Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hiya Fowda Fiya Dokha

A few things relevant to today:
1. When I was young my mother taught me in all sincerity that hope is presumptuous and with negative connotations attached and they can’t be detached. I was nervous about what it would mean to agree with her.
2. Shifa is not an Arabic name it is an Arabic nothing (that is not something my mother taught me it is just something people in Morocco say)
3. To clarify #1, this may partially be because of a subtle language barrier, but is mostly based on her conviction that devotion involves believing in things that don’t make sense, because they are better than worse.
4. There is nothing worse than the presumptuous rajl-f’-zanqa.
5. Is this perverse presumptuousness just a perversion of hope?

I have a friend who works on the corner. His DVD selection is not any better than the next guy but he is young and open late and corrects my Arabic and lets me watch his TV when I’m bored. I visited him to see if he had found the old Egyptian film I requested by means of acting out the first scene, which I had watched at another man’s stall. The boy never actually finds the films I request, but his assurances allow me to continue hoping and I do.
I thought about asking him to accompany me to the Egyptian film at the Cinema Paris later that day. I didn’t ask him in the end, and later found that I had dodged a vaguely bullet shaped almost-bullet when he started telling me what he thought about the Jewish population of Casablanca, or the Jewish population anywhere. I am prone to taking things personally, and despite being Muslim inside and out, (in a cartoonish coloring book sort of way) I did take it personally. How did I manage? It mostly has to do with the presumption he made- the look on his face, waiting for me to agree with him. Like the men on the street that try to hit me with their car, and then ask me to get in the car. I’m sure I have my days when I look as though I can’t do any better, but certainly not often enough to warrant my friendly acquaintances pursuing me with such zeal.

Relatedly, the mentally unstable DVD vendor is at it again. He handed me a letter on Valentines Day and I was too nervous to have it translated until yesterday, but it turned out to be a non-love letter. On the contrary, it was a stay-away-from-me letter. I gladly accepted and felt comfortable passing him by sans-Salam until last night, when he stopped me in the street and caused a scene in front of the egg-shop.
Doesn’t my phone number work? Are you sure you have the right number?
He had written his number at the bottom of a Quranic wood carving and dropped it off at the cinema.
I didn’t call you.
You didn’t call me?

He sort of looked like he was about to punch me and I actually braced myself for an attack. But the bracing only made me more angry. Because why would I call him.
Why would I call you? I see you every day. You are horrible with me. I am not ever going to call you. Understand?

I left as quick as I came, and made my way uphill to the Cinema Paris, thrilled at the prospect of English subtitles and snacks allowed (snacks-allowed is a state of being that can erase any bad memory). As I watched the story unfold, I asked myself (because I had no one to ask in Arabic) if the film was perhaps a sign from God.
The protagonist was a mildly crazed old man, working hard for a living on the streets of Cairo. His only distraction was a beautiful young soda-pop vendor. She ran through and between the trains at the station with a bucket and a dress that was always falling off. She was nice to the poor guy long enough, until he asked her to marry him and she indignantly explained that she was much too good for him, and was already engaged to someone else. Then she laughed at him for a few consecutive minutes while her dress continued to fall off.
I never directly laughed at my crazed admirer but I couldn’t help reexamining my frank reply to his presumptuous inquiry.
In the film, the man ends up trying to kill the girl and accidentally kills her best friend. Then he tries to kill her again but gets caught and arrested, driven completely insane, whereas he started out a 3, on a scale from 1 to 5. A wise old member of the community explains, as though it was the moral of the story, that for the crazy old guy, even very small things were very meaningful, and he simply couldn’t control himself.

I know my life is not an old Egyptian film although sometimes I wish that it was, with all that beautifully contrasting black and white. In this case I pass, and have faith that life is not all that dramatic, really, and there aren’t ever that many occasions on which to say
“Abadan!” Not really.

I finished off my Sunday with a chwarma, not with murder, and found myself at the egg shop once again. There was a man there delivering bread, singing a Spanish song with full vibrato. I was told he is the best singer on the streets of the Socco. He stacked the bread into a pyramid one by one until his cardboard box was empty, and kept singing until the song was over. I told the mool’l hanout that I wish I could record him. He told me the man will come the same time tomorrow and if I come back I can do as I please. I told him I was doing a project. He asked if I would send it to America. I told him no, I would bring it with me, in a few months, when I go home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eid l Hub

I found a new café today, set up in a vaguely Japanese sort of way, with eight benchlike chairs set up in squares. It seemed to emphasize when someone was sitting alone, suggesting that there should be seven other people sitting there with you. Presumptuous. A man in a maroon djellaba was sitting by the door watching the girls. They were all wearing headscarves and smoking. I drank half of my juice and finished my book and watched the Al Jazeera report on the bombing in Lebanon. The only fus’ha words I could understand were “walikin” (but) and “aydun” (also). They said those words enough times that I felt like I was catching on.

Back at Café Paris the crowds have already started to gather, mostly Spanish. There are usually a few elderly women sitting with young men, perhaps their sons, and a few young wives with their husbands, or maybe brothers. I learned from a library regular that Café Paris used to be known for its fine breakfast menu, and perfect martinis. She used to sit in the wicker chairs outside and watch the crowds and have a martini. The same goes for cafés all around town. I can’t even imagine this.

I’ve been listening to people more, trying to understand the peripheral conversations. Dean’s is good for this because the men are usually talking too loud, and I accept the risk of using their slurred speech as a substitute for an Arabic tutor. And in any case, I have to start speaking Fus’ha. It feels like moving backwards. And unnatural, because it is not really spoken anywhere.

My old neighbors miss me. I heard it through the grapevine. It’s just as I’d planned. And I miss them too. I went to the Fnduq today to peruse the rug selection and rekindle a small relationship from last spring, with Mohamed the custom-scarf maker. I found him after passing through several shops asking men “Do you remember me? Do I know you?” They all answered yes, but a few minutes conversation would prove that I did not know these men at all. When I found Mohamed he was younger than I remembered him, but I recognized the bright blue countertop of his display case. We discussed possibilities and eventually got to designing a rug that fits my financial limitations, inching down on levels of comfort and beauty gradually until we reached my lowly dwelling place. It was like measuring my worth in rug-form: not exactly what you would expect of a rug, but makes do.

I am allergic to the flowers I bought myself, so my eyes match my shoes and I look awfully sad. Maybe I'll score a free pack of tissues or something equally as good.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I’ve given up bitter for bitter sweet, taking sugar in my coffee and all that.

I explored Lady Fitness just for kicks. It was a horrifying scene of feigned decadence and desperation. They built all of the rooms too big for the amount of equipment they actually have- the women were all scantily clad and unusually skeletal. One of them stuck to me for the duration of my visit. I wanted to feed her a sandwich. I insisted I couldn’t afford the club and tried to flee but was forced to take a detailed tour of the creepy premises. The praying mantis took my phone number. She showed me her favorite room in the back. If she calls I will hang up on her.

I have been frequenting Café de Paris daily now, like an irresistibly comfy sweater. Although today, sitting there in my ICS I surveyed the man to my left and his beautiful blue and white striped djelleba and it made me want to put on my djelleba- maybe become all striped and serious and baby-blue pure like that. A certain peace arises from this man like an uncanny odor- he is there every morning. He is a blind man, and the other men in the café always lead him to his special spot. My stomach turns when I am accidentally sitting in his special spot and I sit there and chew my lip and hope he doesn’t bump into anything on the detour. On those days they lead him to the seat to my left.

Cold showers lately leave me scouring the city for ways to warm my heart. Today my efforts led to a wasted hour of a beautifully crisp February morning, flirting with the mool-l violin to no avail. I refuse to buy it, even if it costs $70, and have been trying to rent. I didn’t go intending to flirt my way through it but sometimes the spirit catches you and there is nothing around to stop it. Men tend to steer the conversation without my noticing, to their liking until it covers the neglected sore spot aching for an inappropriate oral exchange, and I am concentrating too hard on my conjugations to pull out early. I even played the cancan for the man! He spent the hour pretending he was going to let me rent, and in the end, walu.

Repairs on the house are racking up into a pile of no-Arabic lessons, so I keep saying the same words over and over, asking people what shtta means so I can watch them wiggle, saying what I like and don’t like, and trying to learn the difference between things that look the same, and learning the difference, except when it comes to nuts and eggs and all that.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


I keep calling it “Imam Rue Laiti” by accident.

The man on the corner confronted me today. I was standing with Safia, chatting about the weather and drinking the juice she made for me. He came in like a wave of bad fever, jittery and missing pieces. Disjointed like his extremities were dangling from little strings. I felt sorry for him and then he started talking and I felt sorry for the situation we were in. Safia buried her head in her face and they muttered awkwardly placed niceties to each other, to allay the hostility, or to place it more directly where it belonged. I caught some phrases- “talk to the woman,” “across the street,” and some more- the bits but not the guts.

Yesterday he warned me that if I continue to dine at H&M&M&M, I am dead to him. So I’m dead to him. But he has since proved that though I may be dead, he will continue to poke and prod with interest and disgust and resentment and anger and mild obsession.
Safia reluctantly advised me to start taking the alternate route home. I looked back and forth between my usual route and the Socco with a pout. “Not today, not today,” she insisted. “But later.”

There are two alleyways and one set of steps leading from "ex-fish street" to Rue Imam Laiti. Of course I could start taking the alternate route, but it would mean missing Safia, the perfectly hardboiled egg shop, H&M&M&M, the shady glue sniffer and his daily wranglings, and the cat gang, when I stop home, every couple of hours. But I am an American girl at heart, whatever that means, and I won’t be stepped on. Whatever that means.

It is horrible to know that someone hates you. It is worse to know that the person that hates you has stopped taking his medication.
He has so many stories to tell and I still want to hear them.


We finished our second day of filming. We went looking for Iris fields and as it turns out, all of Tangier is an Iris field this month.
I was deathly ill and grossing everyone out, with the exception of the men working the chicken shack on the route to Tetouan, probably because they spend most of their days staring at recently butchered cow meat hanging from hooks and bleeding on the floor.
The disjointed progression of artistic process ran like the jagged edge of quilting scissors, just as painful but not nearly as playful, moving up and down the small mountains, between high and low spaces as the opinions of two stubborn Europeans collided and exploded and set things on fire then put out the fire.

I found some floral gems and some non-floral gems. The herdsmen knew Zohra from the cinema, finally convincing me to go ahead with my long delayed pursuit- an audio project revolving entirely around men that “know Zohra.” I meet them all the time. They always look alike.

On the last Iris field a small child gang performed their kung fu moves on the Iris heads, then later gave Yto a bouquet of all the heads. I have a pot of them in my room. The stems are too short to properly “vase” them. It looks more like purple stew than anything else. It attracts flies.