kaz in jerusalem, greece

by

Though physically in Fez, Morocco, Kaz’s writing mind is still in Ramallah/Jerusalem/Greece

Charlie danced arms up and out his steps in time with but also searching out the music or better, waiting for music. Big, tall man, dressed all in black, with a close-shaven head and a voice more gravelly than Tom Waits and Barry White combined. The drums talked(were they called maroudi?), grumbled, and then thundered forward, through, the music and the conversation really began. The drums competed with each other for a while, outdoing each other, banging their macho chests, then suddenly they gave way to the oud, big deep belly of an instrument, more feminine, complicated, double-stringed, like a mandolin but more powerful, 14 strings . . . A white haired old man with big yellow teeth played the oud. Somehow the ash from the rollie cigarette hanging out of his mouth never fell on the oud; how is that possible?

The drums rolled up their little thunder again, kept it contained; the wide rim of the old skin drum is held in the hand, not between the knees like the hour glass vinyl-topped drums. Said’s flute was plastic, like a piece of stiff garden hose with holes in it. Charlie danced and sang and then the old man smiled and rose up to dance. He handed the oud to Visam–a young man who was chopping mint and rolling raw minced lamb in the sitting room when we first arrived (I have become a machine, he said, of the meatballs). Visam took the oud from the old man and began to unwind his own thread of music.

Charlie came over to me and said, “Yella, will you dance?” How could I resist? I mean, really, it was too familiar to resist. Resistance was futile.

It’s like sirtaki, the Cretan dance (‘the dragging dance’) so you move slowly, almost shuffling (dragging the feet) but then the whole point of all that rhythm is pick up the tempo, shift into a
faster hasapiko (from the verb to cut). You begin slow and almost hesitant, then you go faster and faster, the musicians urging the dancer on, rushing him/her not to the finish but to the height of their collective abilities. It’s a competition that the dancer and the muscisans win together. Similar to Flamenco, where it’s clearly and formally played out as an approach, a seduction, and sometimes an arrival at ecstacy. Dance is another place, like long memory, where there is no separation. (And in Fes, at the Sufi concert, I will think about this again.) (And the next night, the Palestinian ambassador to Algeria will tell me that the root word of Palestine is Palesta, and that there was a Cretan tribe called Palesta, of Palestine . . .)

I began dancing with Charlie, but the old man was more subtle, and smaller, so made a better partner for me. Dancing with an old Arab musician in Jerusalem, I was in my element. Of course. His fellows laughed and made jokes and we circled and turned around each other and lifted our arms parallel to the ground (but for the hands, the fingers, that do a small arcing dance of their own) and Charlie got down on one knee and swayed and clapped (exactly what enthusiastic onlookers in Greece do) Sometimes we turned back to back, aware of each other but not touching, the msaculine and feminine heightened, emphasized by distance. The beautiful tension of the dance to to be very close and to not touch. To speak intimately without uttering a single word.

Eventually everyone was up, dancing, interpreting that language into living movement, and the night came on and the cat sneaked back and forth. The air became like cool water and we held up the night with our hands

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