Thursday, August 19, 2010

and the day in sig passes slowly in the heat
they pressure cookers have a sharp ping to them like the buzz of a tv and they are furiously boiling the evening meal
the meal is a process that takes the whole day
she paces herself
first the soup and the main dish: small balls of koofta meat set into the heads of artichokes and boiled in broth with chick peas
later if it is cool she will knead bread maybe white and maybe whole grain too just barley flour and yeast and salt and water set to rise and then shaped and thrown onto hot black pan to cook and its best when it is just a bit burned by the heat and the grains inside are soft and full

but if there is no bread or if there is bread she will take a nap in the heat sleeping on the long couches that line the living room whose fabric changes with the seasons

because the afternoon is long even if you have 6 of your own kids plus 2 not your own plus a husband and his brother and the man who watches the building going up night and day and night again so the steel beams don't get stolen but whose only company is the many stray cats who crawl under the high metal fence for a quiet place to eat the sardine they stole from the dust where it fell

what have i gone with this§


what i am saying is my sister in law has so so many people to cook for she jokes she has a restaurant and its true that she has the oven from one where she roasts three chickens for dinner and then bathes them in their own fat and dusty spices she hums as she looks for in the wooden cabinet falling off the wall

one of the people who comes every ramadan meal is an old woman who dresses in the traditional white cloth when outside
she wraps it around her waist it falls behind and tucks it into the waist band of her skirt
the fabric is not a white though but a cream that has passed thru summers dusty with the wind from the sahara and fought off the winter that brings only icy rain but no snow
women have worn this cloth this way
after they have wrapped it around themselves the old women the women who learned from their mothers while the french where still here these women bite the last fabric in their teeth so that their faces are sort of shielded though not hidden all the way
this is the algerian way
the way in sig
but so few women do this anymore

this woman lives in an apt without windows she tells me
her face is so leathered and wrinkly and she is skinny and talks with phlem behind her voice so that i barely understand her and try to nod and add in generic phrases that fit into almost any conversation here
phrases that always almost contain some sentiment about the power of god the goodness of god or thanking god

on her forehead are old black tattoo stripes going down to just between her brows

L tells me that parents did this to their daughters in the time of the french so the french wouldn't find them beautiful and lust after them or ask for them or i am not sure what life under a colonial power would be like when france thought of algeria as france except with these natives that wont quite be trained the way they would like

can she really live in an apt without windows
no no
it is just that the window is only in the front of her apt and that is the kitchen and the window is large and opens very wide but all the way in the back of the house when the air is still in the afternoon before the fresh breeze from the back hills of sig returns
and she rests there but gets no relief until she comes to this house just before the adan calls for sunset prayer and the air is rushing thru the hallway where she sits on the prayer rug and waits for it: prayer and the glasses of ice water that will follow one after another

so the day finishes sitting next to this woman pouring her glass after glass of icy water she lifts with fingers of old knuckles buckled and swollen up

the day finishes with her putting the leftovers in her margarine tubs she brings with her so she can eat later before she sleeps because she will not eat from the time you can see a thread in the dawns light until the call of the sunset prayer and it is august and the day is so very long

the day ends with her drinking her coffee with four sugars and again wrapping her cloth around her and taking the stairs carefully down again because she is already 84 and is sick in the way every woman in algeria past the age of 65 is sick and can take up the whole room with her health complaints that are both vague and seemingly life threatening

the day finishes with S and Z going with their cousins for lemon sorbet

the day finishes and i have had enough and long for my own bed and my terrace and my own coffee pot that i wash and fill as i wish


but the next morning after i had been in sig three days i woke and decided enough was enough and even if i had to be alone in the apt at least our apt in oran was blessedly blessedly cool and a view of the sea and my very own coffee pot i am free to use whenever i choose
but it is awkward here to be alone at home
there are dangers that wouldn't emerge at my door of b4 in astoria
but those i will have to tell about another time

i woke up and decided that once again i needed my own space and that the raging fury in my head of heat needed to be soothed

so here is what i had to do to get home:

send S downstairs to tell benouda that i wanted to go home this morning

S comes back to tell me that we should stay until night time when he can go to the mosque for the evening ramadan prayers and then race off to eat fresh lemon ice cream with his cousins and then play ball
basically Benouda tried to convince S to stay in hopes that he would convince me

i send him back down again and he comes up with another reason for us to stay and i send him back down with this: if they do not drive me i will walk back along the highway with my kids in the dust until i can hitch a ride with a trucker

so they bring me back home again

and in the morning i wake with all the heat rubbed out of my head and i throw water over my terrace floor and i put my feet up and i sink into the view of the sea and sky and the whole city around rising up behind me

Saturday, August 14, 2010

to be in sig

to be in sig algeria in the house of my brothers in law is to close myself in to a world that is heat and heat and ear splitting heat in the day
all day all day is ramadan
i pretend i am not eating so i hide in the bedroom that is our when we visit here and munch apples with the door closed
god how i long for coffee
during nap time which is for everyone not just children even though one of my children the older one never ever naps but i do
during nap time i sneak to the kitchen and steal stale bread from last night%s feast

the day goes something like this
i wake up with the kids because the light is coming through the blond glass windows and the sound of the motor bikes are taking over the streets below
i guzzle water and wander out to see who is awake and if maybe i can somehow manage to pour a cup of coffee and get back to the bedroom before anyone notices
i am so afraid of being caught i still after three days have not found to courage to try out this plan
the floors are all tiled in large brown and or blue squares that when they throw water on them later will be insanely slippery the only major deterrent for boys wandering through the house to avoid the room being cleaned
this might be a choice that the women have made without knowing
this slippery floor tiles that are hard and perfectly melded to each other not at all like lynolium in my apt
but as i know that it is my brother in law who choose the floors for this house this cannot be true
already i am ready to go back to sleep
i lay in bed thanking god for the air conditioner that is fixed to the wall
i have been here sig algeria in the august heat when they did not have an air conditioner and the pain that is evident in my head now was so so much worse
the kids have nothing to do until their cousins wake up so for now i try to entertain them by reading magic school bus and harry potter alternately
the day proceeds with exactly nothing to except pretent to offer my help in cleaning but dissapear when the actual work is being done by my two oldest nieces yamina and fatima
i am hiding in the bedroom with the ac on and the door closed when i hear the bottle of soap being flicked over the floor
splat in quick jumps the sound falls on the floor
then will come the buckets of water and the foudwar which is a long handled squeegie thing is pulled along the floor directing water toward the bathroom door where there is a hole in the tiled floor that the water goes down and the huge water bugs come up
the floor will dry and then i will come out and stand by the door to the kitchen where my sister in law is beginning to cook already
already she has placed in the pressure cooker two frozen tomatoes two frozen carrots a handfull of flowering cilantro and parsely flat leaf meat is of course lamb and i am sure it is frozen too tho i cant tell exactly
the spices are little stars and colorant and ras el honout and salt and heavy pinches of black pepper that is so much spicier here than in the usa or spain or elswhere i have eaten black pepper
there are two onions chopped into four parts each and maybe a zucchini
the fire is high under the pressure cooker that has a sticker that reads secret in cooking is fast
the chinese really abuse the fact that this is not an english speaking country when they print their labels for products sold here
i often read the instructions on the ac universal remote or the instructions on how to put together a toy and laugh out loud and have no one to share it with

so my son is going crazy here so i have to go maybe more soon now that i have somewhat figured out this insane keyboard but not the punctuation so for that i am sorry

Sunday, August 1, 2010


To people watch in Alicante is to find all mannor of elegance and sweat, elegance and buzz cuts, elegance - the high-waisted skirt fitted to the slim woman, now past children, now in a phase of her lfe she has found power and confidence in her straight spine and sure of her beauty

when the theatre opens the seniors are lined up, older women in eyeshadow and gold hoops with silk scarves and loneliness- B. would love it here. People do not get old and fade out, shuffling through their last decades with degradion and solitude- they go to the beach with their friends, sporting a new red poka-dot bikini, their beach chairs and coka in hand. they dress up to walk BLVD Espana in a shift dress and low heels, hair curled and smart, colorful glasses framing her face, bringing out the green hazel in her eyes

I love Spain. the quiet evenings of green olives and salted fish, the buttered toast and cafe con leche to open the day.
the men here are not without style either. While S and Z played on the playground of trains and planes and automobiles. a gentleman walked by with a crisp peach shirt, short sleeves, top white button undone. sunglasses shading him from the last Med´n sunlight

The market here, indoors at the top of the city. 1921, the 1st floor you enter on in all meat but no smells of the dark edges, the slit of fur from fat here. just gorgeous meat, neatly arranged and seperated. Maybe I am a sucker for the organization of the state. the cleanthliness codes and control regimes/ if I can buy four types of heirloom tomatoes, tigre babies, sweet fat cherries, marbled that just fit in your palm and firm bathing beauties, so be it. bring on the power of the state.
there are dried mushrooms and fresh- oyster and portabella, so many I don´t have the names for/ I´d simply point and order / grill with deep green olive iol, crumble of sea sale and serve.
the artichokes and fava beans, the white donut peach- donut peach I´ll rename olympus peach-

we wander to the fish and such silver fresh sardines brigh and luster dazzling in a way the frozen ones I buy in NYC have lost- sunfish and emperor and the impossibly strange lemon fish- a great Red Armored fish with its mouth puckered an even deeper monsterous red- the size of a huge belly of an old man- the thick red skin with seeminly no scales-
the skate a light, virgin pink and white sliced and spread /

we buy black figs and white peaches, raw and salted sunflowers and when we leave an hour has passed by under the vaulted ceiling and thick cooled walls/
Ah, Espana
Ah, Viva