Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Worn Tracks Of Common Man

It seems ages ago that I left the United States. I wonder if I have died and entered a dream landscape that has turned generations of pages. First, the land of the Pharoahs and pyramids put a spell on me, and now Morocco with its Kasbahs, and life straddling the old world and modernity. Arab societies are culturally quite different from America—mosques replace churches and the call to prayer wails out from loudspeakers at regular intervals throughout the lands. Most women are covered in dress from head to foot, and in Morocco, often it is the way females play in the ocean at beaches; covered in clothing. 

An Egyptian family, Luxor, gypt

I often as not find I cannot speak with people because of language barriers. In Egypt it is Arabic that is spoken and in Morocco, Arabic and French. Since I speak neither, hand motions and charade is the best understood language.

Mostly, I have not sought to buffer myself with exclusivity but walk the worn tracks of common man. I get lost, and chance sometimes is not in my favor. Perspective and consciousness is everything. I replace frustration with wonder, fear with trust, bewilderment with amazement. Because I do not have barriers of belief or feelings of superiority and privilege, the world is open and I pulsate with life on many levels. Being open to roaming and surprise, I have found myself in places where I was asked into family homes. In Egypt among the earthen homes on back roads, I was made to feel like a brother—part of the family, with a place of honor at the table. Yes, the table was a simple piece of wood with short legs brought out and set on the dirt with a straw mat to sit on, but I felt perfectly comfortable and the food was delicious, and freshly prepared. Animals roamed about, children came and went, and the simple life satisfied my spirit and calmed me.

Where but in Morocco could I live in a city of blue? Chefchaouen is such a city. Built on the peaks and hillsides of the Riff Mountains, the moorish architecture is clustered amid narrow passageways that weave throughout the town. The walls and doorways are a traditional blue color. I found myself walking through the village as if in a dream of azure. When I painted, I had fewer colors on my palette—blue predominates.

Now I am in Assilah, along the Atlantic coast and have been here before. I like the relaxed atmosphere and the old medina that is perched along a seawall. It is known for an art festival each summer, and many of the walls are hand painted with artwork. I feel at home.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Unexpected Destinations

I have been traveling for two weeks—first Egypt and now Morocco. The experience has brought me to THE DREAM, where surprising pictures transform, and situations are often unpredictable and lead to unexpected destinations. I have awakened and opened my curtains to see the Sphinx gazing back at me near the pyramids in Egypt, played with children on earthen floors along the banks of the Nile, been made sick and dizzy by traffic snarls in Cairo. I have at times been lost, bewildered, confused—and also content, happy, and have felt deep love among people. I have walked the ancient, narrow passages of the old medina in Casablanca, Morocco and smelled the spice, fish, bread and fruit. I've thrown myself in the cold Atlantic Ocean and reveled in the surf, with my bedroom just steps away. At night, sleeping in strange places, sleep sometimes does not come easy. At least once, the noise was loud downstairs, and when I complained, I was asked to join the party—and did, dancing until 3 AM amid the raucous laughter and fun. Now, I find myself in a village of blue walls clustered on steep mountainsides, with a maze of passages that zigzag and twist in all directions . . . like THE DREAM.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Brothers Of The Nile

Karnak Temple
I am now a “brother” of the Nile. It feels as though this grand, lengthy and luxurious river is a vein in my own body. It will always share its life with mine. 

By now, I am quite familiar with Luxor, a major Egyptian city that straddles both sides of the river, and the home of many important historical sites from ancient civilization. I have visited most of the key locations, and especially like Karnak (founded 3200 BC), with its massive ramparts, scores of tremendous columns, inscrutable, exotic hieroglyphics carved in its walls, granite floors, and immense totemic sculptures of human forms and guardian beasts. Over thirty Pharaohs contributed to its formation over scores of generations. It is the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. 

On my first visit in 2008, I made friends with the captain of a felucca, a traditional sailboat now used primarily to take tourists on Nile River sailing jaunts. Abul Ez and I became friends and I often visited with him and his family in their humble home of earth on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. After a week, when I left to continue my world travel, he said, “Do not forget me and my family!”
During the years since then, I often thought of Ez, his family, Egypt and the Nile—so I returned. I did not seek Ez immediately, since I needed some time to unwind from a busy two days in Cairo, and Egypt is very hot and I am easily drained of energy while outdoors during most sunlight hours. So, I avoided the extremes and stayed indoors working on writing, painting and correspondence. Then, as I suspected, it was easy finding Ez, especially with the photo I brought with me to the West Bank. 

When we arrived at his home in the early evening, it felt familiar. I brought gifts to his wife and children and once everyone got over the surprise of my visit after six years, we settled into a happy feeling. I took note of how the four children had grown and also, the new addition of one boy, Yusef. As we sat in his tiny front room of earth and he smoked flavored tobacco in his water pipe, he smiled at me and said, “This is your home!”

Since my last visit, Ez has traded his felucca for a motorboat with canopy that seats a dozen people. He has more business, since he can quickly and easily ferry local people across the river and back. He has a motorbike, and now there is a television in his house. Otherwise, he looks much the same and has hardly aged . . . being robust and with vigor. The family still live humbly. Today at lunch, the meal was so delicious, and a flavorful soup was spicy and my nose began to run. I asked for tissue, but there was none in his home, so his wife tore a cotton rag and this is what I used for my nose. I am so comfortable here, and he reminds me that we are brothers, and I feel the same.

Monday, September 01, 2014

An Open Heart

My hotel in Cairo is so close to the Pyramids, that when I wake up in the morning and open my curtains and stand on the balcony, the Sphinx is looking at me with its imperturbable gaze. The face is that of a man, the hair of a woman, and body of a lion. Close by, three pyramids are prominently in view; Cheops, Khufu, Khafre. Six more are in the vicinity. 

The streets bustle with chaotic activity, and as I walked yesterday I realized that Heidi Of The Mountains would have no taste for walking with me through the grimy avenues, full of the stench of cars, garbage, and animal waste; camels, horses, and even sheep. It reminds me of other cities I have visited that are disheveled and crowded, and without beauty—like Calcutta, and Nairobi. Local people are oblivious of the mess, never having known anything different, and have a gritty determination. Be that as it may, there are many gems in the coal pile, and I find them. Adventure calls me forth, and with an open heart, THE DREAM unfolds marvelous circumstances. I have met AbdĂșl, a man in his fifties who speaks good English and has befriended me. After consideration, I accepted his overtures, and went to his home near the pyramids and had dinner with his family . . . even dancing with his little grandchildren while Arabic disco music played from the popular television station. At night we sat on his roof and watched the fantastic light show that plays every evening after dark at the pyramids. It is complete with dramatic music, narration, and shifting colors of lights that play on the Sphinx and pyramids.Today, in a barber shop I had the best shave of my life. I had asked my friend where I could buy a razor to shave, and he said no, “I take you someplace much better.” Sure, the place was rundown and grimy, but the shave was perfect—better than I do to myself.

This afternoon, I fly one hour down the Nile to Luxor, and when I return to Cairo in one week, I will stay with AbdĂșl and his family.