Casbah, by Judith Terzi
Eldridge Cleaver whizzed around Algiers / in a red VW bus, zipping past / the American School, flipping us teachers // peace signs.
A lyric meditation on the language of our lives, the sometimes exalted disorientation of the expat, the names we adopt and the ones we can’t master, Judith Terzi leads us into the geopolitical landscapes of the Algiers of her early marriage, lush with the colors, smells and tastes of the Mediterranean and spiked with sharp echoes of the times, when so much was in flux, both there in North Africa, and back home.
WATER When it comes to water in Algiers, I can never reason. Perpetual flow of the Mediterranean, turquoise silk bathing the port, view from my terrace. But turn on the tap, fickle conduit, torrent tiring to stream, stream to drizzle, to tear evaporating. A relationship shifting? Deserting perhaps: passion of the love traveler no longer a thriving oasis of herders, cloth, clay vessels. And what about goat hair carpets, basketry? And these bright yellow, orange, ochre jewels–– spices cradled in burlap like the place itself nestled inside the desert hollow of the M’Zab Valley. Oh Saharan sun of Ghardaïa, city over a thousand years old. Not one other woman in the main square this Sunday. Not one haik flowing over clothing, covering for all but one eye of woman here. Only the elegance of men in turbans, their chèches: dusty orange, white, cobalt blue. Marketplace of men. My photo taken in the shadows of a slender passageway before ramparts begin to rise toward Allah. Before the tourist must halt at the sign picturing that shorts, short sleeves, uncovered heads, cameras are forbidden. And further up, pink and white houses of clay and sand surround the ancient mosque like moats. Tenth century mosque––sturdy shield, sentry of the fortress. And in the lower town, the newer mosque, the muezzin calling at 4AM: rush of shoes echoing on flat ground, sweeping through alleyways like the palm frond sweeper of dreams, the andante of his broom lengthening measures of unrestrained pleasure. Like water gushing from a tap, the contours of jerricans flooding. Bath beads of lavender longing to be swished.