Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Distant Episode: Thoughts before Heading to Morocco

In two weeks we're heading to Morocco, and I am incredibly excited. For the past three years I've been trying to get to Morocco, but it has been eluding me.

The first time, in 2007, during my sabbatical, I had a trip planned with my daughter, Kate, and Larry. But I broke my leg and spent weeks on my couch, calling every riad and ferry company and hotel, slowly deconstructing the voyage I had been dreaming of.

Two years later Larry and I were going to sail from Tarifa to Tangier, just for a day or so, so I could, quite literally stick my foot in North Africa, but the day before we were to go, we lost our money "bolsa" with all our ids, except our passports inside. So the day we were to go to Tangier, we were cancelling our credit cards instead.

But this time, finally we are going...and I can't wait. I'm not sure exactly where our travels will take us. For the first time in many years we are traveling without plans, without reservations, except the day we arrive and depart. Almost, but not quite, without maps. I've been thinking about spending a day, if time allows, in the Atlas Mountains.

With this in mind I've been reading Bowles, in particular his short stories. Last night I reread the harrowing, "A Distant Episode." Indeed I'd have to say it's one of the most terrifying stories I've ever read, not merely because a man is captured, tortured and turned into the plaything of a desert tribe, but because it seems as if the man wants to be captured.

I've taught this story in my writer/wanderer class as a kind of anti-journey. The bad trip you never want to be on. But still something compells me to read this story over and over. Just as something compells me to want to go farther and farther, pushing myself beyond where I know safety is.

Again I recall what I wrote a couple weeks ago about God's curse on Cain - You will be a restless wanderer. I don't think I'm guilty of fratricide though my brother might disagree. But still something restless lives inside all of us who wish to keep moving. This is why breaking my leg was one of the worst things that's ever happened to me. Because I had to stop.

Still what is the point of the journey? Is it to have creature comforts we can't replicate at home? Or is it to push ourselves past a limit, past our comfort zone. Into a world that is different and far from the one we know?

I don't have an answer. Probably it's a combination of both. All I can say is that last spring, as I saw the lights of North Africa flickering from Cadiz, it was like being beckoned. And when we feel beckoned, as the prophets knew, even if we don't want to, we must answer that call.

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