Sunday, January 27, 2008

Who do you think you're Fooolin' ?

The sirens in Tangier are a mix between a NYC ambulance and an ice cream truck. Like penguins waddling. The way Abdulnabi used to dodder his way into the classroom with a boyish smile on his face, inappropriate for the morning and for the season, geared up to teach us about the drug trade in the north or the ignorance of women in general. Accompanying his belly and constant “meeeeezyaaan” was the comfort of knowing he would always be wearing the same sweater, the next day and the next day.

Depending on where you are standing the sounds of the city are always changing and being carried. The communal cheering for evening football is pretty standard and can be heard from anywhere. Quranic recitation is maintained from DVD vendors on some streets, while Jojo plays out on others. Cars don’t honk as much as in the summer months, but more boys think it’s funny to almost run me over as a way of getting my attention. The weather is changing in funny ways, as though it’s not sure which would make it more well-liked. It goes both ways at once, weaving into ribbons of strokes of warm air moving through a cold front. Like the murals of ships and sky lining the walls on the walk up the boulevard.

The consistency of appearance of the daily passers-by feels like a cartoon or a very realistic video game. It presents this way of living (weaving in and out of lives with mysterious status, like a warm front or a cold spell) like a narrative and sometimes a bad joke (very rarely, a good joke)- alongside the motorbikes and baby strollers in the streets is this phenomenon of “men that always wear the same sweater.” More comforting than a coat because everyone always wears the same coat. The sweaters often involve lightning bolts, neon stripes, and patched elbows. I know that I can take my leave, come back a week or a month later and there it is- old brown and green sitting on the bench outside the petit socco chicken shack with the man in the turquoise djellaba. He preaches in the medina. I think he would remind me of my mother if I could understand what he was saying in all that mumbling and shouting, but for now he only reminds me of himself.

An integral detail of the public space is the uphill and downhill. Uphill tends to monopolize the warmth, so I have taken to sitting in high places and watching the slope of the road. Watching people in general- I don’t usually do it but lately I can’t help it. A good accompaniment to the soy lattes at Café Paris (victory!) And downhill serves its purpose when I’m caught taxi-less, up the old mountain, or leaving the Qasbah house (not home yet)- I am thankful for it but I need to learn to be more delicate with my steps before I lose all use of my legs. These hills were not made for Buffalo snowboot stomping. (It’s partly the fault of Mary J Blige, I also have to keep the beat) And since I am always finding myself beside young girls (beautiful and heavily made up ones) wearing three-inch stick heels and doing just fine, I might give in to my inner librarian and unpack the gems I hid away for the rainy season to decrease chances of public embarrassment.

So I am adopting new habits to keep the company of the old ones- compliments to match what I have already appropriated. Tracking down the orange spots of the blue city like a gumshoe- so far: the mandarins and the calendula, in full bloom now beside the narcissus and tongues and ears of the Iris Tingitana. We found them growing on the side of the road on the route to Tetouan and again back in the city, in armfuls and handfuls of farmers trying to sell them for much less than they are worth. In my case, the floppy purple ears peek out of my purse where the zipper is open because it’s too full, bordered by wool because the sun is just a cheap trick- it is still winter.
You can’t fool me like you used to.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heart-shaped Blues

There are bats. On my street. I have to duck when I walk. I do anyway because the boys playing soccer never stop for me and actually start kicking the ball harder when I walk by. Sometimes I envision deflating their ball with a knife and it making a sad wooshing noise as the air seeps out along with all of their hopes and dreams.

I have two houses in Tangier. As of yesterday neither of them has hot water. I sleep in the one that has an oven, it feels more "open to possibility" in general. Possibility of pumpkin cakes, toasted bread, happiness etc. The important things in life are still possible at the other house, only performed publicly, and now that the possibility of cleanliness has also shifted over into the public sphere (at least I can be thankful I have the option of the public bath) I think I am finally ready to get a move-on. I have spent about 33% of the past year in transition, I am used to it but I still make faces at it.

I ventured out to the city beach this morning, in the hopes of capturing the morning light on film. Fat film for a fat morning. All full of things. The dawn breaks like a pinwheel, each hazardously sharp edge taking turns rising above the silhouette of the little mountains. I adore those little light beams.

The city beach was empty except for a few homeless men emerging from the fog every ten minutes or so, with bags for collecting things. I think they got all the good stuff because I found nothing awesome except a bag of something buried too deep to get at 'er. Everything was calm and wooshing until the chaos of the birds announced the arrival of the teenage hoodlums with their soccer balls and overdramatically performed masculinity. Four of them surrounded me as I walked down the beach, occasionally grabbing, and eventually kicking their soccer ball at my ass from afar. I squealed and wished I hadn't. It was a cute sort of squeal. Occasionally it occurs to me that I should learn how to swear in Moroccan but I feel like it will have the same effect as when french people say "shits." Just laughter. Pity, depending on the tone.
It took me a few minutes, but I managed my way through the sand slowly, off the beach onto the boulevard, with no damage done or cameras missing, only angry like a tiger.

I wandered the streets for some parts of an hour, since Delta Fitness does not open until the decent hour of 7:30 and doesnt allow bellydancing of any kind before the decent hour of 3pm (I still dont understand who bellydances in the middle of a work day?). O Morocco!

Some very hip moroccan girls walking arm in arm, skinny jeans and all, stopped me with an "o binti!" as i approached the all-new, unnaturally placed public garden (it just looks like a big interupption). I turned to look and paused my noise-canceling-Jens Lekman (but he's so quiet and quivery how could he!). One of the girls pointed to her bum with a gesticulation signifying both effacement and purification. As it turned out, the kiss of the force of the object of hostility and harassment had left a heart shaped mud stain on my bum. I tried to remove it and only made it less love-ly. I did not feel defeated, but I did decide to go home. And despite the lack of hot water, it felt like a home and not just a house devoid of warmth in the face of the events that had unfolded that morning.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Isn't that what you meant?

The dead mosquito splotches aren’t shaped like anything this year. I’m leaving them soon anyway, for the new ones on the new walls in the new house.

Ashora was yesterday, all the kids roamed the streets in a candied stupor in their miniature djellabas and babouches. Mohamed gave me some mixed nuts wrapped in wax paper and I felt vaguely Moroccan and included. I’m so pathetic on holidays, wishing everyone a happy one just so they’ll wish me one back and perhaps tell me what I could do later on, to appear more Moroccan (saunter the streets, comb hair, etc). I am forever fond of this particular celebration, as it brought the return of the packaged dried fig, so I can stop buying the mushy Ramadan leftover ones where each little stringy strand of fruit is actually a live worm writhing.

A short and festive attempt at fasting had put me in a sluggish daze, or perhaps the sleeping sickness caught up with me, but I managed to leave my laptop on a bench in a Grand Socco food stall after a late night snack that I had asked Mohamed to put aside for me earlier that day. Macbook slept there overnight. She was frightened and had wild nightmares of what men might do to her when they found her all alone. I didn’t realize she wasn’t with me until around six am, at which time I began to have similar visions and paced my street and the surrounding streets (does that count as pacing?) until someone showed up to open up shop, where Macbook was perched on the same bench where I left her, beside a box of half-eaten bread, cornering a splash of soup on the black vinyl cushion.

I pushed a little further in the same direction by locking myself out of my apartment a few hours later, and then spent two hours trying to get back in. It was in this interim that a kitten named Nora (because it rhymes with Ashora and because I was looking for something to name Nora) sat on my feet for a nap for no reason I can think of except that she loves me and knew it would keep me warm. She kept me company while I got through three chapters of Portrait of a Lady, stirring for nothing, not even the tipsy, oversized banana truck and Nora didn’t run away either. Eventually another tenant of the building showed up to open the street door and I made it back just in time to meet Miriem so we could walk to the mosque together and even managed to find a comfortable wall-spot before it was stolen by the miscellaneous limbs of surrounding women. Whenever I see a Rifi straw hat hung up on the spikes of the partition, complete with the multicolored tassels around the rim, I try to guess which woman it belongs to and I always guess wrong. This leads me to suspect that they don’t wear the red and white striped towel/sheet/blanket/rug (I’m tempted to refer to the as thneeds) for weddings, and this intensifies my mission to see a jbool wedding.

friendly sidenote: If I start doing this with ordinary words, could it be like a trick poem?

To encourage a mental recovery I made the short trek to the Oasis grocery store in hopes of splurging on my favorite cookies. I ran into my Spanish neighbor, on an actual “treasure hunt” designed by her boyfriend for her birthday. I can’t decide if this is romantic or adorable or a ploy to get her to buy all the necessary items for the dinner he had planned (when I spotted her she was holding several varieties of fancy cheese). It pushed me over the edge into a lovey mode, and got me asking my DVD vendor (only one of three left standing) for a movie “about love. A good story.” He searched for a few seconds before pulling something out with a confident thumbs up. The English translation of the Arabic title read “About love and affection. A good love story.”

The second day of Ashora was the first day of Spring in Tangier. Heartwarming, seeing as how I can assume my bedroom at home is still overlooking dirty mounds of snow and sludge. I celebrated by taking the three dirham taxi to Sweni. I must have been delirious from my flu meds to have ventured so close to Casa Barata on a Sunday, and a holiday, to boot. Something inside me could anticipate the nightly greeting from the cinema staff “where were you all day?” and just wanted to be able to respond, “Sweni!” I base a lot of my decisions on words. It’s a dangerous business.

The ride ends right across the street from my favorite apartment building in Tangier, all white with a row of nine windows with red shutters and the most beautiful laundry stuffed in the frames or hanging in the droop of the line tied between two frames. I brought all of my cameras and stole every angle of its rectangular soul. Groups of boys haggle me like I’m a spectator sport. Most of the harassments amount to “she’s taking a picture she’s taking a picture…she’s still taking a picture still taking a picture.”
Miriem lives across the street –that’s how I discovered the building in the first place- but I was still surprised to run into her. I’m thankful for it, I think it helped my street cred. She walked me to the main road and left me roaming free to photograph the men selling odd pairs of things, like cabbage and sheep, or cauliflower and sheep.
I wandered that street, flagging taxis that never stopped, long enough to see the bus stop crowd triple. I did eventually make it home in time to say goodnight to Bisoux and her brood, all nestled like sisters beside a pile of deep fried fish heads.