Lilac Sunday

Lilacs. Syringa species.

A long time ago–an embarassing number of years–more than you need to know, I worked at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston in the United States. Their specialization was woody plants. 

They have four hundred named cultivars, varieties and species of lilac (Syringa). Each spring they have a massive public event that huge crowds attend–Lilac Sunday. The event timing varied as climate related events do. Early warm spring meant early lilacs could be mid-late April. Cold and a late spring meant late lilacs could be mid May.

So we watched carefully each year to determine accurately when would Lilac Sunday be.

All that crossed my mind as I was looking and enjoying lilac fragrance everywhere in my home town today. So if I was to call Lilac Sunday, I’d call it this week–Mother’s Day in the USA. 

And the climate? A normal average year.

Go out and find a lilac. Enjoy the blooms and their fragrance. They go by rather quickly as May warms the earth.

For a virtual visit to the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum, there is a 3 minute video at this link here (Mask not required).

The advertisement for this year’s Lilac Sunday celebration is here.

If you are really into the beauty and fragrance of flowers, please join my email list to get updates on the discoveries of my protagonist, Christopher Janus (CJ) and his discoveries in the landscape, especially the plant world.

Spring at the forest edge

You may have been there before–maybe not.

Don’t we all feel joy at the unfurling of the leaves and flowers with the coming of spring?

What happens where the pasture flowers meet the leafy forest?

What is that beauty to the eyes–in the air? 

Does it emanate from the plants?

How does it make us feel better?

Find out for yourselves.

And it happened to CJ. In Tangier Gardens

He describes it. Read about the joy.

https://amzn.to/3HLrtyv

Marabout02 Muse

Credit this marabout photo to JeanClaudeLatombe. latombe@cs.stanford.edu.

In my novel, Tangier Gardens, CJ completed his term abroad design study by assembling a series of short stories documenting his unusual Moroccan landscape interactions. He learned about marabouts from at least three different sources. Trying to understand marabouts began CJ’s downward spiral. This is how he describes his learning experience. This is not a fantasy. It was CJ’s real life in Tangier.

For CJ the landscape had always been his muse…until he settled in to Tangier and the north west African landscape. The shape shifting began when he first learned about marabouts. It wasn’t marabout shape shifting, it was landscape shape shifting. Where was CJ’s landscape muse?

But according to Wikipedia, marabout definition is a bit short of the breadth I learned in my over  two years living in northern Morocco. Wikipedia says:

Marabout means “saint” in the Berber languages, and refers to Sufi Muslim teachers who head a lodge or school called a zāwiya, associated with a specific school or tradition, called a ṭarīqah “way, path”. A marabout may also refer to a tomb (Arabic: قُبّة qubba “dome”) of a venerated saint, and such places have become holy centers and places of pious reflection. 

But what I learned is that each marabout has its own story that changes over time. Let’s let CJ recall his second marabout story.

I had wished only to get home, back to the US. But my experience at the Ramadan Kareem Party and on the way back…confusion all around me. Dreams? Realities? Realities made no sense. Nowhere to hide. This had been like teeps with super powers. Powers that shape shifted realities. That evening was like a carnival ride in a fun house–no beginning, no end–a psychological fun house; and I was falling off the rails on the fun house train.

I’d had enough. I thought I was attending a friendly social event. First Bree, then Harlequin and his albino brother, then Zainab, then the mad chanters. No, no, no! Cross-cultural bullshit, over the top.

Somehow, I got back to my flat. I had ended up in some place where reality overpowered the nightmare. Where reality became worse than the nightmare. Sidi Hamete knew what to do.

This story got so dark that I still hesitate to daylight all the details. I turn to my diary entries to aid my rather chilling recollection.

Beside me, on my bankette, Sidi Hamete was sitting crosslegged, cradling my head on her lap. She was telling me about ohrwurm, and how, once it is encountered by anyone, a weakness is implanted. That was the most I had ever heard her talk.

“What?” Stunned, I was stunned.

She said, “Magreb geomagnetique help ohrwurm; and this region is rich in geomagnetique. 

“Ohrwurm eat discipline of host. Make them susceptible to immoral, unethical, danger, and horrible death.”

Stunned and now worried, I asked,“Can I be fixed?”

“Ohrwurm weaken discipline. Ohrwurm then weaken will power. Then invite dark, invite zombie.”

I pleaded, “Please turn my nightmare into sweet dreams.”

Again I pleaded, “Can you fix me? And what about my Hand of Fatima charm, isn’t that helpful?”

“Your Hand of Fatima is for tourists, and can I fix? Maybe. The first time and again this morning I give positive marabout powers and spells to bring protection, to bring normal to your life.

“Young man you have good heart. You must learn to protect it. Your time here in Magreb has taught you lessons of the street, lessons of the Africa. Do not forget them. Protect yourself. But do not harden your heart.”

She had found me on the doorstep when she opened the front door at 5am. She knew immediately it was more of the same and worse–she walked me up the stairs. She had to clean me up. Deeply this time. I looked around.

I was clean. My clothes were off. I was covered, wrapped in large, freshly laundered, white terrycloth towels.

Around me I saw: candles, censers, mortar and pestle, a small gas burner stove, potions, and an open can of detritus, as well as a large porcelain bowl containing a moist mixture of cloths and herbs.

Sidi Hamete, looking concerned and helpful, gently put my head on my pillow as she moved to the floor and sat next to the banquette.

She continued, “We must finish this before you leave the Magreb. Once this djinn has you, it will never be vanquished. You are finished.

“Its connections are deep and everywhere. After the first time you are open, then inviting easy entry, any time, any place.”

I asked, “But is it actually a worm?”

“Yes and no. At first it is the essence of worm, subtle, alchemical. In time that essence grows and changes into dark that takes energy from your brain. Takes little by little your life. Your force. You cannot walk. You cannot move. You cannot see. You cannot hear. Maybe you can think, maybe not. The worm gets big.”

I asked, “Could this be evileye?”

Very quietly, Sidi Hamete said, “I don’t say no and I don’t say yes. I don’t say and we don’t talk.”

She continued, “Words like iron threads–fly direct to geomagnetique. Finish, okay–no more talking–now drink this tea.”

Sidi Hamete reached out with a small cup of gelatinous tea. She told me sternly, “Do not smell it. Do not think about it. Grab this cup. Drink it fully. Fast! It is for your life! Now take it and drink!”

I did!

“Fast and hard!”

Gulped it all down!

In the split seconds following, I felt it move down my esophagus and begin to settle into my stomach. Nothingness at first, then my thoughts started up again. Instead of talking, I started breathing–voluntary, controlled deep breathing. I had to gain strong control of my breathing to stop an aggressive repelling muscular action in my stomach that became a rasping noise in my ears.

The deep and strongly controlled breathing gradually settled the wrenching convulsions as what I swallowed had passed my choking esophagus, my convulsing stomach and finally moved quietly into my intestines. Then the rumbling began.

“Okay?” Sidi Hamete asked.

“Yes, but…”, I put my hand over my lower abdomen.

“That is normal. It will clean and empty, day or two, okay?” she said.

I said, “Okay.”

“Good, now just relax, and pray to your god.”

“But what did I drink…”

“You do not want to know. You do not want to ask. Be satisfied with my words. It is your own healing essence with the help from the plants.”

“…and will I be safe to go home?”

“No more questions, now sleep, my friend, before long it will be like nothing happened.”

I didn’t want any repercussions from that night. So I stayed quiet about it. But after Sidi Hamete went downstairs, back to her apartment, and in my weakness, as I laid down to sleep, when I closed my eyes, clarity briefly flashed. One realization crystallized. This entire six months had been about a battle between good and evil. Feeling ever so vulnerable, like a young child, I folded my hands to pray and whispered: 

Now I lay me down to sleep, 

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake, 

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

***

Interested in more of CJ’s landscape experiences in Morocco? Visit my Tangier Gardens Amazon book page.

Join my mailing list and keep up with CJ’s unusual landscape adventures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the next story, Yenbo Palms, here.

Marabout Muse

Credit this marabout photo to JeanClaudeLatombe. latombe@cs.stanford.edu.

In my novel, Tangier Gardens, CJ completed his term abroad design study by assembling a series of short stories documenting his unusual Moroccan landscape interactions. He learned about marabouts from at least three different sources. Trying to understand marabouts began CJ’s downward spiral. This is how he describes his learning experience. This is not a fantasy. It was CJ’s real life in Tangier.

For CJ the landscape had always been his muse…until he settled in to Tangier and the north west African landscape. The shape shifting began when he first learned about marabouts. It wasn’t marabout shape shifting, it was landscape shape shifting. Where was CJ’s landscape muse?

But according to Wikipedia, marabout definition is a bit short of the breadth I learned in my over  two years living in northern Morocco. Wikipedia says:

Marabout means “saint” in the Berber languages, and refers to Sufi Muslim teachers who head a lodge or school called a zāwiya, associated with a specific school or tradition, called a ṭarīqah “way, path”. A marabout may also refer to a tomb (Arabic: قُبّة qubba “dome”) of a venerated saint, and such places have become holy centers and places of pious reflection. 

But what I learned is that each marabout has its own story that changes over time. Let’s let CJ recall his first marabout story.

It was almost the end of July when I visited again. I was preparing to go to Casablanca for the Darija Stage–a one-week intensive course on local Arabic language basics–primarily for Peace Corps volunteers, but Erik had kindly given me a place. Looking for a basic Darija book, I stopped into the Piliers Culturels bookstore to talk with Mme Zsófia. While there, I talked more about my landscape design study. She took an interest in my landscape architecture focus and invited me to sit and talk with her in the bookstore back room.

The room was small, no window, and books stacked higgledy-piggledy from floor to ceiling everywhere. There were two chairs and she offered me one and excused herself for a moment. I was quietly looking around when I heard some rustling behind a couple book stacks. 

“Hello?” I said.

“Hallo, qui est-ce,” replied an older woman’s voice in a heavy Eastern European accent.

“Parlez-vous Anglais?” I asked.

She wormed her way through the stacks to see who she was speaking with. The heavy set 70ish woman with stringy grey hair looked like she had been 24 hours straight researching her way through this jumble of books. 

She asked me in English who I was and I repeated all about landscape architecture and my university design study. 

“Landscape architecture? Not many around here. What brings you to this store?”

“Looking for books on language and local culture.”

“Local culture? What do you want to know?”

“Why is the mood of the medina so intense and why are the youths on the street so aggressive?”

“You do get right to the core of it with that question. First you should know that my name is Olga and I am a longtime Tangerine friend, of Mme Zsófia. We arrived here in the early 50s and have been part of local culture since.”

I told her my name was Christopher Janus.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said. Then she sat down and carried on. She talked about how the two of them shared times in the 50s at Merkala Beach Café, with fascinating stories of keef, drink and rough life, with names like Lachen and Idir.

I liked hearing her perspectives on Tangier. She talked about the International Zone and relationships with strict Muslims. 

She said, “The Zone had a reputation for diversity of culture and religion, which concerned the pious Moroccan population who saw it as ‘a plague zone as much infested with cockroaches as infested, nay, infected by infidels’. But it has its own ways to ‘clean’ itself.” 

“What do you mean by ‘clean’ itself?” I was perplexed.

She began, “It is difficult to define…the cleansing…some people like to call it a superstition…some like to call it a curse. It is both and more. Here you can find it as a disease, bad dream and misfortune in daily life. It is a storm cloud, it is a bad taste and it is a burdensome possession. All are here. You can’t control it. I can’t control it. We can’t control it. Maybe you can say it is like bad weather or an earthquake or hurricane. But for some it lasts their entire life, every day and every night.” 

I hesitated before asking, “It sounds like you are talking about the evileye or something?” She said nothing. 

Then, after taking a sip of tea, Mme Olga said, “Let me tell you a cleansing story.”

She paused, before beginning, “There was a guy in the early 1960s–lots of guys trying to get attention of Paul Bowles. This guy was American. Not like you. He was very big, bolshie and beautiful. Emphasis on the bolshie. This guy had hubris. There wasn’t a pretty girl or pretty boy that he didn’t think was his. You could see it in his eyes. He was around for a couple weeks and we could all see what was going on. The Magreb does not tolerate such a fool running loose.

“He had a thing against camels–always talking about camel jockeys. One day, he was after a beautiful, but tender, brother and sister–orphans–for his own pleasure as was his normal way. These young kids lived on a farm just past the edge of town, toward Cap Malabata. They kept camels for tourist rides. The bolshie American followed them home, planning to have his way with them. They, offering shelter to the kaffir, invited him in. 

“But his attitude gave him away when he, making sex eyes at both of them, demanded a drink. Well, they gave him a drink and he fell into a stupor. That area had an unusual marabout, an absolute rock pile of a shelter, filled with scorpions and the boy and girl tied him down and left him there for days. 

“Somehow he managed to free himself and was last seen being led around by a donkey and offering donkey rides for tourists. His sexual fantasy became satisfied only with the donkeys. Everybody thought he had met his due. But there was more. 

“He had a couple American relatives who came looking for him, cousins or something. Just like him. They also fell under the donkey spell; and as the story goes all three Americans were given “shelter” by a Pasha from the Levant, never to be seen again.”

I listened to it all, then said, “This story sounds a lot like stories I heard from a strange West African guy…” 

Mme Olga interrupted, “Not a story! This happened. I knew the neighbors. They told me.”

“Is this about human enviousness or evileye?” I asked.

Mme Zsófia returned to the room, listened, said nothing, looking like she did not want any part of this conversation. 

Mme Olga said, “Ok, my friend, there is and there isn’t. We are on the African continent–a landscape of hidden power. That is life here.”

We heard a customer enter the store. Mme Zsófia excused herself and left the back room to serve the new customer.

Then Olga and I sat quietly alone, saying nothing. I thought, she said “that is life here”. I’ve heard something like this before at David’s in the Kasbah. What is this “evileye” stuff? Misfortune? Bad karma? Or the influence of the devil himself? Everybody was oh so cautious when speaking of it. Could it explain all my misfortunes to this point? Could it explain the dream I had when Sidi Hamete pulled “something” out of my ear? Will I have this evileye cloud around me for the rest of my study time here? Study? I still didn’t have my study going yet!

My anxiety was raising my pulse. Sweat was forming on my forehead.

***

Interested in more of CJ’s landscape experiences in Morocco? Visit my Tangier Gardens Amazon book page.

Join my mailing list and keep up with CJ’s unusual landscape adventures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the next story, Yenbo Palms, here.

Just Published again? No, this time it’s spring

Spring has been marching in–absolutely glorious!!

It dances. It sings.

The beauty of spring’s music hypnotises.

Don’t want it to ever finish–but it does.

And the magic is that it returns a year later. The more I think about that coming and going of beauty over time–the more I am inspired to write.

The first book I have written on the beauty of plants and the passage of time is Tangier Gardens.

Today is the last day that Tangier Gardens eBook can be picked up for FREE.

Portals?

Not everyone sees portals in the landscape. Tangier Gardens is the self-told story of an American, Christopher Janus. His friends called him CJ. He was a university student, who discovered portals during his term abroad design study in Morocco.

Is The Strait a portal?

How did he discover portals? Plant portals in gardens, in the landscape? Tangier Gardens is CJ’s journey of discovery.

It all began when he crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. And it continued as he journeyed around northern Morocco. But it wasn’t until after months in Tangier, CJ would uncover the mysteries of Tangier Gardens. Get into his story.

In a limited time Spring Joy offer on Amazon, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 March 2022, the Tangier Gardens eBook, normally $3.99 is FREE. Buy it on the first day of spring! Grab Spring Joy while you can

If you would like to be kept up to date about discounts on CJ’s portal adventures in the Middle East and North Africa as he becomes an expatriate landscape architect, sign up here on CJ’s mailing list.

Liver problems?

Hepatica nobilis–portals?

Hepatica pushing up through last year’s beech leaves at 600meters above sea level in the forests just above Interlaken, Switzerland.

Still not sure about portals? Neither was CJ.

My favorite graffiti

This is green in real life, IRL.

…no political correctness…

…no social justice…

…no politics whatsoever.

This green graffiti is stone disrupted by plants.

My favorite. Tell me it isn’t beautiful.

Find yourself some.

Making your own path

…and when the path disappears?

Becoming a landscape architect is like walking an unknown path in a strange forest.

You know someone has walked it before, so you have some confidence. Then the path disappears. You have to make your own path and you don’t really know where you are going.

You must decide—forge ahead or go back.

Universities try to prepare you with programs, such as term abroad plus help through internships and mentoring… but in the end you must confront the unknown and make your own path.

That is what Christopher Janus, CJ, does in Tangier Gardens. He finds himself in unknown circumstances surrounded by botanists, horticulturists all in a fog of foreign culture. He has to define landscape, landscape architecture, gardens and his own career path. It is a path into the unknown.

If you would like to learn more about Tangier Gardens, click here.