The joys of small things
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
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).