Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hotel Marrakesh

It rains here in the afternoon,  heavy iron clouds crowd away the eye-straining blue. But only for a minute and the water dries before it reaches the dirty tips of trees lining the walls of the hotel. If you hadn't looked out in that minute, you'd have missed the clouds rushing off South and they're gone.

The air conditioners in the hotel hum, curtains pulled against the heat.

The kids from Belgium, pink skinned, again and again jump from the pool's edge, hissing water onto the burning concrete lip of the pool.

But in the late afternoon the mama cat and her three babies will venture out to hunt for scraps of dropped burger, tuna from the Moroccan salad, lap up spilled diet Coke.

(Call for Prayer is fainter here in the hotel, too many steps removed from the pattern of life here.)

My toenails are painted with gold freckles, dust. My belly is soft from too much: too much hot bread wrapped around meat wrapped in lamb fat; too many sweets dripping in honey and butter.

The hibiscus flowers so red against the hot white walls that surround us fill my breath with a blood red smell.

The bats begin their swooping there descent, sluicing through the twilight.

Over the walls of the hotel I see: The woman with long, pink jalaba drives her two kids to the market piggyback on her motorbike.

In Marrakesh's hot, polluted center, in Jemaa el-Fin the monkeys shriek and jump at you and the snake charmers are really that: a tribe that knows the ways of these poisonous desert snakes. They roll ice over the tops of their scaled skulls. It keeps them cool and slow. This is only one of their tricks. The most of them they will only pass on to their children. Their children. But mine?

They'll place one around my child's neck for a photo all smiles and quietly tell me they won't take it off until I pay 250 Dinar. They never stop smiling as the panic rises and I fumble for the colorful paper money I have stuffed in my jean skirt.

Storks nest in the minarets of mosques here, untroubled by the roaring call for prayer that blasts out of the speakers five times a day. The call must help shake their babies out of their shells as they hatch. As they grow, Allah's words are woven into their feathers, twisted into the long stalks of their legs so they move by the grace of Allah, they spread their heavy, dusty flight with the digits of His will.

Ah, those thick woolen beasts.


While I nap this is what I hear: 

The scipper of pink jelly slippers along the stone floor hallway: " mem lunettes..." And she's gone.

The scrape of patio chairs by the pneumonia blue pool. It's a mouth that opens to take in your nervous fever and spit you out again, burned in ways only chlorine and August sun in Marrakesh only can.

The bang of open shutters as the wind pulls up from the Sahara.

The clatter of bats gather the day, snipping at the edges of sunset and pulling each edge, as one folds a large, brilliant strip of fabric, pulls each corner in and folds up the sunset around Hotel Marrakesh and leave us just the black night to make of it what we will.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Season of Hajj

The Season of Hajj.

When he returns home to me after two weeks of walking through sand and circling black stones that fell from the sky thousands of years ago, after brushing his hands against the Kaaba build by the callouses hands of Abraham, fingertips cooled in golden threads that drape over it, after he has cast pebbles at the devil and remained in the calm state of ihram for two weeks/

After he has prayed below gilded, vaulting ceilings, stood wall to wall to wall with 4 million muslims, will he come back to me a man that can still be in love with me?

He was wrapped only in two white drapes of cloth, he has shaved his head to show he will begin again anew.

Will this path that takes him closer to his God, but pull him far away from me?
The house smells of mushrooms and pasta and truffle oil. I pour a glass of apple cider and cover his dish with a lid to keep it warm. I nervously work through the last dishes, slopping oily water on my tank top.

He is in the car coming home, snaking through Parkway traffic. After the flight into Egypt and then the flight from Egypt into JFK- the first from Egypt since the storm, as we have our own kind if reckoning here. He passed into security. And they released him to come home to me.

When I buzz him up I can't help it and dash into the hallway with the boys, but I stay with a foot on the doorjamb. He walks down the hallway to our apt door, I laugh: you crazy man, of course they profiled you!

He is bald and his beard is thick and peppered with white. He has the scarf of Yemen or Saudia, the pattern of green and gold around his neck.
You crazy man! I say again.

We will be shy. Me, because I don't yet know if he is still mine, him...well, I can't say why.

When S was still toddling around, a baby, L went to the Hajj for the first time. One pilgrimage is supposed to be enough in a lifetime but not for him, I guess.

The smells were the same then, just as the first crisp cold breathes that swirl red and orange leaves smells of autumn each year, there is a smell to the Season of Hajj.

These are for you. Does he feel unsure of his gifts? The way he looks away when he gives me them, that he doesn't meet my eye. What could he find for me there, that would suit me, that I would wear? He unwraps paper-silk dresses of blue and gold and white and gold and the fragrance they release into my home is just what you might think: sweet and heavy and clinging.

After so many years of working to convince those around me that THERE- the Middle East, is HERE, it is not a foreign universe where nothing makes sense, not a place where people live under values we could never conceive of. After years of bridging THERE to HERE and back again, the perfume that unfolds pushes me back into a polarized world of The Other.

I feel how far he has been away. I feel how different he might have become. Where he has walked that I am not allowed to enter. How he has bent his body in prayers I have forbidden myself. The space that has grown between us brings me to tears as I fold away the dresses, unsure where I will wear them or when.

How do we fit our two lives together again?

When I fall asleep I am wrapped around him but still I dream I have lost him. In my dream I am walking through Algiers yelling his name and the lights keep blacking out. I enlist strangers, begging them in Arabic to help me find him.
But everyone has that name here. How could you ever find him again, they ask me. Give up trying. When I wake sobbing, he is doing the morning prayers and dawn has not yet arrived.

It is the season of Hajj, here. And the perfumes of Mecca and Medina are know through the world as ones that envelope and stay and stay after you dip your fingers in and streak them, sweet and dark across your wrists and in the divots of your collar bones. Once you invite it into the folds and dives of your body, once you have invited it into your home it blooms on the walls like flowered paper that fire cannot char, it twists about the legs of the wooden table and I find that open windows do not blow it away.
This season has just begun for me and I can't know how long it will stay and what storms it may bring or how far away it will take me from the one I love.

يا الحجاياعمري

Saturday, October 27, 2012

When Ramadan finishes I can only say what happens here, in this house. I know L goes from friend to friend and visits, I know he drinks hot, mint tea that has too many sugars. But me? I am waiting it out in my PJs watching patters fill with home-made cookies stuffed with crushed nuts. I am watching my nieces emerge one by one from the hammam downstairs. Their dark hair braided back will fan open in waves tomorrow when they dress in white and slide through over the shiny floors in their new, black heels.

Girl Running : Algiers

Girl Running When she runs up steps, it's the flash-SQUEAK, flash-SQUEAK of her light-up flip-flops and the bread is wrapped in paper and she squeezes it in her hand. She's running up into the Casbah, She's running and the diesel engines are idling in traffic winding down the mountain city, winding all to the seaport below.

Park: Oran, Algeria

Park: Oran, Algeria The grass is only just there, bald and muddy in patches but families have spread out across it and kids climb up the empty fountain's blue height and tag each other with lazars through the dark. Night in Ramadan and until dawn the time is theirs to eat and drink. At dawn, the time is Allah's and they will long for the darkness to come again.

St. George Hotel

Saint-George Hotel (El-Djazair)- Ramadan The history is this: built by the Turkish during the Ottoman Empire, re-done and gardens orchestra-ed by the French, and now the St. George is a tapestry of the county. The roots of the figs seek deep for the water below Algiers and the fruit and leaves perfume the sunset as the city sits down to break it's fast and begin again.

Night in Algiers

Night in Algiers The spiny orange cat licks her dusty fur and waits. Soon the empty tables will fill and air will fill with the burning fat of meats: liver and heart, thin mergez sausages six to a stick, steak and lamb chops. This lioness of the Casbah will get the bones, the leftover bites the men cannot finish.