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CAIRO/BEIRUT

April, 2009

 

I missed my flight to Beirut from Cairo. I sat in traffic for 2 hours in a taxi and arrived at the airport 15 mins before my flight was supposed to depart. I sat in the Egypt Air office crying and exhausted. The woman behind the counter gave me a seat on a flight the next morning at no charge and pointed me towards a hotel. I dragged my suitcase through the faux security hotel entrance and asked for the cheapest room. I swam in a pool with fussy Europeans and ate a terrible Italian dinner. This hotel located us in nowhere/anywhere-but-Egypt. I slept fitfully to the incessant stream of muzak in the courtyard. Then woke up at 6 am and dragged my suitcase back to the airport.

 

Missing my evening flight was a blessing because in the morning light I was able to see everything. We flew over dusty, monochromatic Cairo, the Nile, farm land, deserts, and then for 45 minutes, just blue Mediterranean. Suddenly we swung past the Beirut skyline; perched on the sea, nestled in mountains, truly stunning.

 

When I landed, Sharif Sehnaoui, one of the festival organizers, wasn’t there to pick me up. I borrowed a kind stranger’s phone to call him (because my phone company lied when they said I’d have service in Lebanon) and he told me that the road to the airport had been closed off because of a protest. I sat in the airport giddy to be there and content to wait for him forever. I had been in contact with Sharif for over a year about the possibility of me coming to Beirut to perform at Irtijal, International free improvised music festival in Lebanon. Once invited, I had a difficult time finding funding. Three weeks before my departure I found out that I had been awarded an Emergency Grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Sharif had given up on me and had unprogrammed me from the festival. He had to stop the presses, add me to the program and find additional housing for me at the last minute.

 

I had always wanted to go to Lebanon. When I was six years old, my parents took me to Brazil. In the airport, the gate across from ours had a flight destined for Lebanon. I was just learning how to sound out words and I asked my mom: “What’s Le-ba-non?” and she said: “Oh honey, you don’t want to go there, it’s dangerous.” and I pleaded: “Yes I do, mommy, I really want to go to Lebanon!”

 

So there.

 

When Sharif and Raed Yassin (my collaborator) finally arrived they drove me to Stephane Rives’ apartment, where I would be staying.

 

***

 

In the car, I gave them a brief synopsis of my stay in Cairo, which is what I’ll give you here:

 

There are no direct flights between the U.S. and Lebanon these days so I took the opportunity to stop over in Cairo for a few days. I stayed with two acquaintances (who I now call friends) in different areas: Leilani Fletcher who lives in a suburb of Cairo called Maadi and Rania Khalil who lives in downtown Cairo. I met Leilani at a party in West Philly a year ago. We talked for an hour about yoga, bodywork and nutrition. I saw on facebook that she had moved to Egypt, and I asked her if I could stay with her for a few days and she said yes. Leilani is a recent convert to Islam who moved to Egypt from the U.S. in order to live in a country where there are expressions of spirituality in public life.

 

Rania and I overlapped for one year at Hampshire College. We’ve run into each other a few times since then at performances and peace demonstrations. She also said I could stay with her. She’s a fabulous dance-theater artist, here’s her website. She’s been living in Cairo for over a year, spending time with her Egyptian-born mother, who has recently returned to her country of origin to retire. Rania is secular, and is in the minority of women in living Egypt who do not cover their heads. This was the first time that I had visited a place where religion plays such a central and visible role in daily life (though the country is technically secular, women are not required to cover). I learned that the omnipresence of head covering is relatively new in Egypt. Rania showed me pictures of her grandmother and a group of women from decades ago, none of whom wore the hijab. I also observed the contradiction that many women pair the gratuitous head scarf with tight tops or high heels. Leilani, who is new to Egypt is genuinely earnest in her attempt to be modest in all ways. It was fascinating to be in the company of these two women living in Cairo with vastly different relationships to Egypt.

 

Here are a few details in no particular order that I will flesh out in future drafts of this writing:

 

Cairo is a city built for 5 million, inhabited by 22 million.

 

The air in Cairo smells like burning cement

 

Cars honk instead of using turn signals.

 

People ride three at a time on one scooter.

 

On my first night I fell asleep to the the sound of cars honking, a cat screaming as she got fucked and a dog barking. It sounded like possibly the dog was raping the cat.

 

Most women wear the hijab in real life, but no one does on t.v.

 

Arabic music is everywhere, in shops, restaurants, taxis, people’s homes. Western music is conspicuously and gratifyingly absent.

 

Everyone negotiates the price of a taxi ride before getting in.

 

You’re expected to tip for the saddest tasks-- someone carries your bag 10 ft, someone hands you a wad of toilet paper in the bathroom.

 

People sit in the dirt on the side of the road, resigned, as if they planned to remain there forever.

 

In the city of the dead, squatters live in an ancient cemetery.

 

In Al Azar park, Leilani and I noticed that we were sitting 3 ft apart from one another while all the Egyptian friends sat close, touching one another.

 

Male friends walk arm and arm.

 

Leilani took me to Khan el khalili, a shopping area that was heavily guarded due to a recent suicide bombing that had killed a couple of tourists 3 weeks prior. We walked through metal detectors to get in, but the soldiers were obviously profiling because they barely looked at us. The checkpoints were a deterrent for many local shoppers and the market place had lost some of its vibrancy.

 

Koshery is a delicious bowl of rice, beans, onions and tomatoes that costs less than a dollar.

 

Juice vendors sell fresh squeezed orange juice practically everywhere.

 

Rania showed me the view from her roof-- in one direction a crumbling ancient castle next to a brand new brick building. In the other direction, a roof filled with garbage and another filled with chickens.

 

Rania and I went to a souk to shop for dinner. There were meat counters, produce vendors and the floor was covered in blood.

 

The traffic is merciless and deadly. I walked behind the savvy locals like a duckling to avoid the unstoppable cars.

 

Leilani and I took a disastrous felucca ride. There was no wind to move the sail boat, so they attached a motorboat to propel the sailboat. Then the motor got caught in a fisherman’s net. We sat mid-Nile on a smoggy evening while the sailors and fishermen fought and untangled themselves. The felucca ride is supposed to be the ultimate reprieve from the stress of Cairo.

 

I didn’t see the pyramids.

 

Living in Cairo is hard. It’s dusty, crowded, loud and the infrastructure is crumbling, but people have time for one another. It’s not an imposition to ask for favors. Egyptians are deeply connected to their friends and families. When friends run into each other in the street, they stop to chat. No one just says “hey” and keeps walking.

 

***

 

After I got settled at Stephane’s place in Beirut, he took me to the palace. Sharif lives in a palace. The musicians joked that they had me staying at Stephane’s because they didn’t want the palace to inflate my ego.

 

I didn’t want to stay at the palace anyway.

 

A Sri Lankan housekeeper fed us lunch: greens with fried onions little sausages, a lentil hummus, delicious! Then Stephane took me and Sabu Toyozumi, a percussionist from Japan, on a two hour walking tour of the city. Stephane is French but has been living in Beirut for two years. He showed us Christian and Muslim areas, though you’re not supposed to define them as such, he said. We saw ancient greek and/or Roman ruins sitting alongside brand new high rises. Bullet holes pock mark the prewar buildings, including the building across from Stephane’s that I spent a lot of time staring at from his balcony. Remnants of the war are everywhere, but so is development. The entire downtown has been rebuilt post-civil war, funded by the family of Hariri, the Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2005. Although the architecture is eerily identical to the pre-war buildings, there is a sterility to the downtown area. It is heavily guarded by a military presence and is sparsely populated.

 

Sabu and I spoke in stilted English. He told me that he had played with the originator of Butoh dance, Kazuo Ohno. I told him that I had taken classes with Kazuo’s son, Yoshito. We discovered that we both know Toshi Makihara, a percussionist based in Philly. Sabu was one of Toshi’s first percussion teacher’s over 30 years ago.

 

When I saw Sabu play a few nights later, I saw some similarities between him and Toshi. Both of them have a strong sense of physicality and space when they play, as if during the moments when their bodies are not touching their instruments, they are still creating sound in the air.

 

On our walk, Sabu wasn’t paying attention when Stephane pointed to a beautiful old building and told us that it is a Hezbollah controlled building. It was just outside that building where Sabu asked me if I was from Israel. “No!” I said emphatically, mortified, “No, I’m from New York!”

 

Where did he get that idea from? I’ve never even been to Israel.

 

I do come from a family of secular, atheist Jews with a strong history of social service and activism. I’ve participated in a lot of Palestinian rights activism and although my family has never agreed with my anti-zionist stance, they’ve always been respectful of my point of view.

 

But never mind all that. I didn’t want to talk about my Jewishness while I was in Lebanon because I felt like my Americanness was enough of an obstacle. (The U.S. gives billions of dollars of military aid to Israel, thereby funding their occupation of Palestine and their military incursions into neighboring Arab countries, such as Lebanon. Additionally, there are over 200,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon which is a direct result of the U.S. supported occupation of Palestine). Plus my mom made me promise I wouldn’t talk about being Jewish.

 

I survived the walk with Stephane and Sabu. In the evening we went to a restaurant and ate hummus and meat. I sat across the table from Rhodri Davies, a harpist who had just arrived that evening from New Castle. We realized that we had met seven years ago in Mhere, France, a small mountain town that has more cows than people. There was an experimental music festival there called Fruits de Mhere. I was accompanying my boyfriend at the time, Bhob Rainey. Rhodri’s friend Matt Davis was also there with a short lived girlfriend, Simon Lia. She’s the author of the graphic novel “fluffy” about a man with a son who is a bunny. Every day at lunch she would sit across from me and scream “Nicole, stop playing footsie with me!”

 

Another highlight of that trip was the day after my birthday. The day I turned 25 I didn’t tell anyone. The following day, a British saxophone player, John Butcher, found out from Bhob and insisted we celebrate. He orchestrated a “happy birthday” chorus of drunk, experimental musicians singing backwards. Some of them sang the melody backwards, others sang the words backwards, others attempted to sing the letters backwards. It was the most beautiful cacophony.

 

***

 

The next morning, Stephane invited me to drive outside of the city with his unreasonably handsome friend Bashir Saade. They planned on recording their saxophone/ney duo in the quiet of the Saade country home in a small town in the mountains called Amchit (I think). Their project is some hybrid of traditional Arabic music with experimental music. While they recorded upstairs I made a short dance video in the garden.

 

On the drive back we looked at billboards for the upcoming parliamentary elections. It was very difficult for me to understand the difference between the various parties. Of course, all the Lebanese I met understand American electoral politics better than I do.

 

Bashir is writing his his PhD dissertation about Hezbollah. We talked about the differences between violent and nonviolent resistance. He said that in some circumstances, nonviolent resistance is completely ineffective. Although I wear a peace dove tattoo on my arm, I can’t speculate how I would behave if I were in a position where my land and water supply were being threatened. Although I come from a family of peaceniks, they contradict themselves with an enormous pride of my great uncle Paul, who my mother was named after. Paul fought and died as a volunteer soldier on the side of the communists in the Spanish Civil war.

 

Bashir said that the U.S. has had the luxury of the civil rights movement and an exploration of identity politics because the basic infrastructure is sound, that there would never be a famine in the U.S. I wish I had pointed out in that conversation that during hurricane Katrina Americans were dying of thirst. The government completely turned it’s back on those Louisianians.

 

I defended the U.S. for all our domestic achievements, such as racial integration, women’s and gay rights, while the Lebanese are still arguing over whether Christians should be able to marry Muslims (it’s illegal). I also lamented that we do have extreme poverty in the U.S. There are areas of Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans and Philadelphia that are completely bombed out, like war zones. Bashir argued: “So a man in the U.S. is hungry and doesn’t have the money for a sandwich, sure, but the overall wealth of the U.S. is at the expense of the rest of the world.” True, point taken. Here is Bashir’s blog.

 

***

 

That night some more musicians arrived and we went back to the same restaurant for dinner. I sat next to Joe Mcphee an American free-jazz musician who has much to say about improvisation. I speculated that musicians might tend to tour more frequently than dancers because they have widely released audio recordings that expose their work to more foreign presenters. I think that video documentation is an inadequate representation of dance in performance. Joe pointed out that audio recordings also lack the presence and vulnerability of live performance, particularly of improvised performance, which is all about the relationship between the performers (and the audience). I thought about this when watching Joe perform two nights later. I noticed that he chose to sit out a lot and listen, and that when he did play, it was a direct response to the other players. I could see this through his body language and physical presence, which is invisible on an audio recording.

 

Joe’s trio with Sabu and Daunik Lazro was a memorable visual experience. Joe decided half way through that the piece was finished, but Sabu continued. Daunik played with Sabu awhile longer, but he seemed half-hearted. Joe stood center stage with his cap on, dark shades, holding his sax at his chest, like he was praying. Then, he walked behind an oblivious Sabu who was waving huge sheets of paper in the air, creating a warbly, windy sound. Then Joe left the stage. Finally Sabu ended.

 

***

 

I collaborated with a bass player, Raed Yassin, who I had worked with in the U.S. in 2007 as a part of the Tabadol Project. We had not seen each other since. Raed prepares his bass with various objects such as singing bowls, electric toothbrushes and paper. When listening to a solo recording of Raed, you can hear such a dense layering of sound and textures, it seems as if you’re listening to a quintet. We performed a 30 minute dance/music duo which was freely improvised, meaning we came to the stage without any predetermined plan, other than to listen to each other and compose a piece spontaneously. It was extraordinarily challenging to dance solo to such densely layered accompaniment. I tried many different strategies to meet his intensity, such as stillness, repetition and juxtaposition. I’m still learning to temper my desire to show all of my skills, to simply give the piece what it needs. The practice of improvisation is process oriented and challenges in performance are an essential part of developing the craft. Performances that stir up questions like these are the most memorable for me. An excerpt of our performance can be found here.

 

Raed is a multifaceted artist. Here is a great video he did about falafel.

 

I spoke with one audience member who observed that improvisational performance requires different criteria for viewing than composed works; improvisation is about “the meeting” onstage and the audience is a witness to the conversation and building of rapport.

 

Sharif’s mother said to me, “Your dancing is like how I dance when I’m feeling a little crazy”.

 

During an intermission after my performance, I went next door to a restaurant to get some take-out food. Four audience members seated at a table promptly “kidnapped” me and insisted that they buy me dinner. I said no several times, but they were very persistent. One man pointed his fingers to my head like a gun and said smiling, “This is how we do it in Lebanon, you are being kidnapped for dinner”. I had dinner with these new friends and they expressed enormous appreciation for my performance, particularly because there is very little contemporary dance in Lebanon.

 

I asked them to really kidnap me and keep me in Lebanon forever. They said they would, but they didn’t.

 

***

 

The next day Stephane and I walked to the palace. It was warm and I was wearing a skirt. Suddenly self conscious of my unshaven legs, I asked him if women shave in Lebanon and wondered if I should wear leggings. He said, yes all women here are obsessed with body hair removal, people will stare, but that I should wear the skirt anyway. Then we talked about gender equality, freedom and how we’re all suffering from the prescribed roles of our genders. We had one of those rare, blessed moments that I’ve had only a few times with a man where we looked at each other and I didn’t see a man, I saw a person with an nongendered soul.

 

Then a sudden mood swing. I was so saddened that I live in a country where I’m not from, envious of the people who live where their ancestors lived. I don’t even know the name of the regions in Russia where my father’s parents and my mother’s grandparents came from. I felt adrift.

 

I did yoga in the back yard of the palace. There was a Banian tree, which appears to be many trees, but is only one with interlocking roots and branches. There were 3 chickens wandering around as I did my practice by the back of the house. Sharif’s grandmother opened a window and peered out at me with a scrunched up face.

 

“Who are you?”

“I’m with the festival.”

“Oh.”

“It’s beautiful out here.”

“It’s not bad”. She shrugged and closed the window.

 

Back in Sharif’s wing of the palace, I checked my email and wrote out directions to Rania’s house in phonetic Arabic, for the taxi driver, since I planned to pass through Cairo for one day on my way back home. Mazen Kerbaj, another festival organizer pointed to my piece of paper and said, “If you use this to direct the taxi driver, you’ll end up buried underneath the pyramids.”

 

Mazen, in addition to being an incredible musician and a wise ass, is also a visual artist. He was featured in Time Out Beirut that month as one of the 40 to watch, much to the chagrin of many the local folks I met, who complained about how small and insular their community is, and how phony these magazine features can be. Regardless, Mazen is worthy of the press. Here is Mazen’s blog

 

Sharif’s brother, who is running for Parliament, wandered in. He was clean shaven, wearing a suit and he stood in the middle of the room scanning us sprawled out on the couches. He nodded, “hello, hello” paused, and then exited. Sharif said he does this once every other month, just ambles in, looks around and then leaves.

 

***

 

Another performance-- the highlight was the french poet Patrick Dubost, who recited poetry over recordings of his own voice layered many times, reciting the same poems. Some of the recordings also had a soundscore. Although I don’t speak french, the phrasing and musicality of his text was riveting.

 

I had dinner at the kidnapping restaurant with Alessandra Rombola and Ingar Zach, an Italian/Norwegian couple based in Madrid. She plays flutes and amplified tiles that she slides rocks over. He plays percussion, which includes lots of bowing of singing bowls on top of a snare drum. Their trio with Rhodri the night before was phenomenal; a richly textured continuous soundscape. Though they all played continuously, somehow the details of all of their individual sounds were extremely differentiated and nuanced.

 

There was a dance party at the palace that night after the show. Raed and Mazen taught Ingar dabke, Arabic folk dance. Sharif’s mother gave me a brief oriental dance tutorial and I got to see her dance like she does when she’s feeling a little crazy.

 

***

 

On my way home from Beirut, I passed through Cairo for one day. I took a taxi to a cafe near Rania’s house. As I waited for her I wrote and stared at the horrible, gray roast-beef sandwich I had ordered. She arrived an hour later from a visit at her mother’s house and had a tupperware container of home cooked chicken and rice. It was delicious. We ate her mother’s food surreptitiously with our fingers in the restaurant while it rained outside for the first time in a over a year, washing all the soot and dust away.

 

 

PACHINKO ZEN/

Japan 2007

 

*Part I: “In Transit”

After 20 hours of travel, I stood transfixed in the Shinjuku train station. A man asked me in English if I needed help and I said no. I must have looked a mess standing there in the center of the station, people streaming around me, suitcases and bags strewn at my feet, circles under my eyes, slack jawed, mesmerized, as if in the midst of a petit mal seizure, by three women in pink bunny costumes dancing in a video ad on the side of a building. I must have looked awful, but I was actually very very happy.

 

We went to an area of Shinjuku called Goldengai. Dozens of bars that only fit 5 people at a time. We wandered into one that already had 5 people inside. The bartender encouraged us to come in anyway. It was festive in that little room. Every bar in Goldengai has a theme. The decor in this bar was eclectic: African masks on the wall and photos of the eccentric owner everywhere, performing ballet and musical theater.

 

Each train has it's own departure song. Late at night the cheerful tunes cause anxiety. We took 4 different trains home. As it got later each transfer was more intense. We were catching each of these last trains before closing. People ran through the stations, packed like sardines into the last cars. Many were drunk, falling asleep, falling down.

 

Morning time, miso soup for breakfast. Later, mochi with green tea for snacks. Hold the bowl close to your face. Here’s how you use the chopsticks. 5 of us in a tiny apartment. Shelving piled high to the ceiling. Pack it in. Make it fit.

 

*Part II: “Urban Oracles”

We got a private room and took turns. As I sang she checked the menu for her next song, not listening to me. Occasionally we watched each other, but mostly we sang for ourselves, songs from our childhoods. When the waiter brought our tea, I stopped, suddenly self conscious. This was different from U.S. Karaoke, which is like performance. This Karaoke was a solitary affair.

 

*Part III: “Noisy Machines”

Sushi-go-round - $1.00 per plate!

Business men read manga on the train.

Yellow dust day - don’t hang your clothes to dry.

5 o'clock song - time to go home.

Everything talks - the escalator, the bathtub.

The toilets make fake flushing sounds.

On t.v. - a show about daikon radishes.

Many people wear masks.

It's yesterday in America.

Flashing lights everywhere.

A second hand store called "hard-off"

"bottled water" in a can

Vending machines sell cans of hot corn soup.

Eyeglass cleaning stations.

White gloved people pushers on the morning trains.

The bathroom slippers are too small for me.

kewpie doll

belly warmer

toe socks

extremely fine tipped pens

 

There are no garbage cans anywhere, but everything is clean. Where do people put the garbage?

 

Men sit in smoky halls, pay to move tiny balls around in noisy machines and if they do a good job they win prizes like a rice cooker or shampoo.

 

*Part IV: “Sudden Chance”

Kazuo Ohno's Butoh studio is outside of Yokohama. We walked up steep hills and stairs to reach the space. From the top we saw the twinkling lights of the city. Houses were packed very close to one another, but there were still trees and gardens flourishing in the crevices.

 

Yoshito Ohno, Kazuo’s son, began by asking us to walk slowly. Then he lectured on the importance of every moment and how it is a gift to be alive. He made postural adjustments with little fans. Then he gave us artificial roses and discussed the similarity between us and the rose. He touched the crown of my head and said this is the head of the rose and my feet, the roots. He told us to run with the roses, to disappear and become the rose. Then he cut a sheet of paper with a box cutter and asked us to cut the space. We walked while threading needles. Everyday life is our teacher. Dancing and sewing are no different.

 

Ohno gave us sheets of gauze and said the diaphanous fabric teaches us about delicacy. When we get old we won't be able to dance unless we learn this lesson of delicacy. When he thought we were careless he told us to dance for all the children in the world who cannot sleep.

 

Dance for all the children in the world who cannot sleep.

 

Ohno lectured on the history of Butoh. Tatsumi Hijikata didn't eat for 2 weeks before one of his dances so that he would be as emaciated as the Japanese farmers were during WWII. Hijikata went to a cemetery to discover what death smells like. Butoh is sometimes referred to as the dance of death. Ohno said it is also the dance of babies.

 

*Part V: “The point of the wave is to leave without going anywhere”

I rode a train through the foggy Konagawa mountains. I went to Odawara to see the ocean. The main street of Odawara was lined with colorful translucent balls, strung from building to building. Hyper-cheerful folk music played from speakers. There were massive concrete dumbbells lining the beach to protect the highway and city from typhoons. The sand was black and there were flying fish. The day was cold and overcast but the water was warm.

 

There's a book of photos of Kazuo Ohno at his studio; haunting pictures of him dancing in women's attire, and then pictures of him aging. The final photos are of him bedridden with his family dancing around him. The last image is of Ohno, mouth agape, hardly conscious, hardly breathing with an infant lying face up on top of him, smiling.

 

 

Magic Bicycle

I recently bought my 4th bicycle in 5 years: a Green, 1968 Raleigh. The guy at the bike shop told me that it was designed to get drunk British men home safely in the rain on cobblestone streets. It was the smoothest ride, the sweetest bike.

 

My first two bikes in Boston were stolen. My third bike I left out in the snow all winter and it rusted. I left it outside a woman's house who I had been dating and when she ended it I didn't feel like going back to retrieve my bike for a long time. Now I've had that bike outside of my house for two months rusted, unlocked, trying to get it stolen, to no avail.

 

My 4th bike, the Raleigh, was stolen last week but I got it back.

 

I came out of my house last Sunday and found a note on the seat, wrapped in a zip lock bag. It read: "Dear neightbor, we're not sure how you came to have our bike, but we want it back. Please remove your lock." No name, no number. This person had locked my bike.

 

Two locks on the bike, mine and theirs. A stalemate.

 

I found out from the bikeshop that they had bought the bike in New Hampshire, that it wasn't stolen in Somerville. So I left a note in a zip lock bag saying, "You are mistaken, there are many bikes of this make. I purchased this bike from Ace Wheel Works and you can call them at 617... to verify that. I don't have a car and I use the bike to commute to work. Please remove your lock immediately."

 

The bike shop guy told me to clean the bike, find the serial # and to call the police and ask them to cut the lock. It rained for three days and I couldn't stand to sit in the rain searching the surfaces of my bike for a serial #. My hoodlum neighbors became very interested in the saga. I steered clear of them because I overheard them talking about raping a girl while I was leaving the note on my bike.

 

I suspected these boys, 16 yrs old. They looked like bike thieves. They probably saw the peace flag on my door and thought, this woman would give away her bike to a previous owner if she thought it had been stolen.

 

I cried about this bike. How cruel to steal something and keep it within reach, but unattainable!

 

No response to my note for four days. Then I came home on Wed night and the bike was lying against a bush outside of the hoodlum's house. My note was gone. Both locks remained locked to the shaft of the bike. The street sign that it had been attached to was intact. What happened? Someone must have hoisted the bike above the 12 foot pole and wriggled both locks arounod the sign. But who? Why? No note, nothing.

 

The front tire was flat, but otherwise the bike was in fine shape. I left a thank you note on the pole with $20 inside and the next morning the note was gone.

 

 

Magic Realism

I am sitting by my father's bed. He wears shorts, a threadbare t-shirt that reads "fifty is nifty' and slippers that dangle precariously off his feet. He lies facing me, pushes himself up with extreme determination, as if he could walk himself out of the hospital.

"Dad, you can't get up. The doctor will kill us if we let you fall again." Maybe he could get up. Maybe he just wants to look out the window, watch the other "inmates" in the courtyard. Maybe he wants to turn off the radio. It's hissing in the corner, filled with sand from years of being dragged to the beach, sand choking Chopin to death. He's not allowed to walk around because the hospital's liable. Parkinson's makes him fall ahead of himself. His muscles contract into constant forward flexion, but his mind falls far behind.

"Did Robert visit you yesterday?"

"I dunno." He rubs the metal bedpost obsessively with his fingers, brushes imaginary crumbs off the sheets.

"How are you feeling dad?"

"So so. You see, Nikki I… I'm healthy. It's just this Parkinson's affects my mind…" He holds his hand in the air. "…my motor skills. It's chemical, not me."

"Daddy, what do you want to do when you get out of the hospital?"

"I want to go to London."

"London?"

'Um…" His eyes glaze over. Where is he? Fighting for language.

"Why London daddy?"

There is a glint in his eyes, a spark. He sees through these dusty white walls, beyond the East river, beyond Roosevelt Island, Queens, Long Island where he spent high school, beyond the Atlantic. "The Theater," smiling, his eyes are wet. He is in London.

"Maybe we'll go together. Maybe this summer we'll go." I look out the window. Across the courtyard there are a thousand windows. A thousand rooms like this one, looking out at a thousand windows. "Remember when we went to Brazil?"

"Yes, I was at a convention. It was very boring."

"I remember everything. The water was green and placid, so shallow I could walk out to the sand bar myself. The streets were so narrow and the cars were parked all lopsided, half in the gutter, half on the curb. My babysitter took me to her dorm when you and mom were out to dinner. The room was cramped, packed full of girls. One sat on her bed with curlers in her hair, holding a plastic doll. I thought 'she's all grown up. Why does she need a doll?' I didn't realize how young they were."

"You were six." He sniffles, rubs his nose with his knuckle.

"Daddy, what was Chile like before Pinochet?"

He eyes light up with startling clarity. "I was in Santiago in 1970. Neruda and Allende were still alive."

"What was it like? What did the people say?"

"It was free, Socialist State. They were happy."

"And where did you go? What did you see?"

"I remember I was on a bus and I looked out the window. I saw three men sweeping the curb with old brooms."

"What?" I hand him a tissue. He squints, brows furrow, as he blows his nose.

"I thought, why three men? Why sweep outside?" The tissue falls from his hand. "And it was then that I realized what magic Realism is."