Monday, January 24, 2005


It Reminds Me of The Pain I Might Leave Behind

The High Atlas mountains seemed to hover in the western sky, overseeing the streets of Marrakesh and the surrounding landscape from dusty to lush and green. They're like a great council of elders staring down on the frantic circles and songs of it's congregation, unmoved witnesses. I'd sit on the roof of the Hotel Ali most nights as the sun was setting, smoking cigarettes and bearing witness to the night's blanket as it was draped over the jagged peaks and amiable valleys. If I turned completely around I could look down on Djemma el-fna where the grills were lit and expelling the smoke of frying lambs and fish to frolic with the tiny lights of an old world. Lanterns were lit, baskets were set at the feet of performers, sellers barked their wares to fat German tourists and the game of getting by resumed with every player scrambling to keep score.
Marrkesh got me back on my feet. Spurred on by countless cups of Arabic coffee and mint tea I conquered the physical and mental ailments that had slowed me to the point of rust. I explored the streets and the people, walking down every street that looked like it would get me lost or away from the spectacle and into the day to day life. I spent hours in the parks and garden just observing and talking with the Morracans that would come and go making the basic inquiries. "
"Where are you from?"
"Who you like, George Bush or Al Gore?"
And occasionally talk my way out of a sales pitch (I learned to get good at that in a place where 'no' means 'yes but cheaper'.It's a philosophy most frat boys have adopted when dealing with sex) .
I practiced my Arabic and blushed at my French. I ate my meals for cheap from the food sellers in the square and slept for 2 bucks a night in the dorm of the hotel Ali. Most nights I was violently awakened by the fighting of a family of cats that shared the 3rd floor.
The dorm room was set up like a WW2 field hospital with a whole bunch of bunks in a row and usually just me sleeping there, save for when the night desk clerk would crash out on one of the beds.
After a week and half in Morocco my dreams had taken on a very erotic tone, there was always sex going on in my sleeping head. I had a recurring dream of fucking this dark queen in the forest, removing her veil and coverings until she lay naked on the pine needles. After sex her husband would always catch us, tired and sticky, and chase me around the palace yard with a machete, spitting and screaming. Even in the dream I knew that it was worth it. I was in a country where custom dictated that you don't really speak to young, single women, especially being a young unmarried man. Most of the girls wear at least a veil over their hair and many cover their face and bodies in the traditional garb. I was also living in a dorm situation which didn't really provide me with the privacy to take advantage of myself and the result was a subconscious that resembled Friday night Skin-a-max.
My own ghosts of solitude raised their heads and began to howl as the so often do whenever I'm traveling alone. On the bad days I would feel almost crippled by a thick loneliness. Like all my muscles have been cut from my skin and my bones, hollowed, sometime it was all I could do to keep myself together. I began to take things to seriously and feel like I didn't belong anywhere, that I'm not wanted by this world. These days I rarely get as broken up while out there alone, but at nineteen it was almost overwhelming how far down I'd go some days.
I stayed in Marakesh till the third day of Eid ul-Adha , which was a holiday devoted to that moment when Abraham almost sacrificed his kid to prove his faith. The streets were stained with the blood of sheep,that were bought, killed, cooked and shared with family and friends. I decided to head to the mountains that I'd already spent so many sunsets with, I was homesick and I needed some company, Mountain kings would do.
Early that morning I threw on my rucksack and walked outside of the medina walls to Bab el-rab. Where vans that had seen their day in 1985 were held together and kept running by faithful mechanics and all kinds of imagination. I found the Van heading to Asni by approaching some white folks with backpacks the size of eight year old children on their backs and inquiring as to whether they were heading to the High Atlas. Indeed they were and that was that.
I rode standing on the steps by the folding door holding on to rail, wickedly mortal. It required three men to operate the beast. The first man operated the gas and clutch while steering. The second operating only the stick and chatting with the driver thereby keeping him awake and not letting us plunge to our certain doom. The third was a human windshield wiper (as the van had non) reaching out the window with a rag and clearing off the windshield. It was the Marx brothers movie that never was.
The landscape was flat as we left the city and rolled down the tar trail. Tiny villages clung like moss to the sides of the highway, all the buildings were the same color as the ground. Only the schools stood out, being concrete with goofy murals of Mickey mouse and friends to cloak the penitentiary look. Dark clouds raced toward us in a futile game of chicken , and soon the rain was hitting me in the face through the open window. A box filled with human cargo, held together by faith and coat-hangers, moving because motion was a living and the faster you got there the faster you were able to load up and go again.
We pulled into the village of Asni, which was quiet, with only a few people out and about do to the feast. I tagged along with the climbers and we managed to rustle up some grub and smoke a cigarette before the lorry arrived that would make the ascent to Imilil, a Berber town in the heart of the atlas. There were five climbers, four of them were dudes, from England and the fifth was a woman from Australia. They were planning to climb Jeb Toubkal which is the highest peak in North Africa at 13,365 feet. Rob and Lisa were friends who had bumped into Greg, Nigel, Pip
hit it off and decided to make the climb together. I had no intention of climbing the Mountain and was only heading to Imilil to get out into the country and explore the mountain halls. I hit it off with them right away as Greg, Pip and Nigel had wicked senses of humor and were very engaging and it wasn't hard for me to enjoy joking and talking after weeks of silence.
We caught the lorry (which was a large flatbed military truck with wooden benches in the cab. ) and rolled out of Asni to begin climbing into Imilil.
Back in 95, a flash flood had severely fucked up the valleys and foothills of the High Atlas, and the ferocity was still visible from the thin mountain roads 5 years after. Monsterous boulders perched on precarious nests and looked like some natural joke or a crude acme trap. The hills were torn and shredded high above the river bed, it was a violent symphony that had been recorded in the grooves of the mountain side, put a needle to it and listen to the roar.
It was a two lane road but was only wide enough to be a one lane, that didn't stop our driver from passing slower moving vehicles blindly. Death will come when it comes I guess, but after that ride I've never felt like a chicken for not getting on a rollercoaster, rollercoasters are for pussies, ramshackle lorries on suicide missions make men out of boys.
The land became greener as we continued to climbed higher and the air got cooler. A gray sky held steady above the sloping land, we were surrounded on all sides and I had to stretch my neck to see the where walls of land peaked.
Imilil was a ghost town when we arrived. All the shops were boarded up and there was nary a soul to be seen except for the two men that greeted the lorry. One of them was approached us and offered room and board in his house. His name was Aswell and he also ran a guide company that lead trips up Jeb Toubkal. I'd been absorbed into the group and we all agreed to roll with Aswell.
It turns out that where we pulled in was just the main street of Imilil, put up for the tourist with crafts and food and guide services. The real village was quiet a trek up a road that became a foot path. It was spring in the mountains and the walnut trees wore their whit blossoms like young women, and the scents of grass and flowers were intoxicating to me. I closed my eyes as we walked past the stone walls and under the an angled house holding the government's boys.
Imilil was built into the mountain side, like a staircase. Roofs of one house became the patio of another. Berbers in the mountains often practiced a more mystical brand of Islam and up here the Feast of Eid ul-Adha lasted for five days. So that was why the streets were quiet and the village was rocking. We walked through the dusty streets and could hear the celebrations in the distance the voices of children were singing. I could look down on the main street I could look at the towering peaks, I was at their feet and climbing. I was a happy child.
Around the corner and up the hill a creature appeared. It walked on two feet, it was covered head to toe in fur an was goat faced with horns coming out of it's head, in it's right hand it wielded a stick and when it saw us it wailed. Somewhere out in the world Slayer's ears were burning.
It ran down the hill towards us and as I steeled myself to begin this holy war I noticed the tips of a pair of Nikes sticking out from under it's hooves. As part of the festivities the men took turns dressing up in the goat costumes and chasing the children with the intention to thrash the demons out of any child that was quick enough on their feet. For the whole time I was in the village their was always a goatman roaming the hills and groups of children laughing and running from it.
As we arrived at Aswells house we discovered where the singing was coming from. On his balcony was a group of 12 girls doing a call and response thing with a group of boys further down the hill. There dresses were bright and full of strips of color, they were bouncy happy children and I fell in love with the planet earth intensely at that moment.
Later that evening after we'd eaten dinner we all sat out under the stars and listened to the mystical chanting of the men farther over in the mountains. It sounded like the Dervish ceremonies as they banged steadily on drums and kept up a never ending song that had echoed off these mountain walls for hundreds of years. Nigel, Pip, Greg, Rob and Lisa had invited me to join them on their trek up Jeb Toubkal. Aswell rented me a pair of boots although I wouldn't have thought twice about doing it in my Vans. He also rented me a jacket and gloves. I accepted and we sat out under the swaying hips of the filling moon smoking some of the Hashish I'd bought in Casablanca earlier on.
The voices in the distance rushed over me, through my hair and down my throat. They filled my stomach and soul. I felt akin to the stars that had become such company, that danced and shifted with the simple placing of one foot in front of the other. I remembered purgatory, when I would stare at the pictures of far off places. Places that looked exactly like Imilil. I remembered feeling hopeless and lost in such a large lake of world, I'd never thought I would feel the sliding pebbles of those mountain paths shift under the soles of my feet, couldn't see that I'd ever breath the air that slid down from the heavens like melting ice cream.
And there I was, looking down on the valley, looking down on my trail, from 19 to the womb, looking down on my faith, and watching it lead to me, the imagination and strength that'd brought me this far. I saw the kid that hadn't believed he'd ever rest in the arms of where the Earth had tried to bite the sky.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"What's a matter McFly, you yellow?"

The world that unwinds from the tarmac seems to enter me through my eyes and nose and pulse along my veins. Motion's become a drug to me, I crave it more and more as years go by, it's become my response to sorrow, my way of acting out joy. Maybe part of it is running away not dealing, I know it's great liberation to cut the strings of domestic bullshit and live on your feet. Sometimes I think I just deal better with my problems when I'm traveling/exploring. I get a better view and I weed shit out with a keener eye and a fresh take.
I think I just like the world a lot better when shit is immediate, when priorities are priorities, the real ones, food, shelter, safety. Even getting on a skateboard is extremely therapeutic. It forces you to explore and pay attention to the immediate, otherwise you'll be left counting your teeth or under someone's front tire.
I'll find myself in the midst of a forty hour work week and daydreaming about being in World war 2. A naive dream I'll admit but I won't totally right it off as all ignorance. I think the attraction in the immediacy. That closeness to life and death, walking side by side instead of the pastuerised kiddy gloved versions we accept in the back of our domestic fuck fest. "I'll live then." "I don't want to think about death." This skewed relationship where life and death are like illegitimate children we send a birthday card to once a year. Then one day they show up when your old, useless and lonely just to say "fuck you Dad" and it's curtains.
I feel the things in me responding to the earth and all the matter I thought lifeless, the same makeup. My insides jiggle and chatter with everything around me, that feeling of synchronicty I've found is best expierienced through motion, through travel. Outside events start to coincide with inside events. As you open up to the universe it turns and opens back up to you. Like we learned in the Back to the Future trilogy, the future hasn't been written, it's a moving thing that is constantly being alterted. When Death come it'll come but the beauty is you'll keep moving, motion will continue.
Whether on a tin can death trap struggling up a one lane mountain road, a descending aircraft heard from an open field, a rattling board on a wet street. I am glad to be in motion and thankful that I'm such a lucky Junkie.