The PVP Diaries #75

The holiday with the built-in masks

Virtuous yard signs. The thing is, being welcoming is the rule. If you go trick-or-treating at a thousand houses you may find half a dozen that treat you poorly. The rest are happy to have you. But when you put out those signs proclaiming how welcome everyone is, you create the impression that kindness is the exception. You paint a lie, and that’s why we have so many people running around thinking that the US is such an unwelcoming and intolerant place – because people started making signs to say that “in this house is rare generosity, you are unlikely to find it elsewhere.” Talk about creating your own market. I’m sure there’s a business term for just that sort of thing – ginning up an imaginary condition for people to believe in, then offering them the only solution to it, and in limited supply.

Whatever. Enough.


I have to take a placement exam for the online Arabic class I’ll be joining. It makes me nervous. Arabic is still intimidating, even after two years of classes and a few weeks in Morocco. And it’s been more than a year since I’ve used it, really. I’ll have to write, read, and speak. Chances are good that I’ll be rusty enough to land in a low-level course, but I don’t mind. I have time. I will say with all awareness of the seeming vanity or frivolity of it that the idea of fluency in Arabic is singularly energizing to me. Holding that odd key to another world – I want it. Even at my peak, Moroccan third week, it was still frightening and stressful and enervating, the pressure of being called upon to speak in or write in or translate from Arabic. I want it to be easy. Check back in a few years.

My morning commute in Rabat, June/July 2019

That brings back some good memories. It takes me too long to read and translate any of that. But man, I had better get out of that section of my photos before I get stuck deep in a rabbit hole, eating dates and drinking mint tea until my family sends out a search party. It’s gotten late here.

I wrote a couple of Morocco poems. Like this one. Here’s an earlier version. I think I like it better. The second half is better:

Show me to the old medina
before the sun can warm the stones.
The darkness scrubs the city bright
Where the hamsas guard the homes
 
Walk me through the old Medina
before the torpid cats arise.
Half their world is always dark
because they steal each other’s eyes.
 
Hide me in the old Medina
among the rugs and clay tagines
but don’t forget to call my name
when it’s time to pour the tea.
 
Lose me in the old Medina
and seal up all the gates!
I’ll learn the names of all the cats
and give you half my dates!

It’s hard to get a feel for the public vibe on trick-or-treating here in West Seattle. There have been a couple of discussions about it in the comments on articles at the West Seattle blog, and it seems like a pretty even mix of “we’re taking the kids out there and enjoying the night,” and “don’t be irresponsible, stay home.” I note a (possibly meaningful) difference. It’s not 100% black and white, of course, but the two camps seem to be I’m/we’re going out, and you stay home. There are plenty of people saying I’m/we’re staying home, too, but the point is in that difference between the individual actors and the public proscribers. The argument is, of course, that the individual actors are endangering the public, so the proscription is necessary, but frankly I think that ship has sailed, for the most part, even in the minds of the frightened. There are still mumblings out there (seriously!) about killing grandmas, but I’m seeing gradual shifts in social behavior. A sense of slightly lightened tension, more people ignoring the one-way signs at the the grocery store, more people widening their social circles, that sort of thing. And hey, the parking lot at Lincoln Park is open, ahead of schedule. It’ll be packed this weekend.

We’re hosting the not-so-dead-end street for pumpkin carving on Sunday. I’ll brew up some apple cider and keep it warm on the deck. No doubt The Italian will make some pumpkin bread, The Girl Child will make some sugar cookies, neighbors will bring things, and we’ll fling gourd guts around for a while. Later, I’ll roast the seeds, and we’ll dig into some pot roast that I’m making from all that beef we panic-stocked over the summer. We nicknamed the cow from which it was carved Hector, for reasons I don’t remember. I think it was The Girl’s idea. Nobody objected.

-It’s been a year of tricks, go get your treats, Comrade Citizen!-

Rabat

Let’s head back to Morocco

Old and New

 

With a hopeful shoulder against
its thousand-year-old brother,
the new city already shows more rust
and abuse than the ancient medina,

which stands straighter than it should
after a millennium of fire and pirates
and the tearless tyrrany of
Mohammed’s intemperate sun.

Fifty years free of France,
the tall cosmopolis outside
the gates wears the fast
age of concrete and exhaust.

The new city wonders, still half
en Français and slouched
in café chairs that face out over
the bruise-blue taxis towards

the red medina walls, what is the
trick to timelessness, and what
do the buried civilizations
around the Bou Regreg have to say

about the way the Arabs
outlasted them all without
having to do much besides wait
and stay and sometimes fight.

Why is there so little left
of the Romans besides
the coins and shields of
martial ghosts that mingle with

Phoenician busts in museums that
the Berbers came before and
built and left and will see
the end of long before their own.

And those few exhumed slabs
of marble left at Chellah, bought
by the shipload for the price
of their own weight in sugar,

what are they worth now
in dirham or dollars or the
(يا الله)
useless euros mocked in the

clacking laughter that rattles like
a call to prayer from the storks atop
the walls of the hammams, and
whose nests crown the minarets.

The Street Sweeper

One more for Morocco

 

An angled Arab in a jellaba
as long as the Berber sun and with
tea-stained teeth the color of burnt sand,
stands unlooked at by foreign shoppers
because they all know that eye contact
is a contract that even a shy smile
cannot unbind. They see rugs, cheap jewelry.

The Arab tells a bowl of fish heads
here are more tourists. Another man
pulls a palm frond as bent as his back
over meat scraps, breadcrumbs, and poverty,
sweeping the King’s official decrees
and doubts of his Mohammedan descent
secretly beneath the dusty stones in the souk.

He stands and says bonjour to the kids
(the first guess is always for the French)
But the Americans say assalam
and the students and the Arab find
a few forgotten teeth to frame their
halfshared tongue. They eat the shopkeeper’s
small deceit in the heat of Moorish June.

The price of a dented teapot comes down quickly.

A cat mews and woos the noon-hot bowl
of fish heads but is sent running and spits
its hisses at a moped whose engine
ascends to match the unseen muezzin
his patient call having made its pact with
the long-gowned crowd, reaching unlikely speeds
beneath thin streets and stubborn burqas.

Honey drips long, making bees too drunk to fly.

Under the new moon of Al-Andalus
white women weigh the lure of the beach
against what risk they know exists and try
not to be fooled by trust earned in the sun.
A dutiful and deep-eyed olive ibn
is scraping the caramel crust from abu’s table,
closing shop in time for one more prayer.