Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Public Performance

It only took two weeks of frequenting the farran (public oven) daily to hit the red brick wall at the end of that path. The mool’l farran, a fresh replacement for my favorite old man ever (now fled to Placa Toro) has also been acting as my dealer for various gems from the neighborhood: peanut cookies, abandoned bread loaves, moroccan pizza / caliente (ironically always cold somehow), Abdullah’s mint tea, and lately the gargantuan black bookshelf donated to the oven from the mosque, to cut up and use as fuel for the fire. Men, boys, and children wandering the street with nothing better to do come by to chat or smoke, and this way I have secured a handful of neighbors willing to guide me through the process of preparing whichever mythical-looking fish I purchased that morning from the market uphill from the Socco. I am careful to follow these instructions exactly, since they will all see the finished product and probably by smell alone be able to tell if I failed in my endeavor. This is the trouble with public-cooking. Inevitably, you will be judged. As an American I am expected to be incompetent, but since taking the Ana Hindaweea route, I have a reputation to uphold.
Performance wise, I would say the mool’l’farran is probably a religious man- he never lets me take food with my left hand, often abandons CapRadio for Quranic recitation, and prays on a warm blanket behind a wood pile. I can understand that my visits and photographs might convey a certain sentiment, and so when he vaguely asked me to enter into a non-baked-good-related relationship, I tried to be as nice as possible in my refusal. Instead of the usual smug “why/why not?” he looked away in embarrassment and possible shame, a smeHlna, avoiding eye contact with the other men in the room. They all seemed shocked that I wasn’t interested, assuming that this is what I was after all along in the guise of cakes and cookies and disastrous fish tagines. I awkwardly handed him the dirhams I owed for the use of the fire and headed back across the street to my home.
I could retreat, seeking out the "old mool" in the maze of Place Toro streets, in my usual way, showing passers by his photo asking "have you seen this man? Which way did he go?" but I am tough like all American girls, as they say, and I refuse to let this deter me from spending the occasional rainy and windy Tangier afternoon in this warm and safe place, warm from the fire and safe because bread is baking just behind me, and there are trays of cookies to the right and left of me.
It seems that old Kashmiri logic is haunting me again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


In rainy Tangier everyone is hiding behind those big plaid umbrellas. I refuse to carry them because they insist on making a mockery of me, turning tricks for everyone to see, insides outside and downsides upturned, basking in the wetness from above and the wet mess it makes of me.

There is some secret fun to be had- rain fashions are the most entertaining. Old women wrap themselves in yellow plastic ponchos as though they are about to cross the strait, boys and men are tucked into hoods like Eskimos or skaters (sk8rz), and the women manage to keep their spiky heels on with no issue. I enter the scene like some sort of sea creature, blinded by the steaming lenses of her glasses and lack of reason.

Even still, Suleiman insisted this morning, in English
“If I were already young, I swear, I would just sit next to you…all day. I would never get up.”
I wanted to ask,
“What if I get up?” but he whisked away with his tray of mint tea, a delightful compliment to the rainy season.


My lessons at the sewing school have been dwindling. I’m just not as passionate about pockets as I once thought. I agree there is a lot to be learned from the modern variations of pocket, but they are not so relevant to my life right now. Although I could always use a good hiding place.

A few weeks ago I scoured the city for a sewing machine in the hopes of making a go at the growing pile of clothing projects in the corner of the spare room (not so spare any more). I was delighted to find, at the foot of the stairs lining each side of our street, a tiny sewing school with seven machines crammed into a 10’ x 10’ room.

Although it is a training school preparing students for work at the local pocket factory, the m3allam insisted that I would follow my “own system” and “learn everything.” The first lesson seemed promising, I re-learned how to use the industrial machine that had years ago prompted me to drop out of fashion school. I mastered it this time around, and learned all of the Arabic names. It wasn’t until my second lesson that the m3allam ordered I follow the “common system” - “his system” -“the pocket system.” I have a lot of respect for pockets and the things they hide, and I am trying not to discriminate against them while I learn to discriminate between them, but I think it is time to move on to a less-limited system.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The King graced Tangier last week. The Socco outside of the CdT was lined with metal barriers and hoards of men, women and children behind them, waiting for him to pass on his way to Friday prayer in Jama’Al Kabir. Bus loads of people from all over town steadily built a healthy crowd. Officers were posted every few feet to keep us off the streets and keep us from taking pictures of the square. In practice, most of them turned a blind eye, although they were especially adamant about every window in every building of the Socco remaining closed. Personally, if I were being cheered for, I would delight in the little window explosions of arms and heads and laundry. Maybe it is a security issue? It was so sad to see them all retreat into the darkness of their homes and offices.

We waited well past prayer time, in anticipation as the multiple prayer calls overlapped each other into one brilliant howling. I can only assume they delayed prayer until his arrival. It seems like something you might do for a King. Men in djellabas distributed miniature Moroccan flags and pictures of the King looking uncomfortable in his pink cushioned chair. The moment I held these free items in my hand I felt a surge of national pride run through me, and could hardly keep from waving them like a child.

His passing was announced by a handful of tiny black cars, speeding in circles as though the controlling of hand of a giant three year old was guiding them. The King sighting consisted of one arm, waving.