Nov 30, 2004

To Burn

(To Burn)
A two-act play.
Khaldun of the Atlas, a griot
Hassan Al Khittabi
Hicham, his son
Miriam, Hicham’s step mother
Claudia, Hicham’s fiancĂ©e
Laila, Hicham’s Moroccan girl friend
Lehan, Hicham’s sister
Yassine, Harragah lord
Loubna, Laila’s best friend
Zineb and Samye, two cousins
In the house of Hassan Al Khittabi and in the streets outside.

Act 1, SCENE 1

Griot: (He appears wearing a water seller’s hat, a snake around his neck, a drum on his back, a banjo on his hip, and various goods, trinkets and a leather water bag. He stops, all the while beating a tambourine on his thigh.

Well? Did you hear what I said? Yes? No? (In disgust) You have no idea. As soon as I tell you something, you forget…. But then, if you didn’t forget, how could you stand it? And if you didn’t forget, where would I be? Who would I tell stories to?

(Pause. Looking at someone in the audience. Pointing.)

Hey, I know you. Last year. Lap dancing in Marrakech?
You’re probably thirsty from all the debauchery…. There’s water in here somewhere. (Takes a drink out of his leather pouch) I’ll drink for the both of us. After all, I’m doing all the work.

(Drinks. Looks at someone else.)

You remember me. Khaldun of the Atlas, first cousin of the mad Sultan twice removed, (standing one leg making the face of a madman) I am myself at 11:59 p.m. At my darkest hour, but my fortunes are always good. I never lie to you. You can trust me. Everything is fine; otherwise, you’re dead. Right? Good fortune is always true. Sit a bit, I’ll tell you what matters.


You have time to kill, right? Sure, you have your whole life…. And what a life it will be… (Considering someone in the audience for a moment) You’ll win the visa lottery. For sure. Or what do you want? You can have anything….

(Pointing at someone in the audience)

I know what you want… A villa in Casa, and you know where I mean, close to the Mosque of Saud, near Aindiab. It’s yours. Tennis court, guards, fabulous parties. Next year, I promise. It will happen; I never lie. Tell all your friends I said so.


Don’t I know your dreams? But forget all that. All stories have the same end.

(Drifting off for another moment)…

Remember what Rumi said… ‘Out there, beyond right or wrong, there is a field… I will meet you there.’

(He stops. Plays on his drum.)

I know the way there; follow me.

(Bangs on his tambourine. Then, silence. He starts to gather his stuff to leave.)

But wait; let’s not go yet. It’s hot in here. I’ll tell you another story.

(Pause. Arranges himself.) You’ve heard of rags to riches; what about rags to rags? A story without riches, but a lot of sex. Just as good, no?
Here is where the story takes place, on a dirty little back street in a misbegotten town sur Le Plateau des Phosphates. Not a neighborhood you would ever know.

(Pause, the loud sound of trains)

Can you hear that? Phosphate trains. The country’s heart beating. (Slaps his chest fast to make the sound of a heart beating. Pause)
Can you smell it? A little sour, and sooner or later you’ll die of it, but people here don’t care, it pays enough to die in poverty and disease. Why not? Someone has to do it.

(Curtain slowly opens, but not all the way, the music of Nass El Ghiwane.)

The house of Al Khittabi, built in 1910. Now, a stop over for ghosts without work. (He plays something on his drum.)

Look at his picture. Good looking, wasn’t he? A real movie star. But you wonder, with all the pain he suffered, 30 years breathing phosphates. And then to prison. Why? Because he was a socialist. What could have possessed the man, you say? What bug of humanity must have bit him? Well, when he got out of prison he didn’t look like a movie star, I can tell you that. “We’ll teach you the meaning of history,” the rascals said. “You want to be Sisyphus? Ok then, here’s your stone.” And they made him ‘sit on the bottle.’ You know what that is, right? And that wasn’t’ the worst of it. And when he got out his wife bought him dark glasses so you couldn’t see his face. (Pause) But that’s another story….

(Plays a tune). Here is what I wanted to tell you: He had a son, who became a harraq…. You know, an adventurer. The ones who would rather work 3 shirts in an Italian condom factory than stay here and talk on a street corner all days. Harraq. To Burn. Right? To b urn I call it unfulfilled desire. They call it freedom.

(The griot is interrupted; there’s a commotion. curtains open wider: In the alcove light you notice a man about to light a cigarette. He wears a gray suit and tie, and large dark impenetrable glasses. He looks sinister. Two women appear, arguing but no sound. A tableau. The griot unwinds the snake around his neck: Audio up)

Nov 28, 2004

Je suis desole mais...

Barbara needed to see the doctor; he wrote out a prespcription. We went to the pharmacie. They didn't have the exact medicine, but close. It was expensive. I pulled out a credit card.
"Je suis desole," the pharmacist began, 'mais nous n'acceptons pas les cartes."
Why is that?
The pharmacist shook her head and smiled.
But this card is from the bank that's just around the corner. Banque Populaire...
The pharmacist would not stop smiling.
Well then a check...
She shook her head and threw up her hands like a magician, as though to say, you see I made it disappear.
I don't understand, I said.
She explained that the bank won't take a bad check.
Of course, I thought, but when you take the check you don't know if it's good or bad.
I said, How many bad checks have you had?
She shrugged.
I pressed. Many?
A few, she said.
In the last year, she said. And she smiled, that endlessly shielding smile.
But this is such a small town, all the bad check writers must be well known.
Je suis desole, she said.
We are not like that, I insisted, stupidly. I went on about how ridiculous this was. And the distance between the bank and any local store is less than 100 yards. Don't you see, I said with a Billy Budd stutter. Don't you understand?
Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, like the rabbit out of the hat, she changed.
Of course, she said, well just come in next week. It doesn't matter. Pay next week. Pas de problem. It doesn't matter. Pas de problem.
And with that we left.

Nov 25, 2004

Insurgents behead Hassan; American shoots to death wounded insurgent

On the same day, Margaret Hassan was found decapitated and a U.S. Marine shot to death a wounded insurgent in Falluja.

The GI claimed it was a mercy killing. The insurgents claim self defense again the juggernaut. That was certainly the argument in my literature class. “I’m not justifying it,” said Yassine, whose father is this country’s foremost psychiatrist. “But all the same she is a symbol of occupation, of the colonial period. And if she was partly Iraqi, it doesn’t matter. She was working for them.”

Sometimes I call the students ignorant, to their face. I have no compunction. Eventually, they’ll get rid of me for that, but in the mealtime when the students tell me these things — or that women under the Taliban have it much better — I tell them, “you’re ignorant. You’re like what we call people in America, in the south, when they talk that way about niggers.”

“I’m not saying I agree with it,” Yassine replied. And he might have added that I’ve begged them to disagree. I’ve tried to encourage anarchy as much as I can. Ah because they all want to go into business, to make money, why not what else is there?

“You are ignorant,” I repeated.

Nov 22, 2004

dash on train 2

dash on train 2
Originally uploaded by macnamband.
On the train to Tanger

Nov 13, 2004

Pas de Problem

His name is not important and if I mentionned it, perhaps his job would be in jeapordy. So now you see I have the illness myself: the bacterial arc from doubt to despair.
Here's how it began. I wanted to pay for something at the school store. They wouldn't take cash, only the cash wallet, a credit card for students and faculty. They knew me; they'd seen me around. We can't take any cash, they said. All I want are some laundary tokens, I said. They shook their head. Surely, you can take a few dihramms. They looked at the next person in line...
Later, I asked my friend why that was, "well," he said. "they don't trust the people that work in those kinds of jobs."
Who doesn't?
He waved his hand, the people at the top. By which he meant the administrators, the people who handle the budgets.
Why don't they trust them?
Because you see this is a culture of mistrust. Nobody trusts anybody. Underneath the smile, there is doubt. You only trust your family, your, how do you say, immediate family. Not your cousins necessarily....
And so we began a long conversation. Suffice to say my friend is learned, and a student of Moroccan mores and history.
It's the nature of this socieity, he went on. It's who we are or who we've become.
He leaned closer: Don't you think it occurs to people that when they look at Spain they see prosperity and they look here and they see the distance we have to go to get to that prosperity. Spain, which we ruled through the 12th Century. How could that be? How could they be doing so well and we once ruled them and we are not doing well? How can that be? They are a few miles away. Look at the geology, very similar. Look at the weather. It's the same in the south. The people? Are they so different?
He shook his head. Why?
We are Europe's Latin America and the sub Sahara is our Latin America. And don't you see how they have derogatory names for us in Europe and we have the same names for the people coming up from Niger and Congo.
I pressed him on this culture of mistrust.
All I can tell you is it's how we are. You and I have just met. We've been talking for what, an hour. I would trust you more than I trust someone here. How can that be?
I wondered if this was true and later I wondered if I trusted him as much as he trusted me.
You see everyone here wants to make it, to make money. Everyone needs a job and they will do anything to get it. So everyone is clawing their way up, holding on to anything they can. The imam in the mosque here. He is not a true imam. He is a servant of the powers that be. He needs his job just like everyone else, but he is not a free spiritual leader. You would not go to him for real advice. Because you don't know if he would keep it a secret. Or would he use the information against you? You don't know. You doubt so you cannot trust.
Well so where does it end? I asked. How could change such a system?
Couldn't, he said. It will take a long time. Look at the king. He's probably a good person. I think he is a good person. He's trying his best but look at who surrounds him. They need him for their petty empires, their contracts and so they keep him safe. This whole thing starts at the top....
And so everyone wants to leave, I said. Top and bottom. Morocco is a wating room, as Hicham once put it. Everyone wants out.
Exactly, said my friend. There is no future except if you know someone. If you have connections.
He paused. I have to go now. I'll tell you more later.

Nov 3, 2004

Crash sight

A bus coming through the Rainbow tunnel, as it always does, I remember ths route, the buss accelerating, and now this time, crashing through the barrier and hurtling over a huge cliff, a dream cliff, landing on its face as it were. Head on. No fire. But the driver survives. A tall, thin man in a red baseball cap, who picks up the remains, which are suddenly Lilliputian in size, stuffs them in a sack and throws the sack into a garbage bin and begins walking up a narrow path, out of the valley, to where I am, in a truck perched on a high place. I drove to this place but now I’m stuck. And the man, the culprit, is coming up the path. I’ve seen him do this act. This was on purpose. He doesn’t know there has been a witness. I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this. To confront him, to hide. He passes by….


And right on the heels of that, another dream involving cars. How many times have I been through this dream, I’m thinking in the dream. I’m with a group of cons. (Which makes perfect sense). We’re on the lam. There’s another group of cons. Killers. I’m separated from the group. I have to get away. I finally get in a car as the man is pursuing me. It’s a GTO 442. It rises up, like cars do in bad neighborhoods. For a moment my adversary stops. I gun the engine, back out and speed away. He’s aiming at me with a high-powered rifle. Now he’s a cop. I can see myself as though his scope, as though I am now him. Instead of going the way I did, the way I did before in this dream, I swerve out on to the main road, which is concrete, and speed away. Still, I am in his sights, but his shot is blocked from view for an instant, and I think I get away. I say, “I think” because in these dreams I play out the different scenarios while dreaming…

And then one more, later, closer to morning. Los Angeles. Santa Monica Blvd. Perhaps, near Century City. Walking down the street. Thinking of Russian movies. How they’ve changed. The end of the dictatorship. New films. I get to a gas station. Go round the corner, suddenly in a movie and two people, two women, a man and a woman, I don’t know. Below a very tall building. The couple is sunning. Now, the camera is rolling. There’s some kind of plot, maybe it’s an ad for something. I’m with the camera, suddenly at the top of the building looking down. Then down looking up. Something is going to fall on the couple. I presume that. Not necessarily something destructive, but something. Some dramatic thing will happen. Then all of a sudden, a huge gate attached to the side of the building swings. A two story high gate, with a Jag car logo in the gate. The gate swings, but doesn’t come as far as where the couple is. I notice two cops in the intersection. One throws a football to a homeless man, who catches the ball, surprisingly. The cop congratulates him. Two cops in the intersection. Motorcycle cops.

The scene shifts to a few blocks away. To a house where Barbara and I are living. There’s a garden in the back. With interesting pattern of angular shaped pools. I’m laying out what I can do with this garden. There’s a bed of plants, including a rose bush, which for a moment I forget and then with scissors in my hand, I cut. I cut this rose bush and now I’m thinking how stupid was that, I have to get a new one. I cut it right down to the ground; it will take years to grow back. I have to get another. I plan that. Where I’ll go. But then it occurs to me, this is November, not spring. What roses will grow now? None; it’s autumn. But then I ‘m going to get my car at the gas station. I forgot all about it. I see a pink rose in a window and I think, well maybe there are fall roses after all. But more important, where’s my car. I’ve left it here, not thinking, I had thought it would still be here, but now it’s not. I don’t think. I can’t see it. It was a gray color, not the '65 Mustang over there. I had one like that, but it was Navy blue and then I painted it white. Or a firebird, another rememberance, or maybe the Olds from the other dream. I can’t quite find the car; I can’t quite remember it. Fade to black… there was more, but now lost….