II : Wandering
I set off again with the new stamina and self-assurance provided by the pita.
I trod slowly and steadily, past many of the favored tourist spots —places which the hotel proprietor had recommended, out of habit, despite my explanation to him that I'd lived here for a year—or had I?). I found my way into a completely unfamiliar part of the city that was bustling and pleasant.
I came across a poem. It was stenciled onto a plexiglass of sorts, with words written out in cursive (as though in the author’s own hand) and mounted on a yellow brick wall outside a café, lit from above by an industrial metal lamp. I recognized the name of one of the country’s most prominent authors at the bottom. The poem spoke of things that once happened behind this façade; it spoke of holy drinks, grief, boxing, gin, roulette, and empty glasses. All references to the Artevelde of old, I thought-- things left in the fog, as the poem seemed to say, of yesterday.
worked farther into the center of the city, choosing the
narrowest streets and alleys. In the midst of this
network of small streets, many of them open only to foot
and bicycle traffic, I was impressed by the
graffiti. The orange head and neck of a giraffe
pierced through swirling clouds of green, aqua, and black
script that looped with the appealing lilt of
Arabic. Funky clouds and bespectacled, grinning
earthworms emerged from overlapping fields of tribal
crosses and zigzags, heavy black graphic lines that left
the names of countless signatories in various bright
colors around the edges comparatively meaningless.
Inside a glass cage mounted to a brick turret at the corner of a walled compound stood another sculpted saint with hands clasped, a monument dating from 1949. Opposite was a café paying homage to, or ridiculing -- or both -- this figure. A mannequin Fatima hung above the entrance, armless but sporting a blue headscarf and a single stocking.
Along a canal called Dear a mallard quietly cut through a stream of detritus, a multicolored galaxy on the water’s surface: leaves, sticks and branches in all shapes and sizes; a large arrowhead-shaped plank of wood; soft drink and beer cans; leftover scraps of fruit and pancakes. A perfect orb of purple glass, reflective and buoyant, anchored itself in the center of this random collection of flotsam, a detail that begged significance from me, though apparently not the mallard.