Medina Solitaire 

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writing by Adam Hausman

Title explained

 

Not really solitaire.  I’m here with my wife, but the blogging is evidence of my isolation.  The other night I went almost sleepless, manically binging on newly-acquired internet access.  Fairly successful in resisting porn and social media, I scrolled Edward Abbey quotes and my admiration for the man got rekindled.  I have been to these pages before, in much the same way I always scan his section in a bookstore or library even though I know damn well I've consumed his catalog (same for Ken Kesey, Hunter Thompson, David Foster Wallace and Charles Bukowski: all the dead and degenerate that I crave).  Does everyone do that?  So it’s a shout out, and I’ll work real hard to achieve some sort of paralleling thematic bent to my writing to properly represent.  So, that's how we start: back-asswards and cheesy.  Medina = theold Arab quarter of a North African city. 

typical day


I want to tell you what a typical day looks like before it's not typical anymore.  Don't expect adventure stories, 'cause that's not how we're living.  Things are quite mellow, and we're both good with that - feels as though we're wallowing in these uneventful days (and fighting the urge to feel guilty about it), stacking'n em up faster than harira soup is inhaled at an iftar-signaling call to prayer.  We're keeping a wary eye on each other to see who will cave first and suggest a road trip or other exploratory mission, thereby shattering this luscious zone of comfort we're basking in.

     
 

Here's what the last month has been like:

On my better mornings I roll out of bed at 7:00 and run the beach, 2k out to the ruin at the far end of the horseshoe bay and back, but more often we get up slowly between 8:00 and 8:30.  Ramadan just ended, so we hopefully will have the opportunity to pedal an earlier sleep cycle soon, as the medina is quiet and the beaches are empty in the morning.  Up to this point, our sleep has been disrupted regularly.  My experience is that participants in the month-long daylight hours fast rearrange their schedules to varying degrees for aid in matters of diligence.  I lived through several Ramadans in Lebanon, and was granted access one summer to the complete reverse-sleep patterns of a pair of  Beiruti socialites.  These two women (sisters-in-law, living in adjoining suites in a posh Hamra apartment complex - I tutored their daughters four days a week)  simply slept all day, and were up though the night, presumably stuffing their plastic-surgery enhanced selves with sushi and full Lebanese mezze spreads.  Cheating?  What do I know? But I had  front row observation deck seats for the humble Moroccan version of Ramadan endurance, as we are on the third and top floor of a traditional riad with a large and open inner courtyard light shaft running consistent through the structure - imagine taking the roof off a dollhouse and peering down.  These guys haven't fully reversed sleep cycles, but they stay up late, nap, then fortify themselves with pre-dawn breakfast before sleeping till noon. 

We're sipping coffee by 8:15.  We listen to news radio - usually BBC (for posterity: Ukraine/Russia, Israel/Palestine, Malaysia Flight 370 AND 17).  We linger for an hour or more. Josie makes bread. It's a pleasure. Besides a two month stint working for room and board at my friend's surf camp in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua (which consisted mainly of going surfing) and J's later-mentioned goat gig, we haven't worked a day in ten months.  And we have tried to stay conscious, with the proper amount of appreciation, for that fact.  We mainly succeed.

Late morning, we split paths.  J goes medina cruisin' and souk shopping - she comes back with herbs/spices, vegetables, milk and yogurt, eggs, and seafood from the fish market (sardines, shrimp or dorado).  Conservatively dressed, she takes a wicker basket like a loc-dog, and recedes towards invisibility with each trip.  She walks with purpose.  We revel in how cheap everything is, frugality caressed.  I take this time to write essays (15 and counting to date) towards my teacher license recertification, or more accurately the transition to an Oregon Initial II Teaching License.  If I take the time to tangent on the process and requirement I will become so incensed about this no-sense license (to be read with rhythm) I will get grumpy. 


We make lunch: sardines fried, sardine spread, sardine pizza, sardine salad. We nap, lay around.  

We go swimming, sometimes for distance, sometimes to bob.

We make love.  I indulge in Moroccan treats, J drinks a smoothie.

We transition to evening with a podcast (I like Joe Rogan and Marc Maron - suggestions?  I'm new) and dinner prep: sardines, soup, pasta, salad.

We stream documentaries from "Top Documentary Films," the only site that functions uninterrupted.

We sleep.


A theory on why we're so content to do little (and be home):

a) We've been transient/homeless for nine months. A quick account: since I left New Zealand last October, shortly after to chase down J in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain (where she was herding goats and making cheese), we've been on the move: Greece, Italy, France, Florida, Nicaragua, Florida II, France II, Spain II, and finally Morocco.  

b) The Spanish road trip.  Greece and Nicaragua were multi-month situations with almost regular schedules, but the other stops we were guests or tourists, never static enough to own our surroundings, culminating in a six-week roadtrip thru Spain that was hardcore by anyone's standards: (mainly) camping on rivers or beaches or lagoons or in fields in sand dunes in campgrounds in forests, sleeping on the ground, eating by campstove, hiking, canyoning, swimming, cliff jumping, slab soaking, shapeshifting, driving: a complete delight but exhausting as hell.

c) Josie is almost six months pregnant and slowing down.  Slowing way down to live in strict accordance with What to Expect When You're Expecting. I'm slowing down by association. 

There are derivations of course.  Sometimes we take a picnic to the rampart wall overlooking the ocean.  We hiked in Paradise Valley.  We read.  There's French lessons.  J sketches.  We eat out occasionally.  We stroll. 

canary tramp

 

you begin your ascent according to script

and for the right reason

somewhere between exercise and as an exercise
 

and

 

wisely, with no end goal, you’ve absorbed the Greats

 

“Be Here Now,” Bhagavan Das, mental floss

satisfied with breath with step with rice without the special sauce

 

until you heard it

 

roaring

 

you spun your azimuth

pursued the long hand

and exposed yourself lengthwise

soft underbelly

comp-ass

 

because

 

We All Want Something Beautiful

 

Steps be-labored now

past the point
of damaged return
 

false summits 

 

disorientation

 

And

 

you got slapped with an indifferent and stinging gust

because you refused to acknowledge

that sometimes

the wind can sound like a waterfall

Take

"A More Direct and Literal Comment on Expatriaton: a discourse on conspicuousness and invisibility through which the yo-yo effect is illustrated"

The other day we had to go to the doctor.  J had to have a series of blood tests to determine whether pregnancy has inspired diabetes in her system, as per instructions from our doctor in Casablanca.

 

As Casablanca is a three hour drive and full of potential hazards (reference the “tout” series of posts), not to mention the discernible perils of urbanity, we researched and settled on an Essaouira institution to jab J in the vein. The clinic is on the “outside,” town proper (locals-only), and I took time to assess and take stock of my general level of comfort as we made our way towards the medina walls:

 

I generally oscillate between the sensations of feeling invisible and feeling conspicuous in foreign countries.  Rarely am I totally relaxed.  I’m not blended in.  I’m not absorbed. I’m not intermingling.  I’m on the outside. I have to always contend with my “presence.”  And that often makes me feel invisible or conspicuous – polarized.

 

Invisibility and conspicuousness are two sides of the same coin, only the coin is spinning so fast, purely positive or negative connotations get blurred.  It’s mish-mash.  My brain.  Six weeks ago there were far fewer tourists in the medina; it just wasn’t high season yet.  We got way too much attention: merchants, stall owners, beggars, drug dealers and restaurateurs were funneling desperation and aggression down our throats like a stale and heavy flow of cascading Old Milwaukee beer through a three-story beer bong. We were turning heads.  We were being overly-noticed. We were choking on our own brand.  It was suffocating.  I started making excuses to stay in.  I questioned my choices.  Decisions were debated. The light at the end of this tunnel was dim.  Muted. This is conspicuousness in its worst form. 

After all this time, I still haven’t learned how to lay the needle in a groove of proactive mood resuscitation.  I just have to skip for a while, warped and undulating.  I don’t make a conscious effort because I always do recover.  I trust my instincts.  It’s learned apathy; I let my frame of mind right itself – “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down” - they always right themselves.  It doesn’t take much: a kind word or act from a local, a great meal, an adventure, a stunning visual, a random thought, a look, a moment – it only takes a moment.  And it always comes.  Chemicals shift, and then I am high, and happy to be conspicuous. I am getting off on the uniqueness of my situation, relishing in the same headspace that was eating me alive only seconds before. I’m hovering weightless above the status quo.  I’m the fucking King of the World, transforming these exotic circumstances into my plaything – a child’s toy.

Invisibility is just as dizzying.  I crave it in moments of conspicuousness.  I want to be unremarkable.  Typical.  I have that now.  If I go out to buy a liter of milk, I won’t draw that much attention as there are other tourists to dilute my presence.  I can focus on the actual doing or experiencing of something rather than theories or ideas (lifted from dictionary definition of practicality - fittingly).   Anxiety dissipates in the wind, the current of company blowing gale force.  Power in numbers.  Repetition soothes nerves as well.  We get less and less visible when we wind well-trod paths.  As I don the same long sleeve oxford shirt yet again for night-time medina carousing, I contemplate this reflex as premeditated, as to become more recognizable and therefore more invisible.  I bought this Chinese-made shirt of glorious nondescript nature to further supplement my disappearance ($2).  But then, I hate being invisible too.  It’s not that a “tipping point” gets reached, like I become so invisible that I crave attention and want to be “special” again.  It’s a whole other thing:  I am out of place here = not local with a long-term investment in the place, so I become invisible.  I am a “mark” at best, not to be fully considered by people living real lives all around me.  This is not being seen, different from invisible, but the same.  I’m a ghost.  And far from home.

The walk to the clinic is depressing.  Outside of the medina is less traditional, newer, filthier, filled with the exhaust of traffic and honking taxis.  It’s slum-like.  I’m low.  We’re sized up, curiosity intense, yet stand-offish.  Polarized. Fear is present as well – health and the well-being of an unborn is at stake. Are we crazy?  It’s apparent when we step into the bare-bones clinic that our white faces are not an everyday occurrence, and I’m awash with doubts – I’ll bet I was mildly shaking my head to the evil rhythm of dark thoughts.  Their conspicuous stares were a shamanic guide, directing me inwards to forcibly explore this massive feat of irresponsibility and decadence. 

 

And then everything worked out fine.  Better than fine.  Like it always does. 

 

We rule.

the exile's insignia

Who's at da beach?

 

The lounge chair/umbrella guardiens.  That's who.  I'm a devoted people watcher; these guys are "the show." When "on point," they position at the waist-high wall that separates sand and boardwalk.  They use a severe and sweeping hand gesture (that says, "Lookatthisbeautifulsetuphereforyou") to attack the peripheral vision and capture the attention of potential beachgoers strolling the boardwalk. They'll also verbalize, peppering the pedestrians with the standard, "Bonjour; Ola; Hello; Two people? Very nice; Good Price." But they're easygoing - not too obtrusive or harassing.  On the tout-scale, they register very mellow.  Once they've fished a customer out of the passing stream, negotiations are cleverly-handled as an afterthought, after customers have been shown to what I've come to regard, through the guardien's eyes, as stations.  After bags have been set down, after cushions have been plumped and after umbrellas have been angled to their shadiest degree, 50 dirhams is the often-quoted starting price.  As to what price is possible after haggling, I'm not sure, for my highly-developed voyeur skills are left out of the more hushed-tone proceedings.

These cabana boys have impressive bodies: suntanned and buff - really ripped.  A cabana boy doesn't go ten minutes without dropping to the sand for a set of push-ups or crunches.  I've seen creative versions of these classic resistance exercises that are brand new to me.  I steal them. Occasionally, a serious bodybuilder friend to the "boys" hangs out and shows them new exercises that I think could all be classified as isometrics.  He was the first to show them a set of handstand push-ups.  (Nobody else has been successful yet.)  I saw him give an entire clinic of drills utilizing the lifeguard stand: each movement building upon the last, climaxing in quasi-levitation.  The friend is very short but almost as wide as he is tall.  He wears a djellaba which I think he enjoys taking on and off for his demonstrations on the beach - life the sheathing and unsheathing of a knife.  I enjoy the show too.  When the boys intermingle, talk and attention always centers around developing bodies.  This I can gather from a distance: the flexing, obvious assessing, playful abdomen striking and feats of strength.  

 

The cabana boy takes on subcontractors.  Littler boys.  When "the boys" want to socialize, flirt, exercise, smoke hashish, or generally leave their posts, they employ very young kids to assume the position at the boardwalk edge and drum up business.  They are much crasser and less polished (less interested, less at stake) with the passersby than a knowledgeable cabana boy, wrongly employing the aggression of a shop owner within the medina walls.  If they collect money, they immediately run the profits over to the senior executive. If they cabana boy is between sets, he will shell out a commission.  The young ones do push-ups too, but need years to beef up their skinny frames.

 

The cabana boy has assumed the style of a surfer.  On bigger swells, there is a wave right in front of their domain.  Smaller swells break a kilometer down the beach at a more strategic and shifting sandbar, in the middle and at the shallowest point of this crescent bay. Higher quality surf is littered up and down the coastline.  But these are not surfers.  I can tell.  The majority of them are way too beefy for surfers = loss of flexibility.  They are swollen up in all the wrong places to be surfers - all biceps and pectorals.  No matter, they have assumed the style and swagger of surfers - no one's judging.  They all wear surf baggies pulled low, exposing name-brand underwear (one read, "Gavin Klein")(also, not a surfer trait - at least not of the soul surfer).  The majority sport shoulder length sun-bleached hair, kinked and natty.  They don't wear shirts: their tanned torsos shrug off the sun and their musculature is like body armor.  Who needs a shirt?  The shakas they throw at each other are more versatile than a Westerner's use of "dude."  The boys resemble each other so closely they could almost be interchangeable - whittled aesthetically from the elements. 

 

The cabana boys are flirtatious.  Surrounded by sunbathing European hotties in bikinis, who could blame them?  I'm sure that's the reason for their dedication to fitness, hell,  I'm a believer in the notion that that is why anybody does anything.  Always quick to help reposition a lounge chair, shake sand out of a towel, or adjust an umbrella position in their station, but watch them  l i n g e r   at a station that includes scandalous beachwear.  I watched one dance with the miniature poodle of a Dutch (?) mom and daughter team today.  He waited till the daughter had her beach cover-up off, then went over, lifted the dog's front paws off the ground and spun like a whirling dervish.  I think he charmed all three of them.  I give way too much thought to how often these guys are pulling foreign chicks.  I haven't seen evidence of it (and I've looked - a lot), but I'm sure they score. 

 

I have a real soft spot for these guys.  They're always smiling and joking around.  They work at the beach!  The parking lot "guardiens" are extortionists that provide an illusory service, protecting you (your car) from themselves - like the mafia.  The cabana boys charge for a legitimate product: a soft seat for your fat ass and shade from the sun.  If I ever come back to this earth as an employable wage-earning Esso local, somebody please direct me through the parking lot and out to the beach.

Little Man

 

I can't go anywhere around here without intruding on a soccer/football game.  (It still feels pretentious to call it football.)  All the little alleyways that sprout off the main arteries crisscrossing the medina have an active game in progress, day and night.  Often, these are the really young kids, the under-ten set.  I imagine mama has set their boundaries, full freedom in the twisting veins, right up to the main thoroughfare where the flow gets heavy with chaos and potential trouble.

There is no choice but to interrupt the game - shit is narrow.  First priority is protecting J's belly as the game stops for nothing, no injury stoppage, no extra time.  She's been clipped before, so have I.  I don't blame them, if they stopped for every passerby it wouldn't be much of a game.  I think sometimes they aim for us.  Hell, I wouldn't have been above it at that age, or ten years on.  Softening the blow is the lack of a quality pumped-up ball.  We walk right through the impact, melon-sized red plastic ball pinging off us without any visible reaction, so as not to give them any satisfaction.


I've grown comfortable with the boys in my alley - familiar.  I'll approach nonchalantly and then pounce on the ball if it is in my vicinity.  Once I've gotten possession, I'll wave over a defender, with taunting if I have to, and try to dribble around with something impressive - nutmegging is all I really got.  They humored me at first, but my limited skill-set was quickly sussed by superior football IQ's.  Now, when I get the ball, they just stand paralyzed until I've had my fun.  A peaceful demonstration. 

The teenagers play on the beach.  The "fields" are more elaborately drawn out than I've seen in other places, etched to an almost-permanent depth.  They use "real" goals - futeca-sized.  One end line almost reaches the end line of the adjoining pitch.  It's tough to get to the water.  There's lots of arguing.  They all have six-packs.

The adults play in sunken concrete arenas that temporarily split the cornice/boardwalk into two. There are fans.  Pace is fast.  Skill level is high.

But yesterday I watched the most fascinating game. They were playing on a huge asphalt slab just outside the Bab Marrakech entrance to the medina, which I have to cut across to get to la plage.  What caught my eye on the approach, partially obscured by a car, was the way a striker made one deft nudge with the outside of his foot toward the center of the field, lowered a shoulder, and struck the ball without raising his head. At a target goal that was about a meter wide and built of piled-up shirts.  Amazing focus and court sense/field vision.  And so fluid.  Though I have some history with football, I don't claim to be a expert, but I do have hours of World Cup play still fresh in my memory. Robben, Van Persie, Benzema, Neymar, Messi - that's what it looked like - that polished. His shot was like a rocket, but careened wide.  He gaped to the sky in disbelief, hands on cheeks, opportunity blown - I guess it was a "good look."  As he jogged back up the field and into position with that efficient soccer-shuffle gait meant to preserve energy for the next explosive attack, he chastised his buddy for getting him the ball too late. There wasn't a player on the court older than nine.

The young'uns had taken their game outside the city walls.  It had the feel and organization of a "standing game," maybe maman cutting the jalaba strings for "special permission Saturdays."  I was pleased to see them out there - it nags at me a bit to see their ultra-confined games, like an itch I can't quite scratch. The quality of play was beyond impressive, but their "mature" demeanors was almost like an optical illusion.  I had trouble believing what I was seeing. 

I'm always mesmerized by the appearance and behavior of third-world(ish) children living adult lives - specifically, the adoption of adult mannerisms.  With boring consistency, I'll say, "That's a little man right there."  I think it's understood that I don't intend this comment to be one of admiration or even respect, but also not one of sobbing sympathy.  It's fascination.  I know I'm witnessing a childhood robbed.  I'm just an observer.

"How old do you think that kid is?"

"Six, seven?"

"Maybe.  That's a little man right there."

And he's drumming up business: shining shoes, serving tea, pushing carts, selling tissues, giving haircuts, playing music, singing, dancing, performing, giving directions, guiding, pitching, begging, pleading, manipulating, stealing, lying, selling, selling, selling.  Little man.

There's little smiling.  There's no baby fat.  There's only "adult" models, and they're all involved with scraping by. Food and shelter.  Maybe candy.  That's their reality.  Five years before my world even expanded to allow for wrapping toilet paper around neighbor's trees or jacking basketball nets fromneighborhood hoops, these kids are making a living, and probably helping to provide for their families.

They dress like adults.  They tilt their hats like adults.  They relate to each like adults.  They move like adults.  They talk like adults.  They fight and argue like adults.  They work like adults.

And play football in their spare time.