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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


this lip of cool above the old port this place of inverted sugar and head scarves this place of swollen doors and loose teeth Here. Algeria.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ramadan Morning

Here is what I have been up to: waking at 12 with my kids still sleeping on their pull-out beds- stitched by hand, stuffed with wool, finished with heavy needlework covering the crimson cloth.

I have slept and woke at pre-dawn prayer, slept and woke with the call to pray as the sun rose, slept again and now it is time to push off the heaviness and roll out of bed.

Our balcony is huge, the sizeof my NYC living room and in the morning when I am the only one awake-though it is not morning, the same holds- Iturn on the faucet on our 'housh' and filland throw, fill and throw and with my long-handled squeegie, pull the water over the red tiles smooth and older than Algeria.
Morning begins like this. I wait a bit and watch the sea and the containers being unloaded in the port, far far below.

To the West is an old, Spanish castle, to the East new building rise up and shake their tan dust through all the city and we are caked in it: our feet from the streets, it pushes through window cracks with every call for prayer, every stirring on the city.

When it isn't Ramadan, but it is, I start the coffee like this: I fill the coffee kettle up to the spout with water not from the faucet but from the huge jugs we fill in the mountain spring that comes from a crack in the mountain. We go there to get our drinking water and to buy the mint and Swiss chard that grows with huge, gorgeously green leaves in the volcanic springs there.

But it is Ramadan and the smell of coffee would be maddening to L and to my brother-in-law who is always almost with us, spending the night in our spare bedroom, then slipping out silently to hang out in the mosque across from our building. B is a character and speaks his mind freely, to the point of blunt rudeness, but never with me.

For coffee, I will wait until L and B go to shop for the day's meal and then I will quickly re-heat last night's coffee and sit and gulp it down from a silver-rimmed cup.

I am lost in Ramadan here. I am on the outside looking in or rather, I am inside but shut out by my own hand, or my own mouth.

But I have a mini-panic attack whenever I consider fasting along with every one around me. L tells our son that the first day is always the hardest and after that it's not that hard and you get used to it. And, really, all around me 15, 16 year-olds are abstaining from food and water and even brushing teeth.
How could I do it? The most I have ever lasted is about an hour. Ok, more like 30 minutes.
I just can't. There is a part of me, a large part I guess, who wants to remain separate from everyone around me because maybe I will forget about pieces of me, like the girl who can fill her whole apartment with an aria. I am afraid parts of me will get covered up here and shuffled under foot and lost.

But in the interest if my own sanity, which I will lose entirely if we eat with his family, I have been cooking the Ramadan meal. My neighbor across the hall makes us the Harira soup and makiuda - like mashed potato mini pancakes fried- and I make the rest: slow-roasted lamb covered in wild honey and white cilantro blooms and purple garlic slivers; I cook prunes and raisins in cinnamon and vanilla and stew and stew forever.

There is more to write, but I have to leave the WiFi now so more later.

Love from Algeria


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Post Card from Espana

It's run and slipslide in your socks smooth. These tiles keep their color, their beauty and grace through years of blasting Mediterranean sun.
This year we took an apt and our fridge bursts with fat, black cherries, falls out donut peaches to roll. Ah! Creamy goat kefir.
The beauty of the earth here!

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Posted Card from Spain

In the Church's heavy stones I lay my head against it: all the lost swills gather like spit in my mouth when I hear the chant of mass from within.

But now, again, when I will be in Algeria and the call for prayer will start the bats into the sunset above the sea, it is there again, on my surface.

But in Spain I trace Jesus' fate through the stations of the cross tangled in carnations. I trace the old worn places in the stone and feel home for a moment.