Myself, I went to North Africa once, and that was enough–too many people pressing in on me all the time–not my idea of a fun afternoon. I was more interested in nymphs, orange blossoms and golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides.
Finding that garden though, has been one of those fun, but not really serious peccadillo challenges in my life. Good descriptions are hard to come by, what to speak of the garden itself. I’ve never found it. I’ve always come up empty. So this time, I figured since I was in the neighborhood–since I was in that hazy western Mediterranean–I figured I’d look for that garden again.
And coming next week Vella.02. A NEW Vella story = North or northwest?
What is it?
Majoring in Landscape Architecture, CJ is in Tangier on a term abroad design study. The visit occurs at the turn of the 21st century, barely before the 9/11 disaster.
The landscape had always been CJ’s muse. But in Morocco, he did battle with it. He was confused by it. He tried to understand it. Its Oriental roots ran deep across the entirety of north Africa.
But he discovered that the Moroccan landscape had equally strong roots deep into the dark heartland of west Africa. In Morocco. In the coming Vella, CJ recounts some of his northwest Africa explorations.
Everybody wants it; but can health, good health be seen?
I’m not talking about humans.
This is about plants. And it is not a discussion about the definition of beauty or the definition of good health.
It is rather about what our eyes can observe. See a beautiful plant. See a beautiful flower. We are accustomed to those.
But something happened to me the other day on a walk. Our local weather has been good: sunshine, warmth and deep gentle rains. Locally, one finds in many home gardens well maintained topsoil–mulched with animal manures and dug in every year.
What does that mean? Healthy plant growth. And even with very common plants, their health shines. It captured my attention recently. My photo shows that. I hope you can see it.
Unusual perceptions of plants and their flowers? That is what CJ experienced for the first time in my book, Tangier Gardens. If you like plants and their flowers you will like CJ’s story.
A mountain treeline certainly is not a line in the common sense. The treeline is defined as the high elevation, climate driven limit of tree growth.
The treeline is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. It is found at high elevations. Beyond the treeline, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions (usually cold temperatures, extreme snowpack, or associated lack of available moisture).
It is easy to get into the weeds discussing the geographical, botanical and topographical details of a treeline. Just look at the images above for a general idea and the graphic below for a summary.
But where does the mirror fit in?
A treeline is natural. It tells about interactions between ecotypes. And that makes me think. Is the treeline a vector or raster? Is it a thin line, a narrow path one pixel wide or is it a broad and wide line with varying gradients, blurs and opacities?
I think the latter. And looking in the mirror at treelines, I wonder…are human cultures like environmental ecotypes? Are they definable on their edges by lines? Raster or vector? Is diversity our strength…or our weakness…or is the effort to define cultural differences a non-sequitur?
I don’t go out looking for trees–but when I’m out sometimes they call me.
This year the Tilia trees’ blossoms came earlier than normal. It was my olfactory pleasure. I could not say no. The fragrance captured me. It made me smile.
An online search of Tilia spp., their floral fragrance and their teas can keep you busy a whole day. Bottom line? Tilia fragrance and perfumes, Tilia fragrance and teas…a deep and mystical appreciation by all involved. No one can describe with absolute certainty what is the amazing fragrance. So, I’ll tell a personal story.
There is a time after the glorious spring greens that a summer tedium green takes over all deciduous trees. Tedium green? That’s the summer green that makes all deciduous trees look the same. They all fade into a dark green, amorphic background.
This morning it began. Mature foliage on all deciduous trees had grown full size and darkened. It was working–each leaf a mini-plant-factory taking in the glorious sunshine and the CO2 to assure their health and ours.
Here is what I found in town. Unannounced, the nearest Tilia tree–its fragrance descended upon me. The tree was already a physical landmark. I realized it was also a sociological landmark, a local center for relaxation–soothing away anxieties. Its fragrance does that.
In other parts of town, people were climbing into the lower Tilia branches where they collected flowers. They took them home for drying to produce homemade herb tea known for its calming pleasure.
Look for your closest Tilia or lime or linden.
When CJ went to study local landmarks in the Moroccan towns (medinas), he learned things about landscapes and gardens they didn’t teach at university. Check out Tangier Gardens for a good read.
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!”
“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: