Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Been to the desert..."

In this case a camel with no name.

Apparently they don't give them names, though once Kate rode a camel in the US named Rosalie, which coincidentally is my mother's name. I'm not sure that "America" (the band) had it right. Can't see how a horse would have survive.

We barely did for the six or so hours we were plodding from dune to dune with a brief layover at an oasis where a man in a fez showed up with cold Cokes. It was hot and my camel wasn't nice. Well, I guess I can't blame him.

The town where we stayed was once a French foreign legion outpost and really this was no joke. We could see Algeria. I kept thinking that if something happened to our guide, Mohammed, we would survive.

Though our camels had very very big flat feet. They look as if they are designed to make a lunar landing, which I think in a sense they are. While I can't say I like the creature, I have developed a respect for them.

That night we were exhausted. I am still having difficulty crossing my legs.

Morocco - A Human Face

Over the next several weeks I will be posting images and text about our trip. I found myself especially moved by the Moroccan people who were overall extremely generous and kind. This man works in the tannery. They have been making leather in this way for the past 1100 years. He stands in a dye pit all day, stomping on hides.
More images of the tannery, and the rest of Morocco, to come soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From Thurber to Berber

Domesticity's getting me down. I feel burdened by the tasks. Maybe it's the hound dog we adopted two weeks ago. As I'm taking shoes out of his mouth or watching him bury bones in my garden, I keep hearing Elvis in my head. Meanwhile at the same I'm packing to go to North Africa, into the desert, as far as I can.

There's a disconnect here. How can I be feeding pig ears to Thurber (named after James Thurber who loved hounds)and reading the map of the Fez medina at the same time? But it seems that I can. I recall how Indiana Jones could teach his classes in archaeology, then take off his glasses, put on a pair of chaps and go chasing the lost Ark.

I can identify. My students don't really know this side of me. As they head to the library or Connecticut for their few days off, I'm going for a camel ride in the Sahara. Once a student of mine went to visit his brother in Hawaii. The brother happened to have a magazine lying around that had a picture of me, dressed in black, riding a white horse through the chaparelle. Apparently the student turned to his brother and said, "I think this is my professor."

I'm not going to lie. I am ready for a change. I need to get away. I've just sprayed bitter green apple into Thurber's mouth so he stops eating my chair. Upstairs I've got my camera charging, my paints and brushes packed, my journal (the beautiful journal my writers and wanderers made for me this spring) ready to go.

I am filled with excitement. Anticipation. And yet I don't want to be cut loose. I don't want to be one of those balloons that floats away into the sky. The truth is I want to be tied to someone's stroller.

I recall speaking to a friend the other day about this. I told her that I'm not interested in just wandering. I don't want to be a nomad with no address. For me it's the tension between here and there, home and away, that makes all of this interesting. And by this I mean life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lost in the Desert with a Pen and a Hat

A recent news story captured my eye. A couple of weeks ago a man was found who'd been lost in the desert for six days. He had no food and water with him and little shade though temperatures had soared close to a hundred degree. Yet beyond being dehydrated and sunburned he was fine. He attributed his survival to the fact that he had a pen with him. And a hat.

The hat did not help him because it provided shade. Rather the man, who had no paper, wrote on it. He wrote notes to his wife and loved ones, advice, instructions, declarations of love and friendship. When he began to run out of space, he devised a code so he could shorten his messages. But still he kept writing. He told his rescuers that if he hadn't been able to write, he would not have survived.

Many writers have attested to the same thing. The poet, Irina Ratushinskaya, survived a Soviet prison but writing her poems on bars of soap, memorizing them, and then taking a shower. She left the prison with dozens of poems, all inside of her.

On a less dramatic note Paul Auster writes in his wonderful essay "Why Write?" about meeting the great Willie Mays and not having a pen with him for an autograph. After that, Auster says he kept a pen in his pocket wherever he goes.

I have often found myself, on the subway or a plane, desperately digging in my bag for a pen. It seems I can survive any long flight or travel delay if I have paper and pen. (I have never tried my hat, but I'm sure if necessity dictated, i would.) If I was lost on a journey, imprisoned, if I was in a situation for which there is no obvious escape, I would survive if I could write about it. Perhaps this is why I write compulsively when wandering. It is how I hold the universe together. In essence it is how I survive.

So the message about the man lost with only his pen and his hat really hit home. It is an allegory of sorts. To wander is to write and to write is to wander. And when we are lost in a desert of our own making, this is especially true.