Author Archive

some moments in Jerusalem . . .

May 7, 2010

From James Fenton’s poem “Jerusalem”

Who packed your bag?

I packed my bag.

Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?

Have you ever met an Arab?

Yes I am a scarab.

I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.

I cry Impure from street to street

And see my degradation in the eyes I meet . . . .

You are in error.

This is terror.

This is your banishment. This land is mine.

This is what you earn.

This is the Law of No Return.

This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.

This is my history, this my race

And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.

Stone cries to stone

Heart to heart, heart to stone.

These are the warrior archaeologists.

This is us and that is them.

This is Jerusalem.

These are the dying men with tattooed wrists.

Do this and I’ll destroy your home.

I have destroyed your home. You have destroyed my home


Another way of thinking about Jerusalem; Uri Dromi, and us, at the Mishkenot writers and culture centre . . .

katerina horevei . . . exo ap teen Ellada

Our Ognen and Israeli poet Shai Dotan being thoughtful and literary in the accepted/recognizable/cross border gesture . . .

sarah saffian and the poet ariel zinder in jerusalem: tortured artists.


by Shai Dotan (seen above w/ Ognen)

“Love I sing, I say love”

Meir Wieseltier

Let’s pretend that the war here was made of love

An oppressed enemy swept away by love

A mutual, one-sided occupation of love

Bustling settlements swarming with love

The eyes of preachers in mosques bellowing love

In refugee camps, walls stained with slogans of love

The news every hour, sugared announcements dripping love

Roadblocks with barbed wires in the name of love

Terrorists infiltrating shopping malls buckled with love

Coexistence, a hollow word, an abandoned tank made of love.


Building in Fez

May 5, 2010

Building in Fez

At the beginning of the evening we passed through the parking lot and saw the ambulance and a fire truck, men dressed in the heavy uniforms of disaster, and we wondered collectively and out loud what was going on, smelled for smoke, caught nothing but the usual in the air, dust and animal (cat spray, piles of dead wool rotting beyond the cars), garbage, rain too—it had rained sporadically through the afternoon. Damp dust, no fire. We kept going, according to the schedule, which has been hard to keep, cat-herding to a clock is even harder, all these people and tours and meetings, visits here and there in a labyrinth designed against speedy conclusions. Builders and citizens of old Fez: did you have a deadline in mind? In what century did that deadline fall? Dead line: I think of all long threads of string being used, sort of plumb lines in vertical, by the (suspiciously) young men who are (seem to be) planning the rebuilding of the medina’s interior walls.

Through which we wandered up, up, up, past the babouche slippers and the small pretty drums hanging from wires, (further back in the rectangle of the shop, look at all the instruments hanging on the walls!) through the eternal gate created by black chickens standing on their crates, then meat, represented charismatically by a camel head whose mouth is stuffed with parsley, or an enormous bouquet of sheeps’heads too. Or was the meat before the chicken?–I thought of Eddin and his love for the roast bird–then we were walking between stalls of dates and great loops of dried figs tied on greasy wool string (I ate figs every day for a week after everyone left . . .) and heaps of apricots and raisins, then vegetables, apples and orange-juice stalls, the usual, though the eggplant and the courgettes looked small, tired, more than ready to be eaten.

We were talking—we are always talking, a group of writers giddy with thoughts and opinions, (except for Ognon; he is mostly quiet, w/ lightning strikes of humour) trying to find a place to put the newness in our heads and then get it all out and be interesting as we do it, not cliched, but also not too pushy, or too eager, while also being ourselves, but without offending anyone (at least too much), though Dina admirably offended several people at lunch. “What is the point of all these designs, all this decoration?” She talked about the suspicious ease of consuming the town of Fez, feeding on the experience of it. Our consumption is tourism—though some of us resist being called tourists. Dina is cynical about the doubleness even of basic exchange when one cannot speak the language “So when you get your piece of bread you feel you have communicated something important.” To which, part of me responded, haven’t you? One starts at the beginning, and the beginning of every culture is breakfast.

Anyway, I don’t think Dina was talking so much about distrusting Islam or Muslims (Mabrouck countered her doubts about the smiling Sufi man by saying that there are many happy and smiling Muslims in many different Muslim countries ….) She was talking about the unknowable nature of this particular place and its layers, the great swirl of patterns that do not settle, cannot settle for us because we are too shaken up, too unsettled ourselves, and because there is no time. Time, the nature of time, the need for time, the perpetual Western lack of it. But when you are alive, time is all you really have. Why do we believe so passionately in the shortage of it?

To return to Dina’s bewilderment: what’s wrong with the great swirl? Why would we understand something that is so foreign and strange to us? Isn’t it lovely that we cannot understand?

She said, with a tightness in her voice (frustration? embarrassment at being outed among enthusiasts and more innocent Westerners?) “What is behind all these beautiful designs? Something else, something we cannot know”. This observation is clearly right; it contains a more profound question, as well as a basic truth. The post Soviet/post Central Asian nomadic perspective was something I had not considered. See how we carry all of our baggage this far? Will I ever learn to travel light? (But there were nomads here, and they are still here; they influenced the place and its traditions, its rhythms, held the balance between civilized decadence and the nobility and strength borne of living in the desert, the hills, away from the structure of towns and cities. Imagine that—people of old thought that Fez was structured! Ha!) Most of the kelims we see hanging on the walls were made by nomadic or semi-nomadic Berbers and much of the jewellery is Bedouin. Or made in China??)

It had not occurred to me that tile work and patterns and hammered silver and bronze might be disturbing. For me it is inlaid, textured, visual delight. But Dina’s comments incited another kind of a pleasure, the pleasure the open-hearted get from a good cold splash of cynicism. It’s appropriately bracing to be reminded not to be such a pushover. The Moroccan writer Laila Lalaimi’s journalism had a similar effect on me when I was reading pieces from her website.

Talking, talking, as talkers we were still sorting it out even as we walked, half-dazzled by the almost-familiar path through the medina now, dazzled but half-blind, too, not paying any particular attention except to enjoy the swimming newness of it, the jangle, the immediate injection of human energy one gets in a public market, which is why I’ve never liked travelling in groups, even with one other person, because though travelling with others gentles the solitude and confusion of a new place, it also blunts one’s senses to the experience. not paying any particular attention . . . You become more attuned to the people you are with than the place you are in. You cannot escape them; you became attached to them, to the insights, the voices, the jokes, even to the little power plays and grinding points and the ego’s need to assert itself.

Yet I’ve liked it; it hasn’t mattered to me, this time, because everyone has been vital, engaged in a larger and enjoyable conversation. And I am less accustomed, now, to solitude, and to the patient openness necessary to get to know strangers from other cultures. It is a kind of charm, too, or openness to being charmed that goes both ways. The face like a child’s face; Eddin talking about wonder. To feel wonder you need to submit, to be taken over by what you see. Invaded, really. To know another place deeply you have to be vulnerable to it. Hardly the right disposition for buying a carpet (I believe I paid about $100 too much for the one I bought; tant pis.)

We walked and talked through the evening noise, the medina at dinner, people still buying and selling but without pressure, the big business of the day was done, you could see the release in the men’s faces, the way some of them had a chance now to chat with each other or sit down on their stools and smoke or lean over the rows of vegetables, figs, almonds, trays of olives and meet your eyes and say La bas? (How are you?) easily, nothing invested in it. The walk through the medina leads us into the left turn that opens onto the little square and the great gate, Bab Boujloud. Up, down, around, past, through, we run the whole gamut of prepositions just getting from one place to another.

The evening walk turns into a rich dinner in a richly decorated interior, not the interiors that we are let into (as though penetrating the great secret) but the interiors that have been made for us, restored for us, rebuilt for us, rich foreigners. We have not seen the cramped, modest spaces that the great majority of people live in here, a family to a room, two small rooms, no running water or no hot water. (And have you noticed that the authorities have kicked most of the handicapped beggars outside the old medina’s walls? The blind eyes, the twisted legs, hungry old men sitting outside the Bab Boujloud, the woman in her wheelchair. To spare us, the tourists, I imagine.) We do not see the third world but an exotic version of our own, albeit one filled with men: men dancing and singing, men serving, men guiding, men on their donkeys and their tractors, men behind the counters, everywhere the presence of the male, his access, his comparative ease in this universe beyond the walls of the house, the man and his power. Old habit, learned twenty five years ago in a small Asian village, where they didn’t want me to wear shorts, or show my bare arms, and though I hated this rule, their modesty, it was easier to acquiesce, as it is now: long sleeves, loose clothing, a jacket despite the heat, a false though also sincere chasteness in the gaze.

Would you go so far as a headscarf? If I found myself out at night, absolutely. Being around all these women in djellabas, I have begun to feel forever underdressed, underlayered, oddly . . . skinny. If you are a woman here, it is better here to have bulk, solidity, an extra ten or twenty pounds. In every non-western, non-western-developed culture, to be thin is to be closer to weakness, death, vulnerable to the menace of illness or famine. And who cares about the heat, one must be covered . . .

Always the layers, and no easy peeling away, the thin translucent pieces stick together: the tourist trade and the rebuilding of interiors supplies work to hundreds, thousands of people—how many hours of labour does it take to restore an entire riad? A year’s worth, or two years (given the pace at which things work around here; it’s got to be at least as bad as building in Greece, more coffees, more cigarettes, more tradespeople who don’t show up, more washers and faucets that cannot be found, more plumbing and electricity puzzles, more people who don’t actually know what they are doing. So: three years, four, more. Which means employment, revitalization, men supporting their families, sons learning the trade from their fathers. The foreigners drive up the prices and take over/gentrify the medina, hmm. Yes, but the alternative is the medina crumbling into the ground. There is one restoration organization in the town that renovates, for free or at a great discount, the houses of the inhabitants already here; but they cannot fix all the houses. The medina is crumbling; how many buttressed walls there are, throughout the minor passageways. And the medina’s image, to Fassis, crumbled long ago. When we went to the hammam, one of the women said that everyone’s dream is to leave the medina; to leave the maze of narrow streets and buy a house in the spacious Ville Nouvelle. But we know ourselves, don’t we? The rich and spoiled of the world (c’est nous) are the most adept at romanticizing poverty and cramped quarters.

Dinner begins, dinner is delicious. A few of us go back to another beautiful interior, another gorgeous and sumptuous riad, to be served wine by an exhausted boy who wants only to go to sleep. Goodnight, we say, eventually, and we are tired ourselves. What are we supposed to take away from this time, with each other, in these places far from home that we are trying to know, somehow, or even simply to see. To see, just to see: this is a significant accomplishment in itself. To be imprinted with images, pure moments of place. I like Ognen and Yaka’s ease with it all, their good spirits and the small culture they have between them, shared language and lots of alcohol and flashes of humour. Wasn’t it reassuring, honestly, to hear Ognen’s open acknowledgement that the places we light down in so quickly cannot be known? “You are what I will write about, the people in this group are what I am learning now.” Tomorrow there will be the real goodbyes, we will all be leaving soon, the visit to Fes is almost over. (Though I am not leaving Fes, I will be leaving this, this collective thinking and talking process.)

Sarah and I walk back through Ain eZleiten, the parking lot, tired, a little sad—a day of goodbyes tomorrow, and an end to this intense beginning of a friendship begun in Jerusalem. (Where I did not see the Wailing Wall at all, but instead braced myself against another wall a couple streets away from it and struggled to puke up/to not puke up a bellyfull of rotten almonds. On hearing this sad tale, Yaka grinned and hit the mark with his question, “Were you weeping, wailing, praying?” I was praying, in that leaning-on-a-wall-with-churning-stomach-burning-face-trembling hand sort of way.)

Sarah and I step down the steps into Ain eZleiten and I brace myself for the men, the watching sometimes mildly taunting men. I think protectively of Sarah’s slenderness (those thin sharp shoulderblades in a brief hug) and I wonder how much much worse the men will be when I am alone. But the men don’t seem to see us. These hours later, the firetruck is still in the parking lot. Something serious has happened because the men are not in the least interested in us, two foreign women out walking at night. We pad through the gravel and dust to where a very large ambulance is turning around. Aizlin from our place, Noujoum Riad, is watching the tight maneuver. Anyone seeking to cross this part of the lot has to wait, and we wait, with Aizlin. Men are standing around, but concern immobilizes their faces. Aizlin whispers, “A house fell down in the medina. Two people die, no, three. Mama and two enfants.” That might explain (or it might not) why the ambulances aren’t going very fast. They’ve finally got out the bodies and loaded them up, but there’s no need to hurry now.

Sarah and I are stunned by this news, stunned to silence on this, our last night in this beautiful strange world. We stand gaping at the ambulance as the driver executes, bit by bit, the tight turn, the front and back of the ambulance almost knocking up against cars on either side. When it is safe to get past, we walk on, with Aizlin behind us, shuffling, looking over his shoulder, simultaneously shepherding us forward and hanging back. The faces at the entrance to the medina are grim, none of the usual sparky expressions and laughing conversations going on now. A house fallen down, people have died, two children, their mother. Aitzlin tells us that the police had visited the house two times, to tell the people they had to come out, it was dangerous, but the family refused to leave and the landlord didn’t go anything, never fixed anything at all, “This is Maroc people,” said Aizlin, “this is how they are.”

In the morning the story changes; the woman was resuscusitated, the earth cleared from her nose, both children alive, one w/ a broken leg, the other with a gashed head. But alive, alive. Ils vivent encore. This is the story we want to hear; the story that the inhabitants of the medina want to hear too. In the afternoon, everyone in our entourage leaves for Casablanca, except for me, and they leave with the happy ending intact, a story of disaster and survival. I ask a few people where the house is, if I can see it. But no one knows where it is; they will enquire. Or they know where it is but it is “too deep in the medina” to visit. Or “you will see nothing from the outside,” an answer I receive on every level. “You will see nothing from the outside.” “You will see nothing from the outside.” Yes, I have always believed that myself.

Later that week—exactly a week later, a week of one thousand and one stories, the night before I am to leave on my own for Casa—I have dinner at Fatima’s home, with a group of familially intertwined women. That is one of the stories, but during the dinner they tell another one: the teenage girls tell us that the mother in the fallen house did die; she was heavily pregnant with her fifth child. How do the girls know her? One of them used to go to her house for tutoring after school; they used to live close to the family in the medina, but then they moved to this apartment building. And two children didn’t die when the house fell down: all four children died, from toddler to teenager, plus the unborn baby. The father of the household has gone crazy with grief and guilt and fury. The only thing the girls were not sure of is whether he really was in the mental hospital or not.

kaz in jerusalem, greece

April 25, 2010

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

so glad that Carol and Mabrouck made it to Casablanca!

April 21, 2010

Felicitations! How great to get to the end of Carol’s marathon and find her on a plane with Mabrouck. C’est comme un film, parfait!

I just posted a long post here and then put in a photo and lost the whole thing, so I’ll just leave you with my congratulations, and this photo.

High culture day in Jerusalem for us . . .

we are rushing off to dinner but I had to post this other dinner, among Israeli soldiers. we spent the day with jewish intellectuals, cultural facilitators--a very different experience than the more immediate connections with Palestinians artists. so many reasons for this, not just the obvious ones. fascinating how far you can travel in a single hour in Jerusalem. i will tell you a story about a cab driver . . . . but not now. gotta go to dinner.

amal and her daughter, who gave me the lemon

April 21, 2010

the lemon

April 21, 2010

from the lemon tree of a house whose owners have been served an eviction notice

the lemon

April 21, 2010

? what is the date again?

Language. Music. Lemon.

Travel, after years, after decades–this kind of plunge-into-lives-and-intense-conversations travel–means that nothing is discrete. Nothing is separate. Countries and experiences echo and recall one another, asking to be known through a lens that is wide enough for all of it, every experience passing through and a myriad filaments between them. (They shimmer and move, part of the river, deeply or briefly known then gone; held, not held, fled into the past.) The moment is the point, the present. And in that brief now rings all, all, all like a bell clanging at the centre of one’s life. That is the point, and the good luck, of a long life. Nothing less than the whole. (Poetry does this, sometimes. In language, only poetry and prayer do this.)

That lens is more than ‘my mind’s eye’, more than my ‘mind’. It has to be more than intellectual because so much happens to the body. The mind is in the body, the chemicals, the neurons, the synapses connecting, the memory sorting through a hundred thousand files of days and hours, airports, roads, stones, faces, hands, people I have loved. Some would talk about spirit, or religion. Music knows all about this holding as it rushes away; that is tempo, rhythm, key change, silence in between. The Sabreen musicians last night played and played, the oud, a flute of some kind, the drums, their voices rising and falling ‘how beautiful your face, my beloved.’


The old man was dancing alone in his spitaki, his arms up and straight out, his eyes half-closed. The radio was on. I stopped to watch him. The moment I paused I became a spy, but I didn’t care. How many times had he spied on me? I could have no idea, he was that good, that silent; I would look up from a task or a nose-pick and there he would be, like a sudden manifestation of the field, fifteen paces away from me. His spitaki was a field away from mine and down a small incline—a little stone house in a field surrounded by olive trees. An apricot tree almost in flower right out the front door. Off to one side stood a rickety wooden pen for his six sheep, a couple goats. The radio was on, low, but the music was beautiful, old, the melodies almost like rembetiko but a little faster, not quite familiar—I couldn’t hear the words, just the familiar voices and instruments, at once plaintive, joyous, and defiant. I was surprised that he’d managed to get such a good station; we used to have competitions, trying to get some decent music; we both disliked the tacky skeeladiko (literal translation: dog music) songs that seemed to infect the airwaves around the island. He had moved the chairs out onto the small concrete patio so that he had more room to turn to the music (the other room was filled to bursting with last years’ almonds). I came a little closer, moved by the music but also by him, Andreas, my old shepherd dancing alone at eleven in the morning, his scarf wrapped turban-like around his head, his face more deeply wrinkled and older-looking in its relaxed state.

I realized with a shock that I had never seen him dance before. He had had polio as a child, so he moved with a distinct limp; his shoulder dipped further down when he stepped into a turn. His mouth opened now, like someone who is thirsty. Or hungry. He was a life-hungry man; that is why I loved him so much. I used to call him my papou, my Greek grandfather, but really he was my father, the father I had never had, who taught me things and brought me into his world and fashioned a beautiful place for me there.

He opened his eyes and saw me and yelped. I started to laugh and he shouted “Ela etho!” He looked wonderfully caught out, and clapped his hands at me. “Come here! You brat!” He adjusted his mandili as I came closer, still laughing. “Keep my secret, all right? I can’t help it! The Turkish radio stations have much better music, you know? So what! I listen to the Turkish music! It’s all one music, for us. And they dance this way too.” Considering the long occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Empire, some Greeks would consider it almost sacrilegious to listen to Turkish music (though less so, perhaps, on this island, forty minutes away from the mainland of Turkey). He lifted up his arms again and scooped another lopsided spin through the air, crying out to me, “Ela, ela!” He came out onto the patio and we danced a few steps together there, but I could tell he felt bashful. He went back into the house to make some coffee, and turned the music off. When he brought the two little cups out on a tray, he announced (as he always did)“Café turkico! Now you understand exactly what I mean.” (meaning: now you understand why I always call it Turkish coffee.)

* * *

When the Palestinian musicians got out the drums and the oud, I was purely, childishly happy. The food had been one form of communication, familiarity (olive oil, kefta—keftedes—tomato salad, pita) but when it comes to the sounds we make, music is the most easily acquired human language. It can have complex architecture, a fabulous grammar, but you don’t have to know the grammar to be at home inside music. A drum beat is the human pulse. It calls the blood. Any child knows this, and every general, every dancer. It is a sound from inside, sent out, and brought back in; you can move into and out of music as though it were an open shelter. There is always a place for you here, habibti. Turkish rhythms are inseparable from Greek ones are inseparable from Arabic ones, the 5/8 beat, the syncopation, the instruments, the gestures of the singers, the expressions on their faces, the expectant looks of those looking on, rising (if not in body then in energy, tapping, clapping, wakened) to step inside that sound . . .

* * *

Now it’s 3 a.m. and once again I have to go to sleep, how truly irritating. It is a crime to sleep! Who said that? Heinrich Boll, I think, et moi aussi. I have to be up at 8:30 a.m.—also a crime. But I wanted to post something now, before falling into bed.

There is a lemon on the stone window sill, given to me by a woman named —–. She was born in the house of the lemon tree and her parents died there, but she and her family have been served an eviction notice. The Israeli government has told her that her house is close to a Jewish holy site, so she must leave, like her neighbours across the street, who live in a tent in the garden of their old house, which is now occupied by yeshiva students, young boys and their bearded master.

There is a lemon tree in the garden of her house, and nettles. “I don’t have time to garden,” she said, by way of apology, then asked her daughter to climb the tree and give me a piece of the sharp yellow fruit.

kaz for souk ukaz: there she goes. again.

April 15, 2010

the usual pre-travel mayhem
By karenconnelly
the bank, the child, the husband, the house, the article, the forward for the photobook, a note to Susan G, call greece (book ticket or no?) maru’s # in spain, the bank again, hair cut.

and as usual anxiety about the long questioning i’ll receive at customs in the u.s. though last time it wasn’t that bad. but lots of passport stamps incite questions. imagine what it must be like to travel w/ a middle eastern name, brown skin. well. no need to imagine (think of that writer who now refuses to go to the US) it was worse when i lived in greece, but still.

it is an energetic thing, actually. the customs officers sense that i am anxious about border crossing and instinctively unconsciously wonder why and therefore become suspicious. but who isn’t anxious about it these days? ( well, a lot of people, perhaps)

why? why, when i now have an address and a place to live in north america? habit of the vagabond years i suppose. et aussi l’habitude de la france, de la grece–la conviction que traverser la frontiere est casser quelque mensonge. ouvrir le mensonge qu’on dit a nous-meme—-