The day begins at the top of a mountain in Andalucia. No, it's already too much. I'm defeated, have been defeated, months now I'm defeated. But I have to begin. Why not on a mountaintop? The village where I've stayed for just over a week, and I know half the village, have finished the draft of a strange piece that's been my companion for many months. Time for something else.
Jose picks me up, then, and we wind down the mountain roads, goodbye to the white village and its Moorish arches, goodbye to the herd of sheep that block the road, the lovely people I've met. Jose soon learns the limits of my Spanish, so we're quiet as we go, quiet for an hour, more, until we pass through Mar Bella, and Jose points at the blackened mountainside. "Fuego," he says. Wildfires devoured these mountains last month, a vast field of black with a single tree, the leaves bright autumnal orange. But as we drive, I see the leaves aren't turning with the season, they've been burned that color. One tree is brilliant rust on one half, a swollen, tender green on the other. Other trunks are black halfway up, then white and leafless.
There's a spill of green down a slim valley between two black hillsides. The green is lush and violent and nearly obscene.
"Fuego," says Jose, again. "Fuego."
And then and then I'm in Tarifa on the street. I ask someone in Spanish for directions, but he shrugs. No habla Espanol. But I hear an accent. Vous parlez Francais? I ask. He is thrilled to meet someone who speaks French, and he tells me where I can catch the ferry - he's driving onto the same one. I get to limber up my French with Johnny the truck driver on the ferry, and I go outside in the wind and get my first glimpse of Tangiers, my first glimpse of Africa, I feel like I'm fourteen years old.
The B&B is tiny, a dollhouse, exquisite stained glass and inlaid wood doors and rich fabrics. A slot door and a big step down to my dollhouse bathroom. The proprietors are Americans, former New Yorkers and Key Westers, generous and in love with Tangier. They take me on a small walking tour of the city and they know everyone on the street, It's a small town, they say. You almost stop believing that New York exists, they say, and I see what they mean, this city and New York belong in different stories.
I cover my shoulders and walk the city and speak French and Spanish and English and try my two words of Arabic and I follow my host's eccentric directions - turn left at the blue Telebanco, pass the golden door, don't go up the stairs, don't go into the lion's mouth - to wind through the Medina and find my way home in the soft night.