Monday, June 29, 2015

A Curator's Memoir, Al Nabha

Amnesia would make a pretty girl's name, wouldn't it? A girl with pretty ringlets and an embarrassing tic—she keeps shaking her head to unrattle her brains. Years have gone by in just this way; a lifetime of searching and shrugging, hot on the trail of nothing. Our girl's outward appearance ages (the graying curls, heavy breasts, and stiff gait) while inside she remains intact: exactly as dumb and wondering as ever. Because she doesn't really know what the fuck she's looking for—a secret truth? a secret self?—she overlooks every single clue.

          Unless maybe everything under that spotlit, addled, gaze of hers is of equal importance. 

          I'd forgotten that, she pouts. Anything at all can be a clue, a means to expressing who I am or how I feel. This is the way: the secret life of objects.

          Above the laptop's self-contained, luminous screen, it's the same, sprawling view as ever.
Blue star, yellow orchid, the radiator's vertical lines beneath the wide window frame, the French door with its grid of black panes, all the repetitive patterns, unrelated, except for the white horizontal lines of the shelves underlining their contents again and again.
The shelf of books; a little canvas with red shoes; that gaudy bottle of perfume. The square bottle of frosted glass is encased in ornate metal, depicting a silver fountain with mother-of-pearl splashes.
          Al Nabha, meaning The Fountain of Colors, is an Oriental perfume manufactured in the United Arab Emirates. Imbued with taif rose, sandalwood, adarwood, amber, saffron, musk, patchouli, and myrrh, Al Nabha has an exceptionally long sillage. The sillage (a beautiful French word pronounced see-yazh) is how a scent trails behind the wearer, the same way a boat leaves a trail in water.

          My ex-husband picked that bottle up off the shelf the other day and told me it was special. His voice was hushed, and accusing. He asked if I knew where it came from. (Whenever our daughter visits him she admires its scent, so a few days ago he gave her the bottle and it landed here in my dining room.) Of course I know where it's from.

          "It comes from Mecca," he said. "They only make this perfume in Mecca."

          He thinks it's holy perfume, that my house is a befoulment. He makes it clear he parted with this prize reluctantly, and only because he's such a loving father. He insinuates that the perfume doesn't belong in the house of a heathen.

          My story is different from his. A few days after we married in Cairo, 19 years ago, his sister came from Kuwait bearing wedding gifts for me: a sexy nightgown, a modest galabaya, a filigreed golden ring studded with seed pearls, an amber hunk of wax for removing body hair, and the bottle of perfume. She also made us a big pot of what she called heavy soup, a greasy meat broth revered as a powerful aphrodisiac.

          About the perfume, she said, "This perfume they only wear in the Gulf region. You'll never find it anywhere else in the world." She said it in Arabic, which I don't understand, so my ex had to translate for me, just like he translated heavy soup.

          For 11 years, I kept the bottle with other perfumes by a mirror on my bedroom table, and every once in a while my ex-husband would pause to douse himself as he walked by. I have a distinct memory of him dragging the drenched stopper over the vein in his neck and across both his wrists, and then rubbing it into his skin with open palms. 

           Sometimes, like my ex, I would pause to unscrew the cap, bowing my head to sniff the stopper. But it never smelled the way I expected. Instead, a rotting sweetness burns the throat and nostrils. I don't remember exactly what the scent conjured, but the effect was a subtle shock with every breath. When I left the house we had shared, which was many years ago, he took the perfume.

          "Keep it safe," he told me the other day, replacing the bottle on the shelf,  as if I'd disappointed him already.

1. Al Nabha, the whiff of disappointment.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Opus Schmagnum


Before I write my masterpiece, there are just a few things I need to get out of the way first. 
1. Make Dementia Playlist. When I'm demented in a subpar nursing home, unloved and nonverbal, I'll need some tunes. Dementia soundtrack should include, but not be limited to: 
The Stones, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Pergolesi, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, Lou Reed, George Wassouf, Amr Diab, Umm Kulthoum (not too much), Sarah Vaughan, maybe The Beatles (but not too much), "Nar," "Eskanderaya," "Ya Habibi," "Jesus Christ Superstar," Chopin, Vivaldi, Beethoven, "Whip It," Dylan (not too much), Abdel Halim Hafez singing "Gabbar," that one song by Loggins and Messina I can never remember—"Keep Me In Mind"?—some James Taylor & Carly Simon, Mary Martin singing "My Funny Valentine," that song from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," The Jackson Five, Michael Jackson, Joan Armatrading singing "Show Some Emotion," Wuthering Heights movie soundtrack, Kate Bush, The Pretenders, Frank Sinatra, all of Led Zeppelin, some Genesis, the whole "Sacred Love" album by Sting (repeat "Book of My Life" and "Sacred Love" x5) 
...and further instructions for care: if I'm delusional in a happy way, please don't remind me where I am. 
2. Afterlife or reincarnation? Decide which concept requires more attention. Decide if the concept of reincarnation arose as a result of some smart ass asking, "Where was I before I was born?" because he got sick of the shitty answers he got for "Where will I go after I die?" 
3. Figure out how to change the default to 16 pt. so you don't have to squint so much. 
4. Have a garage sale. But first,
5. Empty the garage and the basement. Also, buy price tags, put an ad in the paper, make signs, borrow folding tables, consult calendar and astrological forecast.
6. Figure out who am I if I have amnesia? If I regain my memory, am I a dual entity or do I have to reject one of my selves? 
7. In the movie "Total Recall," is the new Hauser responsible for the immorality of the old Hauser? And if not, does that mean none of us is responsible for acts we come to regret? Were both personae (the fascist and the rebel) artificially implanted and the real Hauser is just a blue-collar worker with wanderlust? Decide once and for all.
8. Read "Total Recall." Stop smirking when you say Philip K. Dick.
9. Determine if effort of any kind is futile. Given the inevitability of death and misunderstanding.