Dec 23, 2004

The Disquieted Americans

Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Kasbah du Toubkal.

Pastor Brown had mentioned the Kasbah some months ago. Imlil Valley is famous for many reasons, for all kinds of desire. Around Ramadan Morrocans come to a nearby holy site to restore their virility. Celebacy is cured. The kasbah is a top choice for romantic get aways according to Bride Magazine. It was used as a Tibetan Monastery in the film Kundoon.

The night closed in, the sky cleared, and we sat down to dinner. There were about 20 in the room. We sat across from an American couple. I'd seen him just before sundown. A large, middle aged man, with glasses. Walking up the cement path that runs around the ramparts. He wore a brown jalabah with the hood off. You could tell he was probably an American, he had that particular foreigness, and that childlike desire to adopt native dress. Then his wife appeared; slender, pale, dark hair, cut short, neat, controlled, easy to manage, efficient. She followed him up the stairs. He came slowly as though out of breath. They stood on one of the stone terraces looking up at the mountains, those kings with their manteaux hermines. A servent offered to photograph the couple. The man saw I was watching and smiled sheepishly, shook his head as though to say, you have no choice at moments like this. I smiled back.

We are an endearing people, I thought. Forever self-conscious.

At dinner, however, he was the other American. In command; on throne, on message, on top, in demand. He spoke above the others in the room. This was their second Christmas at the kasbah, he explained. We just love it here. God, she said nodding.

But why object to someone whose only crime is to be relentlessly center stage and terminably amicable. What is there not to like?

His proportion, I suppose, his presumption and preeminence. I didn't care about his take on Morocco. His silence would have drawn me. Anyway, I was looking forward to talking to my family, particularly to Marina. But he made his personality, his curiosity our common domaine. He started with Barbara who responded easily, one American to another. The exchange took up the room.

Rudely, I turned my back, to make it clear that his desire to find entertaining strangers was not mine. I had exchanged glances when we came to dinner. I felt no further obligation.

So what do you do here? He wanted to know. Every question he asked, his wife followed up, the cleaning woman, the detail person to flesh out the answer and insure give and take.

But you understand these were very nice people. Pleasant, curious, bred on just this kind of conversation.

Barbara was straight up and asked where they were from. Washington D.C. said his wife. And then Marina pinned them down to Dupont Circle. Well, where are you from? he said. San Francisco. Where I grew up, he said. Where in San Francisco? In the Mission District. Oh, I love that part of town. I'm from Presidio Heights, grew up, born and bred, went to Lowell High School.

And then I think, he said, Berkeley. Go Bears.

So now there was the matter of what do you do?

"We're teachers," said Barbara.

How interesting, they agreed.

And you?

I was with the previous administration.

Barbara assumed he meant the last democratic administration and said so in a clever way that always puts her in the game. If you want repartee, if you want clever conversation, she's your girl. Yes, in the previous administration, he went on, an undersecretary of good works. He listed the organizations, the connections, the contexts. Nothing like meeting good liberals outside America.

It is perhaps an exclusively American idea, what do you do? Not who are you? But what have you done with yourself. That's a sore subject for me just at the moment, and so perhaps one reason his inquiry seemed more like a chess game than a conversation. But truth be told, good liberals, progressives, don't do well together. I saw that often enough with TH. Cock size is nothing against the measure of good works, the sanctimony of making the world a better place, in a big way.

What do you do? It's also something I'm always searching for in other people, myself, but I hadn't heard the implication quite so clearly before. It was an interesting lesson I will never forget.

Then, eating his way through the field, he got to Marina.

I'm a student, she said.

Yes. Where?

New Haven, Marina replied, ever graciously. Although she knows these lines very well herself.

I thought, how many times have I heard that kind of exchange in my life. School as trump card. Place as multiplier. Occupation as mate. In this case, her knightess takes bishop. After all, how many colleges are there in New Haven?

This was the one square he couldn't capture directly so then he asked, 'oh do you know so and so?'

Marina shook her head.

And he mentioned other people as though in that quaint old way of Fitzgerald, isn't the world just the tiny little group of people and places we know and if you're anywhere in that world you must certainly know so and so.

It is a small world. I agree, stone. It's all true, but don't push it.


Outside, from a balcony, the moon in full bloom. My weaknesses all exposed. In the background, Dash in the dock talking about Kezar stadium, the Seahawks and Joe Montana.

Wow, could he throw a ball, couldn't he? said the American. How do you know about Joe Montana, you're too young, aren't you?

Dash can play. Not really, he said.

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