Saturday, October 20, 2007

busman's holiday

Many thanks to the contributors who have posted on PP while the auteur was in Morocco. If I move to Morocco for the winter I shall know PP is in good hands.

I found a hotel in Marrakesh that was not in Lonely Planet, the Hotel Atlal, Rue de la Recette. First hotel I'd found with a single room. A single bed, very white walls, a bright light. Two sparrow-like birds flew and sang and perched on picture frames, door frames, or flew up out of the wrought-iron skylight. 70 dirhams, about 7 euros or $10 a night. I had booked a room for Sunday in another hotel, a boutique hotel, the Najma Lounge, for Sunday.

On Monday morning I was packing to leave and could not find my passport. I went through all my papers many times; I lifted cushions from the bed. The Najma Lounge liked the dim, romantic lighting of most Moroccan riads; it was hard to see. I could not find the passport. I went to reception and asked for advice on contacting the American consulate and the police. Alex made calls. He told me to to go the Commissariat Central in a taxi. I told the taxi driver to take me to the police, found myself in room 4, a room with shoeboxes full of filed papers and names of countries above them. I filled forms. The official told me where I need to go to make a copy of my bank card and pay for a stamp. I looked doubtful. He said he would go, the place was down the street, he was gone for some time. He came back. Just as he returned, a boy from the hotel appeared at the door, exclaiming something that sounded like: I found you! I was in the middle of finshing up with the official. I said, Could I have a piece of paper to send the travel insurance people? The boy said: But it's been found! The penny dropped. I shook everyone's hand, I embraced the boy, we got in a taxi and returned to the hotel while he explained that someone had found it in the bed. He said he had gone first to the Commissariat Central but I was not there, so he had asked and gone to this Commissariat. I could not believe he had gone to so much trouble.

As we went back to the hotel in the taxi I tried to work out what I could possibly do to express thanks for this supererogatory effort, and at first 100 dirhams seemed like a good idea (about 10 euros), because people were always asking for 10, but the longer I thought the more conscious I was of the day I would have had to spend in Casablanca at the American consulate chasing a new passport, and in the end I begged him to accept 200 which I hoped was all right. On our way back to the hotel some small children had asked for change and I had offered them a small backpack that I wanted to get rid of and he had expressed interest, so I had given it to him along with the copy of Maupassant's Bel-Ami which I had picked up from a local bookstore and read. He said he liked Zola; I said if he liked Zola he would probably like it, Maupassant had been a protege of Flaubert's. He said he was planning to go to Quebec, to Canada, when he had finished his studies, because eventually he would like to return to Morocco and open a hotel like the Najma Lounge. So Abdel Latif was the hero of the hour, and I mention these materialistic details only because the people I normally deal with don't go to that kind of trouble, and so I do spend a lot of time dealing with practical problems in a system where no writer can encourage people to help with practical problems.

At the airport I bought large numbers of books and newspapers, went to the departure gate, presented my boarding pass and shuffled onto a wasplike plane, two seats either side of the aisle. I began reading the Economist. Announcements were made. Someone stood by the seat and said it was hers. I showed my boarding pass stub to the stewardess who said this was a plane to Almeria. I said, what, this is not the flight to Berlin? My flight had a connection in Madrid. I dashed down the aisle and off the plane and stood on the runway. No one had offered advice for catching the plane to Berlin. I saw a flight of stairs leading onto another plane. I ran up these stairs and asked a startled flight attendant: Is this the flight to Berlin? She said embarcation had closed, it was not acceptable to embark in this way. I said: Well, they checked me onto the plane to Almeria, and I showed her my stub, and in the end she agreed to let me onto the plane.

I had with me a copy of Tel Quel, a francophone Moroccan magazine, which I read fresh from news that Eagleton and Amis had had a spat over Amis's alleged Islamophobia. Amis objected that he had not written what Eagleton said he had, he had said in an interview that he had briefly had the thought -- 'Don't you' -- that Muslims should be made to feel pain, strip-searched at airports, this sort of thing, to bring pressure on the fanatics, before he had reverted to a bridge-building frame of mind. Anyone who, like me, has fundamentalists of various denominations in the family (Catholics, Jews, atheists), is unlikely to have had this sort of thought, and likely to sympathise with the exasperation of those who put out Tel Quel.

I read when I got back that the Nobel Prize for economics had been won for mechanism design, of which more later.


Anonymous said...

you are alive!

i don't understand why writers need people to take care of practicalities for them

in a way isn't everyone's time important? why do you think one person's time is more important than the other? and shouldn't we try to make it so everyone has time to do what they find important as much as possible?

(perhaps by the bettering of our technology?)


usedUNIVERSE said...

panic of the misplaced passport- ahh, I know it well.
currently, I have nooo idea where my driver's liscence is.. anybody seen it?

Lee said...

Helen, I've read your comment over at Paper Cuts about the Carver/Lish debacle, and you make a point about other art forms -particularly painting - that I've been banging on about for ages. You should have a look at James Lasdun's view in today's Guardian, and while I agree with him about the sample he provides of an original Carver ending - awful stuff - I personally would prefer to read an author's idiosyncrasies and failings. (I've never been a great fan of Carver's anyway.) What makes us think we're owed a single, perfect text?

Helen DeWitt said...

Anon. We all need people to take care of practicalities for us. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be able to pay them to do so. For the price of a 1.70 euro stamp I can pay the German postal service to deliver an envelope enclosing a cheque to my American bank, so that I do not need to fly to New York to do so in person. For 1.59 euros I can buy 6 eggs at the corner store, so that I do not need to keep chickens. Since I don't expect to pay less than anyone else, I can't see that my time is being billed as more valuable. There are some practical things that writers need to delegate that other people don't need done for them, and unfortunately the system does not allow us to give people incentives to do these things.

thomaspa. yes. horror. I thought of taking both passports, but I was afraid of losing them both.

lee. yes, i am always interested in seeing how artists work, so I can't understand the obsession with a definitive text. Not much of a Carver fan, but this still looked bad. Carver thought if the book went out with his name on it he might never write again; that hardly seems a risk Lish was entitled to take.