Thursday, September 27, 2007

Prague by Arthur Phillips


The year the Berlin Wall fell, I was living in a house in the old part of Marrakesh that was built into the wall of the city. From our terrace, we could see straight out over the palmerie to the snow-covered High Atlas Mountains in the distance.
I was twenty-eight years old, the same age as the Berlin Wall.

It was Thanksgiving, and the road outside our house was also the roadway that led to the king's palace. When the King wasn't there, we could drive up in front of our front door and part, but when the King was in town, there were armed guards that patrolled the entrance to the road, and we had to park our car at a distance and walk the rest of the way.

I was married in June, and moved to Marrakesh in July, and though I had lived in Morocco twice before, this time, suddenly, Thanksgiving was important to me.

We found a turkey in the French Market in Gueliz and I went to the trouble of mashing potatoes, making gravy and stuffing. American dishes never taste quite the same when prepared abroad, and this dinner was no exception, but it was good enough.

We invited three Moroccan friends, all single men who were friends of my husband. For some reason, I insisted on serving the meal American style, with individual plates, and knives and forks. In my deepest heart, I felt like the whole dinner would be ruined if we sat around a communal plate, picking off bits of meat using pieces of bread as silverware, as in the Moroccan tradition.

The three gentlemen were as lovely as they could be, although I remember feeling a sense of lack. Moroccan food is colorful and vibrant, full of with rich spices and a full palette of colors. My turkey dinner, unlivened by cranberry sauce or jeweled yams, looked drab against the vibrancy of our surroundings.

After the meal, we drank sweet mint tea and watched the news on television, the celebrations, and pictures of people dismantling the Berlin Wall piece by piece. Sometimes we watched the news in French, and sometimes we watched it in Arabic, but in either case the action seemed impossibly remote, so distant that it might have been unfolding in another time.

We looked out through the ornate iron scrollwork of the terrace, to the empty, quiet street, and the armed guards on duty at the archway that served as a checkpoint. Sometimes the prince's van or the big blue Mercedes' that belonged to the palace people would zoom by, but the rest of the time, there was nothing but a clear vista, over the floating green palm trees to the mountains in the distance.

Then, I felt stuck away in a dusty corner of the world. Now I miss with a passion the days when a terrace in Marrakesh seemed ordinary.

Rereading Prague by Arthur Phillips, I think maybe now I'm old enough to understand how much of life is spent thinking of elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Alter Ego

A sneak preview of a new project I'm working on with my son, or what happens to your brain when you spend too much time with a sixteen-year-old boy.