Monthly Archives: October 2011

Just like New York

Pops called me daughter, dropping the grand. Sometimes he called me oh girl. “Oh girl, oh girl, oh girl,” he’d say when he entered the room, and I knew he was talking to me. He had voice, and I loved him for it. But, I liked it best when he said “Just like New York.” He said it about anything fancy, or modern, or strange. He said it about people. He said it just to say it. Both Nannie and Pops had lived in upstate New York, and for a short time when Pops was in the army, Nannie lived close to New York City. I never knew exactly which New York he was referencing. But I was obsessed with living in NYC, so I liked to assume that’s what Pops meant. Every time he called something just like New York, I wanted desperately to know why he said it, to understand the comparison, to gain some insider knowledge. Most of the time, I was looking for meaning where there wasn’t any.

This morning, while walking back to my apartment after my early lesson, I saw some graffiti on the gates of several closed shops. “Just like New York,” I said aloud, before I even realized what I was saying.

*this was supposed to be an entry about Moroccan hip hop and graffiti. Whoops. But click on this photo to check out some Maghrebi hip hop. Photo links to Bigg's (above, left) Mabightch, or Don't Want To.

When I decided to move back to Morocco, I’d felt the need to justify my decision to everyone I knew, especially my friends and family in New York. How do you leave a city like that behind?  Maybe you don’t. And maybe that’s what Pops was thinking to. Once New York City builds a miniature version of itself inside you, it’s hard to escape. So, I’ll keep looking for pieces of New York wherever I am. Because the similes bring me home.

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“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

In Brooklyn there came the sound of the ice cream truck, maddening in its frequency and cheeriness, a sure way to recognize the summer season if the foul smell of garbage cans and the oppressive heat hadn’t already clued you in. There’s an equally irritating aural villain in my neighborhood in Casablanca: the cd salesman. This gentleman pushes his music cart through Maarif’s busy grid, playing sample songs on a boombox with one loud speaker, hoping to entice nearby Moroccans. His song of choice this week is one for teaching children a blessing: “Bismillah, Bsmillah, in the name of Allah.” I took this for a good luck omen when I first moved in; bismillah is a blessing offered at the beginning of things, climbing stairs, for example, or beginning a meal, or getting into a taxi. But the music is boring. And eerily upbeat. And the singer has the high-pitched voice of a child of indeterminate gender. I’ll take an Egyptian habibi song over this any day of the week. But the very worst part is that each time he passes under my apartment, I hear an internal version of the ice cream truck melody. A particularly gruesome double torture, if you ask me.

Sorry, fella. I'm up here shaking my fist at you.

And just like that my extended sojourn from this blog is over. I’m back: in Morocco, on the internet, to teaching and to writing. And I’m excited. Maarif, my new neighborhood has a little of everything I loved about living in El Jadida – friendly hanut owners and fresh olives and vegetables down the block, and cafe nus-nus aplenty. But it’s also on the edge of Casablanca’s upscale shopping district. It feels like a nice blend of New York and Morocco, which so far, has made life considerably easier than it was this time last year. I already speak enough Darija to get things accomplished by myself and when I can’t, there’s an incredible amount of proficient English speakers in the neighborhood to help me.

My classroom's view.

So another year of exploration begins. I hope you’ll join me.




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