Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Dear Perec,

I am taking a quilting class at the local nursing home. The women are all so jolly and wear puffy sweaters and white sneakers and look like Mrs. Claus and I can tell that I make them uncomfortable. The room is the same room we sat in one morning in fifth grade when our teachers ganged up on us and as a team forced us to interact with terrifying elderly "folks" so we could ask them about their lives. We were in pairs and I was partnered up with a girl I hate and the old woman we were talking to hated her too, and so we bonded a little, subtly. She would recount thirty second memories about restaurants in Connecticut, where she was from, or from the war, I'm not sure which one. She ended most of these memories with something like, "but you wouldn't know you girls are so young, things were different then."
I used to have girl scout meetings in the same nursing home. I guess they like to have a youthful presence to make people feel bad about how old they are. This particular place was built like a maze and it was difficult to navigate my way to the meeting room. On a day I will never forget, I was just about there, but then reoriented in a much more frightening direction by an elderly women chasing after me screaming frantically "give me back my sweater! You took my sweater!" I didn't know it then, but this was all a foreshadowing of what was to come. Not only would I dedicate my life to recording the memories of the elderly, but I would spend years dressing like a grandma and wearing old lady sweaters and costume jewelry.
As for the sweater I was accused of stealing, I am probably wearing it now. If it isn't hers, likely a replica, the same flowers in the same place.

THE GROSSEST THING EVER, brought to you by me.

Having spent two years as a struggling student in Toronto and two more in NYC, I have had more than an appropriate share of having to deal with mice. In Toronto I spent many nights listening to a colony of busy creatures building a small city beneath my floorboards and had to just assume they were also fashioning a beautiful blue ball gown, just for me, the single girl upstairs.
In NYC, the little guy really made himself at home and felt like family after I one day reached into a bag of Milano cookies and felt the terrifying warmth of a warm rodent body. Years later in Harlem I was almost accustomed to seeing plastic bags skittering across the floor.

I would call my mother so I could have company while I tried to sweep them away, and as with any unwelcome creature, she taught me that "our home is their home," and encouraged me to try to figure out how to casually throw the mice out the window instead of causing them any direct, visible harm that I would later have to have nightmares about.

Alhamdullilah, we have never had a mouse in our house here in Buffalo, other than the time that Cat (the name of our cat) brought one home in his mouth with such pride in his eyes, as cats do. I have been away for a while, but one of the first things my mother showed me when I got home from Tangier was two dollar bills that apparently the mice have been feasting on just outside the garage. She let them have them for a while, then decided she wanted them back, and casually brought them in and left them on the kitchen table. I am completely aware that this is the grossest thing I have ever scanned in my life, but even stranger than my feeling compelled to scan a small pile of half-chewed US currency is that my mother's reason for showing me the chewed up money is because she thinks it is sad that we did not remember to feed the mice, to make sure they were okay throughout the cold Buffalo winter. Because our home is their home.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

pretty stable

I got to the circus near the train station and inside a big blue tent there was a trapeze artist without a net and rows of very small children, and I was terrified.
Mademoiselle Fatima seemed completely comfortable on the trapeze bar and not in a good way, but in the way they try to terrify you at the circus.

Then there was a horse and tiger segment and it was almost as painful as back in the day when I interned at Marineland to record the breathing patterns of Orca whales.
Killer whales are huge and the tank was about the size of the Juniors section of a Macy's and at the shows they flipped around and swam around in circles and puffed water at the audience then went to sleep looking sad.
At the Moroccan circus the horses ran around in circles and "neighed" / cried for five minutes and then went back to the stable while a seven to ten year-old girl in a white ball gown gently tamed doves to an instrumental version of a Celine Dion top 40 hit and to the crunch of popcorn and the crying of children remembering the fire-eater. And the clowns.

As we left my friends took photos and I tried to talk to one of the acrobats. He was by a set of pretty pink stables with tiny horses inside and he tried to explain to me that the they were fine and they were used to it, in the same way that Dr. Ramshaw justified to me that while we might contest the orcas being caged in such an unnatural SeaWorldish habitat, work is work. And since the animals grew up there, given their nature, they were grateful to be fed regularly and doing pretty okay.
I still don't agree with this, and I don't think he agrees with himself either, but it allowed him to do his research without feeling like a jerk.

I was terrified at the circus along with many of the children, but serendipitously, very soon after had the chance to spend the day with a circus family. For the second time I realized that as much as they bring lifelong fear to some, they do truly believe that they are filling most spectators with joy. Everyone has to make their own way, and realistically I know nothing about the lives of the performers, or the whales or the horses or their tamers. At least compared to me, they all seemed pretty stable.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

We want everything old, but with a new Toilet.

P'Hel hekeda. Walakin mukhtalifa. (Just like that. Except different.)

Buying personal items in Tangier is an adventure, but generally mashi munaasaba. Somehow, it is always male shopkeepers and the kind of boys that whistle at girls that happen to be running the place and run it like the old Indian men at the bridal shops in New Dehli, disheveling all of the perfectly folded cloth for the slight chance that you might want to buy the hot pink sequinned sari that they haven't been able to sell since 1989.
I try to be discreet but the man kept picking out what he thought I would like with a band of onlookers watching the process. He seemed to think he knew me. Blue standard. White with cat and mouse cartoon characters. Orange.
I eventually decided on brown stockings that I saw on a mannequin, and as it turned out, it was the only pair and led to the shopkeeper somewhat violently pulling down the stockings of the mannequin so as to sell them to me. I looked around and couldn't help feeling inappropriate. She was fully nude from the waist down. And it was me who was responsible.

I am making an effort to not say "pHal hekda" and mime instead of trying to remember vocabulary. It has been a hard road. Also trying not to speak muppet Beeker-derija. Now that I keep hearing my voice recorded, it is just too embarrassing. I can edit out of my final product with Audacity but I can't edit it out of my life. People are being more honest with me about my unreasonable behavior and I should probably listen.

The girls at Eric's Hamburger made me feel like I should interview more teenage girls, but also be prepared for them to make fun of me. Seventeen year old Sanaa kept telling me my Arabic was sweet and Haluwa but that I was talking so much she just couldn't keep up. I think one person asking another person if they are drunk is a useless gesture, so I didn't, and I probably didn't want to know anyway. They were sweet girls but obviously on some sort of mission for the night that I could hardly stomach after half of Eric's "quality hot dog" with cheese. I said mtsharafiin, it was nice to meet them, and they replied in unision, "mutsharafiin???" as if to say, wait, where are you going? It was cute, but I was pretty sure their night was going to end like a scene out of "Marock" and I had business to attend to.

The night ended with a plate of midnight french fries at the playa, after convincing the waiter I was interviewing that 555 sounded like a really bad idea, even from across the street. We chatted about the international zone of Tangier and the he explained why people preferred Cafe Central to his previous employer, the Cafe Tingis next door. "They want everything to be original, just with a new bathroom."
It was true. Is that why I stopped going to Tingis? I know I prefer it.
Is that what Tangier is going for? Sounds like a best seller.

"pHal hekda, walakin, mukhtalafa."
or at least, "everything old, but with a new toilet."