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The Magistrate

(95,637 posts)
26. Thank You All For the Kind Comments And Best Wishes
Mon Feb 26, 2024, 01:09 AM
Feb 2024

For anyone interested, with a little time, this is a stand-alone piece done a while back. It's not in the same style, or quite the same point of view, as what I'm working on. Time is early seventies....

On Occasion 'My Adventurous Youth' Took Me Far Afield

I was able to buy my own booze by the time I set out for Morocco. I took it by stages, a little time in London, in Paris, in Barcelona, and then to Tangiers before heading into the interior. Culture shock is real, and it did not seem wise to go more or less straight from Chicago to a village in the Rif mountains, T'leta Katama, where for some reason I never understood it was legal to harvest hashish.

My comfortable stay with a good hotel as a base for explorations of the city came to an abrupt end the day I'd been told from home a bank draft would arrive. It was not there. The bank seemed to have a shortage of people who spoke English, and my toddler French was unequal to financial transactions. I still had a little money, but drastic economies were needed. I left the hotel on good terms, they were sure, God willing, things would work out and I could leave my luggage. All I took with me was a change of clothes and a couple of books and a switchblade I'd bought in Barcelona, all tucked into an ornately tooled brown leather satchel I'd worn for years and carried all sorts of things in.

I had been poking about the place long enough to have a good idea where to go. Down near the docks where the ferries from Spain or Gibraltar arrived lodgings could be had quite cheap. The establishments called themselves pensions, but were really hostels, and catered to hippies and similar sorts on a budget, here for what delights might be found cheap in the fabled town.

I chose the one I did because I liked the colorful tile work around the door. The whole city, outside its strictly European portions, was like that, with little ornamental grace-notes wherever your eye might rest. The rooms were large and clean, with a single bed on each wall, which cost four durham (back then about a dollar) each night. A spell in the communal shower cost one more, and there was a lavatory down the hall, one of those where you squat on raised footprints over a sort of funnel, that I'd first encountered in cheap Parisian cafes. Across a fairly wide street was a restaurant, quite decent and friendly. I found myself absolutely ravenous for a salad of diced tomatoes and onions, and demolished it in short order, though I normally cannot abide raw tomatoes.

It was a world without women. If you did not bring one with you, you weren't going to find one. The girls wearing Western dress in the 'modern' parts of the city had no interest at all in raffish types. Occasionally there would be housewives out shopping, shrouded head to toe in black like holes in the world of light. No one had to be told the women wearing head-scarves who cleaned the rooms in the pension were not to be propositioned, let alone touched.

One result was about what you would expect. With shoulder length hair, I got propositioned about as frequently as when I was a street kid, by local swains who usually got me feeling that if I was that way I'd like to think I could do better than you. People took refusal easily, though with a hint of surprise sometimes, as Westerners were presumed lewd and only here for debauchery.

Another result was a good deal of asexual physical intimacy between men. I've always figured when far from home you ought to go as native as you can, and it just was not possible to strike up a friendly acquaintance with a Moroccan fellow without being touched and touching in return. You would walk together holding hands, or with his arm over your shoulders, or yours over his, and it soon came to feel quite natural. When you get right down to it, it's nice to be touched, and quite unpleasant not to be for any extended period.

The cast in the room changed daily. I remember a pair of dour Finns, who to my surprise found whiskey cheaper here than at home, and put away great quantities of it, without any apparent change of mien or behavior. There was a guy, another American, who stowed his stuff under the bed and headed out wearing tight, very short shorts and a tank top. I told him that wasn't a good idea, and he gave me what he must have thought was a withering look and went right ahead. A few minutes later he came rushing back in mortal panic --- a traffic cop had liked the look of him, waved him over, and began fondling his bottom. There was a slim, doe-eyed young Frenchman came, who got to live le reve l'Oriental. A similarly slight and graceful young Moroccan soon joined him, and it was sweet to see them together sitting on the bed. They left hand in hand after a couple of days, and I expect they found a private room somewhere for an indefinite stay. I felt I'd witnessed a Cavafy poem.

Getting a telephone call through to the States was an all-afternoon affair at a post office facility, and not cheap. The wait for a trans-continental line proved futile once one had been acquired. My girlfriend, who for better or worse had accepted my offer to carry her books home in the waning days of our junior year at high school, assured me the draft had been sent, and even acknowledged, but still there was no budging the bank. They hadn't got it, and that was that. I was down to scarcely more than the last note for a hundred Swiss francs remaining of my iron reserve, and that was essential to get me back to Paris where I could use my return ticket to Chicago.

I went into the restaurant across the street from the pension, where I'd been in to eat most days, and instead of the beef or chicken couscous that was my usual, I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a thin soup priced at twenty centimes. The waiter brought it, and expressed his concern with his hand on my shoulder. I managed to get across that there was a real problem with money now, and he assured me, with affirming nods from other staff, that if I brought a few diners into the place, I could order something for myself, no charge.

This was an eye-opener. People arriving at the pension often asked about where to eat, and I was an old lag about the place by now. People came walking up the street from the docks with knapsacks, and the pension staff were just as amenable to a similar arrangement, with three or four new guests counting as a bed for the night for me. And of course everyone wanted to get high, and I was very well positioned for that.

People expected drugs in Tangiers to be cheap and strong, and what was generally available was neither. Kief, here meaning what remained of the plant once the resin had been harvested for hashish, came in an amount quite similar to the shot-glass measure of a nickle bag, and was sold to trekking hippies for twenty durham. You might as well have bought a nickle bag of ditch-weed at home and brought it along. In fact a good portion of its kick came from an admixture of strong black tobacco flakes, like one might crumble out of a Galois. It was this which made the stuff's legal situation a tad ambiguous, because tobacco was a royal monopoly, and a license was required to sell it.

I couldn't get you anything better, but I could get it for you a good deal cheaper. The Arab Quarter preserved in Tangiers is not very large, and I never found it the least bit fierce. Even if you did get lost it wouldn't last long, you were sure to blunder onto one of the larger streets that, if stuck to, soon enough would lead you out of the place. But people who came over on the ferries were leery of it, and thought a guide was required for a venture into its alleys if you were going to come out.

I had found my way to a cafe in there with a couple of pin-ball machines, where a few fellows in cheap suits had settled in to eat powdered hashish with sugar, and sold measures of kief to locals for five durham. They were happy for me to bring in a few people from the pension, who would buy their kief at two or three times the usual rate, which was still cheaper than foreigners would be pestered to pay anywhere else in the city. I could collect at both ends, a few durham from the seller, and a tip in cash or kind from the happy buyers. The mix of powdered sugar and hashish these guys used themselves they would not sell to foreigners. I was offered some, and the amount they suggested I eat was about what they themselves used, but I was too far from home to take a chance on something unfamiliar that, once begun, I could not know how long or how intense it would be.

I wouldn't say I was living the life of Reilly, and it gnawed at me that somewhere floating about was a thousand dollars with my name on it that I hadn't a hope of finding, but I did have some cash. Most days I could order a vegetable couscous at the restaurant on the strength of a full table. I could cover the price of my bed if I bagged no one for a stay that day. I could buy bread and milk and tinned sardines, shower at reasonable intervals, and I could get moderately stoned. It was enough to keep me from saying to hell with it and heading for home, which I did not want to do. I wanted to get to T'leta Katama, with some money.

One day an Englishwoman arrived at the pension alone. They showed her to the room I was in, which at the time had two beds vacant. She seemed unusually self-possessed, and didn't let her eyes linger on any of the guys she'd be sharing the room with. She was well put together, with dishwater blonde hair she'd let get a bit straggly, and wore jeans, a dark tee-shirt, and flat sandals. Though her presence seemed to require explanation she made none, saying only that she'd come over from Gibraltar for a look at Tangiers.

That night four of us were a'bed in the dark. It was pleasant a woman, unattached, was in the room. She reminded me of my girlfriend, off across the ocean in her parent's house. I suppose any girl would by then, but they were of a size and shape, if not a coloring. It was easy to picture her naked, though it wasn't wise to press the thought. Men who think they masturbate silently are wrong, the distinctive rhythm of sexual excitement communicates, especially when laying on a thin mattress supported by a wire net in a bed of steel tube on a stone floor. I resolved to soon contrive being alone with her, to chat her up and see, while composing myself for sleep with visions of her and my absent girlfriend blended in a composite nakedness flickering in my mind.

I didn't think much of it when one of the other guys got out of bed. I expected he'd be going to the lavatory but he didn't, he went over to the Englishwoman's bed. I couldn't imagine what he thought would happen. My girlfriend of nigh on seven years, were she in this room, would not have allowed me anything but the mildest petting, let alone welcomed it. Even the wildest woman I'd yet met, a stripper from Midas Touch who used Bay Rum as a perfume and came back with me one night to my first real apartment, then went on over the next several days to enjoy herself with each of the batchelors in the two apartments downstairs as well, even she wouldn't have told this guy to climb on and get down to it, not on such brief acquaintance and before strangers.

Both the importunate man and the resistant woman kept their voices pitched low. Perhaps each thought the rest were already asleep, and wanted it to stay that way. I couldn't pick up the words, other than a few clear noes from the girl. I lay there listening for notes of desperation or panic in her voice, or hints at force in his, things that would make what was going on my business. Because it wasn't my business to fight her battles for her, her very presence here was a declaration she could take care of herself, or thought she could, anyway. It went on a long, uncomfortable time, during which she never cracked, and the guy eventually did get the message and slunk back to his bed.

What happened next amazes me to this day. I don't have a very high opinion of men as a species, and do not exempt myself from the judgement --- I know better than most just what I'm capable of. I could sort of understand the guy who'd just tried to make her, he was too stupid to live, let alone get laid, but I could recognize the drive and the hope he'd harbored. The second guy, the one who then got up from his bed and went over to hers to try his hand at what he'd just heard and seen fail utterly, him I cannot fathom. Did he think she drove off the other to keep herself available for him? Did he think himself that much more attractive, more skilled at seduction and cajolery than the other? Did he really think anything but a repetition of the scene just concluded would be the result of what he did?

That was exactly what happened, of course, and once he'd understood his defeat, I expect she lay there steeling herself against my coming to put her through the same sorry experience yet a third time. I made sure to be very still, and had a hard time finally getting to sleep. I'd been too near the edge of a fight too long. I doubt she got any sleep at all. In the morning she arranged to have one of the few private rooms available in the pension. It didn't really help. That night the guys on the pension staff took it in turns to knock on the door of that western blonde, who just had to be a slut eager for their attentions, otherwise she wouldn't have come here alone.

In the morning she was back in the room, where there was nobody but me. Her eyes were wide, and she had a bit of lower lip sucked in between her teeth. I sat down next to her, thinking even so this was the best chance I was likely to get, and she just went to pieces. It wasn't a big bawling cry, it was quiet, and all the worse to witness for it. Her face went horrid, like melting wax, she hunched over as if she could hug herself with her own shoulders and rocked back and forth at the waist. The instinctive response was to pet a suffering creature, the thing you do when there's nothing else you can, and the end is near. She endured my hand stroking slow at the top of her spine, where one day a widow's hump might be. I expect how I'd learned to touch another man in this place helped communicate to her this was not sexual, that I wasn't next going to paw a boob or shove her hand down my pants, that I just couldn't stand how bad she felt and how ugly the last couple of days had been for her.

She came out of it after a while, and sat nestled into my side under my arm draped over her shoulder. Through a few last sniffles she told me how she'd had a fighting break-up with her girlfriend she travelled with, and stormed off here to make sure of it. A little flicker of fear came back into her eyes a moment, but I'd been good friends with a couple of dykes, and I didn't take it as a challenge or find it especially exciting. I told her a little of myself and my circumstances, how I was stuck here, and how much I missed my distant girlfriend.

Sitting there, without ever spelling it out in words, we made a MacKinnonesque bargain. I would protect her, but what I was protecting her from was other men, and without their bad behavior I would have nothing to offer and she wouldn't have reason to give me the time of day. We would behave as a couple, we would sit together, snuggle up against one another, take what comfort and pleasure from the unsexed touch of the other we could. One of the women of the pension came in to mop the floor, and beamed to see us sitting together like that, my arm over her shoulder and hers about my waist. It was a settled matter, anyone could see she was mine, and the men who'd knocked on her door the night before left her strictly alone. Such was the velocity of the place that within a day or two there was no one around but staff who knew we hadn't always been a couple.

She stuck close to me, I wasn't much use out of her sight. With her along meeting the people coming up from the ferries went much better than I was used to. Newcomers just off a ferry saw the local touts crowding about them as cunning and deceitful urchins, whereas I was one of their sort, and so easier to trust. Having a woman along magnified that predisposition, for if I wasn't on the up-and-up she wouldn't be at my side, and her presence drew eyes and interest so that people were more likely to stop and listen. We often brought people enough to fill a couple of tables into the restaurant, and even though I ordered the vegetable, the waiter brought me the beef couscous with a big smile, and it was not clear whether this owed to the greater traffic, or because he thought I'd need to keep my strength up to meet the demands of the blonde. She came along when I brought a gaggle seeking kief into the Arab Quarter, and the sight of her at my side netted a few extra durham, and a renewed urging to give the sugared hashish powder a try. I gathered from their winks and nods towards her it could have aphrodisiac qualities.

After a week or so, she plucked up her courage and we went to the post and telegraph, where she made a call to the Gibraltar hotel she and her girlfriend had been staying in. Getting a line through to there didn't take nearly so long as it did for one back to the States, but it was a good wait even so, during which she paced a bit, rubbed her hands on her jeans when she sat, and on occasion made little decisive nods. When she went into the booth to pick up, it was either going to be a short call, because her girlfriend was no longer there, or was out, or just hung up on her, or a long one, which was more likely to mean reconciliation than renewal of their quarrel. It was a good while before she came out of the booth, with a big smile and bright eyes, and I realized I'd never really seen her happy before. Next morning I saw her off on the Gibraltar ferry. She gave me a big hug, a real one, that pressed her bosoms against my chest while she kissed my cheek, and it was all I could to keep my hands off her derriere. I went to a place I'd found before, where waves crashed on big black rocks, and sat there a while, till as it always does, the natural scenery bored me, spectacular as it might be.

A couple of guys showed up at the pension, crew-cut types, with broad shoulders, wearing button-down shirts and chinos. They had three suitcases between them, not two. The pair made a point of chatting up guys here on their own, and finally they got around to me. They'd been to Ketama, stayed at the royal hotel there, which was good as a Hilton in the States, they said, even had a great selection of booze. They invited me out to the American bar in the modern city, and over hamburgers and chili washed down with beer, disclosed their interest. They had purchased two kilos of hashish in Ketama, which had been delivered to them here in Tangiers, packed into the lining of a suitcase. They wanted someone to take this on the ferry to Algecieras, and then on to Madrid to board a flight back to New York. Why they weren't willing to shoulder the risk themselves was not clear. I expressed some interest, mostly to get a look at the suitcase. It was terrible. The extra weight was obvious, and so was some of the tampering with the lining. I couldn't see it passing even cursory inspection, and it was a ridiculous thing for a longhair in ratty denim to be carrying anyway. The only question was whether it would be a Spanish or a U.S. customs official who caught me.

The only way it would be safe was if they'd been burnt, which was a distinct possibility. They'd never seen what was in that suitcase. Shortly after leaving home I'd had a small but sharp lesson in the folly of paying for unseen merchandise. A well-rounded little chick in bell-bottoms had led me to a small apartment building on Wells Street, a bit south of the main strip. With my three dollars and fifty cents she trotted up the steps, saying she would soon return with a hit of acid. Time stretched on to an unholy length, and finally I mounted the stairs, opened the lobby door, and found the floor extended only a few feet, and that below it stretched a jumble of bricks, floorboards, and chunks of lathe and plaster, clear to the alley. The building was being demolished, from the rear to the front so equipment wouldn't interfere with traffic. She'd just let herself down from the fragment of lobby floor and got away clean. It was too neatly done to even get angry over.

The two would-be kingpins wanted to leave the day after tomorrow, and I strung them along without quite committing, because the price they offered was an insult. Assuming they'd wholesale it, and less what it cost them at the source, they'd clear five or six thousand at least, and five hundred wasn't nearly enough of a cut, not even if I thought success likely, which I did not. When I told them that morning I was not going to do it, that they were on their own, they did not like it at all, but however muscular they might be they understood that here in the pension they could only bluster, and they couldn't even do that for very long, not without it becoming obvious what they were so angry over. I'd got a couple of ample western meals out of it, and a twenty dollar bill, which was nice to have. It was damned near independence for a week, about ninety durham.

Heading out to meet people coming off the docks, canvassing the rooms for people seeking a good meal or something to smoke, it had all just lost its spark somehow. After the morning ferry's crush had passed, I wandered onto a little side street and found some steps to sit on. I realized I really liked that little English dyke, I'd enjoyed being her protector, and while I was glad for her that she was back with her girlfriend, I missed her, a lot. I wondered what she'd remember me as, if she'd remember me at all. I saw before me three young men, one a little closer to me than the others on either side of him. That one had some English, and told me I'd better stop touting tourists, better not steal trade off them anymore, and fucking would stop if I knew what was good for me. He was much too close, but that's how people do there. I kicked him in the crotch from my seat. It wasn't a particularly good kick, it didn't double him over, but it did rock him back, and I stood up quick, which reminded them I was a head taller than any of them, and had a good deal more reach, a point emphasized by the click of the switchblade opening. They took off running, and the shouts they aimed back over their shoulders at me in their own language could only be threats.

Violent display had routed an immediate danger, but it couldn't possibly solve the great problem I faced now. Bleeding bodies on the pavement wouldn't do me a bit of good, and if those little shits had any sense and nerve they'd have laughed at the blade and invited me to use it. I had no idea who their friends were, who deployed them, what backed them. I was far from home alone in a place where I didn't just not speak the language but couldn't even decipher the alphabet. Once early in my acquaintance with the guys in the Arab Quarter cafe, one had said sternly 'Police!' and flashed an official looking card when he did. My face didn't change, I kept my eyes on his, and they all laughed. It was a driver's lisence, but I couldn't have told it from a warrant-card. Tangiers was over, it was time to go home, time to get the everloving fuck out of Dodge.

I did still have with me in my satchel the hundred Swiss franc note, my ticket home, and my passport. The durham in my pocket ought to be enough for a room overnight back at the old hotel. Measured by distance it wasn't that far from where my troubles were, but by social measures it was nearly another planet. In my luggage were a good wool jallabbah robe and an Army poncho, and some other things worth having still. When I walked in the door I was greeted with big smiles and happy voices. They were glad to see me, very glad, glad enough to praise the mercy of God. They hadn't known how to reach me, you see, and it pained them terribly this was so. Three days after I'd left, they had received notification my draft was being held at the Royale Banc d'Marroc, where it had been sent immediately from the bank it was addressed to. All I had to do was present myself with my passport at the King's bank, and they were very happy to give me a room once more.

It was nice to be alone, in a room behind a locked door. It was nice to be naked, sitting on a broad bed with the Velvet Underground tape on the player. Beside me on the bedspread I counted out eight hundred dollars worth of currency, most of it in hundred durham notes, but some in dollars and some in Swiss francs. I had given five of the durham notes to the hotel's people, on the understanding this was not recompense for what they'd done for hospitality's sake, but a gift to friends of my heart, said with the appropriate pat to my left chest. Between a service charge and various money-changing fees the Royale Banc d'Marroc had kept a cool ninety dollars of my thousand.

Twenty-five of the durham notes I set aside as the purchase price for a half kilo of hashish in T'leta Katama. That would bulk about seventeen cubic inches. To contain this, I had brought eighteen concho-style ornaments and a large flat buckle, which unrolling the jalabha robe and poncho let me look over and finger once more. I made them, I was a craft jeweler in those days, among other things, and proud of the work. It would strike a false note to have on just a concho ornamented belt and a few more dangling off the knapsack, but I had made also several large rings and a bracelet to be company for them, and the bell-bottom jeans and denim jacket I would wear the day I crossed the customs line at Algeciras were highly ornamented, as was the pale paisley dress shirt I would have on.

Around noon on the second day, I said my good-byes, leaving my knapsack and contents behind here once more, and taking only my trusty satchel, containing a change of clothes and a couple of books and notebooks. As I strode through the modern town I was, as a great man once wrote, neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn't care who knew it. I was used to hitch-hiking in the States, and saw no reason I shouldn't here. When I passed out of the city, I was on a straight small road raised up a little from a flat scrubland. Not far ahead of me a little beige automobile of some European make or other was stopped, and I could see a plump man in a pale grey sharkskin suit squatting beside it, working away at a jack so small it looked like a toy, and not making much headway.

He looked up to see me approach. His face was round, his cheeks particularly so, and that they needed shaving twice a day was suggested strongly by his thick black eyebrows. Without a word I got down beside him and took over at the jack's little handle. He stood up, breathing hard, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. It was work, the handle moved only a few inches, and lifted the vehicle but a few millimeters each stroke. He brought me a wrench and I got the flat off, hefted it back to the trunk, and dogged on the spare. Once I was done and stood up, brushing dust off my knees, he asked where I was going. I told him. He said he would pass through the place, on his way home, and would be happy to take me there.

He told me he had come to Tangiers to get gold earings for his newly born daughter, which he showed me when he stopped the car to go down a little slope beside the road to spread a cloth, kneel, and pray with his forehead to the earth. He had several children, he told me when we started off again, and wanted to know if I had a wife. I said yes, for almost seven years, as I always did when asked this, since explaining the actual state of being a solid but unofficial couple so long far exceeded my command of French. He then asked the question every man I ever met in Morocco did. How many children did we have?

When I answered none, the response was always the same, a brief silence followed by you must love her very much. No one ever went on to say, otherwise you'd have divorced the barren cow, but it hovered in the tone, often alongside unstated wonder at the sexual passion she must display, that I couldn't break free from. This man said that as well, you must love her very much, but the tone of his voice, and the glance he turned to me from the road, lacked that undertone of disparagement towards her. 'Very much,' I said, and I put my hand on his thigh. His wife had given him only daughters, if he had sons he'd have said so. He put his hand on mine for a moment, in the same sympathy he felt from me. We were both men whose women had failed us, said the touch of his hand, and we did not care, we loved them, we were happy with them, no matter what.

It wasn't but late afternoon when we came to Ceuta, a place I knew of then only as the other ferry destination possible from Algecieras. The smiling man behind the wheel said he had business in the town, that would keep him overnight, but he would be here, at this plaza, tomorrow morning at half-past seven, and we would continue. I stepped from the automobile with a parting nod, and no particular reason to believe or disbelieve him.

There was something mean in the air in Ceuta. I don't generally think people whose speech I can't understand are not just discussing but disparraging me, but I felt pretty sure the pack of kids who trailed me a while were doing just that. Here French didn't help at all, people who spoke anything but Arabic spoke Spanish. I was far from the only westerner in sight, but I was the only one who wasn't hefting a backpack. I learned later this plaza wasn't far from the port, and that Ceuta was the preferred entry for people intending the hippie trek down the Atlantic coast en route to Marrakesh. A destination I had been turned irrevocably against by a popular group's song I couldn't stand.

I restricted my explorations to places not more than one corner away from sight of the plaza. Everything seemed grimey, even the decoration was dulled and grey. An enterprising fellow with a cart offered 'hamburgesas', which he cut in half and served on a miniature baguette, with some tangy dressing I didn't mind but didn't recognize. I found a place where, once I'd sat there a good while, a waiter deigned to bring me glasses of mint tea, which I expect were priced well above what men nearby in robes and sandals paid.

I followed a group of backpack toting hippie trekkers into a hostel nearby as evening drew down. A bed was two durham a night. It was in a room neither clean nor bright, and there wasn't one bed to each wall, but five beds projecting from each of two opposite walls, with an exceedingly narrow lane between their feet, and barely space between the undersized mattresses to edge sidewise. People went to sleep pretty quick because there was nothing else to do, even the inevitable guitar player got tired of it.

Many people sleeping in close quarters make a surprising amount of noise, but I suspect I drifted off a bit even so. I know I was awake before seven, because I was already alert when management came through early to roust the place. If you weren't going to stay another night they wanted you right out, and if you were, they wanted the money now. I'd kept on my boots, and rested my head on the satchel wrapped in a battered denim jacket, I hadn't a thing to do but put my feet to the floor and leave. The waiter was a bit more welcoming, the place had just opened, and I was tired enough to be effusively glad of something warm and sweet.

When I got to the plaza, I saw the little beige automobile was there. A tall man in a burgundy robe stood by the driver's door. There was something Lincolnesque about his long face and frame as he leaned down like a stooping crane to the window, and they kissed each other on the cheek in parting. I waited while the tall fellow walked away with great slow strides that covered quite a bit of pavement, then stepped out into the plaza with a wave. The passenger door opened. I got in, and was once again beside the plump fellow in the shiny suit. He gave me a big smile and patted me on the back, with a brief welcoming grip to my far shoulder, and I did the same for him.

We were heading south now, amid hills aspiring to be mountains, though the road still had little grade. We came to a police checkpoint. A Volkswagen bus was pulled off to the side of the northbound lane. Its several long-haired occupants were seated on the grass. Men in grey uniforms pawed through their vehicle and belongings, while others stood about looking nowhere in particular. They carried submachine-guns hanging barrel down by long slings, which put the pistol-grips under their hands, to be clutched up in an instant.

One of these latter, who stood a bit apart from the rest, came over to our vehicle. The policeman, clearly the officer over the others, leaned down to speak through the driver's window, and it was instantly apparent he and the plump man in the shiny suit knew one another, indeed, that they were on very good terms. It was a casual conversation, with nothing of interrogation about it. They spoke in Arabic, of course, I hadn't the faintest idea the content of their speech, only the tone of it, and the pleasant expressions on the officer's face.

We passed beside a built-up town of some size, where the real mountains seemed to be beginning, and turned from south to east. We didn't do more than slow when passing checkpoints, unless the smiling man at the wheel wanted to, for a chat with another policeman he recognized. Twice I saw westbound vehicles stopped for search, with longhair types waiting uneasily on the grass, and we once passed an eastbound auto full of westerners that had been halted at a checkpoint. With mountains rising higher around us, the road became a sinuous thing, that strove to rise by the easiest slope along with them, and daylight began closing down to a deep gloaming, that was more the lengthening shadow cast by ridgelines south and west than a true sunset.

It was starlit night overhead by the time the road straightened out. We pulled to a stop before a sort of road-house, and both of us got out. I followed him inside. The furnishings were rustic, and this was not by decorator's decision. The only reason not to think the place hadn't altered in centuries was a couple of glowing lightbulbs on the ceiling and the universal photograph of the King on the wall. The man in the sharkskin suit whose tire I'd changed was warmly greeted by several gentlemen in robes there. He told me he had to say goodbye, and that I was at T'leta Katama. We hugged one another, then clasped hands, and he left.

These robed men here and I hadn't a scrap of language in common, but a lot can be got across with gesture and expression. I understood I was to sit, a bench at any table would do, then I was to have mint tea, over which there was to be no question of money, and I was to wait. What I was waiting for I had no idea, but there was nothing here to be leery about. I realized my ability to feel that in such a circumstance as this had led me to make a grave miscalculation. I had not taken seriously the suitcase delivered from Ketama to those crew-cut guys in Tangiers. I supposed they had just fallen in with some of the many guides and such who found it paid to scare foreigners by telling them what cunning dangers they faced everywhere. But the dangers faced leaving here were real. It wasn't a place to just stroll back out of with half a kilo of hashish in my boots.

It turned out I was waiting for a nine year old boy wearing a dark robe. He fixed his bright eyes on me and said, in good English, come with me. Every man in the place smiled and gestured that yes, I was to follow him, certainly I should. The kid led me east down the road a ways, then he turned off it to the south and we were on a little downslope. I was amazed by more than the kid's English when he told me I'd be staying with his family, who were glad to have me as a guest in their home. Which proved not to be a house but a compound. There was a palisade encircled it, tall stakes set close enough to be awful hard to squeeze between, with an opening left towards the road to pass in through. Within this were several simple structures. The kid led me to the one where his father and mother dwelt.

We spoke by flickering lamplight, with the kid translating between me and his father, while his mother sat silent, with gold glinting at her ears and throat. I was told my presence was a favor, not to me, but to his father. I said to him what I said to the plump man whose wife bore him only daughters, I was traveling to see the world, I had heard stories of this place and wanted to see it.

The mother brought in a big bowl of stew and set it in the midst of the four of us. There were rounds of flat-bread, pieces of which were used for utensils, though fingers were acceptable in a pinch. The etiquette is obvious, your portion is what's before you, that narrows like a piece of pie as you work from the edge to the center. The stew wasn't anything I'd seen before, but the spices had grown familiar, there was meat and carrots and tomatoes in it, as well as odd corkscrew things, about the length of a little finger. Some were in front of me, and when I ate one, it had the consistency and sort of the taste of a thoroughly cooked clam. I couldn't imagine what they were, and suspected it would be impolite, perhaps even unwise, to ask.

With the meal concluded, the kid led me off to the hut he shared with his little brother, who looked about five. I was to stay with them, sleeping on the extra pallet laid on the beaten-earth floor. The kid produced a baked clay chillum pipe and stuffed it with tobacco, then crumbled hashish on that and struck a light. You first, he said, handing it to me, and stood by with a lit matchstick. I'd never got the knack of these, never could quite get the big bowl's stubby stem seated right between the fingers of a loose fist, nor the clasp of hands joined that conveys all the smoke to your mouth. The boys were both amused, but the smoke was so strong it was just as well half of it didn't get through. I held the match for the kid's bowl, and then he passed the chillum to his little brother, who had no difficulty making the thing work, either.

That was just the first round, and sleep came easy. Next morning I was up with the dawn, creaky and stiff, and got a good look at things. The mother pumped the well, filling buckets her two daughters carried, to the kitchen, to their parents domicile, to that of the sons, and then to their own hut. Mother and daughters didn't look at all like the women respectably draped in black I'd got used to in Tangiers. They all wore loose trousers, with a dress over them and a vest as well, mostly pleated white with color trim here and there. Only the youngest's hair was exposed. They called to mind dolls clad in rustic East European peasant costumes I'd seen, at an ethnic fair I was taken to as a boy, only their clothes weren't brightly bleached and starched, but thoroughly lived in.

In the parent's domicile where we all gathered after ablutions from the bucket, there was something like pancakes with raisins served for breakfast, with tall, silver-rimmed glasses of mint tea from a large and intricately chased silver pot. The father, a bit past middle age, could for feature and coloring have been mingled in amongst any Central or East European crowd without drawing notice, were he put in a suit or dungarees, instead of woolen robes. You could see the father clear and sharp in the kid, his little brother seemed a rounder sort.

After morning prayers, the kid led me off to the road, to show me more of the place. The mountains reminded me of Colorado, the same rust-red earth serving as backdrop for the deep greens of pine scrub and trees. It was a pleasing combination of colors that ringed us in. Off a good distance to our east rose the tall new royal hotel, beyond which low buildings began to cluster along the road. The kid walked me through the place, chatting all the while. He hadn't just a few memorized phrases, his command of English was well above my rough and ready babble in French. I told the kid I agreed the royal hotel was best avoided, that in Tangiers I'd met guys who'd stayed there, who tried something I couldn't believe grown men would be such fools as to do. The kid walked me around town just to give me new things to see, for hosted as I was there wasn't a thing there I'd any need to procure, except perhaps solitude, and he showed me a couple of places to sit over mint tea, or even soda pop.

Tomorrow afternoon I strode out on my own. According to head shop magazines, young people should be constantly in my path offering hashish, but the only young fellow who noticed me was a boy upslope who threw rocks at me as I walked by, and couldn't do it well enough to be worrisome. The place I went to sit by myself sipping mint tea had battered wood tables and chairs outside in front on flagstones, enclosed by a waist-high mortared wall. Men sitting together at other tables, wearing blue or brown robes, were of much the same stamp as the kid's father. I hadn't expected the Berbers in the mountains to differ quite so much in appearance from the people in Tangiers. When the waiter brought out my glass on a brass tray, I took a perverse pleasure in paying for something, even if it was just fifty centimes.

I sat in solitude, appreciating the green and rust palette of the mountains beneath the azure sky, and as I did I let go of the idea my real mistake had been leaving my jewelry and kit in Tangiers. To fill and seal the ornaments I'd need light, which here meant being out in the sun, and privacy, which really didn't exist. I felt confident I could pass Spanish customs, in the crowd off the ferry, among so many hippie trekkers returning home through Algeciras. The officers might think me a maricon, but they thought all long-hairs were, even a guy with a chick gone bra-less under each arm, and if I just kept my movement natural, my face straight, and my heart light, they'd have no call to think me a smuggler. Those grey-clad gendarmes waiting on the roads led out of here towards the coast were another matter. They weren't alert to subtleties where foreigners were concerned, they would stop any westerner, and assumed westerners held hashish till they'd searched and found none. They hadn't seemed too careful of people's things while looking, either.

Going back now to fetch the crafted ornaments and trying to do it here anyway, that was too ridiculous to entertain more than a moment. Once I'd left the compound it would not open for me again, I was certain. I would have to stay in the royal hotel, and the laden trip would be my fourth in a short time, they'd be waiting for me. To my mind even more important was that trying to retrace my steps and do it right next time insulted the luck that conveyed me here, that had the plump man in his sharkskin suit out worrying at a flat tire, just there, right then. No good could come of doing that.

So a couple of days later when the kid asked if I wanted lots of hashish, I could say in perfect sincerity no, I did not. I was just here to see the place, as I'd said. I knew this meant I would need to move on soon, because a man out to see the world wouldn't linger too long in any one place. I understood their recompense for this hospitality extended me was greater favor with the smiling man in the sharkskin suit who'd brought me here, and that no one cared whether or not I made some small purchase besides. By ones and twos men visited the father of the family hosting me, and that seemed to be his work. They sat at a table outside, with a daughter bringing them mint tea. It had the air of a landlord holding audience with tenants, and the cash crop up here was cannabis processed to hashish and kief. Occasional longhairs were just froth on the wave of the local trade, that moved in bulk weight and merged in coastal cities with international commerce. Trucks outbound from here the gendarmes waved right through.

It was a week since I'd left Tangiers when I said my good-byes and walked down to the royal hotel for the bus. It was a farewell without embrace, but friendly all the same. If I'd offered money the father would have been insulted. He deprecated the quality of hospitality he'd been able to provide, I assured him it was far more than I could ever have expected. Which had the virtue of being true. We drank a last glass of mint tea at the table in the sun. He hoped, God willing, my further journeys would meet with luck.

I don't remember what my ticket south to Fez cost, perhaps fifty durham. I'd no need to mark it, money was plentiful enough to seem meaningless, now that I wasn't going to be buying half a kilo of hashish. When it arrived the bus looked like one of the older ones still in use in Chicago, a little rounded at the front, with a windshield not much bigger than an automobile's, only its paint was blue and white instead of green and buff and there wasn't a side door at the rear. The bus was more empty than full when it pulled out, and was to stay that way. The road through the mountains to Fez was not a popular route, though its laying was a showpiece of the country's independence.

We hadn't been on the road long before a lonely gendarme post waved the bus to a stop. One man came on, and passed up the aisle checking identity cards. I was near the rear, the only westerner for many miles. By the time he worked his way back to me, I had my satchel open and my passport out and proferred. That was all he wanted, he looked to my visa stamp, looked to me from the picture, and handed it back. Not till the gendarme was off and the the bus back on the road did I allow words to form the rueful thought I could have had the load tucked into my boot after all. I knew better, though. Police are connoisseurs of indifference and fear, it's not easy to convince one you don't care when you do.

The bus didn't make much speed, and on that road you didn't want it to. As we passed south the rocks got more grey and dun, the greens more sage and sere. The scenery was something that just passed by the window, unable as always to hold my interest. The kid and I had worked up several dozen things I ought to be able to say in Arabic, important words, the names of things, a few choice phrases. I had written my best phonetic guess at what he said was the Arabic, next to the English meaning. I had out the sheet, and mouthed saying the words out loud.

I expect I went to sleep, or at least leaned back with my eyes closed. I'm writing all this down after a lapse of nigh on half a century, and not every thing has stuck in my mind. That some things are gone beyond recall I regret. I wish I could remember the English girl's name. I ought to remember the name of the hotel in Tangiers, but I don't. I can describe it, it was a white narrow front building on a street with a pronounced slope, not far from the big street where the banks are, but I cannot call to mind its name. Most of my memories are visual, vivid little pictures that conjure up sounds and scents, too, when they come upon my mind. There's not a lot of connecting tissue between them sometimes. One of those missing connective tissues is my arrival at Fez.

I have no idea anymore where the bus ride ended, nor of how I found my way to the little 'penthouse' atop a hotel I rented, nor which of the gates in the old city wall that building was just a couple of corners in from. I suspect that means nothing of note, nothing worth vivid memory, marked my arrival and initial explorations. But I don't think I walked any great distance that afternoon through the old city streets --- I'd have met bafflement a dozen times, and that I would remember. The bus depot must have been where things were built European style, a bus couldn't have got in the old city, at least not past the gate entrance. And I think I would remember alighting from a bus at that gate I oriented myself by while in Fez.

I expect what I did was hail a taxi-cab and ask to be taken to the old city, and the driver brought me around to that gate. I wouldn't recall paying fare and a lavish tip, when money meant nothing, I'd be drowsy and eager to move all at once, with a lot to not think about. I wouldn't have been noticing much outside my skull and skin. I'd have taken to the first hotel I saw, and once shown into a room with a bed, would have lain down in a surge of relaxation that brought deep sleep in its wake.

The room I woke up in while in Fez was something like a big tool-shed on the flat roof of a four storey building. There was the bed, a chair, and a table. I could choose between thinking the management thought they palmed something off on me with this 'penthouse', or thinking the guy who led me up to this room knew it suited me best of any they had. I was up at minaret height, and the call to morning prayer established an 'early to bed, early to rise' rhythm to life, enforced from the other end by candle-light. There was neither electricity nor running water. They wanted twenty durham a week, and I didn't mind at all.

I wandered the maze of streets all day, getting lost and finding my way back to the square just inside the gate. It was a memorable place. On one of the square's walls was a vast poster advertising some 'blaxsploitation' flick with a heroine, not a hero. She stood in leather slacks and chunky heels, quite busty, holding up a gun beside her firm face. It was not something I'd been expecting to see. It drew a crowd, men stopped and stared up. None of them even came up to her knees.

At the crack of dawn the streets thronged with young girls, sent out to fetch buckets of water for their families from municipal fountains, brass spigots emerging from a wall tiled white with ornamental blue. There would be donkeys laden with firewood, and the scent of cook-fires would be in the air. You'd hear roosters crowing, but they did that all day. Shops were mostly counters on the lower portion of a door, whether they sold mint tea or sewing notions.

The more I got lost the easier it became to find my way. Once I went round and round in an angular circle, and I only noticed because I saw the same gaggle of little kids laughing to see me come by yet again. I made a point of turning the other way when I came to the corners. There was color and ornament everywhere, geometric patterns, spirals, checkerboards. Often the buildings had external bay windows that nearly met above the street, I found twice that a street simply ended at someone's front door. You never felt quite outside in those streets, you felt enclosed unless you'd passed out the gate and were beyond the old walls.

It was a pleasure to blunder about my patch of Fez, to find little things I needed or wanted here and there. When I could name what I wanted in Arabic, which I could now do for things like milk and bread and soap and candles and matches, shopkeepers wanted to make what I'd asked for a present, and had to be cajoled into accepting my money, in babbled French and broad gesture.

In my room I wrote, letters to my girlfriend, poems, notes in a journal. It's possible some of the letters survive, I know a few to her from Paris do. I tried to track how relief at the lifting of a prolonged stress gave way to nostalgia for the sparkling edge danger brought. I missed it, even as I knew I wanted nothing to do with it, at least for now. I thought about that plump man and his big round-cheeked smile, a lot. I'm sure I wrote something about the English girl.

I decided I wouldn't pay for a fourth week. I hiked out and found the railway station. There was a train ran west from Fez to Rabat, the capital on the Atlantic coast, and till it drew up at the platform, there was nothing to do but loaf about. On that train I was the quintissential 'filthy hippie' after a month without running water, and people whose opinion I cared nothing for tried to make me feel it, with sharp looks and shaken heads. At Rabat I found my way to a hotel good enough the desk man bristled at the sight of me. A hundred durham note and hearing I'd been in the mountains a while got him to agree I did need a bath and a bed for the night, and some laundry could be arranged. The morning train north along the coast would get me to Tangiers in the afternoon, and I climbed aboard fresh, mingling with hippie trekkers heading home from Marrakesh. It was a pleasure to converse in English, and it amused me to watch them try and mask their incredulity as I told them true stories I knew they'd never believe.

Arriving that evening at the Tangier hotel was a homecoming. I'd felt a little faithless, somehow, taking that luxuriant first shower yesterday in Rabat, but I got the feeling the people greeting my return here were glad to see it wasn't such a bedraggled one as last time. Up in my room I unrolled the bundle of jahlaba and poncho, and pondered the ornaments and kit revealed. I decided it would, would likely have, anyway, worked. I had made backplates for the concho-style ornaments, and it was worth seeing how well assembling things went, comfortable behind a locked door with a bright lamp. I got everything matched together, then with a pencil stirred the epoxies into glue on the back of an empty notebook. I could put the adhesive on the backplate, holding it by the fittings that would attach it to a belt or strap, and press it into place, then wind things tight in rubber bands. The buckle's back was already fastened to the belt. The epoxy could be worked for about half an hour, and I had time to spare.

Next morning things were set hard, and didn't look too bad. The rim of the ornaments had some trim, braided wire, that sort of thing, to obscure any seam, and there really wasn't anything to catch the eye. It didn't seem there'd be much difference to doing it were the things full, though breaking the sheet of hash into little pieces would have taken time, and probably loosed a powerful scent. Holes in the belt awaited prongs on the back of the concho ornaments, others were fastened to a leather strip with fringe on the flap of the knapsack.

I went downstairs resplendent, wearing the denim jacket with embroidered patches, the bell-bottoms with a red stripe down the outside seams, adorned with brass studs, the paisley shirt with its moonstone buttons. I had on the belt with its big buckle covered in chunks of turquoise, bezeled in with their odd shapes interocking to a unity of design, and its concho ornaments alternating between brass with coral and silver with turquoise, while those hanging on the knapsack were applique silver only. The big silver bracelet with its copper-inlay circled my left wrist, and on my fingers were the rings with amber and water opal and malachite. It was my final leave-taking there, and we wished one another the best of fortune, God willing. I walked up to the street where the banks were. I still had more than twenty of the hundred dirham notes, and a good deal in smaller bills and coins besides, with which I bought Spanish pesetas and French francs. I took a taxi-cab down to the port, and boarded an afternoon ferry to Algeciras.

I was going home, and glad to be.





Several notes:

I have presented things as I knew them at the time. It is better to say growing cannabis was tolerated there, rather than legal. There apparently are laws against kief as well, but you couldn't have proved it by me. It was smoked openly by locals in Tangiers, even in sight of policemen.

There are quite strict border controls for entering Ceuta nowadays. I don't recall even having to show anyone a passport when we drove in. Of course there was no great press of refugees desperate for Europe back then.

I knew nothing of the Rif War, the great rebellion of Abd el Krim in the early 1920s against first Spain, and then Spain and France together, when I traveled in Morocco. I passed through areas that were centers of it, and had I known, I expect I might have looked around more.




Taking A Bit Of Vacation, Friends [View all] The Magistrate Feb 2024 OP
We will miss you, sir. brer cat Feb 2024 #1
Thanks for letting us know! Nittersing Feb 2024 #2
All the best to you sir. Fla Dem Feb 2024 #3
Take care. TwilightZone Feb 2024 #4
Sir, you will be missed here. sheshe2 Feb 2024 #5
Thank you for your service, Sir. lapucelle Feb 2024 #6
Take care The Magistrate. We will miss you. Love, Debbie debm55 Feb 2024 #7
Be at peace Magistrate lpbk2713 Feb 2024 #8
One of my faves, I'll be looking for you daily👋🏼. we can do it Feb 2024 #9
Take care of yourself LetMyPeopleVote Feb 2024 #10
I hope you share your writings when up babylonsister Feb 2024 #11
He posted some further down in this thread. femmedem Feb 2024 #45
Thanks! nt babylonsister Feb 2024 #46
You will be missed, Sir -- but when you finish that book, be sure to let us know... Hekate Feb 2024 #12
Love, Peace, & Aloha, The Magistrate,, Sir! Cha Feb 2024 #13
Enjoy your time away, Sir. OAITW r.2.0 Feb 2024 #14
You'll be missed. You're a gem and you bring much needed sanity and reason. Oopsie Daisy Feb 2024 #15
May you all recover quickly, and may the break be everything you need. niyad Feb 2024 #16
✌🏽 blm Feb 2024 #17
We'll miss you while you're taking your writing break! femmedem Feb 2024 #18
Take care of yourself sir. We will miss you question everything Feb 2024 #19
Do take care... 2naSalit Feb 2024 #20
Hang tough, Sir orangecrush Feb 2024 #21
Take care of yourself. LoisB Feb 2024 #22
Great news! Have fun! TeamProg Feb 2024 #23
Wishing you well Alice Kramden Feb 2024 #24
Thanks for the songs! Alliepoo Feb 2024 #25
Thank You All For the Kind Comments And Best Wishes The Magistrate Feb 2024 #26
Thanks for sharing this! Folks might miss it here--maybe give it its own OP? femmedem Feb 2024 #33
Thank You, Ma'am The Magistrate Feb 2024 #38
Thank you for sharing this. herding cats Feb 2024 #47
"...serious writing. (Is) a better use of my remaining time..." LudwigPastorius Feb 2024 #27
Took Me A Moment To Catch That, Sir The Magistrate Feb 2024 #37
You will be missed kind sir. redstatebluegirl Feb 2024 #28
Come back soon and of course lostnfound Feb 2024 #29
From the First The Magistrate Feb 2024 #41
We'll Await Your Return ProfessorGAC Feb 2024 #30
Take care, Magistrate Mosby Feb 2024 #31
I'll miss your posts Marthe48 Feb 2024 #32
Done any good models lately? malthaussen Feb 2024 #34
I'll Answer To Dissolute.... The Magistrate Feb 2024 #39
Nice, as always! n/t malthaussen Feb 2024 #43
You'll be missed. highplainsdem Feb 2024 #35
See you on the flip side underpants Feb 2024 #36
Just A Bit Of Update The Magistrate Feb 2024 #40
You will be missed, Sir. LNM Feb 2024 #42
I love your posts, I'll miss you. betsuni Feb 2024 #44
Until your return, here's to a full recovery, and good writing. 👍 electric_blue68 Feb 2024 #48
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