The joys of small things

THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHAEL KATAKIS

TANG­IER, Morocco, Oc­to­ber 12, 2006: I am wan­der­ing around the docks in Tang­ier. I have been watch­ing six boys pes­ter­ing a dog.

Fi­nally, one boy takes a stick and pokes the dogs as the other boys laugh. The boy does it again and the dog barks. The boy starts to im­i­tate the bark but the dog turns away. He then walks to an­other part of the street but the boys fol­low and throw the stick, hit­ting him on the head.

The dog has had enough. With re­mark­able speed the dog runs af­ter the boys. At one point I see him grab a piece of pants from one of his now pan­icked tor­men­tors. The po­lice are watch­ing this and laugh­ing. The dog, very ag­gres­sive now, chases one boy to a chain-link fence where he lands hard on his el­bow, which yields a crack­ing sound. He yells in pain. The dog turns and takes off for the oth­ers. One boy amaz­ingly jumps in the wa­ter and an­other runs on top of a car.

Now the po­lice come over and tell the boy to get off the car. It may be OKto be ripped apart by a dog, but clearly it is not all right to jump on a car.

I must con­fess I am cheer­ing for the dog. I sus­pect the po­lice are too, as they walk by the an­i­mal and pat his head. The dog set­tles down and calmly walks back to where he was be­fore. I like Tang­ier. PARIS, May 14, 2008: I have dis­cov­ered there is an evening of tango. I find the old build­ing on the city out­skirts and, as I en­ter, mu­sic is play­ing in the dis­tance. In the dimly lit room with the mu­sic that beck­ons, ex­pres­sion­less cou­ples twirl around the floor . . . peo­ple are seated around three of the four walls. A woman, with a black page­boy, red lips, a black dress, and spiked heels stares at me. She looks beau­ti­ful, and danger­ous.

I sit down by the back wall, con­cen­trat­ing on the feet mov­ing past me, try­ing to see a pat­tern in the dance. Af­ter 10 min­utes I can see no pat­tern, and try for an­other 10. The cou­ple is mes­meris­ing and the room is get­ting warm.

The danger­ous woman with red lips gets up and walks to­ward me. She sits to my left fac­ing for­ward. ‘‘Would you like to dance?’’ she asks. ‘‘I am watch­ing, try­ing to find a pat­tern.’’ ‘‘There is no pat­tern,’’ she says, still look­ing for­ward. ‘‘So, tell me what you see.’’

‘‘The best I can de­ter­mine is that the man builds the house and the woman dec­o­rates it.’’

‘‘That is a good de­scrip­tion of tango,’’ she says. ‘‘So, you like to watch.’’ ‘‘Yes.’’ ‘‘Tell me, watcher, do you ever do?’’ ‘‘I do. Some­times.’’ She laughs ever so slightly and it seems to me that at any other time and in any other place this con­ver­sa­tion would be part of a bad Hol­ly­wood script. ‘‘So you do, from time to time,’’ she con­tin­ues. ‘‘That’s a re­lief, for a per­son can­not live by watch­ing alone. I like to do, but I do like to be watched.’’

‘‘You are an at­trac­tive woman who seems danger­ous and that is al­ways ap­peal­ing to watch­ers and do­ers alike.’’ ‘‘Danger­ous? How do you mean?’’ she asks. As I’m about to an­swer, a small Asian man stands be­fore her and asks if she would like to dance. She stands, tow­er­ing over the man when, in an in­stant, he holds her. His body lan­guage changes and tak­ing charge, be­gins to ef­fort­lessly steer her around the room. I watch them but she never looks in my di­rec­tion. Look­ing again at the pass­ing feet, I still can­not see a pat­tern. HA­VANA, Cuba, May 2, 1998: I walked past the dark open­ing quickly and caught a glimpse of the great fish on the floor. I turned around and stepped into the door­way. Two old men were stand­ing over the mar­lin, which had just been cleaned.

The man who caught the fish seemed in his late 70s and was in re­mark­able shape. He wore thick glasses and a Chicago Bulls base­ball cap. In my very poor Span­ish I learn that this man had caught the fish on a han­d­line. He took me out­side and be­gan to show me how to cast the line from the wooden spool. His smile and en­thu­si­asm were in­fec­tious . . . he pulled up his shirt and there was a hard wash­board stom­ach that any health nut would envy.

For a mo­ment I just stared at this joy­ful old man. I re­alised he was above all the pol­i­tics and em­bar­gos, above Fidel and Amer­ica, above the chaotic lives so many of us live. I sus­pect he had al­ways lived in the mo­ment. He again demon­strated how to cast the line and when I fi­nally got it right, he grabbed my arm and pat­ted my back.

‘‘Prac­tice,’’ he said in Span­ish. ‘‘The plea­sure is in the do­ing you know.’’ This is an edited ex­tract from Trav­eller: Ob­ser­va­tions from an Amer­i­can in Ex­ile by Michael Katakis (Si­mon & Schus­ter Aus­tralia, $22.99; eBook, $13.99).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.