Betwixt and Between. A Year of Comings and Goings

For me, it has been a year of high cobalt skies, a universe of cloud and ocean, cold and vivid colours, boundaries, borders and demarcation. It is as if the days have swirled past, like pages magically turning in a Hollywood epic while I, as its central character, flew to the top of its spine and watched the story unfolding. I wonder if this is because I have turned a leaf, a corner, entered a new age of few imperatives other than space and pages, words and fiction and the fear, unease and guilt that accompanies the days of a writer (particularly the novelist – I find the poet in me more languid) or the real world has taken leave of its axis.

 

This year has divided me into extremes. I have been either cooped up and immobile with my leg up (after my hip operation at the start of 2016), or on the move. Since April, every month, sometimes two or three times a month, I have found myself in the long, rounded, high rise glass tunnels of Terminal One, walking, tugging, running betwixt and between faces, places and people,  on my way or on my way back, on the conveyor belt, the travellator, or escalator, up and down steps between Dublin and London, across and back between ‘home’ and home, between mother and daughter, friend, brother, son, husband, Brixton, Clapham, Kentish Town, Galway, Limerick, Manchester, Ipswitch not to mention the delights of Athens, and Marrakesh. Now, in the last month, I make the final journey of the year: another move home, the move from Gowna to town, from Drumbriste House to The Bungalow situated on the corner of two roads in Swellan, with a high suburban hedge, under street lamps, across from hundreds of other houses, a short walk from the shops, pubs, library. Another Home from Home.

 

It is odd. All of these journeys have been dependent on me making them but I feel separate to them, as if I might be one of my own characters, not quite real, still coming into being. I think this is partly due to the real world being almost virtually unreal. Its pages may be turning fast, wars, Isis, corruption, Brexit, Trump, but despite my own fervent activity, my journeys, my travels, I am feeling a silent stillness, a separateness. It feels like time is at a precipice. From next week, I will watch the pages turn, (both real and fictional), snug in my bungalow, and will begin to unpack the hundred brown taped cardboard boxes (12” X 12” X 18”). Visitors are welcome. I cannot guarantee my state of mind but I can guarantee tea, elderflower wine, and cake. Together, we can toast the characters of 2017 or curse them, whichever.sky

 

 

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Trumped by Nature

Trumped By Nature

When I finally closed my eyes to leave the twilight zone

Midnight had turned to 5am

Rectangles and squares had turned solid red

Angular, angry, abrasive

I could not see the swamps and seasons that shimmered beneath

nor the mists and oceans, prairie and land

It was difficult to see that sentience existed

people worked and lived

passion, vigour, reason existed

that these geometric shapes of inspiration and precision

were shuddering containers of human emotions

 

I awoke to my soft light of Irish day

morning white, grass green, sun rays

ridden roughshod by my Horseman and Scream

thick with fearful swirls of oil and edge

spiralling colour in mad descent

 

But, hard to believe, puppy dogs and rainbows emerged

 

I decided to walk, to think, to mind

to unravel, discourse, tick tock.

Out in the bog, my dog, Mary Poppins, and I

came across a puppy who wanted to play, jump, leap, chase

I watched his scampering bliss

Ignorance and happiness

Taking place beneath scudding clouds of grey and white, skies of blue and black, earth of gold and brown, arched by indigo, violet, red, orange, yellow, blue, green

It was my moment of why

While America tried to make herself great again

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DREAD

Do you know that feeling of dread when your skin crawls and your mind shouts NOooo? You shake with trepidation; your stomach reacts with bile but your moral compass is set and what has to be done forces your feet forward and propels your body in the right direction; you resist every taut, resistant hair in every screaming follicle, and you step into the fray, face the onslaught, the strangers, the danger, with heavy heart? Do you know that feeling?

I remember when I was three going to the beach for the first time, stepping down jagged, rocky steps of a rising cliff that towered into vast white cold skies,  my legs being scratched on clumps of heather, my tiny flip flops flailing against the sharp stones. I remember the rocks that lay like a black wet dinosaur, its skin cracked with crevices, brimming with water, turgid, slippery, slimy, green seaweed floating in briny pools,  scuttling crabs, barnacles clinging, cold winds wrapping themselves around my shivering body; reaching the cold expanse of damp, brown, solid grains of compacted sand; the noisy, grey tipped waves rolling closer and closer,  rushing in to overwhelm me, swallow me up, stiffen me in its smell of salt, standing, terrified, on the shore, cold water frothing over my toes.

My first day of school, I remember standing in the door of the classroom; the hubbub of voices, the blue of the screams, yellow taunts flying through the air, the white dry smell of chalk and blackboard tickling my nose, the scraping of chairs, chaos clattering, the wriggling hands inching up through the air to answer questions, a mangle of colours leaking from  the walls, and the safe quiet of day on the other side of the window.

Going to my first job interview, I remember the surprise of day light, the blur of buildings,  the stretch of electricity poles, the houses, gardens, shops flashing past after the train emerged from the tunnel into a strange world of suburbia. I hear the roar of huge aircraft and watch them, with their wheels lowered, criss-cross above me on their way to the airport and I wonder about the inevitable.

I remember leaving my home in rural Cavan one night  in brilliant moonshine, the shadows of myself and the bushes and trees looming bright black in the yard; turning and seeing my children silhouetted and laughing, their faces bright with pyjamas, TV and cheese strings and my reluctant heart getting into my car to drive miles and miles of dark country lanes, my headlights unraveling hawthorn, sycamores, snaking along the border roads, the moon now behind  clouds, driving back and forth across yellow road markings (the Republic), across white road markings, (The North), driving in bandit country, deserted, passing dark shapes of houses with one light on until I see the two cathedral spires of my destination cast against the Milky Way far away from where my children are safe in their shrouds of dark under duvets.

I remember the Old People’s Home where I travelled to read poetry last summer, the room full of dirty grey denier stockings on the withered stumpy legs of un-remembered old ladies slumped in their high backed chairs wearing green stained olive and navy cotton cardigans, splashed with food from today’s dinner of cauliflower cheese, (it reminded me of semen stains), their twisted faces lolled useless on wrinkled necks and shoulders, their gnarled, vein exposed hands, lay brittle in their laps, their grey hair hanging in streaks of grease and my words poised reluctantly on the tip of my tongue about to be rendered meaningless, uncared for, but I release them all the same hoping they find resonance.

I made all these journeys with a dreadful sense of dread.

But now dread has disappeared and I miss it. This morning I woke up to find my head was shaved. I realise that without my hair I can do nothing, go nowhere and I now understand the significance of dread. In dread there is direction.

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Making Sense of Pomegranate Soup, Elephant Ears, and The Plague… by a probably worthless existentialist

 

This summer has been a hot-pot of activity flavoured with fabulous food and intense reading. The Greek fare was great, lots of crispy sardines, mackerel, oily potatoes, feta, and tomatoes (I also got hooked on cardamom tea there).  The tagines, fruit, breads in Morocco were delicious, and the three pods of peas and six green beans from my greenhouse were very nice too. Wherever I have been, London (Sainsbury’s dates: succulent and tasty), Manchester (trifle and pork pies) Limerick (orange blossom rooibos tea), Galway (chowder and the Mezzine starter in Quay Kitchen) food is a factor. So I was delighted to read recently Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran.

This is a quirky book set at the foot of Croagh Patrick about three Iranian sisters who were terrorised during the revolution. They escaped to London and poverty, worked their way up and came to open a small café in Mayo. She describes the traditional ‘mafia’ set up of rural village life and how the three sisters use their exotic recipes and dishes to entice the villagers into their hearts. It is a delightful book which shows rural life at its worst and its best and each chapter revolves around mouth-watering Persian dishes: Red Lentil Soup, Lavash Bread, Abgusht. One of the most intriguing sounding dishes is Elephants Ears (see recipe at the end). The story is full of drama, passion, greed, mysticism and revolution.

The author, Marsha Mehran, was the topic of a recent Doc On One programme (RTE R1) called An Open Verdict. Mersha, herself an Iranian refugee, lived in Argentina, America, and England. She eventually married an Irishman and had homes in Mayo, Leitrim and London. After her husband died, she became a recluse. In 2014 she was found dead in her holiday cottage in Mayo. She was lying down on her front on her bed, wearing only a cardigan, surrounded by saucepans of liquid, later discovered to be urine. There was no food in the place. A bizarre and sad ending to an author who crammed her book with food, life, love and revolution, all on the side of a mountain in Mayo.

Of course, drama, violence, love, and passion were the central themes of Elena Ferrante’s book ‘The days of Abandonment’. The book describes the tortuous experience of misery, fear, depression and madness experienced by a wife whose husband abandons her. It shows the slow deterioration of rational being with frightening clarity through detailed observation. Elena Ferrante’s writing reminds me of gamma rays. Gamma rays have the smallest wavelengths and the most energy of any wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are produced by the hottest and most energetic objects in the universe, such as neutron stars and pulsars, supernova explosions, and regions around black holes – such is the excellence of Ferrante’s writing. The character describes herself as experiencing an ‘absence of sense’.

“I had an excessive reaction that pierced the surface of things.”

“And where did you end up?”

“No where. There was no depth. There was no precipice. There was nothing.”

The characters of Pomegranate Soup were at the mercy of the world and Elena Ferrante’s character was at the mercy of her husband and own mind. I wonder if my reflection on a book influences my understanding of the next one?  After reading Elena Ferrante, I read The Plague by Albert Camus. In this he focuses on the reaction of various individuals living with death. A seaside town in France gets the plague. The town is isolated from the rest of the world and Camus uses this as a tool to show how, while we are social animals used to operating within the circumscribed restraints of society, it is only the reactions of the individual that matter and are the essence of life. Religion, love, community are worthless. It is only the self that exists. I suppose Elena Ferrante’s character reflected that too, and indeed, Mersha Merhan, herself. All very intense. I honestly don’t know how a ‘valuable’, ‘honest’, or ‘effective’ an individual I would be without my loves, community and beliefs.  Perhaps, I am worthless as an existentialist! However, (with a sigh) I would recommend all three books.  But, to cheer you all up, here is a recipe from Pomegranate Soup.

Elephants Ears

Ingredients

1 egg

½ cup milk

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup of rose water

½ teaspoon of cardamom

3 ¾ cups of all purpose flour

6 cups of vegetable oil

Garnish

1 cup of icing sugar

2 tsp of ground cinnamon

Beat egg. Add milk, sugar, rose water and cardamom. Slowly mix in flour, kneading to a dough. Roll out on clean surface with floured pin until paper thin. Using the rim of wide mouths glass or cup, trace and cut out a circle. Pinch the centre of the circle with thumb and forefinger to form a bow. Set aside. Repeat until all circles are done. Heat oil in deep pan. Fry each ear for 1 minute. Lay pastries on paper towels to cool. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture and enjoy.

You know what, I think I will only read recipe books for the next few months.

 

 

 

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MOMENTUM!

Yes!

A sleek black fish tail dress

A blowsy red rose upon my breast

Thus attired, my flittery feet twirl the best

Yes!

 

Yes!

A glass of white wine with a peppery zest

A hint of olives, pate, Blue de Bresse

Sauvignon Blanc swirls the best

Yes! Yes!

 

Yes!

Cuddly, sensuous, spidery sex

Slinky, romantic ascent to climax

After politics, food, wine, it is best

Yes! Yes! Yes!

 

Yes!

Jeremy Corbyn has the won the test

The man is principled politics in flesh

United workers march the best

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

 

Keep saying Yes! It is momentous.

It takes a load off your chest.

Ride the crest of yes.

For, yes, tomorrow

 

We take over the rest of the world

jeremy

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Seven Days in Marrakech

African Sun

We arrived in Marrakech, the pink city of satellite dishes, on Wednesday night about 10pm.  We watched the big African orange sun set through the window as we waited to get off the ‘plane. The heat enveloped us when we stepped on to the apron, and made our way into the airport to fill out registration forms and queue for passport control. It was a long queue. Each stamp took five minutes. Finally we headed out into the African night – warm, dusty, dark.  Roisin spotted our Riad name, El Dajide on the calling card of the transfer driver and forward we went into our adventure. Almost immediately I had to come back as I had left my suit case at the ‘change’ place where I got money. I succeeded in going back through arrivals, retrieving it, finding Roisin and the driver and in we jumped and away we went.

AAAHHHHHH

The van/bus drove extremely fast, through very narrow streets, with much honking of horns. To enter and leave the medina (the old town) you have to drive through a narrow arch, but so does everyone else and there are no traffic lights, no policeman, no regulation! But this is the way in Marrakech. It is brilliant! We didn’t wait long: our driver overtook, entangled, negotiated horns, taxis and waving hands. Finally a police man did turn up.

Fifteen minutes later we screeched to a stop on a busy square full of people and swerving motorbikes. Despite the hour, there were stalls selling bananas and grapes, kitchen towel and cleaning materials, little piles of grass, charcoal and a high volume of chatter. A tall thin man stepped out of the shadows and welcomed us. He took our cases and walked. We followed. The lanes were full of men and women in kaftans, turbans. Small boys chased each other. After ten minutes, the lanes getting smaller, and finally turning into a maze of tunnels which smelt rather unpleasant, we arrive at the Riad. Relief. We were in need of food and a drink. Relief. This would become the emotion most associated with arriving at this Riad, relief, as we negotiated the alleys and the boys.

Inside, the Riad looked lovely. White walls, green plants stretching away up the walls to a third level. Pretty table and chairs and a plunge pool. Hischim, for that was his name, sat us down and gave us mint tea. He copied our passports and showed us our room. Perfectly fine twin room, with a tiny balcony overlooking the courtyard. He said he would take us to Riad Edward where we could get a meal and a drink.

Soon we were following Hichim through the tunnels, alleys, lanes trying to create markers en route. Through the courtyards of the  mosque, first left, second right…I never got it. Fortunately Roisin’s memory is less off a dripping sponge and she was able to get us back, later.

Edward’s Riad was plusher than ours. We were shown to comfortable couches, and cushions (Roman style)  at the end of beautiful green swimming pool in a courtyard of mosaics and comfortable loungers. It was deserted aside from skinny grey and marmalade cats. The bottle of wine was 18e but good and we had Moroccan starters of salad.

Americans and Skinny Cats

Half way through our meal a switch of Americans arrived and started dipping into the pool, sitting at the poolside in groups, and chatting. Roisin and I watched from our couch. A woman, dressed in Andy Pandy dungarees, came and talked to us. Her daughter had got married the day before in the desert. They had bulk booked the Edward Riad. We soon made our excuses, and left.  We investigated our Riad’s top terrace. White couches and sun beds, table and chairs. We sat down and had a last cigarette. Our holiday had begun.

The next day, we were up early and down to breakfast before anyone else. Breakfast was pancakes, muffin things and sponge cake, freshly squeezed orange juice, yoghurt, and coffee. We decided this day was for orientation and set off to explore.

First Pick Up – Abdul

We were immediately picked up by Abdul who insisted on takin us on a tour of our local mosque through which we walked to get most places. It was apparently the oldest of 7 mosques in the medina. Our mosque looked after blind people who gather there for the day and sing and talk. Abdul explained that soon it would be Eid which was the festival of the sacrificial sheep which symbolised the commitment of Abraham to God to kill his son. The little piles of grass being sold by children on the street were to feed the sheep and the charcoal was for the cooking of their heads after slaughter.

Abdul also took us to a small shop where I ended up paying over the odds for some pretty blue moccasins. And, of course, Abdul wasn’t entertaining us out of the goodness of his heart but he was a great initiator into the ways of the Medina. But now it was time for the hammam we had booked before we arrived. Joseph, the brother of Hischim and Riad manager, took us there on the back of his motorbike. It was such fun whizzing through the lanes, seconds from death. At the Hammam, we moved into a different world. In a tiny steamy room,  we were rubbed and scrubbed with grit and black soap, and then hosed down. So, an hour later, sparkling, we set off to explore the souks.

The Joys of Haggling

After discovering unstuffed poufs were not leather pet beds, I bought a lovely camel leather one with a tiny camel decoration  to be filled  with Roisin’s old clothes (it seemed appropriate). Roisin bought a bag made of camel leather, soft and beautiful. We began to use a good cop bad cop routine in our negotiations and we discovered the pleasure of haggling. It is right what the Arabs say. You must haggle with a smile, relax and enjoy the experience. Roisin was truly brilliant. She was all smiles, wit and cheek. Souk sellers loved her and queued up to try and sell us things so that they could enjoy the experience of Roisin haggling.

Lost and Lame

Soon we were hopelessly lost, but happened to notice we had arrived at one of our intended venues of the week, the photographic gallery, so in we popped, grateful for the space and calm of the exhibition after the madness of the medina. We found ourselves staring at portraits of cool, enigmatic and wrinkled looking Arab women and men, Berbers, and they stared back at us: hot, sweaty, limping from the blisters and chaffed feet from the wholly unsuitable sandals. Climbing to the top of the gallery, exhausted, I happily watched an earnest video on Berber culture in the Atlas mountains. After resting so, we went on our way.

Eventually, we came across Place Jameel el Fna which was ablaze with colour, noise, people pulling and pushing sheep, and other charms. The smoke of the 50 odd food sellers began to rise and fish, beef and vegetables smells suffused the evening air. Having given up on finding a glass of wine as we were surrounded by mosques, we sat down to eat.  How did we decide which one? We never made it past the first. We liked him saying “We no touch you”.  We devoured a bony fish and beef tagine, watched an American collapse on the next table, quickly left and got hopelessly lost in the souks on the way back, dodging the motorbikes, the sheep being transported to homes wedged in bicycle baskets, carried in arms. People were preparing for Eid. In the house next door to our Riad, a big woolly sheep was kept at the bottom of the stairs.

On Friday morning, Roisin rose early to watch the sun rise on the terrace. I stayed in bed, wiggling my toes and trying to blow on my feet. At another early breakfast, we negotiated a delicious omelette for Roisin, explaining that she was gluten intolerant.

How the Riad Worked

Hichim and Joseph were both lovely men, always trying to be as helpful as possible. Hichim was on duty nights, letting the guests in,  (he prayed and slept in the TV room) and served breakfast. Joseph was married with a baby girl (whom he brought to meet us the day before we left) and covered the days. He answered all the questions we had, though his English was a little flaky. Abdul, our first kidnapper, had told us that 80% of Riad owners in Marrakech were owned by the French. Ours was no exception, and Joseph clearly didn’t like the big French boss who we never met. Joseph told us he had trained for two years in the Hammam Riad we had visited the day before, now getting his own Riad to manage but his cook was being taken to other Riads, and the wifey (wifi) on his pc didn’t work properly. The Riad is clearly big business in Marrakech with many being owned by one French man. Anyway, we got on well with the two brothers. I think they liked the way we set out to walk, map in hand, with the determined explorer’s attitude.

Stupid and Arrogant?

On that second morning, Joseph ran after us. We ignored his call of ‘excuse me’ as we twisted around alleys and corners, by now used to the remarks of the young men. They would keep telling us the route was wrong, the alley was closed, and to follow them (and ultimately cross their palm with silver). Finally I turned and discovered it was Joseph, demanding to know where we were going and why were we entering into the place where only Moroccans go. We explained we were leaving the Medina to go to the Jardins Majorelle. He nodded. Yes, it was the right way to go but we shouldn’t walk. It was only for Moroccans. Tourists caught taxis. We assured him we would be fine. He shrugged and let us go. Later, after a particularly unpleasant experience fighting off a young fourteen year old,  I wondered if we were being stupid, as well as arrogant as we meandered into vast dusty deserted wasteland, bare except for the odd beggar and old men watching our every step, calling, ‘this way, this way’. Fortunately, we didn’t get lost and after a 40 minute walk, with blood spilling from my blisters, we arrived at the gardens and Roisin and I swapped sandals.

Shady Sanctuary

The Majorelle Gardens were beautiful and welcome sanctuary from the hot sun of the wasteland walk. It was symmetrically laid out along a canal of water of blue water. The shade of the flowering bushes, and the laden fruit trees was delicious. The colour scheme of the paths, walls, the planted pots, the trellis, and the benches was blue, yellow and orange. It was extraordinarily peaceful. The plants came from all over Africa and China. The gardens weren’t too crowded and we people watched. There was a beautiful young girl who posed for photographs with outrageous sultry sulkiness and a daughter who talked at her dad, telling him about college in America while he dutifully listened. It is the same the whole world over.

We decided to walk into the new city and after negotiating vast dual carriageway lanes of traffic and walls of pink apartments, found ourselves the Oxford Street equivalent where H&M, MacDonalds, and Starbucks abounded. We found a supermarket which, of course, I was interested to investigate. I dragged a reluctant Roisin through a mall of empty shops, down to the basement, following supermarche signs. It was similar to Super Value but the array of fruit and vegetables was much more colourful. Otherwise, it sold all the usual brands, but no alcohol sadly, for I had hoped to sneak a few bottles into the Riad. We couldn’t find an interesting place to eat so plumped for a large corner café and ordered a mixed salad. It was huge plate of potato, tomato, corn, cucumber, carrot, celeriac and we slowly munched our way through watching the people come and go, kiss and coffee, and the older turbaned and kaftaned Arab on the next table entertain a string of women, (ex- girlfriends, we decided) with coffee.

After returning to the Riad, past the yard of the bus station which was packed with people with rolled up mattresses, bags, screeches, and general chaos, decrepit looking buses belting out fumes,  it was time to go back to the terrace to sun bathe and listen to American pod casts on income inequality. I fell asleep.

Causing Offense

In the evening we ventured out to find a recommended French restaurant. Wine was a key consideration. We got lost, of course, but the pleasure of getting lost is definitely the relief of the discovery. The restaurant was lovely, in a leafy courtyard with candles, waiters dressed in black and white poured our wine. The breeze tinkled amongst the lemon trees, rose petals and tiny fountain. After the few glasses of wine we got horribly lost going home and found ourselves in the revolving door of the souk, which bit by bit was closing. Despite our protestations that we would be fine, and didn’t need any escort, a young man led us out of the souk. As we followed, we explained we had no cash to tip him to which of course he took great umbrage…If I was a guest  in your country etc etc. Poor Roisin got a real dressing down in broken English. Her face was a pleasure to watch when he pointed us on the right alley and then asked for a small gift!! We negotiated the rest of the way through the medina and carts of doe eyed sheep, with my phone using gsm, following the hovering blue spot. My feet were in bits. I needed new shoes.

The last quarter of our journey, when we knew the way,  was usually marred because there were one or two young boys (8 to 14) who followed us, hard on heel, trying to touch Roisin, making lurid comments. We would speed up (despite my feet) but obviously have to stop at the front door where we urgently pressed the bell for Hichim or Joseph to open the door. I would put myself between Roisin and the young offender, but they would twirl, and touch and hustle. When the door opened, they ran away. This night, it took Hichim a long time.

Flirtations on the Terrace

Let in, I bathed my feet and we clambered, foot sore and weary to have our final cigarette on the roof terrace to discover Hichim flirting with one of the German lassies (we had deduced at breakfast that they had just finished university and were doing a bit of travelling. In fact they turned out to be Dutch). Candles were flickering and there was romantic music. The common language was broken English and there were lots of smiles, tinkly laughs, mint tea (I believe mixed with Gin) and high phenomes. We retired to bed. Half an hour later the doorbell was ringing, the phone started, the doorbell continued, pressed with continued urgency. Hichim did not respond. Finally, Roisin got up and let the Belgian girls (though at the time we had deduced that they were Spanish). They were extremely grateful.

At breakfast the next morning, Hichim was bad tempered. We were the only ones there. He told us had waited up all night for guests to arrive. When the German girls arrived down for breakfast, Hichim wouldn’t look at them and when finally Hichim had to bring their breakfast there were mutterings of hangovers. There was no omelette. No fresh orange juice. No yoghurt. We went upstairs to get ready for the day.

We were off to Ben Yourseff Medersa, the school of learning for the Quoran, through our newly discovered direct path through the souk. We were excited not to get lost. On our way out, Hichim came up and accused us of letting the Spanish (Belgian) girls in. Much to his surprise, they had come down for breakfast. They were the guests for whom he had waited. Yes. We explained that they had been ringing frantically, and ringing the phone but Hischim had not heard but Joseph did over hear us telling him this. He looked inquiringly at his brother who explained, nervously, that he was chatting to the girls upstairs. ‘We owe you a mint tea’, he said to us and looked at Hichim, darkly and went off to apologise to the Spanish (Belgian) girls. We never got a mint tea but Joseph did show me a video later in the week as to how to slaughter a sheep.

Lost Again. Found in The Tannery

The Medersa was not where it was suppose to be, according to Roisin and the map! A boy (where do they all come from) told us it was closed until two because the King’s brother was in Marrakech and that we should go to the Tannery because today was the day of the Berber auction. He set forth, beckoning and calling to us. ‘It is goooood. You must go’. Roisin had been expressly warned not to go to the tannery. It was apparently gross and manky, but I was interested and started to follow. Roisin was not happy.

He led us all around the streets and alleys. At one particular doorway, he grabbed a pile of mint, broke it up and gave it to us. Berber gasmask, he said. Up we go into a courtyard on a hill full of cement pits. In the first a man in thigh high boots in soaking and washing a skin in pigeon shit and ammonia. In another the skin was soaking in lime. Then it was covered in salt and allowed to dry. I might have got this a little back to front, so please don’t quote me. It was stomach retchingly smelly and he spoke very fast. It was also very slippery and I was trying hard not to fall into a pit as we traversed between them. I can tell you that the Berbers skins are camel and cows and the Arab skins are goats and sheep. Finally, we were deposited in the ‘exposition’ where Roisin was offered 7,000 camels for me. Photographs were taken, blankets and rugs were laid out before us, bags commended, to no avail. We were unceremoniously dumped on the front door step, feeling guilty. We did tip the boy who toured us though. The tannery had been worth it.

Now we felt au fait with the Berbers, we pushed our way through the actual Berber auction, though this had not been our intention, just a wrong turn. Skins lay all around. Men haggled. My phone was whipped. It was very irritating. Roisin had just told me off for keeping it in an outside pocket. I have all the trip, I said, I keep having to whip it out for the gsm. With no phone, now we were dependent on our map reading skills which even if Roisin didn’t keep turning it upside down were pretty useless in the Medina. But we found the Ben Youssef Medersa.

Of course, the Medersa had never been closed (though someone did corroborate the King’s brother story). It was full of people anyway, by the time we got there, taking selfie’s and photographs of each other in the courtyards, doorways. It was built in the 12th century as a school for boys who thirsted for knowledge. It had cloisters, prayer rooms, courtyards, and tiny monk cell like bedrooms. The wood was dark, ornate, carved, and painted in natural colours: indigo, cinnamon, mint, argave. The mosaic tiles were beautiful, and perfectly symmetrical. Like knowledge itself, the maze of corridors led you on and on.

After that we deserved a nice glass of wine. El Limoni, an Italian restaurant, was on our way home, on the one road we knew in the Medina. It had a lovely courtyard, a gorgeous mixed salad of crab, herring, ratatouille, cheese and local wine – all of which we enjoyed at our leisure.

Sunset

Later after further sunbathing and foot relief back at the Riad, we headed back down to Place Jameel to watch the sun set from a roof terrace. We were also graced with a flock of a hundred or so geese winging their way south, silhouetted in the orange sky. Roisin took photos. I wrote poetry. We then headed to another recommended bar which we were also advised to leave before 10.30pm as it got a little sleazy. It was already 9.30pm when we got there via a three mile trek along some of the plushest avenues, full of swanky villas, gleaming casinos, boulevards of palaces and apartments, creepy boys. We had stopped to ask directions from an older Arab looking couple who seemed to know where they were going but they were Parisian Arabs on holiday and didn’t. They would find out, and asked a taxi driver, arms gesticulating, finger shaking, heads nodding. This way. They led, we followed. Lost, they asked again when we came to the fanciest looking Casino I have ever seen. The doorman gesticulated something different. We thanked everyone, assured them that we now knew, and battered and beaten finally found The Comptoir. We joined the queue of sleek young, well dressed and coiffured men and women to get in. At the entrance we saw red plush velvet, gold gilt mirrors, high polished. There were chandeliers, tapestries, a double staircase with a beautiful black hostess booking people into supper. The glittery tinkle of coins and conversation mingled with the silence of high value notes and power. Is there a bar? We asked. We were pointed up stairs and trying to glide as best we could, we sat up on a bar stool amongst the cocktails, the magnums, the waiters polishing, flourishing bottles, mixing drinks while behind us the play boys and girls streamed in. After two glorious glasses of wine, we settled into our barstools. But it was time to go. The door man got us a taxi back and Sunday we rested, feet up and sunbathed.

Eid in the Atlas Mountains

Monday was Eid. The baying sheep across the medina were all to be slaughtered. We decided to go on a trip to the Atlas Mountains. We clambered on the bus which toured some pretty fancy hotels in the posh part of Marrakech picking people up.  We ended up a pretty mixed bunch. There was a bizarre African family with a wagon of a mother who ignored her sons, fingered every piece of jewellery, and loved having her photograph taken, pushing away her younger son trying to join her. The teenage son posed alone, regal, arms crossed, grim look on his face. The younger son scrabbled around, always wanting to be first of our possé, getting underfoot. The father was completely non-descript. All of them refused to even acknowledge us let alone respond to our greetings. There was an older English couple who hadn’t been told they were to go on a hike up the mountain but they managed with true English grit and wit. There was the young German couple from our Riad (an accountant and a logistics management student), another instantly forgettable young American couple, and two Muslim lads, Nad and Memet from Colindale in London with whom Roisin and I hooked up. They worked in Heathrow security. We hiked up to a wonderful waterfall high in the mountains, and had lunch in the river…literally, we left our shoes on the bank and chairs sank into the silt as you sat on them. It was absolutely gorgeous to have the water rippling around my poor hacked, blistered, embittered feet!

King of Crom in Marrakech

That night we decided to go the Piano Bar, as recommended in Rough Guide. The Piano Bar turned out to be in a five star hotel near the Place el Jameel and the piano player turned out to be on holiday. So we sat in the hotel courtyard beneath lemon and orange trees, near a 50 metre pool, in darkness and listened to live African drums and singing. And we ordered a bottle of wine. As we were about to leave we bumped into a man who turned out to be the King of Crom castle in Fermanagh who was offering to play CATS on the piano. Delighted, we joined his party who included the Queen of Cutra Castle in Gort. They had popped over to Marrakech for a birthday do. So good to meet the neighbours!

9,000 Camels and Cooked Sheep Heads

Our final full day was spent in the Bahia Palace (amazing symmetrical decoration) and the Souk, bargaining and buying, laughing, eating, and watching the heads of the sheep being cooked on coals in the streets and queues of people lining up by the butcher’s slab with sheep parts. Talking of animals, I was offered 9,000 camels for Roisin. Memet was quite impressed when we told him (we met the lads at the airport and waited together for our flights home). It seems he knew about camel prices. We never worked out why they barbequed the sheep’s head. Joseph had been disapproving when I told him about the queues of people getting the butcher to cut up their sacrificial sheep saying they should do it themselves but I didn’t ask him why they cooked the sheep’s head. I thought it might get lost in translation.

 

 

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The Little Prince and Others

I watched The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry  late last night on Netflix. I had read it as a child, and forgotten its tale, which is ironic given that it reflects on the loss of childhood innocence to the grim experience of the adult.

The first image in the film is a drawing of a boa-constrictor eating its prey whole. I sat up, suddenly alert. I remembered that drawing. I had copied it. And I had traced the illustrations of The Little Prince over and over again sitting in my little box bedroom with its pine cupboard, and dressing table, its fold up bed and the pine chest in which the bedclothes were kept, and on top of which I laid the green Clarke shoe box beds of all my teddies when they were sick. I could suddenly smell the wood, see the pattern of dark brown knots in the grain, and the Christmas tree lights flashing in the window of the house opposite on Christmas Eve.

I watched the film entranced, tears rolling down my face, as I saw The Little Prince watering his rose on a planet, talking to the aviator sitting deserted in the desert. Befriending the fox. Flying the red plane.  It was one of those moments where you suddenly realise that you are more than you seem: you embody a life time of boa constrictors, teddies, roses, little princes, magic, planes, travellers, all of whom you have forgotten, but these things are starlight buried inside you.

It was a similar experience when I saw excerpts of Kes while watching the excellent Ken Loach documentary this week. I had that same familiar stirrings of a different Kate to the one sitting here. It was an older, more nuanced Kate than the Kate reading The Little Prince. But the theme of Kes was the same. It showed the wilderness of childhood innocence and love juxtaposed against the constraints of the mean and bitter social systems adults impose.

It struck me that it was a far cry from the existentialists with whom an ancient Kate has been absorbed this summer as a result of reading Sarah Bakewell’s ‘The Existentialist Café’. Existentialism and phenomenology remind me of the thick black graffiti scrawl I saw scribbled everywhere in Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece in June. The philosophies of existence, intentionality, responsibility expounded by Sartre, Nietzshe, Heidegger, Husserl, are certainly the stuff of adults rather than children but maybe their philosophy evolves from that child hood perspective which is rooted in how the ‘I’ relates to the world, or conversely how the world relates to the ‘I’.

More recently, I read Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, which is a tour de force, and also examines the ‘essence’ of man. Mike was my fiction tutor at Galway. He arrived in class with hat and handouts.  I could listen to him for hours. He meandered easily through a world of fiction quoting, referring, with poetic grace and humour. When I left class, it was as if I had travelled in another realm. I have read Mike’s other novel and volumes of short stories. I found them quite different: quirky, with an awkward grace. I liked them but Solar Bones is wonderful. There is not one full stop as the protagonist meanders across the pages reflecting on his life as a middle aged son, husband, father and engineer who lives on the edge of the western world filled with rampaging growth and hedonism. There are wonderful descriptions of self, fatherhood, love and politics. They are poignant and humorous. It has a pertinent perspicacity fleshed out in convoluted wonder. It was like listening to Mike in class.

So, now, as I try and draw my summer learning together,  I find myself thinking…It is my personal responsibility to filter my individual experience and existence through the innocence of my childhood and revel in the present before I die.

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