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The other day in class, we were working on putting sentences in order to tell a story. This was the basic story: Wilma and Carl met at a party. They talked for a long time. They fell in love. They kissed. (The teacher’s book put these in the opposite order) She met his parents. They got engaged. They got married. They had two children.

Without exception, all my students (Iraqi and Korean) put the kiss after the marriage.

Donn and I were having fun with that later. “She met his parents. They got married. They met at a party.” We laughed, but the humor stems from the fact that this is typically how it’s done in Iraq, although of course there are exceptions. Back in class, we found out how everybody met their spouse or, if not married, how their parents met. The stories contained a lot of similarities. Some were married to first cousins, or second cousins. Some first saw their spouse at their own house, where their future spouse was friends with their sibling. Several met their spouse for the first time at the engagement. But no one met their spouse completely on their own, at university or at work or online.

When you spend a lot of time in one particular culture that is not your own, you will begin to take on characteristics, add things in, to create your own hybrid of culture. This happens gradually over time, and certain moments will cause past events to suddenly make sense. I remember planning a movie night at Oasis Books in Nouakchott, years ago, and asking a friend for movie suggestions. “Anything is fine,” he said, “but no kissing.” Donn and I were mystified, as we knew our friends watched all kinds of movies, and got French stations on their TVs. And of course kissing is very innocuous in our culture and shows up in even kid movies. But somehow, realizing that everyone put “kissing” after “marriage” helped me to understand this, and suddenly I felt embarrassed at all the kissing that takes place in movies, which is not a reaction I’ve had since I was about 10.

As it is, I move uneasily back and forth. The best part is when you mistrust yourself. Which culture is this rude in again? I’ll be sitting pointing my feet at an American friend, or eating with my left hand, and I think, “this is okay in American culture. It’s not rude,” and then I’ll think, “right?” Usually I just stop, just in case. I have written before of getting confused about whether or not I can acceptably double-dip my samosa or my chips, of whether I can use my own private spoon to eat from the common bowl. (Rule of thumb: fine with Arabs; not fine with Americans or Canadians; certain exceptions apply) It took me ages after we moved back to America to remember that the stores don’t close for lunch here, that the bank is open at noon (although even as I type that I’m not 100% certain. Right?) The twins’ pediatrician closes for the noon hour, which has only confused me further. But Fred Meyer is open. (Right?) (No, that one I’m sure of)

Kissing, however, is fine in American culture. Even the teacher’s book thinks you typically kiss before you fall in love. Right?

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The title of this post comes from an obscure poem by John Keats, and it’s not even a poem I like–full of vague imagery of diamond jars and pink wings, the sort of thing his friends probably mocked him for behind his back. Basically he walks off into the dawn and has a moment, as the romantic poets were prone to do. But I couldn’t think of a title appropriate to sending my eldest off to college, and that seemed as good as any I’d come up with.

…and I wonder why my SEO ratings are so low, after leading off with a paragraph like that!

The thing is, from the moment the nurse wraps your squalling naked baby in a much-washed hospital blanket, plops a hat on his head, and hands him to you, you know two things. One, you are totally messed up now, your life will never be the same again and you don’t even care, that’s the thing. You want this. And two, this is temporary. This will not last. What makes things beautiful is their fragility and transience. A flower, a wave, a toddler–they are with us only for a flash of time.* Every mother knows this. Babies change before our eyes. Two weeks on, we haven’t aged a bit but there in front of us, our alien-newborn is plumping out, staying awake a bit more, eating better.

So, one’s child leaving for college is not such a shock. “Where have the years gone?” “How did this happen?” ask my friends on facebook. I know how this happened; the earth went around the sun, the seasons changed, Elliot grew up before my eyes. Yes, in some ways it feels like he was just starting his first day of Matranelle last year, but at the same time I do remember all the intervening years: when he was 6 and read about how to attend a childbirth in the graphically-illustrated Where There Is No Doctor; when he was 8 and wrote a dictionary of medieval weaponry, because that’s what history is all about; when he was 11 and went through his sensitive stage and couldn’t handle sarcasm; when he was 15 and in his first year of an American school and the kindness of the teachers was a source of great stress to him. These were all good years–well, maybe except for 11, but even that year had its high points. It’s not that I don’t miss the years when he had soft little curls and chubby cheeks and a funny turn of phrase that kept me amused, but I also love my wild-curled muscled young man, who is kind and thoughtful and generous with his time.

It’s weird, having him gone. The milk lasts forever. And I opened the fridge yesterday and realized the tub of salsa I bought last week was still unopened, which has never happened before since as far as I could tell, he used to drink the stuff. Cereal is lasting longer, and we’ve had to have leftover nights to use up all the food in the fridge. I’m doing laundry less often, mostly because Abel’s method is to let it all pile up on his floor until I make him clean him room, and he fills an enormous laundry tub with a mix of all his clothes both clean and dirty. The twins took us out to our favorite pizza place for our birthdays (Donn and I have birthdays only 3 days apart) and we only had to order one large pizza for the 4 of us.

I think the transition has been eased by the advent of cell phones and texting. (Aside: how can spell-check not know the word texting?) At least one of us texts, talks to him on the phone, or FB messages him every day–usually 2 or 3 of us. That makes it a lot easier. Gone are the days of long-distance calls made collect on the one phone on the corridor, standing in a draft wrapping the phone cords around your finger, longing desperately for home and a decent cup of tea instead of the weak schlok served in the school’s one cafeteria, now closed. Elliot has myriad restaurants on campus to choose from, including a restaurant with an espresso bar in his very own dorm. He has a fridge in his room. (In my day, you weren’t supposed to even have an electric kettle, although I did. I had 8:00 classes and I needed a cup of tea to function in the mornings, and I still remember how the powdered milk would curdle in the cup. He of course has no idea how spoiled he is.)

I remember when I left for college. My father died when I was in Grade 10, and my brothers had already left home (they’re quite a few years older than I am), so I was leaving my widowed mother alone. She and my brother drove me down, got me settled into the dorm, and left. That was it. I think I called them that weekend, 3 days later. My mother was stoic, sadly kissing me goodbye but managing a cheerful wave. Not for our family the waves of emotion, although I knew she would miss me bitterly. I feel that was more normal then. What do you think? Have we as a nation become more sentimental, or are we just more comfortable with showing every single emotion? Or was it just my British family? Did your mother dissolve into tears when you left?

Our Iraqi friends view us with some bemusement. In Arab culture, it’s normal to live with one’s parents until marriage, and maybe even afterwards. Once a woman pleaded with me not to kick my daughter out when she turns 18. I promised not to, but I also explained that if Ilsa wants to go to college in another city, or even if she wants to get an apartment with friends, that’s her choice. Another couple were surprised that Elliot didn’t want to commute 4 hours a day to classes and still live home, have me cook and clean for him and do his laundry. I’ll admit that Arab culture is looking better and better the older my kids get, but at the same time what I want for Elliot is to experience university in all its glories of football games and late-night study sessions and libraries and teacher-mentors and that feeling I can’t distill into words but that even now makes me read a course catalogue and want to be 18 again myself, off to university to forge deep friendships and fall in and out of love and learn what it means to be an adult.

*oddly enough, lately I’ve read several unrelated things on this subject (an Atlantic article, a short story in a collection). Guess a bunch of us are sending kids off to college.

e and dElliot and Donn at lunch just before we dropped him off.

I read some terrific books this month. In fact, I gave out TWO 5 star recommendations at 5 Minutes for Books, something I pretty much never do. (In fact, I think these were my 2nd and 3rd). In addition, I read some others that came pretty close.

I READ:

Walk With Me: A Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples. At first I thought it sounded just okay, but author Annie Wald did such a terrific job portraying marriage (seriously, you don’t think she could have bugged my house, do you?) that I gave it 5 stars. Excellent stuff. Hurry and you can still enter to win a free copy!

The Round House:  Louise Erdrich’s latest. I gave it 5 stars and didn’t do it justice in my review. When an Indian woman is raped, her attacker can only be charged if it happens on federal land, not tribal land. A look at one such story, and the ripple effect the attack has on her husband and son and the community at large. Also very much a coming-of-age story. And super well-written, of course. It is Erdrich.

The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam): Jasper Fforde’s foray into YA. Magic used to be everywhere but now it’s dwindling and no one knows why. Magic carpets are being used for pizza delivery, and magicians are now fixing plumbing and hoping to get fairly paid. But then come some surges, as well as weird prophecies of the death of the last dragon. A fun, light read that manages to include lots of Fforde’s quirks and puns and general silliness.

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris: Also linked to my review. Hurry and enter the giveaway! This is a middle-grade reader (i.e. 9 and up) that I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed. It has everything–time travel, mystery, history, a wee bit of romance, and more. It also deals with the Dreyfus affair, which shockingly most people no longer know about. I love that a middle reader is addressing that. Really good.

Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody: This one was great! You need this book. This is how is starts: “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines/lived 12 ugly monsters in two crooked lines./In 2 crooked lines they bonked their heads,/pulled out their teeth,/and wet their beds…/The ugliest one was Frankenstein.” Of course this is a Madeline parody, but it’s pitch-perfect and really fun. Even the twins loved it! A plus–you will have the Madeline rhymes stuck in your head for days. All together now…”She was not afraid of mice. She loved winter, snow and ice.” etc. 

The Good Braider: Another book that everyone should read. Seriously, do you think I’m bossy? Told in free verse, this book follows Viola from her life in Southern Sudan, where life is precarious and soldiers shoot children in the street, to her new life as a refugee in Portland, Maine and all the pain that such a major adjustment brings. It’s a sad book in many ways, yet it is beautiful too, and really shows the life of a refugee and the terrible adjustments they go through. I LOVED this book. It’s technically YA but good for any age.

The Witch of Babylon: There’s still time to enter this giveaway. This was a good read. It’s a mystery, moving between New York, Baghdad and Ninevah. Enjoyable. I liked that the main character was very much an ordinary man, not a super hero.

The Garden of Evening Mists: Actually I think I read this one in Sept. Sometimes I just can’t manage to write reviews. There’s no reason why. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Someday I will review it.

Reading:

Forgotten: I’ve mostly finished this one. It has a fascinating premise. Emma’s mother recently died and left her a trip to Africa, which was a place she dreamed of visiting but never made it to. Emma goes, gets deathly ill, and then a devastating earthquake knocks out all communication and leaves her stranded for 6 months. When she makes it back home, everyone has assumed she is dead and life has moved on. It’s a great premise and an ok book–a quick read, sort of intelligent chick lit.

How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto: Because apparently I don’t? Seriously, I’m not very far into it, but the author says the point of wine is to enjoy it, not to know a ton about it. I agree. Let’s have another glass then, and finish the bottle.

To Read: There are oh so many!

The Stockholm Octavo: Each one of us have 8 individuals who help us find our true path. Set in 18th-century Stockholm, this novel is supposed to be wittily intelligent and fun. Hope so!

Flight Behavior The latest by Barbara Kingsolver. I sometimes like her and sometimes don’t, but she’s always a talented writer.

Iron Hearted Violet: YA book about an ugly princess, a timid dragon and a story with power to change their world.

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel The latest in the Thursday Next series.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris: looks so good!

So, anything catch your fancy? Don’t I have the best job in the world? And what about you; what are you reading? Do tell!

Bea climbs into my car and notices the foil-covered trays in the back seat. “What is this?” she asks. I smile. “Today we’re having a party during class for Thanksgiving,” I tell her. She is appalled. Why didn’t I tell her? She could have brought tabouli, quba, olives. “Please, Lisbeth, 5 minutes!” she pleads. “I bring quba.” I think she has it ready—wouldn’t you?–so I reluctantly turn around to her apartment. Class is already starting ½ an hour late because Maude’s kids have the day off school, and I am taking them over to my place to hang out with my kids, who don’t get off till noon. It’s been a complicated morning so far.

Bea returns, beaming, carrying 2 containers. She opens them to show me. One has the mushy rice and one has the spiced meat and raisin filling. I am mystified. Where and when is she going to put them together and cook them? The foil-covered trays contain simple foods like pumpkin bread, coconut tarts, tiny mince pies (I made some hallal mince this year—I didn’t put brandy in it).

We’re also in the middle of a 3-day storm and it’s pouring as we drive through sodden, still bright leaves to collect Maude and her 3 kids, along with Fiona and another woman. They are all appalled. WHY didn’t I tell them it was a party? They would have brought things. “This is a party for you; you’re not supposed to work,” I tell them, but they are not convinced.

My phone rings; it’s Amy, who isn’t supposed to be coming today. I answer it, and get Suzi’s husband, telling me that he’s bringing Amy and another woman and where is the class? Usually there’s at least one person absent, but today everyone is there.

I pop into the church kitchen and make Iraqi-style tea and we serve the goodies, with me trying to get everyone to chatter in English instead of Arabic. They exclaim over my baked goods and everyone likes them, especially the coconut pies.

Later, during class time, we do Thanksgiving stuff. I teach a simple history lesson, glossing over the parts I don’t remember. We’re doing countable and uncountable nouns so I make a thanksgiving meal shopping list and we practice. At the end, we go around and say what we’re thankful for.

“The party,” says one person. “Thank you for the party.” “Thank you for being our teacher,” adds another. This is nice, but I explain that it’s not just supposed to be thanking me. I give them some examples. “I know you’ve lost a lot,” I tell them, “but we still have so many things to be thankful for!”

Runi, 72, smiles. “I am thankful to be in America,” she says firmly. Everyone agrees. “Thankful for safe,” says another. Yes, they all say. They are thankful for homes even though their current apartments are much smaller than the big houses most had in Iraq. They are thankful for children, as they know all too many mothers who still grieve.

Maude grins slyly. “I am thankful for rain,” she announces. We all laugh, but it’s true. We have no water shortages here, and she tells us how much she enjoys long hot showers, and not having to worry about the electricity being cut.

Afterwards, I take everyone home. Bea, who’s a 20-minute drive each way, wants me to come back to get the quba, but I am already late to a going-away coffee for a friend who’s moving to Australia, and I have something else after that. “Next time,” I say firmly.

“Eid Mabrouk! Happy Thanksgiving!” they all tell me as they kiss me goodbye. Later, mystified by Black Friday, Harold calls Donn and basically reads him the entire Walmart ad. He can’t believe the prices. Sadly, he has to work. I suspect I will get a lot of phone calls the day before, asking for rides to the mall. I’m not going.

***

In honour of the holidays, please pop over and read my review of Hurry Less, Worry Less at Christmas and enter to win your own copy! I write about some memories of Christmases Past. Go on! It will only take a minute.

I just finished my first book for review and it was excellent! I posted my review over at Five Minutes for Books, but I wanted to make it about twice as long because I had the hardest time choosing which quotes to use and which examples to give. Then it occurred to me: I could post a review over there, and then review it AGAIN here and use other quotes. So you should go read my post over there first, and then come back and get more details here. There’s still a lot I’m leaving out, so you’ll want to read it yourself.

A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir is a memoir written by Elena Gorokhova, who grew up in Soviet Russia in the 1960s and 70s. Although she’s got the horror tales—like when her uncle tells an old, mild joke about not needing to get book for a superior because he’s got one already, and is taken away and shot for being subversive—this is ultimately the story of a life. As such, it deals with her relationship to her older sister, her memories of running away from nursery school, white nights in Leningrad (which is of course now again St. Petersburg), with its lace ironwork and pearly domes. She beautifully recounts a summer in the family’s dacha, her father going fishing and her mother cooking raspberry jam in the heat, her father caught in a storm once and returning late, while the family was so worried they couldn’t speak. She tells of his death when she was 10; after her mother petitioned and petitioned the local communist party, they finally allowed her father—who’d been a member for more than 40 years—to be admitted to hospital. In fear, her mother has Elena call for an update. A disembodied voice announces to the child that her father has died.

The writing is sparse but often beautiful, with descriptions that transport through space and time. I love how she sees the story of her country echoed in her own mother’s life. Her mother is approximately the same age as the communist government, and for Elena, the parallels are evident. Both are overprotective and short-sighted and overbearing and all-encompassing. It is only when she leaves both of them, marrying an American and moving to Texas, that she is able to make peace with the relationships. Yet she has glimpses of a different mother, in a portrait from when she was a teenager, and in an old journal she finds. How did it happen? How did her mother change so much? she both wonders and worries.

Her country is no longer the land of the tsars reflected in the great literature of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and as she reads Russian classics, she and her classmates have a hard time picturing their descriptions of chestnut curls against lavender dresses, and grand salons and balls. . From an early age, Elena questions the party-line crammed down her throat by the communist party. Even in nursery school, when she and a friend dare explore outside the school courtyard and are scolded with the words, “What makes you so special, so different from the rest of the collective, that you think you can run off?” By third grade, when the polyester red scarf symbolizing her membership in the Young Pioneers is tied round her throat, she already recognizes the hypocrisy and hype. I wonder how much of it is an unusual perception for her age, and how much of it was typical, especially since throughout the book runs the theme of vranyo, pretending. ““My parents play it at work and my older sister Marina plays it at school. We all pretend to do something, and those who watch us pretend that they are seriously watching us, and don’t know we are only pretending.”

Donn visited Russia (the far east) in the late 90s. He brought back these painted wooden cups that I love, one for each member of the family. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, we lost one of the kids’ cups. (How is this possible? We would always have packed them in the same box. ??? For those of you who don’t believe in malignant fairies, think again! Or possibly universal black holes opening at random whenever people are in transit. Seriously. Related: how could we lose half of Abel’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Box of Books, when we packed all his books in one box?) The reason I bring this up is that the cover of A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir matches the cups! How cool is that?

Saturday night, we headed over again for the final performance of Mawazine 2010—Sting. Now I have been a fan of Sting (ok, the Police) since listening to my older brother yell “ROXanne,” at the top of his lungs when we were stopped at a red light once. My friend Shannon texted me back in March with news that he was coming. “Want 2 go?” “YES!!!!!” I sent back. Are you kidding? I figured the crowd would be packed with middle-aged women, all of us with fond memories of watching the video of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” with the Police dancing round in academic robes and Sting being the teacher and taking off his shirt (!!), back when it debuted on that new channel called MTV.

Shannon and her son parked outside our house and we all walked over. Shannon and her son are tall but our family tends to be height-challenged, so we didn’t want to go as far front as they did. Unless you are in the very front, it’s better to be further back if you’re short. Otherwise all you can see are the backs of other people’s heads. We did try going further up, but that didn’t work. We found a spot a short distance behind some exceptionally tall people—I mean seriously, these guys were either Dutch or Amalakite—and we noticed that the space directly behind them wasn’t filling up, which meant we could actually see the giant screen.

I could feel my phone, in my pocket, ringing. “HELLO?” I shouted. “It’s Jenny!” announced my friend. “Where are you?”

I told her, although I didn’t think for a minute she’d find us. Shannon and I both held up our hands and waved defeatistly. But find us she did! She and her daughter were carrying a folding chair and a step stool. I stood on the stool and caught a glimpse of the orchestra coming in, and Sting striding onto the stage. He was performing with the Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra! Cool, we agreed.

I thought it was a great concert. Shannon and I and many of those around us sang along to “Englishman in New York.” But after about 2 or 3 songs, Donn and the boys returned to us (they’d been trying to get closer). “This is LAME!” Donn said. “What?” I said. I looked at the teens, who were rolling their eyes and going on about orchestras and lameness. The word “Fail” was bandied about. Donn went so far as to say “Lawrence Welk.” What???

Donn and the boys went home. We couldn’t believe it. But, honestly, we were quite happy to have them go. We settled down to enjoy ourselves.

I noticed that the people around me seemed to know the same songs I did; at least we sang along to the same ones. I was more likely to know words of the verses; everyone else joined in just for the chorus, with varying degrees of accuracy as to musical keys or pronunciation of English words. (Sample: every little thing she does his magic) The grounds were packed at this point, and streams of people, connected to each other by holding hands or with hands on shoulder, kept trying to move, pointlessly it seemed, from one spot to another. We were constantly being pushed aside, asked to move, bumped into. I was hoping he’d do “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” in homage to the shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip crowd, but he didn’t.

And I will admit that his versions of certain classics, like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take,” were more swoony than rocking. “ROXanne” should be shouted! “Every Breath” should be edgy and slightly creepy, but still suitable for being dedicated on the radio to a jerky and clueless high school boy by a heart-broken high school girl. What? Oh like you never did that.

The crowd enjoyed it all. Sting did a raucous two encores, including a beautiful performance by a Moroccan drummer on “Desert Rose.” And I have never seen as active a conductor as the one that night. He sang along, he danced along.

Going home was adventurous, navigating crowds and traffic all mixed together, but we made it through, more thankful than ever to be on our own two feet and not snarled in a pointless traffic jam made worse by everyone’s impatience.

We got home just after midnight. Abel had fallen asleep fully clothed, but Elliot and Shannon’s son were still up to let us in and tell us again how LAME it had been. They’d passed their time playing games and listening to the faint strains of the concert through the windows. They left, the kids went to bed, and Donn and I stood out on the balcony, watching a long, loud, impressive display of fireworks to close the music festival.

Time passes, the world revolves around the sun, and things expire and must be renewed. Reflecting on this one day, as is our wont, we realized that we needed to renew our passports this year—at least, the kids and I do.

Casablanca street scene

In Morocco, an American citizen can only renew her (or his) passport in Casablanca. Although the embassy is conveniently located right here in Rabat, citizen services are in Casa. In their continuing efforts to provide US citizens with the very best customer service on the planet, it is open from 8:30-9:30 and then again from 1:30 to 3:00. It’s closed on Fridays and weekends, and takes all holidays off—both American and Moroccan. It’s located right downtown in a busy part of a crowded city—in other words, parking is a nightmare. In spite of knowing all these things, we decided to drive down instead of taking the train. The kids all had Wednesday off school, and since they had to physically be there, we decided Wednesday morning was the perfect time to do this. They disagreed, feeling rather strongly that a day off school should, in a just and fair universe, equal a day to sleep in. Ilsa in particular was rather vocal and nasal about it. Poor child; she has many grievances. It comes with being 13.

So today we got up at the crack of dawn—literally, with me standing on the balcony eyeing the pale pink sky and the swifts, waking up with us and already wheeling and turning amongst the thin clouds. We brought a lot of books into the car and drove off to Casa, fearing the morning commute traffic, but finding it not bad.

We got into traffic proper once the autoroute had faded into what we were hoping was the Route El Jedida. We had google maps, but one thing we’ve learned the hard way—in Morocco, even if the streets are marked, they might be marked with a different name than that which is shown on a map, which may be a different name again from what everybody calls it. (Also, do not under any circumstances let a Moroccan draw you a map. I realize how this sounds—like I’m generalizing, like I’m looking down on them, like I’m racist. I’m really not. It’s just that I believe they are looking at space a different way than I am. I’m talking about Moroccan people who are intelligent and well educated and speak a billion languages. Talk to them about world politics or something! Just don’t let them draw you a map. If you have to follow a Moroccan map, try approaching it upside down and backwards.)

We drove on and on, not recognizing anything from the map. Unfortunately (cough!), we’d left a bit late, and the clock was getting closer and closer to 8:30. “At least your make-up looks lovely,” said my husband snidely. The road came to an end at an enormous, clogged roundabout. Unsure, we headed off to the right.

The new road dead-ended so we randomly turned left. We’ve both been in Casa several times so things often looked tantalizingly familiar, but they weren’t actually. The road ended again and we randomly turned right—I thought I might have spotted the famous mosque which was in the same general area as the consulate. We got tangled in traffic again. The clock was approaching 9:00.

We pulled into a gas station to show the attendants our maps. All the attendants gathered round. Soon our maps were being passed hand to hand, as about 9 men crowded round and discussed it in rapid Arabic. I’m not sure, but I think they were discussing how to read the map, if they recognized anything on the map, and who among them spoke French and could explain it to us. Finally an older man, someone who didn’t actually work at the gas station, came up to us and gave us directions.

Success! We finally found the consulate. No roads were marked, so we had to ask 2 other people (a woman selling newspapers and a guy on a scooter) for street names. It took us a long time to get there. By this time, it was 9:10. We drove around and around the area, looking in vain for a parking spot, but there was no spot to be found. Each giant circle, thanks to traffic, took 10 minutes. Finally we found a spot. “It’s too small,” said Donn. “If anyone can do it, you can,” I said heart-warmingly. And I was right! He parallel-parked us in a teeny-tiny spot without even bumping the other two cars. It was 9:29.

We ran the four blocks to the consulate, which is surrounded by enormous blocks of concrete planted with flowers, a mixed message at best. There were lots of guards. The first lot sent us to the second lot, who pointed us across the street to a third. The third guy looked at his watch as we panted up, then at our navy blue passports. “It’s 9:30,” he said accusingly. “Please,” we said. “Parking,” we said, gesturing. “Go!” he told us, speaking into his walkie talkie. So back across the street we went, past the second lot again, and into the consulate itself.

We were told to cut an entire line of non-Americans, which felt sort of rude and sort of fun! We went happily through security (Donn: Ilsa, why on earth did you bring a whole backpack? Ilsa: It has my books in it. Donn: sigh…) and then submitted all our forms successfully, even though we’d forgotten to measure the twins and had to guess at their actual height. Then we had second breakfasts at a little café, and had another, more relaxed, traffic adventure that included someone driving a fork-lift blindly into incoming traffic, as we searched unsuccessfully for the auto-route to bring us home.

And, since it seems every time I mention going to Casa people sigh enthusiastically at how exotic and exciting it all is, I tried to get some snaps of the real Casa, which is crowded, polluted, noisy, and industrial. Oh and the traffic is worse than Rabat!

Yes I did take that from the car window at a red light. How could you tell?

But then I remembered visiting Turin, in Italy. Everyone said it was a horrible industrial city, but we just wandered around the downtown area, totally entranced. We loved it. So maybe there are those who love Casa too. But…which part is enticing and exotic?

Yep, through the windshield. You guys are good!


Typical Casa. I didn’t even take pictures of the industrial area.

Still, if you ever are in Casablanca, perhaps at the US Consulate, and you need to have your hair done, you can always go with the interestingly-named option.

It’s FULL service!

PS from my last post: The “balle” isn’t until the end of school, and all his friends are either going to be out of town or already have dates! I’m still working on him.

Elliot got an invitation to a ball this week.

It didn’t come gilt-edged, on creamy cardstock, with black ink calligraphy delineating the crisp outlines of his name. It wasn’t delivered by a footman in pale-blue livery, standing to attention on a coach-and-four.

Actually, it was a photocopy folded twice and stuck in his notebook. It was from the school, and was in fact an invitation to an end-of-school dance for the 4e and 3e (i.e. 8th and 9th grades), the 2 highest grades at the school, a sort of junior-senior affair. It’s called “une balle” and that makes me very happy.

Elliot does not want to go. “I don’t want to ask a girl, and everyone will be going as couples,” he says. “I don’t want to get dressed up.” Don’t ask a girl, we say. Go with your friends, as a group. We are sure that there will be plenty of others who go that way, and a friend whose daughter went to the same school says the same thing. We tell him, Wear that suit we bought you at a thrift store in England last summer for the murder mystery dinner you got invited to, where you ended up getting to be the detective.

He isn’t sure, but I am. The French schools don’t have dances like American schools do. They just have this one, and you only have 2 opportunities to go to it. He shouldn’t miss it.

Our lives are so transitional. I wrote that sentence and then set down my computer for a minute, and coming back I find it to have a deeper meaning than I intended. What I meant was simply that we have moved a lot in our time, and I’m all for the kids experiencing everything they can in whatever place we’re in. That’s true for our family in particular, but it’s true for all people anywhere. Get off the couch. Take a little risk. Go to the dance. Wear the thrift store suit—it’s surprisingly cute and fun. Don’t be shy.

And of course this advice comes in part because in 8th grade, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the ball.

I’ll let you know what happens. Maybe even with pictures, if such a thing proves possible.

When Elliot was 8, he announced he wanted to be a history teacher and specialize in medieval times. I thought this was weird. When I was 8 I wanted to be a nurse because my mother was a nurse, and in real life I read voraciously and wrote stories about infants with small feet born in a country where everyone had big feet and other wildly original tales that are mercilessly lost to time. I didn’t have the same kind of drive and far-sightedness. Elliot has always been very different from his mother.

I also didn’t think it would last but so far, it’s holding. He’s 14 now and a total history buff, and is planning, as when he was 8, to become a history prof. He has broadened out his interests to include military history in general (thanks to his aunt sending him some very cool books) and WWII in particular. He’s fun to travel with, as he can most likely tell you something about where you’re visiting.

So when Marcus Brotherton, an old college friend of mine, wrote a book about the original “Band of Brothers*” and mentioned that Penguin Publishing would probably send me a free review copy, I agreed with alacrity. I knew Elliot would love it.

This is Marc’s second book on the topic. He wrote “We Who Are Alive and Remain,” a look at the personal stories behind those presented in the mini-series. “A Company of Heroes” contains interviews with family members, and presents an in-depth look at war in all its horror and glory. The result also shows the aftermath of war; the toll it takes on soldiers who return to their families irrevocably changed. Given our current history as a nation, it’s a very timely book and interesting on many levels.

Penguin sent it promptly, and Elliot read it promptly, enjoyed it very much, and is now passing it around his friends. He even wrote a review. Here it is:

“This is a great book that tells the stories of some of the surviving (and not surviving) members of the “Band of Bothers”. This story is really touching as it tell about the back grounds and  life after the war of these different soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect America and her ways. The story is composed of four parts each taking a different section of the army and telling the story of some of the men who served in that specific part of the army. Part I: Enlisted Men, Part II: NCOs, Part III: Officers, Part IV: Easy Company’s fallen.

The book contains twenty-six chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter is the story of a different soldier. Every story is recounted by a family member (sometimes more then one) which I think is a great way to do some research. These men are true heroes from my perspective: they sacrificed every thing they knew to fight for the freedom of America. We sometimes take our freedom for granted and it’s really great to be reminded of these men who gave it to us.

One really good story is chapter 21 Part IV (1st sgt Bill Evans), I just really like this one part because it’s a really good example of the sacrifice these men made: “I never met my great-uncle, as he was gone long before I was born […] My grand-mother said he volunteered for the service so his brothers, who had children, might not have to go to war.” This is a great example of sacrifice on Sgt Bill Evans part.

This is a must-read for anyone who has a family member who took part in WWII or who is interested by the subject of WWII.”

*you remember that  mini-series that I refused to watch because I’ve seen enough WWII movies now, thankyouverymuch, and me watching another harrowing Holocaust movie or a mini-series of personable young men getting blown to bits isn’t actually going to help anyone. I already hate war—I don’t need to be reminded why.

It’s the morning of the first day back to school, and the house is quiet. The kids just finished a two-week vacation and I miss sleeping in already. Donn’s traveling again, and my teen class has finished for the year, so it feels as if it’s going to be a dull week. Having put that on the internet to taunt the Fates, perhaps things will change, but that’s my prediction and I’m standing by it.

Last week was anything but boring, with unexpected out-of-town guests for dinner two nights in a row and yet another doctor’s trip to deal with Ilsa’s toe.

Yes, the same toenail that was removed last December was again infected. How could this be? It turned out he had not taken the entire toe nail off, which I would have known had I been able to bring myself to examine it closely, which I couldn’t. Funny—I never used to be squeamish. There’s just something about feet. He removed the top half, and now it was growing it strangely, and oozing pus to boot.

“I’m the unluckiest girl in the world,” moaned Ilsa, who has taken to being moody and whiny lately. “It could be a lot worse,” the doctor told her. “I see people whose news is much more terrible.” Surprisingly, this did not cheer up my teen.

The doctor, who as you may recall is the one who sent us to the surgeon, was not impressed with his work. “Pas fantastique,” was her verdict. She asked me about follow-up care, and when I told her we didn’t even see the surgeon on the day he did it and had had no follow-up whatsoever, her lips tightened ominously, and she scribbled something on a pad of paper. I have a feeling she won’t be recommending him anymore. And I support her in this.

But it’s my daughter who has to pay the price. Apparently the toenail is growing in sideways, which means that I have to shove bits of alcohol-soaked cotton between the nail and the skin with toothpicks, every single night for at least 6 months. And I’m someone who is philosophically opposed to torture in any form! Minimum 6 months, the doctor warned us. And when Ilsa began to pout again, she went back to talking about leukemia and migraines and other terrible things. She’s got a great bedside manner!

The infection is not clearing, although it’s not getting worse.

Today I had to go explain to Ismail that I’m not beating my child, just torturing her. He laughed. “We didn’t hear anything,” he said at one point, and “We didn’t think anything,” he said at another. So I’m not sure if they heard her yelling or not. Ilsa is a loud child, but Ismail assured me that they know we don’t beat our children. He was very sympathetic, and I expect we’ll get a plate of goodies from his mother soon.

And today I saw a lot of him, since I woke up and 2/3rds of the outlets in the house didn’t work. In fact, I could find only two that did—the one next to Abel’s bed, and the one the fridge is plugged into. While I was happy about the fridge, I wasn’t happy about the cold shower. (The water heater was out too) It wasn’t anything in the fuse box. Why do these things always happen when Donn’s traveling?

I boiled water on the stove for coffee and went in search of Ismail. And now, late afternoon, everything’s working again. The twins are watching an Asterix and Obelix cartoon and Elliot’s at the beach with a friend. Quiet, dull peaceful. It’s nice.

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