Monday, March 15, 2010

More Bowlesiana

For Bowles fans, more Bowlesiana from my 30-year-old journal (these are verbatim, warts and all):

My notes from July 18, 1980

Class with Bowles yesterday: He said he loves birds and until last year has always had at least one parrot. The last one was called Hitler by his maid because it ran after people squawking and nipping their ankles. He told a story about crossing the Sahara in winter. He was the only person in his train car and snow drifted in the windows. Finally another car, filled with Moroccans, was attached. The Moroccans were bitterly cold, so naturally they built a fire on the wood floor of the train car—causing the whole car to go up in flames.

Bowles says that the reason Moroccans are so cold to foreigners is that they see non-Muslims as being insignificant because we have no souls. We have a nice life on earth but they have paradise for all eternity. To be curious about us would be as pointless as being curious about a fly.

Bowles is a delightful man. He has great anecdotes and tells them well. He understands Moroccans and has a boundless humorous appreciation of them but no desire to be one of them. He’s like an anthropologist, very professional about maintaining his distance and objectivity. I asked him if he were ever tempted to convert to Islam and he recoiled at the idea, said he was an atheist and it would be false to subscribe to any god. The only religion he finds attractive is Buddhism because it doesn’t postulate a deity.

He has long skinny legs and looks very athletic and young when he leaps up and bounds into the kitchen to make tea for us. He has a maid, but apparently he does all his own cooking because he has a morbid fear of being poisoned. Also boils every drop of water because he has had typhoid three times. Won’t fly in planes. Can’t drive a car. He’s a very sensible person. These phobias don’t fit in with other things I know of him.

He really is dependent on drugs and started at an early age. His mother used to take him, when he was a boy, to a bar in Harlem where the shoeshine boys sold reefers the size of cigars for 25 cents apiece. Smoking pot had no stigma then, he says. Now he cannot write unless he’s stoned. His apartment is thoroughly saturated with the ancient fumes of joints past—almost unpleasantly musty.

A list of odds and ends Bowles said about Morocco yesterday:

1. The Koran is the law of the land. Local police are autonomous and basically write their own justice. Many are sadistic. Beatings are common, as well as hangings of various sorts and mutilations. Described the practice of beating the soles of the feet until they crack open. Twenty years after receiving such a beating, people cannot walk comfortably.

2. Slavery still exists in the Moroccan deep south. Even though it has been officially outlawed there is no one to enforce it so it continues. Slaves, for the most part, like being slaves. They have cushy jobs—usually as guards—and have all their needs attended to. Sounds like Morocco has some really wild, ungoverned areas.

3. Moroccans have no respect for privacy. They cannot fathom why anyone would want to read or write and can only deduce that when someone is engaged in one of these activities he is desperately bored and should, in all kindness, be diverted. [TW, my Islamic history teacher, elaborated on this. He said when he was working on his dissertation he very badly needed time to himself to work on his notes, etc. Whenever his hosts saw him withdrawing to do this, they assumed that their hospitality had been inadequate and that he was bored, so they would go out and bring in he neighbors to keep him entertained.]

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