattoo on her left hand, three blue dots in a tiny triangle. I asked what it meant and she explained, “not like police, like life, like people, a common sight in Holland.” He told us that the recently deposed Shah of Iran had a solid gold toilet in his private plane. He said “money is like a train and people are the station,” and told us how he once burned 3 million francs to amuse his friends “because friends are worth more than money” and because he “was the best in ‘the game.’” He had a wristwatch with loose diamonds in oil around the face and as he moved his arm the diamonds slid around.
Late. Finished a story about Cindy and me, fictionalized, done. Frustrated. Can’t tell if it’s good, don’t care anymore. Now I’m getting half an idea for a story but I don’t know how to finish it off. A story about a boy and the wind, the wind in a wicker basket, the blind wind-master, sort of a “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” thing. Something will come up. Trying to write for the sake of the program, pacing the floor. The room is total silence. And hot – the windows must be shut for the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes here are fast and hard to hit, as quick and tenacious as the kids hustling tourists on the street.
Bob B. described something he wrote as “very vin ordinaire,” and I imagine my writing is ordinary, too. Paul Bowles suggested Bob write a page in French, then translate it into English, or write a story from the ending back. There is a mother and son couple here – isn’t there a mother and son couple in “The Sheltering Sky”? Is that what drew them to the program? They never write anything…
Imagining blasphemies, sins, violations, defilements, guilts. Entering a mosque and pissing on the wall, old men attacking you, hitting, pinching, beating you till you lose consciousness. Keith told me he had a dream of machine-gunning Moroccans. I imagine the baby in Ouezanne down a well. The imp of the perverse, doing what you’re not supposed to do. Guzzling water in public during Ramadan, the big fast coming up very soon. No water or food from sun-up to sun-down. Someone said no shitting or pissing either, could that be possible? And no sex with living things, whatever that means.
We take turns analyzing each other, since we’re thrown together. Chris describes Clara’s adventuresomeness as psychology rather than temperament, having to do with breaking out of the bonds of some family repression and being flattered by constant male attention she’s never had back home, and how Clara could get hurt because she’s being careless – as opposed to others here, who she said took chances but looked them right in the eye. Clara has had marriage proposals three times already. Chris hit a man on the street who was harassing her, and he and his buddy ganged up on her and hit her back. They had been grabbing her, grabbing her purse. Barbara got spat at from a car. The cars are crazy here. They never even slow down for the little stump-like stop-lights. “Ya, ya, ya.” I find Chris very sexy, like a witch. I suppose that woman from Ouezanne, from the hills, was a real witch. Chris told me about a collage box she made, an old dresser drawer covered in velvet with rusted barbed wire coiled around a pair of mirrored sunglasses: don’t get too close.
I love the sound of opening this journal. I record what comes, I pry things open and scribble down the secrets and try to do the same with myself. But secrets are ultimately unexciting when you finally unearth them. Unless you’re recording evidence of a crime or a terrorist activity. But why would you record that? So what really matters, you don’t record. Which means none of this really matters…
Tangier used to be a garden city, Paul Bowles told me, a grove of trees that began immediately outside the medina. But it’s all houses now. “They don’t like trees,” he said. It seems like this is a “trick” country – you have to know how to work everything, like the toilet here in this room, or the complicated gas stove at Paul’s house. In Tangier, the street cats often have rabies; I give them a wide berth.
“Hamdullah” – “it is the grace of Allah” or “thanks be to Allah.” Paul recalled a scene where a Moroccan man was late getting on a bus, in the days of the French colony here, and the French driver shut the bus door in the man’s face. The old man’s finger had caught in the door, though, and the violent action broke it clean off. “Hamdullah,” the man said, soaking the blood in dust by the roadside. Acceptance of loss; things must happen. You can wash things in dust.
Cobras are fully formed in their eggs, ready to bite and kill.
Paul Bowles told me some good stories about William Burroughs in Tangier in the 1950’s. How Naked Lunch was written in a Pantopon delirium, scribbled on pieces of yellow paper strewn about his Medina room, with shoe prints and coffee grinds all over them. How Burroughs once came by and said: “Paul, I did some mescaline today, and I’m on a blue-violet ray. I’m still on it. I’m invisible. I walked all the way into town and nobody saw me.” He was walking on a narrow beam of light. Later, the children in the medina all called him “el hombre invisible.” And once, on Paul’s birthday, Burroughs walked into his apartment, dressed like an undertaker in full formal dress, and pulled off his grey gloves finger by finger, saying “Paul, you just missed a very pleasant funeral...” It turned out Burroughs had never liked that bartender. Bowles is full of stories, so refined, cultured, fragile and canny, fastidiously dressed and quick of wit. I think he adds to or makes up details for these stories. Why not, and who cares? Paul said he was writing the text for a book by a photographer who died in the Andes at 3000 feet while stepping back to “get a better shot.” In the Andes, Paul himself collected spiders and stuck them on cardboard in creosote with hat-pins, but they pried themselves loose and broke away, carrying the pins along.
Bowles told me tarantulas eat only live animals, so my sister must have been fibbing when she told me about how one summer, a few years ago, she secretly kept a tarantula in the house, feeding it hamburger, till it escaped.
I met Mohammed Mrabet tonight, a vigorous, tight-muscled little dude, a storyteller and visual artist. His drawings are complex, graphic pen-and-ink hallucinations of hands with eyes, fingers, people and snakes in tense, weaving, intricate, radiating lines all self-contained and aflame with the madness of vision. Very “anthropological.” He would not touch Blaine Blaine’s self-published book, Secret of the Golden Calf because of its aura, he said. “Blood and honey, everybody funny.” He said L.A. was “like the Sahara, only dirty.” A handsome French woman named Claude Thomas was there, too.
Moroccans are born hustlers. King Hassan II is the biggest wheeler-dealer of all. He keeps the action. On the head of a pin. His pin. If he goes, the whole thing goes. Shooting in the streets, etc. Russia is pushing Algeria is pushing Spanish Sahara to declare independence which is undermining Morocco’s claim to it which Hassan cannot renounce for fear of losing face. He is playing a complex game. When the Boeing 727 he was in was attacked by fighters from his own air force – in an attempted coup – and the pilot killed, he got on the radio and reported that the king was dead and then landed the plane himself. The general who orchestrated this coup was named Oufkir, and, so the story goes, the king himself personally dispatched the general in his own office. Oufkir originally made his bones with Hassan back in the 60’s, when he went to a Paris and kidnapped an opposition leader from a café there, then murdered him and cut him up into pieces (the head was delivered to the king). It was a huge scandal in Europe and for months, according to Paul, no foreign newspapers were allowed in Morocco. The 727 attack wasn’t the only attempt on his life, either. Two of his own generals tried to kill him, earlier. He is widely believed to have baraka, a charm, a lucky star that the father hands down to his chosen son. Hassan has it in spades.
Paul told me about the “blue men” from the south, whose cloth dye turns their skin blue, and the Berbers who live in the Rif, in storied houses like out of the Bible – a man on top, then his sons, then the women, then the sheep, then the cattle at ground level. A man in a house like this once told Paul, “no, above my head, on the roof, are the storks, and then Allah.” In Morocco, there are towns ruled by living saints. He told me about living with his wife Jane in Ceylon, where bats as big as cats hung in the trees outside their house, very Poe-like. A lovely place to live, he said, but his wife hated the “cuckoo-clockness” of its inhabitants, writing once to him: “everything is promise but the only thing vile is the people.”
Some Buddhists sent Paul a flyer in the mail: “Religion without God.”
Moroccan weddings – Sue, a blonde girl in the program, watched a cow get slaughtered and then later ate it. The husband dips his fingers in henna, then puts the bowl on his head and dances around, then throws the bowl out the window. The marriage ceremony lasts three days. First day, henna painting for the women (they cover their hands in complex spidery designs that look a lot like Mrabet’s drawings; Sue’s hands were beautiful); A big party for the men. Second day, a party for the women, with music played by the women. Third day, a procession around the block and around the town, with much cheering, noisemaking, and music (crazy reeds and drums). The groom in white, blindfolded, led up to his wife’s chamber. Later, the bloody bed-sheet is hung like a flag outside the window.
There’s a girl here with the program, Blondie: very unhappy disco-chick, tight-painted, lipsticked, sneering high-heeled girl, who describes Tangier as “real spook city out there…” She likes to wear purple, wants to do coke. Coke? Here? Like wanting to be packed in ice like a dead fish. Why is she here, anyway? Blondie’s mind at work: Christmas in L.A., three murders; since body and soul are two, it all adds up to…666! I imagine her going into the Kasbah in a SCUBA suit, to keep germs out.
What if every word was an acronym, could be broken down, so that language eventually fell apart? G.U.I.L.T.Y.
Mark told me about going on leave in Thailand and getting Thai hookers – one who used a fan to lower herself onto her customer and spin around. A redneck pal of his just couldn’t deal with it, freaked out, sped up the fan and she lost balance, flew across the room and was knocked unconscious. I try to imagine a fan holding someone but can’t, and I have trouble with the geometry, but it’s a funny story as he told it. The story was all in the delivery and the delivery was all over me.
The line-up of the stars: Venus right in the center of a crescent moon. Venus, the last star to fade in the dawn, Lucifer. Lucid. Light. Last night we heard all the animals for miles around – goats, cows, cocks – all making a racket, dogs baying at the top of their lungs. The awful opera.
A fig is not actually a fruit, it is the flower itself. Aleatory – having to do with chance. Paul talked about translating Isabel Eberhart’s diaries, about Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst.
Robert J. had a nervous breakdown and he was interested in the Manson family. Two prongs of the same fork. When Uri Geller was in TV once in England, thousands of forks were mysteriously bent.
Bowles suggested we write 500 sentences, each sentence allowing only one polysyllabic word per phrase, off the cuff, without thinking. Bob B. (MA in creative writing, PhD in theatre) allowed as how he had done that once, writing a textbook for non-English speaking classes with limited vocabulary. Then he started talking about the “mechanics of plotting” and I asked him if he could write without thinking. He asked me “you mean, you think I’m too intellectual to write fiction?”
Mr. Blaine Blaine imagines walking into the ocean with all of his books in his arms. He refused to let Mark look at Secret of the Golden Calf because it has “made people commit suicide.” His pen name for that book was “Zakatarius.” It really is a book about the Golden Calf worshipped by the Israelites when Moses went up Mount Sinai to get the tablets of the Laws from God.
During Ramadan, Muslims may go swimming, but they have to shake the water out of their ears. It’s still pre-Ramadan now, lots of marriages, drumming and crowds outside, weird flutes, chanting and singing. Getting it all in before the big fast. Last night sitting out on the bluff under the stars with Stephanie we saw processions of honking cars go past, heard singing and partying , dogs and roosters, and finally the call to worship at 3 am. I had never stayed out so late to dig the sounds. Lots of them. So different from the USA.
Mark said he once interviewed Sloane Coffin, who told him that at one point, early in the hostage crisis with Iran (which is still going on), the mullahs and the Revolutionary Council were ready to release three hostages, but Jimmy Carter in an interview dismissed the Iranian grievances as “ancient history,” so they changed their minds. Mark thought he had an exclusive with this but his paper rejected it. Our free press.
Gerald A. is a very interesting character. Quiet, smirking, often mumbling his words or singing to himself, his shirt untucked and his gestures slothlike but gentle, while his mind burns away deep inside – remembering the exact syntax of conversations for days after, putting together impressions, a hidden cauldron that pulls the world inside, changing its shape, its color, in understated, detailed ways. His craft of writing is very fine, and he takes it far more seriously than I do. When I asked him if he was gay, he answered yes but then wanted to know how I knew, and I couldn’t answer. He certainly doesn’t fit the tight-physique stereotype, and he doesn’t care if he wears black socks with madras shorts. His interior and his exterior are opposites. He told me a little about his adventures in Tangier, about a “house of confidence,” and his visits to the Turkish baths with his friend Assiz, whom he met on the street not long after arriving. He told me about a party he went to with a 6’4” German with absolutely no body hair named “Woodi,” and two 16 year-old Dutch girls who told him they “know all about the man.” He says he is interested in witchcraft, but just how much he knows about it is unclear.
Even the trash is interesting here. Chris K. and I wander the streets of this little village just outside the compound, catching stares from the people because we scour the pavement for litter, fragments of the dark heart of a culture’s garbage soul. Aliens collecting trash from gutters. Chris and I have walked down shaded streets filled with children playing, sucking on frozen sugar and looking up at us, sometimes smiling, sometimes hiding, sometimes holding up a pained and frightened look – like strange and delicate pastries. Children sitting behind the cage that protects the first floor windows. A child with pock-marks covering her face and hands. A seven year-old carrying a delirious baby in a papoose, the baby lolling its head back and forth as the girl walked, moaning without even the energy to give a full-throated cry. There is a hill there, a dump, where children play soccer in bare feet on a clearing that’s covered in shit, broken glass, rotting food, and dead rats. Smiles, though, are universal currency. We met a boy named Said (which means “happy”) who spoke fluent English (they all speak 5 languages) and who was much taken by Chris (I can relate). Said and his sister and a large group of their friends all followed us back to the compound, chattering and laughing. Something to do.
These houses are subtly and individually painted, though the construction is uniform – a sort of redundant modernization of traditional forms, boxes with balconies. Some are white, others are painted in the greatest pinks or orange-yellows, with trim done up in blue-green or even lavender. An apartment in the city of dreams.
I have arranged 12 smooth pebbles in a circle on my bedside table. When people come into the room, it’s the first thing the notice, and they always comment on it. Carol came in wearing a bright yellow bathrobe. I said, you look like a night nurse, here to take my temperature. A childhood spent in hospitals. Carla said my postcard photo of Oum Kalsoum looked like a night nurse. I said she looks more like the wife of a South American dictator.