Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, picking up different essays at different moments, depending on my mood. This morning, I finally read the opening piece, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” which originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Didion writes about the death of a dentist named Gordon Miller, a Seventh-Day Adventist from San Bernardino County, California, and the subsequent trial of his wife, Lucille Maxwell, for his murder. Didion begins the piece not with an examination of the tabloid trial, but with a reflection about dreams–of love, of wealth, of happily ever after–in a part of California where “it was easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book.” And then she writes, “The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”

Why do I have the feeling that her words could just as easily apply to Morocco? It’s interesting to me that foreign journalists, those who visit the place on assignment, love to play up the fact that this is an “ancient” country, with its millennial history, its customs, and its religions. And yet it’s hard to escape the future here. This is, after all, a place where historical sites are discarded in favor of shiny new developments, where everyone keeps talking about that new government plan or that five- or ten-year initiative, the strategies that will finally end poverty, eradicate illiteracy, and bring democracy and financial prosperity. It’s all in the future. How many remember that those things were said thirty years ago?

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