Exile and the Kingdom

I spent last weekend camping in Death Valley. Actually, “camping” isn’t quite the right word for it, since we had an air mattress, pillows, foldable chairs, and—luxury of luxuries—fresh coffee. But we slept in a tent, we went on several hikes, and I didn’t do any work, so that counts for something. I’ve had a hard time coping with being back, though—not just because of the mountain of mail and email that was waiting for me, but because the news lately has been unrelentingly terrible.

Then today, I heard about the bomb at the Argana cafe in Marrakech, in the middle of the day, just when the place was packed with people. The last time I was in Marrakech, in 2007, I had tea at the Argana, which overlooks the famed Jemaa el-Fna square. I remember that, walking out of the cafe late in the day, I was accosted by a soothsayer who insisted on telling me my fortune. The cards, she said, were very good; they were full of promise, and my promise got even better after I tipped her. This was an anecdote I considered amusing, something I might have told friends at dinner, to joke about how a good tip can give you a good future, but today I thought about it and it seemed completely bittersweet to me.

I remember walking around the square and helping an American friend buy her first tagine set. I remember haggling over the price of a carriage ride, which would take my friend out of the square to see the ocher walls of the city. I remember the meloui I had for breakfast on my last day, how the honey on it was laced with the taste of lavender. I remember so much. And then I think how useless my memories are. It was Camus, wasn’t it, who wrote that the sorrow of exiles is to live with a memory that serves no purpose. That is how I feel.

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