Paul Bowles: some logical type (maybe IXTx); or IEI-Ni
- from Collected Stories & Later Writings by Paul Bowles; pp. 238-240 (“He of the Assembly”):
He salutes all parts of the sky and the earth where it is bright. He thinks the color of the
amethysts of Aguelmous will be dark if it has rained in the valley of Zerekten. The eye wants to
sleep, he says, but the head is no mattress. When it rained for three days and water covered the
flatlands outside the ramparts, he slept by the bamboo fence at the Cafe of the Two Bridges.
It seems there was a man named Ben Tajah who went to Fez to visit his cousin. The day he came
back he was walking in the Djemaa el Fna, and he saw a letter lying on the pavement. He picked
it up and found that his name was written on the envelope. He went to the Cafe of the Two
Bridges with the letter in his hand, sat down on a mat and opened the envelope. Inside was a
paper which read: ‘The sky trembles and the earth is afraid, and the two eyes are not brothers.’
Ben Tajah did not understand, and he was very unhappy because his name was on the envelope.
It made him think that Satan was nearby. He of the Assembly was sitting in the same part of the
cafe. He was listening to the wind in the telephone wires. The sky was almost empty of daytime
light. ‘The eye wants to sleep,’ he thought, ‘but the head is no mattress. I know what that is, but I
have forgotten it.’ Three days is a long time for rain to keep falling on flat bare ground. ‘If I got
up and ran down the street,’ he thought, ‘a policeman would follow me and call to me to stop. I
would run faster, and he would run after me. When he shot at me, I’d duck around the corners of
houses.’ He felt the rough dried mud of the wall under his fingertips. ‘And I’d be running
through the streets looking for a place to hide, but no door would be open, until finally I
came to one door that was open, and I’d go in through the rooms and courtyards until finally I
came to the kitchen. The old woman would be there.’ He stopped and wondered for a moment
why an old woman should be there alone in the kitchen at that hour. She was stirring a big
kettle of soup on the stove. ‘And I’d look for a place to hide there in the kitchen, and there’d be
no place. And I’d be waiting to hear the policeman’s footsteps, because he wouldn’t miss the
open door. And I’d look in the dark corner of the room where she kept the charcoal, but it
wouldn’t be dark enough. And the old woman would turn and look at me and say: “If you’re
trying to get away, my boy, I can help you. Jump into the soup-kettle.”’ The wind sighed in the
telephone wires. Men came into the Cafe of the Two Bridges with their garments flapping. Ben
Tajah sat on his mat. He had put the letter away, but first he had stared at it a long time. He of
the Assembly leaned back and looked at the sky. ‘The old woman,’ he said to himself. “What is
she trying to do? The soup is hot. It may be a trap. I may find there’s no way out, once I get
down there.’ He wanted a pipe of kif, but he was afraid the policeman would run into the
kitchen before he was able to smoke it. He said to the old woman: ‘How can I get in? Tell me.’
And it seemed to him that he heard footsteps in the street, or perhaps even in one of the rooms
of the house. He leaned over the stove and looked down into the kettle. It was dark and very
hot down in there. Steam was coming up in clouds, and there was a thick smell in the air that
made it hard to breathe. ‘Quick!’ said the old woman, and she unrolled a rope ladder and hung it
over the edge of the kettle. He began to climb down, and she leaned over and looked after him.
‘Until the other world!’ he shouted. And he climbed all the way down. There was a rowboat
below. When he was in it he tugged on the ladder and the old woman began to pull it up. And at
that instant the policeman ran in, and two more were with him, and the old woman had just the
time to throw the ladder down into the soup. ‘Now they are going to take her to the
commissariat,’ he thought, ‘and the poor woman only did me a favor.’ He rowed around in the
dark for a few minutes, and it was very hot. Soon he took off his clothes. For a while he could
see the round top of the kettle up above, like a porthole in the side of a ship, with the heads of
the policeman looking down in, but then it grew smaller as he rowed, until it was only a light.
Sometimes he could find it and sometimes he lost it, and finally it was gone. He was worried
about the old woman, and he thought he must find a way to help her. No policeman can go
into the Cafe of the Two Bridges because it belongs to the Sultan’s sister. This is why there is
so much kif smoke inside that a berrada can’t fall over even if it is pushed, and why most
customers like to sit outside, and even there keep one hand on their money. As long as the
thieves stay inside and their friends bring them food and kif, they are all right. One day
police headquarters will forget to send a man to watch the cafe, or one man will leave five
minutes before the other gets there to take his place. Outside everyone smokes kif too, but
only for an hour or two—not all day and night like the ones inside. He of the Assembly had
forgotten to light his sebsi [pipe]. He was in a cafe where no policeman could come, and he
wanted to go away to a kif world where the police were chasing him. ‘This is the way we are
now,’ he thought. ‘We work backwards. If we have something good, we look for something bad
instead.’ He lighted the sebsi and smoked it. Then he blew the hard ash out of the chqaf [lit
contents of a sebsi, i.e., kif (Plural chqofa)]. It landed in the brook beside the second
bridge. ‘The world is too good. We can only work forward if we make it bad again first.’ This
made him sad, so he stopped thinking, and filled his sebsi. While he was smoking it, Ben Tajah
looked in his direction, and although they were facing each other, He of the Assembly did not
notice Ben Tajah until he got up and paid for his tea. Then he looked at him because he took
such a long time getting up off the floor. He saw his face and he thought: ‘That man has no one
in the world.’ The idea made him feel cold. He filled his sebsi again and lighted it. He saw the
man as he was going to go out of the cafe and walk alone down the long road outside the
ramparts. In a little while he himself would have to go out to the souks* to try and borrow money
for dinner. When he smoked a lot of kif he did not like his aunt to see him, and he did not want
to see her. ‘Soup and bread. No one can want more than that. Will thirty francs be enough the
fourth time? The qahaouaji [waiter/tea-maker] wasn’t satisfied last night. But he took it. And he
went away and let me sleep. A Moslem, even in the city, can’t refuse his brother shelter.’ He was
not convinced, because he had been born in the mountains, and so he kept thinking back and
forth in this way. He smoked many chqofa, and when he got up to go out into the street he found
that the world had changed.
* Souk (properly souq)]: The word is used throughout North Africa to mean a market. In
the larger cities it has a second, more specific use in designating a street or quarter devoted to the
buying and selling (and often the manufacture) of one given commodity.
Ben Tajah was not a rich man. He lived alone in a room near Bab Doukkala, and he had a stall in
the bazaars where he sold coathangers and chests. Often he did not open the shop because he was
in bed with a liver attack. At such times he pounded on the floor from his bed, using a brass
pestle, and the postman who lived downstairs brought him up some food. Sometimes he stayed
in bed for a week at a time. Each morning and night the postman came in with a tray. The food
was not very good because the postman’s wife did not understand much about cooking. But he
was glad to have it. Twice he had brought the postman a new chest to keep clothes and blankets
in. One of the postman’s wives a few years before had taken a chest with her when she had
left him and gone back to her family in Kasba Tadla. Ben Tajah himself had tried having a wife
for a while because he needed someone to get him regular meals and to wash his clothes, but the
girl was from the mountains, and was wild.
- pp. 241-245: He [Ben Tajah] stood in the Djemaa el Fna a minute watching the trained
monkeys, but the crowd pushed too much, so he walked on. When he got home he shut the
door and put his hand in his pocket to pull out the envelope, because he wanted to look at it
again inside his own room, and be sure that the name written on it was beyond a doubt his.
But the letter was gone. He remembered the jostling in the Djemaa el Fna [Central market
square in Marrakesh]. Someone had reached into his pocket and imagined his hand was feeling
money, and taken it. Yet Ben Tajah did not truly believe this. He was convinced that he would
have known such a theft was happening. There had been a letter in his pocket. He was not even
sure of that. He sat down on the cushions. ‘Two days in the bus,’ he thought. ‘Probably I’m
tired. I found no letter.’ He searched in his pocket again, and it seemed to him he could still
remember how the fold of the envelope had felt. ‘Why would it have my name on it? I never
found any letter at all.’ Then he wondered if anyone had seen him in the cafe with the envelope
in one hand and the sheet of paper in the other, looking at them both for such a long time. He
stood up. He wanted to go back to the Cafe of the Two Bridges and ask the qahaouaji: ‘Did you
see me an hour ago? Was I looking at a letter?’ If the qahaouaji said: ‘Yes,’ then the letter was
real. He repeated the words aloud: ‘The sky trembles, and the earth is afraid, and the two eyes
are not brothers.’ In the silence afterwards the memory of the sound of the words frightened him.
‘If there was no letter, where are these words from?’ And he shivered because the answer to that
was: ‘From Satan.’ He was about to open the door when a new fear stopped him. The qahaouaji
might say: ‘No,’ and this would be still worse, because it would mean that the words have been
put directly into his head by Satan, that Satan had chosen him to reveal Himself to. In that case
He might appear at any moment. ‘Ach haddou laillaha ill’Allah. . . .’* he prayed, holding his
two forefingers up, one on each side of him. He sat down again and did not move. In the
street the children were crying. He did not want to hear the qahaouaji say: ‘No. You had no
letter.’ If he knew that Satan was coming to tempt him, he would have that much less power to
keep Him away with his prayers, because he would be more afraid.
* Ach haddou laillaha ill’Allah.] Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God.”
He of the Assembly stood. Behind him was a wall. In his hand was the sebsi. Over his head was
the sky, which he felt was about to burst into light. He was leaning back looking at it. It was
dark on the earth, but there was still light up there behind the stars. Ahead of him was the
pissoir of the Carpenters’ Souk which the French had put there. People said only Jews used it.
It was made of tin, and there was a puddle in front of it that reflected the sky and the top of
the pissoir. It looked like a boat in the water. Or like a pier where boats land. Without
moving from where he stood, He of the Assembly saw it approaching slowly. He was going
toward it. And he remembered he was naked, and put his hand over his sex. In a minute
the rowboat would be bumping against the pier. He steadied himself on his legs and waited.
But at that moment a large cat ran out of the shadow of the wall and stopped in the middle of
the street to turn and look at him with an evil face. He saw its two eyes and for a while could
not take his own eyes away. Then the cat ran across the street and was gone. He was not
sure what had happened, and he stood very still looking at the ground. He looked back at the
pissoir reflected in the puddle and thought: ‘It was a cat on the shore, nothing else.’ But the
cat’s eyes had frightened him. Instead of being like cats-eyes, they had looked like the eyes of
a person who was interested in him. He made himself forget he had had this thought. He was
still waiting for the rowboat to touch the landing pier, but nothing had happened. It was
going to stay where it was, that near the shore but not near enough to touch. He stood still a
long time, waiting for something to happen. Then he began to walk very fast down the street
toward the bazaars. He had just remembered that the old woman was in the police station. He
wanted to help her, but first he had to find out where they had taken her. ‘I’ll have to
go to every police station in the Medina,’ he thought, and he was not hungry any more. It was
one thing to promise himself he would help her when he was far from land, and another when he
was a few doors from a commissariat. He walked by the entrance. Two policemen stood in the
doorway. He kept walking. The street curved and he was alone. ‘This night is going to be a
jewel in my crown,’ he said, and he turned quickly to the left and went along a dark
passageway. At the end he saw flames, and he knew that Mustapha would be there tending
the fire of the bakery. He crawled into the mud hut where the oven was. ‘Ah, the jackal has
come back from the forest!’ said Mustapha. He of the Assembly shook his head. ‘This is a bad
world,’ he told Mustapha. ‘I’ve got no money,’ Mustapha said. He of the Assembly did not
understand. ‘Everything goes backwards,’ he said. ‘It’s bad now, and we have to make it still
worse if we want to go forwards.’ Mustapha saw that He of the Assembly was mkiyif ma
rassou and was not interested in money. He looked at him in a more friendly way and said:
‘Secrets are not between friends. Talk.’ He of the Assembly told him that an old woman had
done him a great favor, and because of that three policemen had arrested her and taken her to
the police station. ‘You must go for me to the commissariat and ask them if they have an old
woman there.’ He pulled out his sebsi and took a very long time filling it. When he finished it he
smoked it himself and did not offer any to Mustapha, because Mustapha never offered him any
of his. ‘You see how full of kif my head is,’ he said laughing. ‘I can’t go.’ Mustapha laughed too
and said it would not be a good idea, and that he would go for him.
‘I was there, and I heard him going away for a long time, so long that he had to be gone, and yet
he was still there, and his footsteps were still going away. He went away and there was nobody.
There was the fire and I moved away from it. I wanted to hear a sound like a muezzin crying
Allah akbar! or a French plane from the Pilot Base flying over the Medina, or news on the radio.
It wasn’t there. And when the wind came in the door it was made of dust high as a man. A night
to be chased by dogs in the Mellah. I looked in the fire and I saw an eye in there, like the eye
that’s left when you burn chibb and you knew there was a djinn [genie] in the house. I got up
and stood. The fire was making a noise like a voice. I think it was talking. I went out and
walked along the street. I walked a long time and I came to Bab el Khemiss. It was dark
there and the wind was cold. I went to the wall where the camels were lying and stood there.
Sometimes the men have fires and play songs on their aouadas [recorders (of the flute family)
with a piccolo-like register]. But they were asleep. All snoring. I walked again and went to the
gate and looked out. The big trucks went by full of vegetables and I thought I would like to be on
a truck and ride all night. Then in another city I would be a soldier and go to Algeria. Everything
would be good if we had a war. I thought a long time. Then I was so cold I turned around and
walked again. It was as cold as the belly of the oldest goat of Ijoukak. I thought I heard a
muezzin and I stopped and listened. The only thing I heard was the water running in the
seguia that carries the water out to the gardens. It was near the mcid [religious primary school] of
Moulay Boujemaa. I heard the water running by and I felt cold. Then I knew I was cold because
I was afraid. In my head I was thinking: if something should happen that never happened before,
what would I do? You want to laugh? Hashish in your heart and wind in your head. You think
it’s like your grandmother’s prayer-mat. This is the truth. This isn’t a dream brought back from
another world past the customs like a teapot from Mecca. I heard the water and I was afraid.
There were some trees by the path ahead of me. You know at night sometimes it’s good to pull
out the sebsi and smoke. I smoked and I started to walk. And then I heard something. Not a
muezzin. Something that sounded like my name. But it came up from below, from the seguia
[river], Allah istir! And I walked with my head down. I heard it again saying my name, a voice
like water, like the wind moving the leaves in the trees, a woman. It was a woman calling me.
The wind was in the trees and the water was running, but there was a woman too. You think it’s
kif. No, she was calling my name. Now and then, not very loud. When I was under the trees it
was louder, and I heard that the voice was my mother’s. I heard that the way I can hear you.
Then I knew the cat was not a cat, and I knew that Aicha Qandicha* wanted me. I thought of
other nights when perhaps she had been watching me from the eyes of a cat or a donkey. I knew
she was not going to catch me. Nothing in the seven skies could make me turn around. But I was
cold and afraid and when I licked my lips my tongue had no spit on it. I was under the safsaf
trees and I thought: she’s going to reach down and try to touch me. But she can’t touch me from
the front and I won’t turn around, not even if I hear a pistol. I remembered how the policeman
had fired at me and how I’d found only one door open. I began to yell: “You threw me the
ladder and told me to climb down! You brought me here! The filthiest whore in the Mellah,
with the pus coming out of her, is a thousand times cleaner than you, daughter of all the
padronas and dogs in seven worlds!” I got past the trees and I began to run. I called up to the
sky so she could hear my voice behind: “I hope the police put a hose in your mouth and pump
you full of salt water until you crack open!” I thought: tomorrow I’m going to buy fasoukh and
tib and nidd and hasalouba and mska and all the bakhour [forms of incense] in the Djemaa, and
put them in the mijmah [brazier] and burn them, and walk back and forth over the mikmah ten
times slowly, so the smoke can clean out all my clothes. Then I’ll see if there’s an eye in the
ashes afterwards. If there is, I’ll do it all over again right away. And every Thursday I’ll buy the
bakhour and every Friday I’ll burn it. That will be strong enough to keep her away. If I could
find a window and look through and see what they’re doing to the old woman! If only they could
kill her! I kept running. There were a few people in the streets. I didn’t look to see where I was
going, but I went to the street near Mustapha’s oven where the commissariat was. I stopped
running before I got to the door. The one standing there saw me before that. He stepped out and
raised his arm. He said to me: “Come here.”’
He of the Assembly ran. He felt as though he were on horseback. He did not feel his
legs moving. He saw the road coming toward him and the doors going by. The policeman had
not shot at him yet, but it was worse than the other time because he was very close behind and he
was blowing his whistle. ‘The policeman is old. At least thirty-five, I can run faster.’ But from
any street others could come. It was dangerous and he did not want to think about danger. He of
the Assembly let songs come into his head. When it rains in the valley of Zerekten the amethysts
are darker in Aguelmous. The eye wants to sleep but the head is no mattress. It was a song. Ah,
my brother, the ink on the paper is like smoke in the air. What words are there to tell how long a
night can be? Drunk with love, I wander in the dark. He was running through the dye-souk, and
he splashed into a puddle. The whistle blew again behind him, like a crazy bird screaming. The
sound made him feel like laughing, but that did not mean he was not afraid. He thought: ‘If I’m
seventeen I can run faster. That has to be true.’
* Aicha Qandicha] In Moroccan legend, a bewitching evil spirit who drives her victims mad.
- pp. 247-253: He [of the Assembly] ran ahead. He could see the course of the alley now even in
the dark. Then he stopped dead, moved to the wall, and stood still. He heard the footsteps
slowing down. ‘He’s going to turn to the left.’ And he whispered aloud: ‘It ends that way.’ The
footsteps stopped and there was silence. The policeman was looking into the silence and
listening into the dark to the left and to the right. He of the Assembly could not see him or
hear him, but he knew that was what he was doing. He did not move. When it rains in the
valley of Zerekten. A hand seized his shoulder. He opened his mouth and swiftly turned, but
the man had moved and was pushing him from the side. He felt the wool of the man’s djellaba
against the back of his hand. He had gone through a door and the man had shut it without
making any noise. Now they both stood still in the dark, listening to the policeman walking
quickly by outside the door. Then the man struck a match. He was facing the other way, and
there was a flight of stairs ahead. The man did not turn around, but he said: ‘Come up,’ and they
both climbed the stairs. At the top the man took out a key and opened a door. He of the
Assembly stood in the doorway while the man lit a candle. He liked the room because it had
many mattresses and cushions and a white sheepskin under the tea-tray in a corner on the floor.
The man turned around and said: ‘Sit down.’ His face looked serious and kind and unhappy. He
of the Assembly had never seen it before, but he knew it was not the face of a policeman. He of
the Assembly pulled out his sebsi.
Ben Tajah looked at the boy and asked him: ‘What did you mean when you said down there: “It
ends that way?” I heard you say it.’ The boy was embarrassed. He smiled and looked at the floor.
Ben Tajah felt happy to have him there. He had been standing outside the door downstairs in the
dark for a long time, trying to make himself go to the Cafe of the Two Bridges and talk to the
qahaouaji. In his mind it was almost as though he already had been there and spoken with him.
He had heard the qahaouaji telling him that he had seen no letter, and he had felt his own dismay.
He had not wanted to believe that, but he would be willing to say yes, I made a mistake and there
was no letter, if only he could find out where the words had come from. For the words were
certainly in his head. ‘. . . and the two eyes are not brothers.’ That was like the footprint
found in the garden the morning after a bad dream, the proof that there had been a reason for the
dream, that something had been there after all. Ben Tajah had not been able to go or to stay. He
had started and stopped so many times that now, although he did not know it, he was very tired.
When a man is tired he mistakes the hopes of children for the knowledge of men. It seemed to
him that He of the Assembly’s words had a meaning all for him. Even though the boy might not
know it, he could have been sent by Allah to help him at that minute. In a nearby street a police
whistle blew. The boy looked at him. Ben Tajah did not care very much what the answer would
be, but he said: ‘Why are they looking for you?’ The boy held out his lighted sebsi and his
mottoui* fat with kif. He did not want to talk because he was listening. Ben Tajah smoked kif
only when a friend offered it to him, but he understood that the police had begun once more to
try to enforce their law against kif. Each year they arrested people for a few weeks, and then
stopped arresting them. He looked at the boy, and decided that probably he smoked too much.
With the sebsi in his hand he was sitting very still listening to the voices of some passers-by in
the street below. ‘I know who he is,’ one said. ‘I’ve got his name from Mustapha.’ ‘The baker?’
‘That’s the one.’ They walked on. The boy’s expression was so intense that Ben Tajah said to
him: ‘It’s nobody. Just people.’ He was feeling happy because he was certain that Satan would
not appear before him as long as the boy was with him. He said quietly: ‘Still you haven’t told
me why you said: “It ends that way.” The boy filled his sebsi slowly and smoked all the kif in it.
‘I meant,’ he said, ‘thanks to Allah. Praise the sky and the earth where it is bright. What else can
you mean when something ends?’ Ben Tajah nodded his head. Pious thoughts can be of as much
use for keeping Satan at a distance as camphor or bakhour dropped onto hot coals. Each holy
word is worth a high column of smoke, and the eyelids do not smart afterwards. ‘He has a good
heart,’ thought Ben Tajah, ‘even though he is probably a guide for the Nazarenes.’ And he asked
himself why it would not be possible for the boy to have been sent to protect him from Satan.
‘Probably not. But it could be.’ The boy offered him the sebsi. He took it and smoked it. After
that Ben Tajah began to think that he would like to go to the Cafe of the Two Bridges and
speak to the qahaouaji about the letter. He felt that if the boy went with him the qahaouaji
might say there had been a letter, and that even if the man could not remember, he would not
mind so much because he would be less afraid. He waited until he thought the boy was not
nervous about going into the street, and then he said: ‘Let’s go out and get some tea.’ ‘Good,’
said the boy. He was not afraid of the police if he was with Ben Tajah. They went through the
empty streets, crossed the Djemaa el Fna and the garden beyond. When they were near the cafe,
Ben Tajah said to the boy: ‘Do you know the Cafe of the Two Bridges?’ The boy said he always
sat there, and Ben Tajah was not surprised. It seemed to him that perhaps he had even seen him
there. He seized the boy’s arm. ‘Were you there today?’ he asked him. The boy said ‘Yes,’ and
turned to look at him. He let go of the arm. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Did you ever see me there?’
They came to the gate of the cafe and Ben Tajah stopped walking. ‘No,’ the boy said. They
went across the first bridge and then the second bridge, and sat down in a corner. Not many
people were left outside. Those inside were making a great noise. The qahaouaji brought the
tea and went away again. Ben Tajah did not say anything to him about the letter. He wanted to
drink the tea quietly and leave trouble until later.
* Mouttoui] Leather pouch for carrying kif on one’s person.
When the muezzin* called from the minaret of the Koutoubia, He of the Assembly thought of
being in the Agdal [large public gardens in Marrakesh]. The great mountains were ahead of him
and the olive trees stood in rows on each side of him. Then he heard the trickle of water and he
remembered the seguia that is there in the Agdal, and he swiftly came back to the Cafe of the
Two Bridges. Aicha Qandicha** can be only where there are trees by running water. ‘She comes
only for single men by trees and fresh moving water. Her arms are gold and she calls in the
voice of the most cherished one.’ Ben Tajah gave him the sebsi. He filled it and smoked it.
‘When a man sees her face he will never see another woman’s face. He will make love with her
all the night, and every night, and in the sunlight by the walls, before the eyes of children. Soon
he will be an empty pod and he will leave the world for his home in Jehennem.’ The last
carriage went by, taking the last tourists down the road beside the ramparts to their rooms in
the Mamounia. He of the Assembly thought: ‘The eye wants to sleep. But this man is alone in
the world. He wants to talk all night. He wants to tell me about his wife and how he beat her and
how she broke everything. Why do I want to know all those things? He is a good man but he has
no head.’ Ben Tajah was sad. He said: ‘What have I done? Why does Satan choose me?’ Then at
last he told the boy about the letter, about how he wondered if it had had his name on the
envelope and how he was not even sure there had been a letter. When he finished he looked
sadly at the boy. ‘And you didn’t see me.’ He of the Assembly shut his eyes and kept them shut
for a while. When he opened them again he said: ‘Are you alone in the world?’ Ben Tajah
stared at him and did not speak. The boy laughed. ‘I did see you,’ he said, ‘but you had no
letter. I saw you when you were getting up and I thought you were old. Then I saw you were not
old. That’s all I saw.’ ‘No, it isn’t,’ Ben Tajah said. ‘You saw I was alone.’ He of the Assembly
shrugged. ‘Who knows?’ He filled the sebsi and handed it to Ben Tajah. The kif was in Ben
Tajah’s head. His eyes were small. He of the Assembly listened to the wind in the telephone
wires, took back the sebsi and filled it again. Then he said: ‘You think Satan is coming to make
trouble for you because you’re alone in the world. I see that. Get a wife or somebody to be with
you always, and you won’t think about it any more. That’s true. Because Satan doesn’t come to
men like you.’ He of the Assembly did not believe this himself. He knew that Father Satan can
come for anyone in the world, but he hoped to live with Ben Tajah, so he would not have to
borrow money in the souks to buy food. Ben Tajah drank some tea. He did not want the boy to
see that his face was happy. He felt that the boy was right, and that there never had been a letter.
‘Two days on a bus is a long time. A man can get very tired,’ he said. Then he called the
qahaouaji and told him to bring two more glasses of tea. He of the Assembly gave him the
sebsi. He knew that Ben Tajah wanted to stay as long as possible in the Cafe of the Two
Bridges. He put his finger into the mottoui. The kif was almost gone. ‘We can talk,’ he said.
‘Not much kif is in the mottoui.’ The qahaouaji brought the tea. They talked for an hour or
more. The qahaouaji slept and snored. They talked about Satan and the bad thing it is to live
alone, to wake up in the dark and know that there is no one else nearby. Many times He of the
Assembly told Ben Tajah that he must not worry. The kif was all gone. He held his empty
mottoui in his hand. He did not understand how he had got back to the town without
climbing up out of the soup kettle. Once he said to Ben Tajah: ‘I never climbed back up.’ Ben
Tajah looked at him and said he did not understand. He of the Assembly told him the story.
Ben Tajah laughed. He said: ‘You smoke too much kif, brother.’ He of the Assembly put his
sebsi into his pocket. ‘And you don’t smoke and you’re afraid of Satan,’ he told Ben Tajah.
‘No!’ Ben Tajah shouted. ‘By Allah! No more! But one thing is in my head, and I can’t put it
out. The sky trembles and the earth is afraid, and the two eyes are not brothers. Did you ever
hear those words? Where did they come from?’ Ben Tajah looked hard at the boy. He of the
Assembly understood that these had been the words on the paper, and he felt cold in the
middle of his back because he had never heard them before and they sounded evil. He knew,
too, that he must not let Ben Tajah know this. He began to laugh. Ben Tajah took hold of his
knee and shook it. His face was troubled. ‘Did you ever hear them?’ He of the Assembly went
on laughing. Ben Tajah shook his leg so hard that he stopped and said: ‘Yes!’ When Ben Tajah
waited and he said nothing more, he saw the man’s face growing angry, and so he said: ‘Yes,
I’ve heard them. But will you tell me what happened to me and how I got out of the soup-kettle
if I tell you about those words?’ Ben Tajah understood that the kif was going away from the
boy’s head. But he saw that it had not all gone, or he would not have been asking that
question. And he said: ‘Wait a while for the answer to that question.’ He of the Assembly
woke the qahaouaji and Ben Tajah paid him, and they went out of the cafe. They did not
talk while they walked. When they got to the Mouassine mosque, Ben Tajah held out his hand to
say goodnight, but He of the Assembly said: ‘I’m looking in my head for the place I heard your
words. I’ll walk to your door with you. Maybe I’ll remember.’ Ben Tajah said: ‘May Allah
help you find it.’ And he took his arm and they walked to Ben Tajah’s door while He of the
Assembly said nothing. They stood outside the door in the dark. ‘Have you found it?’ said
Ben Tajah. ‘Almost,’ said He of the Assembly. Ben Tajah thought that perhaps when the kif
had gone out of the boy’s head he might be able to tell him about the words. He wanted to
know how the boy’s head was, and so he said: ‘Do you still want to know how you got out of
the soup-kettle?’ He of the Assembly laughed. ‘You said you would tell me later,’ he told
Ben Tajah. ‘I will,’ said Ben Tajah. ‘Come upstairs. Since we have to wait, we can sit down.’
Ben Tajah opened the door and they went upstairs. This time He of the Assembly sat down on
Ben Tajah’s bed. He yawned and stretched. It was a good bed. He was glad it was not the mat by
the bamboo fence at the Cafe of the Two Bridges. ‘And so, tell me how I got out of the soup-
kettle,’ he said laughing. Ben Tajah said: ‘You’re still asking me that? Have you thought of the
words?’ ‘I know the words,’ the boy said. ‘The sky trembles. . . .’ Ben Tajah did not want him to
say them again. ‘Where did you hear them? What are they? That’s what I want to know.’ The
boy shook his head. Then he sat up very straight and looked beyond Ben Tajah, beyond the wall
of the room, beyond the streets of the Medina, beyond the gardens, toward the mountains where
the people speak Tachelhait. He remembered being a little boy. ‘This night is a jewel in my
crown,’ he thought. ‘It went this way.’ And he began to sing, making up a melody for the words
Ben Tajah had told him. When he had finished ‘. . . and the two eyes are not brothers,’ he added
a few more words of his own and stopped singing. ‘That’s all I remember of the song,’ he said.
Ben Tajah clapped his hands together hard. ‘A song!’ he cried. ‘I must have heard it on the
radio.’ He of the Assembly shrugged. ‘They play it sometimes,’ he said. ‘I’ve made him happy,’
he thought. ‘But I won’t ever tell him another lie. That’s the only one. What I’m going to do now
is not the same as lying.’ He got up off the bed and went to the window. The muezzins were
calling the fjer [morning prayer]. ‘It’s almost morning,’ he said to Ben Tajah. ‘I still have kif in
my head.’ ‘Sit down,’ said Ben Tajah. He was sure now there had been no letter. He of the
Assembly took off his djellaba [hooded outer garment with full sleeves] and got into the bed.
Ben Tajah looked at him in surprise. Then he undressed and got into bed beside him. He left
the candle burning on the floor beside the bed. He meant to stay awake, but he went to sleep
because he was not used to smoking kif and the kif was in his head. He of the Assembly did
not believe he was asleep. He lay for a long time without moving. He listened to the voices of
the muezzins, and he thought that the man beside him would speak or move. When he saw
that Ben Tajah was surely asleep, he was angry. ‘This is how he treats a friend who has
made him happy. He forgets his trouble and his friend too.’ He thought about it more and he
was angrier. The muezzins were still calling the fjer. ‘Before they stop, or he will hear.’ Very
slowly he got out of the bed. He put on his djellaba and opened the door. Then he went back
and took all the money out of Ben Tajah’s pockets. In with the banknotes was an envelope
that was folded. It had Ben Tajah’s name written across it. He pulled out the piece of paper
inside and held it near the candle, and then he looked at it as he would have looked at a snake.
The words were written there. Ben Tajah’s face was turned toward the wall and he was snoring.
He of the Assembly held the paper above the flame and burned it, and then he burned the
envelope. He blew the black paper-ashes across the floor. Without making any noise he ran
downstairs and let himself out into the street. He shut the door. The money was in his pocket
and he walked fast to his aunt’s house. His aunt awoke and was angry for a while. Finally he
said: ‘It was raining. How could I come home? Let me sleep.’ He had a little kif hidden
under his pillow. He smoked a pipe. Then he looked across his sleep to the morning and
thought: ‘A pipe of kif before breakfast gives a man the strength of a hundred camels in the
* muezzin: a mosque official who calls the faithful to prayer at fixed daily times, usually
from a minaret (a slender tower attached to a mosque and surrounded by one or more
projecting balconies from which the summons to prayer is made)
** Aicha Qandicha] In Moroccan legend, a bewitching evil spirit who drives her victims mad.
- pp. 765-769 (Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue): We are installed at
Sirkeci on the Istanbul side, in the hotel I had first wanted. Outside the window is a taxi stand.
From early morning onward there is the continuous racket of men shouting and horns being
blown in a struggle to keep recently arrived taxis from edging in ahead of those that have been
waiting in line. The general prohibition of horn-blowing, which is in effect everywhere in the
city, doesn’t seem to apply here. The altercations are bitter, and everyone gets involved in them.
Taxi drivers in Istanbul are something of a race apart. They are the only social group who
systematically try to take advantage of the foreign visitor. In the ships, restaurants, cafes, the
prices asked of the newcomer are the same as those paid by the inhabitants. (In the bazaars
buying is automatically a matter of wrangling; that is understood.) The cab drivers, however, are
more actively acquisitive. For form’s sake, their vehicles are equipped with meters, but their
method of using them is such that they might better do without them. You get into a cab whose
meter registers seventeen liras thirty kurus, ask the man to turn it back to zero and start again,
and he laughs and does nothing. When you get out it registers eighteen liras eighty kurus. You
give him the difference—one lira and a half. Never! He may want two and a half or three and a
half or a good deal more, but he will not settle for what seems equitable according to the meter.
Since most tourists pay what they are asked and go on their way, he is not prepared for an
argument, and he is likely to let his temper run away with him if you are recalcitrant. There is
also the prearranged-price system of taking a cab. Here the driver goes as slowly and by as
circuitous a route as possible, calling out the general neighborhood of his destination for all in
the streets to hear, so that he can pick up extra fares en route. He will, unless you assert
yourself, allow several people to pile in on top of you until there is literally no room left for you
The streets are narrow, crooked and often precipitous; traffic is very heavy, and there are many
tramcars and buses. The result is that the taxis go like the wind whenever there is a space of a
few yards ahead, rushing to the extreme left to get around obstacles before oncoming traffic
reaches them. I am used to Paris and Mexico, both cities of evil repute where taxis are
concerned, but I think Istanbul might possibly win first prize for thrill-giving.
One day our driver had picked up two extra men and mercifully put them in from with him,
when he spied a girl standing on the curb and slowed down to take her in, too. A policeman saw
his maneuver and did not approve: one girl with five men seemed too likely to cause a
disturbance. He blew his whistle menacingly. The driver, rattled, swerved sharply to the left, to
pretend he had never thought of such a thing as stopping to pick up a young lady. There was a
crash and we were thrown forward off the seat. We got out; the last we saw of the driver, he was
standing in the middle of the street by his battered car, screaming at the man he had hit, and
holding up all traffic. Abdeslam took down his license number in the hope of persuading me to
instigate a lawsuit.
Since the use of the horn is proscribed, taxi drivers can make their presence known only by
reaching out the window and pounding violently on the outside of the door. The scraping of the
tramcars and the din of the enormous horse-drawn carts thundering over the cobbled pavements
make it difficult to judge just how much the horn interdiction reduces noise. The drivers also
have a pretty custom of offering cigarettes at the beginning of the journey; this is to soften up the
victim for the subsequent kill. On occasion they sing for you. One morning I was entertained all
the way from Sulemaniye to Taksim with “Jezebel” and “Come On-a My House.” In such cases
the traffic warnings on the side of the car are done in strict rhythm.
Istanbul is a jolly place; it’s hard to find any sinister element in it, notwithstanding all the spy
novels for which it provides such a handsome setting. A few of the older buildings are of stone;
but many more of them are built of wood which looks as though it had never been painted. The
cupolas and minarets rise above the disorder of the city like huge gray fungi growing out of a
vast pile of ashes. For disorder is the visual keynote of Istanbul. It is not slovenly—only untidy;
not dirty—merely dingy and drab. And just as you cannot claim it to be a beautiful city, neither
can you accuse it of being uninteresting. Its steep hills and harbor views remind you a little of
San Francisco; its overcrowded streets recall Bombay; its transportation facilities evoke Venice,
for you can go many places by boats which are continually making stops. (It costs threepence to
get across to Uskudar in Asia.) Yet the streets are strangely reminiscent of an America that has
almost disappeared. Again and again I have been reminded of some New England mill town in
the time of my childhood. Or a row of little houses will suggest a back street in Stapleton, on
Staten Island. It is a city whose esthetic is that of the unlikely and incongruous, a photographer’s
paradise. There is no native quarter, or, if you like, it is all native quarter. Beyoglu, the site of the
so-called better establishments, concerns itself as little with appearances as do the humbler
regions on the other side of the bridges.
You wander down the hill toward Karakoy. Above the harbor with its thousands of caiques
[rowboats or sailing boats], rowboats, tugs, freighters and ferries, lies a pall of smoke and haze
through which you can see the vague outline of the domes and towers of Aya Sofia, Sultan
Ahmet, Suleyimaniye; but to the left and far above all that there is a pure region next to the sky
where the mountains in Asia glisten with snow. As you descend the alleys of steps that lead to
the water’s level, there are more and more people around you. In Karakoy itself just to make
progress along the sidewalk requires the best part of your attention. You would think that all of
the city’s million and a quarter inhabitants were in the streets on their way to or from Galata
Bridge. By Western European standards it is not a well-dressed crowd. The chaotic sartorial
effect achieved by the populace in Istanbul is not necessarily due to poverty, but rather to a
divergent conception of the uses to which European garments should be put. The mass is not an
ethnically homogeneous one. The types of faces range from Levantine through Slavic to
Mongoloid, the last belonging principally to the soldiers from eastern Anatolia. Apart from
language there seems to be no one common element, not even shabbiness, since there are usually
a few men and women who do understand how to wear their clothing.
Galata Bridge has two levels, the lower of which is a great dock whence the boats leave to go up
the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, across to the Asiatic suburbs, and down to the islands in the
Sea of Marmara. The ferries are there, of all sizes and shapes, clinging to the edge like water
beetles to the side of a floating stick. When you get across to the other side of the bridge there
are just as many people and just as much traffic, but the buildings are older and the streets
narrower, and you begin to realize that you are, after all, in an oriental city. And if you expect
to see anything more than the “points of interest,” you are going to have to wander for miles on
foot. The character of Istanbul derives from a thousand disparate, nonevident details; only by
observing the variations and repetitions of such details can you begin to get an idea of the
patterns they form. Thus the importance of wandering. The dust is bad. After a few hours of it I
usually have a sore throat. I try to get off the main arteries, where the horses and drays clatter by,
and stay in the alleyways, which are too narrow for anything but foot traffic. These lanes
occasionally open up into little squares with rugs hanging on the walls and chairs placed in the
shade of the grapevines overhead. A few Turks will be sitting about drinking coffee; the
narghilehs bubble. Invariably, if I stop and gaze a moment, someone asks me to have
some coffee, eat a few green walnuts and share his pipe. An irrational disinclination to become
involved keeps me from accepting, but today Abdeslam did accept, only to find to his chagrin
that the narghileh [water-pipe consisting of a jar and a hose with a mouthpiece] contained
tobacco, and not kif or hashish as he had expected.
Cannabis sativa and its derivatives are strictly prohibited in Turkey, and the natural
correlative of this proscription is that alcohol, far from being frowned upon as it is in other
Moslem lands, is freely drunk; being a government monopoly it can be bought at any cigarette
counter. This fact is no mere detail; it is of primary social importance, since the psychological
effects of the two substances are diametrically opposed to each other. Alcohol blurs the
personality by loosening inhibitions. The drinker feels, temporarily at least, a sense of
participation. Kif abolishes no inhibitions; on the contrary it reinforces them, pushes the
individual further back into the recesses of his own isolated personality, pledging him to
contemplation and inaction. It is to be expected that there should be a close relationship
between the culture of a given society and the means used by its members to achieve
release and euphoria. For Judaism and Christianity the means has always been alcohol; for
Islam it has been hashish. The first is dynamic in its effects, the other static. If a nation
wishes, however mistakenly, to Westernize itself, first let it give up hashish. The rest will
follow, more or less as a matter of course. Conversely, in a Western country, if a whole
segment of the population desires, for reasons of protest (as has happened in the United
States), to isolate itself in a radical fashion from the society around it, the quickest and
surest way is for it to replace alcohol by cannabis.
Today in our wanderings we came upon the old fire tower at the top of the hill behind
Suleymaniye, and since there was no sign at the door forbidding entry, we stepped in and
began to climb the one hundred and eighty rickety wooden steps of the spiral staircase
leading to the top. (Abdeslam counted them.) When we were almost at the top, we heard
strains of Indian music; a radio up there was tuned in to New Delhi. At the same moment a
good deal of water came pouring down upon us through the cracks above. We decided to
beat a retreat, but then the boy washing the stairs saw us and insisted that we continue to
the top and sit awhile. The view up there was magnificent; there is no better place from which
to see the city. A charcoal fire was burning in a brazier, and we had tea and listened to some
Anatolian songs which presently came over the air. Outside the many windows the wind blew,
and the city below, made quiet by distance, spread itself across the rolling landscape on every
side, its roof tiles pink in the autumn sun.
- pp. 760-761 (“A Man Must Not Be Very Moslem”): When I announced my intention of
bringing Abdeslam along to Istanbul, the general opinion of my friends was that there were a
good many more intelligent things to do in the world than to carry a Moroccan Moslem along
with one to Turkey. I don’t know. He may end up as a dead weight, but my hope is that he will
turn out instead to be a kind of passkey to the place. He knows how to deal with Moslems, and
he has the Moslem sense of seemliness and protocol. He has also an intuitive gift for the
immediate understanding of a situation and at the same time is completely lacking in reticence or
inhibitions. He can lie so well that he convinces himself straightway, and he is a master at
bargaining; it is a black day for him when he has to pay the asking price for anything. He never
knows what is printed on a sign because he is totally illiterate; besides, even if he did know he
would pay no attention, for he is wholly deficient in respect for law. If you mention that this or
that thing is forbidden, he is contemptuous: “Agh! a decree for the wind!” Obviously he is far
better equipped than I to squeeze the last drop of adventure out of any occasion; I, unfortunately,
can read signs but can’t lie or bargain effectively, and will forgo any joy rather than risk
unpleasantness or reprimand from whatever quarter. At all events, the die is cast: Abdeslam is
here on the ship.
My first intimation of Turkey came during tea this afternoon, as the ship was leaving the Bay of
Naples. The orchestra was playing a tango which finally established its identity, after several
reprises, as the “Indian Love Call,” and the cliffs of Capri were getting in the way of the sunset. I
glanced at a biscuit that I was about to put into my mouth, then stopped the operation to examine
it more closely. It was an ordinary little arrowroot tea-biscuit, and on it were embossed the words
HAYD PARK. Contemplating this edible tidbit, I recalled what friends had told me of the
amusing havoc that results when the Turks phoneticize words borrowed from other languages.
These metamorphosed words have a way of looking like gibberish until you say them aloud, and
then more likely than not they resolve themselves into perfectly comprehensible English or
French or, even occasionally, Arabic. SKOC TUID looks like nothing; suddenly it becomes
Scotch Tweed. TUALET, TRENCKOT, OTOTEKNIC and SEKSOLOJI likewise reveal their
messages as one stares at them. Synthetic orthography is a constantly visible reminder of
Turkey’s determination to be “modern.” The country has turned its back on the East and
Eastern concepts, not with the simple yearning of other Islamic countries to be European or to
acquire American techniques, but with a conscious will to transform itself from the core
outward—even to destroy itself culturally, if need be.
- pp. 762-763: Once we had left the city behind and were driving along the dark road, there was
nothing for Abdeslam to do but catechize the two Turks in front. Obviously they did not impress
him as being up-to-the-mark Moslems, and he started by testing their knowledge of the Koran. I
thought they were replying fairly well, but he was contemptuous. “They don’t know anything,”
he declared in Moghrebi. Going into English, he asked them: “How many times one day you
“People can sleep in mosque?” he pursued. The driver was busy navigating the curves in the
narrow road, but his companion, who spoke a special brand of English all his own, spoke for
him. “Not slep in mosque many people every got hoss,” he explained.
“You make sins?” continued Abdeslam, intent on unearthing the hidden flaws in the behavior of
these foreigners. “Pork, wine?”
The other shrugged his shoulders. “Muslim people every not eat pork not drink wine but maybe
one hundred year ago like that. Now different.”
“Never different!” shouted Abdeslam sternly. “You not good Moslems here. People not
happy. You have bad government. Not like Egypt. Egypt have good government. Egypt
The other was indignant. “Everybody happy,” he protested. “Happy with Egypt too for religion.
But the Egypts sometimes fight with Egypts. Arab fight Arabs. Why? I no like Egypt. I in Egypt.
I ask my way. They put me say bakhshish. If you ask in Istanbul, you say I must go my way, he
can bring you, but he no say give bakhshish [gratuity]. Before, few people up, plenty
people down. Now, you make your business, I make my business. You take your money, I take
my money. Before, you take my money. You rich with my money. Before,
Turkey like Egypt with Farouk.” He stopped to let all this sink in, but Abdeslam was not
“Egypt very good country,” he retorted, and there was no more conversation until we arrived. At
the hotel the driver’s comrade was describing a fascinating new ideology known as democracy.
From the beginning of the colloquy I had my notebook out, scribbling his words in the dark as
fast as he spoke them. They express the average uneducated Turk’s reaction to the new concept.
It was only in 1950 that the first completely democratic elections were held. (Have there been
any since?) To Abdeslam, who is a traditionally-minded Moslem, the very idea of democracy is
meaningless. It is impossible to explain it to him; he will not listen. If an idea is not explicitly
formulated in the Koran, it is wrong; it came either directly from Satan or via the Jews, and there
is no need to discuss it further.
- p. 764: At dinner we were the only people eating, since it was nearly midnight. Abdeslam took
advantage of this excellent opportunity by delivering an impassioned harangue (partly in a
mixture of Moghrebi and Standard Arabic and partly in English), with the result that by the end
of the meal we had fourteen waiters and bus boys crowded around the table listening. Then
someone thought of fetching the chef. He arrived glistening with sweat and beaming; he had
been brought because he spoke more Arabic than the others, which was still not very much.
“Old-fashioned Moslem,” explained the head-waiter. Abdeslam immediately put him through the
chehade [the spoken sentence affirming the Islamic faith], and he came off with flying
colors, reciting it word for word along with Abdeslam: “Achhaddouanlaillahainallah. . . .”
[Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God.”] The faces of the younger men
expressed unmistakable admiration, as well as pleasure at the approval of the esteemed foreigner,
but none of them could perform the chef’s feat. Presently the manager of the hotel came in,
presumably to see what was going on in the dining room at this late hour. Abdeslam asked for
the check, and objected when he saw that it was written with Roman characters. “Arabic!” he
demanded. “You Moslem? Then bring check in Arabic.” Apologetically the manager explained
that writing in Arabic was “dangerous,” and had been known on occasion to put the man who did
it into jail. To this he added, just to make things quite clear, that any man who veiled his wife
also went to jail. “A man must not be very Moslem,” he said. But Abdeslam had had
enough. “I very very Moslem,” he announced. We left the room.
- pp. 180-181 (“Tea on the Mountain”): The mail that morning had brought her a large advance
from her publishers. At least, it looked large to her there in the International Zone where life was
cheap. She had opened the letter at a table of the sidewalk cafe opposite the Spanish post office.
The emotion she felt at seeing the figures on the check had made her unexpectedly generous to
the beggars that constantly filed past. Then the excitement had worn off, and she felt
momentarily depressed. The streets and the sky seemed brighter and stronger than she. She had
of necessity made very few friends in the town, and although she worked steadily every day at
her novel, she had to admit that sometimes she was lonely. Driss came by, wearing a spotless
mauve djellaba* over his shoulders and a new fez on his head.
“Bon jour, mademoiselle,” he said, making an exaggerated bow. He had been
paying her assiduous attention for several months, but so far she had been successful in putting
him off without losing his friendship; he made a good escort in the evenings. This morning she
greeted him warmly, let him pay her check, and moved off up the street with him, conscious of
the comment her action had caused among the other Arabs sitting in the cafe.
They turned into the rue du Telegraphe Anglais, and walked slowly down the hill. She
decided she was trying to work up an appetite for lunch; in the noonday heat it was often difficult
to be hungry. Driss had been Europeanized to the point of insisting on aperitifs before his meals;
however, instead of having two Dubonnets, for instance, he would take a Gentiane, a Byrrh, a
Pernod and an Amer Picon. Then he usually went to sleep and put off eating until later. They
stopped at the cafe facing the Marshan Road, and sat down next to a table occupied by several
students from the Lycee Francais, who were drinking limonades and glancing over their
notebooks. Driss wheeled around suddenly and began a casual conversation. Soon they both
moved over to the students’ table.
She was presented to each student in turn; they solemnly acknowledged her
“Enchantee,” but remained seated while doing so. Only one, named Mjid, rose from his
chair and quickly sat down again, looking worried. He was the one she immediately wanted to
get to know, perhaps because he was more serious and soft-eyed, yet at the same time seemed
more eager and violent than any of the others. He spoke his stilted theatre-French swiftly, with
less accent than his schoolmates, and he punctuated his sentences with precise, tender smiles
instead of the correct or expected inflections.
* Djellaba] A hooded overgarment with sleeves. Formerly a man’s garment, but now worn by
- pp. 182-186: “We shall hire a carriage, and take some ham to my country villa,” continued
Mjid, his eyes shining with excitement. Ghazi started to look about apprehensively at the other
men seated on the terrace; then he got up and went inside.
When he returned he objected: “You have no sense, Mjid. You say ‘ham’ right out loud
when you know some friends of my father might be here. It would be very bad for me. Not
everyone is free as you are.”
Mjid was penitent for an instant. He stretched out his leg, pulling aside his silk
gandoura [long dress worn by both sexes]. “Do you like my garters?” he asked her
She was startled. “They’re quite good ones,” she began.
“Let me see yours,” he demanded.
She glanced down at her slacks. She had espadrilles on her feet, and wore no socks. “I’m
sorry,” she said. “I haven’t any.”
Mjid looked uncomfortable, and she guessed that it was more for having discovered, in
front of the others, a flaw in her apparel, than for having caused her possible embarrassment. He
cast a contrite glance at Ghazi, as if to excuse himself for having encouraged a foreign lady who
was obviously not of the right sort. She felt that some gesture on her part was called for. Pulling
out several hundred francs, which was all the money in her purse, she laid it on the table, and
went on searching in her handbag for her mirror. Mjid’s eyes softened. He turned with a certain
triumph to Ghazi, and permitting himself a slight display of exaltation, patted his friend’s cheek
“So it’s set!” he exclaimed. “Tomorrow at noon we meet here at the Cafe du Telegraphe
Anglais. I shall have hired a carriage at eleven-thirty at the market. You, dear mademoiselle,”
turning to her, “will have gone at ten-thirty to the English grocery and bought the food. Be sure
to get Jambon Olida, because it’s the best.”
“The best ham,” murmured Ghazi, looking up and down the street a bit uneasily.
“And buy one bottle of wine.”
“Mjid, you know this can get back to my father,” Ghazi began.
Mhid had had enough interference. He turned to her. “If you like, mademoiselle, we can
She glanced at Ghazi; his cowlike eyes had veiled with actual tears.
Mjid continued. “It’ll be very beautiful up there on the mountain with just us two. We’ll
take a walk along the top of the mountain to the rose gardens. There’s a breeze from the sea all
afternoon. At dusk we’ll be back at the farm. We’ll have tea and rest.” He stopped at this point,
which he considered crucial.
Ghazi was pretending to read his social correspondence textbook, with his
chechia [straw hat] tilted over his eyebrows so as to hide his hopelessly troubled face. Mjid
“We’ll go all three,” he said softly.
Ghazi simply said: “Mjid is bad.”
Driss was now roaring drunk. The other students were impressed and awed. Some of the
bearded men in the cafe looked over at the table with open disapproval in their faces. She saw
that they regarded her as a symbol of corruption. Consulting her fancy little enamel watch, which
everyone at the table had to examine and study closely before she could put it back into its case,
she announced that she was hungry.
“Will you eat with us?” Ghazi inquired anxiously. It was clear he had read that an
invitation should be extended on such occasions; it was equally clear that he was in terror lest
She declined and rose. The glare of the street and the commotion of the passers-by had
tired her. She took her leave of all the students while Driss was inside the cafe, and went down to
the restaurant on the beach where she generally had lunch.
There while she ate, looking out at the water, she thought: “That was amusing, but it was
just enough,” and she decided not to go on the picnic.
She did not even wait until the next day to stock up with provisions at the English
grocery. She bought three bottles of ordinary red wine, two cans of Jambon Olida, several kinds
of Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits, a bottle of stuffed olives and five hundred grams of chocolates
full of liqueurs. The English lady made a splendid parcel for her.
At noon next day she was drinking an orgeat [cocktail made with a bitter almond-
flavored syrup] at the Cafe du Telegraphe Anglais. A carriage drove up, drawn by two horses
loaded down with sleighbells. Behind the driver, shielded from the sun by the beige canopy of
the victoria, sat Ghazi and Mjid, looking serious and pleasant. They got down to help her in. As
they drove off up the hill, Mjid inspected the parcel approvingly and whispered: “The wine?”
“All inside,” she said.
The locusts made a great noise from the dusty cliffs beside the road as they came to the
edge of town. “Our nightingales,” smiled Mjid. “Here is a ring for you. Let me see your hand.”
She was startled, held out her left hand.
“No, no! The right!” he cried. The ring was of massive silver; it fitted her index finger.
She was immensely pleased.
“But you are too nice. What can I give you?” She tried to look pained and helpless.
“The pleasure of having a true European friend,” said Mjid gravely.
“But I’m American,” she objected.
“All the better.”
Ghazi was looking silently toward the distant Riffian mountains. Prophetically he
raised his arm with its silk sleeve blowing in the hot wind, and pointed across the cracked mud
“Down that way,” he said softly, “there is a village where all the people are mad. I rode
there once with one of my father’s assistants. It’s the water they drink.”
The carriage lurched. They were climbing. Below them the sea began to spread out, a
poster blue. The tops of the mountains across the water in Spain rose above the haze. Mjid
started to sing. Ghazi covered his ears with his fat dimpled hands.
The summer villa was inhabited by a family with a large number of children. After
dismissing the carriage driver and instructing him not to return, since he wanted to walk back
down, Mjid took his guests on a tour of inspection of the grounds. There were a good many
wells; Ghazi had certainly seen these countless times before, but he stopped as if in amazement
at each well as they inspected it, and whispered: “Think of it!”
On a rocky elevation above the farm stood a great olive tree. There they spread the food,
and ate slowly. The Berber woman in charge of the farm had given them several loaves of native
bread, and olives and oranges. Ghazi wanted Mjid to decline this food.
“A real European picnic is what we should have.”
But she insisted they take the oranges.
The opening of the ham was observed in religious silence. It was no time before both
cans were consumed. Then they attacked the wine.
“If my father could see us,” said Ghazi, draining a tin cup of it. “Ham and wine!”
Mjid drank a cup, making a grimace of distaste. He lay back, his arms folded behind his
head. “Now that I’ve finished, I can tell you that I don’t like wine, and everyone knows that ham
is filthy. But I hate our severe conventions.”
She suspected that he had rehearsed the little speech.
Ghazi was continuing to drink the wine. He finished a bottle all by himself, and excusing
himself to his companions, took off his gandoura. Soon he was asleep.
“You see?” whispered Mjid. He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Now we can
go to the rose garden.” He led her along the ledge, and down a path away from the villa. It was
very narrow; thorny bushes scraped their arms as they squeezed through.
“In America we call walking like this going Indian fashion,” she remarked.
- pp. 187-188: “ . . . . In any case, you are magnificent!” He started ahead again, singing a
song in Spanish.
“Es pa’ mi la mas bonita,
La mujer que yo mas quiero . . .”
[Most beautiful to me is the woman I love the most.]
They came to a cactus fence, with a small gate of twisted barbed wire. A yellow puppy
rushed up to the gate and barked delightedly.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Mjid, although she had given no sign of fear. “You are my sister.
He never bites the family.” Continuing down a dusty path between stunted palms which were
quite dried-up and yellow, they came presently to a primitive bower made of bamboo stalks. In
the center was a tiny bench beside a wall, and around the edges several desiccated rose plants
grew out of the parched earth. From these he picked two bright red roses, placing one in her hair
and the other under his chechia [straw hat], so that it fell like a lock of hair over his
forehead. The thick growth of thorny vines climbing over the trellises cast a shadow on the
bench. They sat awhile in silence in the shade.
Mjid seemed lost in thought. Finally he took her hand. “I’m thinking,” he said in a
whisper. “When one is far away from the town, in one’s own garden, far from everyone, sitting
where it is quiet, one always thinks. Or one plays music,” he added.
Suddenly she was conscious of the silence of the afternoon. Far in the distance she heard
the forlorn crow of a cock. It made her feel that the sun would soon set, that all creation was on
the brink of a great and final sunset. She abandoned herself to sadness, which crept over her like
Mjid jumped up. “If Ghazi wakes!” he cried. He pulled her arm impatiently. “Come, we’ll take a
walk!” They hurried down the path, through the gate, and across a bare stony plateau toward the
edge of the mountain.
“There’s a little valley nearby where the brother of the caretaker lives. We can go there
and get some water.”
“Way down there?” she said, although she was encouraged by the possibility of escaping
from Ghazi for the afternoon. Her mood of sadness had not left her. They were running downhill,
leaping from one rock to the next. Her rose fell off and she had to hold it in her hand.
- from The Stories of Paul Bowles; book flap: Though sometimes shocking, Bowles’s stories
have a symmetry that is haunting and ultimately moral . . . . Fate is an inexorable element of
Bowles’s distant landscapes, and its psychological effects on his characters are rendered with
penetrating accuracy. Like Hemingway, Bowles is famously unsentimental, a skilled
craftsman of crystalline prose.
- pp. ix-xi [Introduction (by Robert Stone)]: Paul Bowles’s ruthless unsentimentality and cruel
wit are not for everyone. Some readers enjoy a liberated voice in his work. One acquaintance of
mine says he has “a piece missing.” Ordinary human sympathy is the piece I think she means.
Bowles’s enthusiasts are glad to trade sympathy for the absence of ordinariness. Nobody
denies he could cast a spell.
“At his best,” said Time magazine, “Bowles has no peer.” Gore Vidal wrote that
“Bowles has had few equals in the second half of the twentieth century.” These claims seem a bit
defiant, almost inviting argument.
The spirit of literary fashion, which goeth where it listeth, is presently more or less by
Bowles’s side. He was colorful and exotic, tough-minded to the point of being mean, hip,
apparently gay, and leftist in politics. A contemporary and associate of the Beat writers, Bowles
shared their vitalist spirit and libertine ways.
It is difficult to remember or imagine now how much ridicule and derision the Bohemian
poets and writers of the 1950s had to endure. World War II—vintage feature writers liked to
invent anecdotes in which celebrities such as Hemingway and Dame Edith Sitwell amusingly
insulted Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other ragged, supposedly unwashed Americans.
Bowles, expatriate and cosmopolitan, could afford to leave the fifties’ Media Goon Squad an
ocean away, while offering exotic bouts of refuge to persecuted colleagues. Incidentally,
aspiring Bohemians might study in the career of Paul Bowles how having a lot of money
equips a young person for life in the counterculture.
As an American in Tangier, Bowles gave the red-baiters of the McCarthy period a miss
as well. He actually joined the Communist Party for a while in the thirties, not the only
fastidious socialite and misanthrope to embrace the party of the toileers in those days. In his
autobiography, Without Stopping, Bowles tells us a little about the party’s shortcomings.
“The Communist Party USA, it seemed to me, could serve only as a harassing
instrument; all attempts to give it the air of an American institution were doomed to failure. It
was legal and thus absurd; for it to have meaning it would have to be driven underground. I had
no faith in any political procedure save conspiracy.”
Covertness might also spare a man of Bowles’s sensitivity and reserve long hours of
odious camaraderie . . .
Bowles was a contradictory and eccentric figure, possessed nonetheless of an
old-fashioned reticence and discretion. His autobiography is a fine chronicle of the postwar
musical and literary world. In it and other autobiographical writings, he includes characters
ranging from his good friend Gertrude Stein to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones (utterly
unheard of by him, he tells us, on introduction). But although he is quite commonly associated
with a gay milieu and although many of his stories present an intense and undeniable sexual
charge, he never chose to publicly review his love life or encourage speculation about it. (He did
once ask an editor, appearing genuinely puzzled, why so many people seemed to assume he was
- p. xii: Whatever part Paul Bowles may have given away to the competition, it was not
psychological acuity. And perhaps because of his sure head for interior conditions, no other
writer I can think of writes so well about the effects of narcosis. In no other’s work may we
experience so acutely the burrowing of paranoia’s worm, the comic yet distantly disturbing
non sequitur, the hopelessly complexifying suspicion.
Many American writers have attempted to render the high state on the page. Few did it
well and Jack Kerouac was not one of them. William Burroughs could turn the pharmacopoeia
into fiendish comedy, broad burlesque. But in stories like “He of the Assembly,” we can follow
the adept into the resinous groves in a manner unmatched. Or, as they might say at the Cafe of
the Two Bridges, we may savor the delights.
- from An American in Paris (Songs, Piano Pieces, Concerto) by Paul Bowles—CD booklet; pp. 5-8:
Portrait of Paul Bowles,
by Robert Briatte
Writer and musician Paul Bowles dreamt his life as a journey across the century. His was a life full of sounds, a life full of words. Born in New York on 30th December 1910, he was the only son of a Long Island dentist. He wrote his first story aged 5 and began studying the piano in 1918. As soon as he could he escaped his family circle which he considered to be too narrow and left the U.S., his “native prison”, for the first time in 1929. He boarded the “Rijndam” destined for Paris, with a copy of Andre Gide’s Les Faux-Monnayeyrs and $ 24 in his pocket.
He travelled throughout the thirties, across Europe, North Africa and Central America, feeding
off anything that came the way of a newly escaped convict from a terrible new country: the light
of the African sun, the mystery and culture of ancient civilizations, the exhilaration of countless
encounters, amongst them: Sergei Prokofiev, Kurt Schwitters, Joan Miro, Jean Cocteau,
Christopher Isherwood, Georges Antheil, Maurice Grosser, and Virgil Thomson. Gertrude Stein,
who entertained him in her flat in the rue de Fleurus in Paris, immediately gave him the
unenviable title “the manufactured savage” and begged him to give up writing poetry.
He had in the meanwhile become a disciple of Aaron Copland’s, and on each of his stop overs in New York during the next fifteen years he would produce a significant piece of music; leaving a collection of some 150 compositions, which include dozens of songs and piano pieces, scores for Broadway theatres and experimental films, two operas, a secular cantata, a zarzuela on a text by Garcia Lorca, and a number of sonatas and sonatinas... Bowles collaborated with the biggest names in New York, and indeed in the world: Joseph Losey, Georges Balanchine, Leonard Bernstein, Elia Kazan, Arthur Koestler, Jose Ferrer, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and, most of all, Tennessee Williams. But after the war this tireless traveller set off once again. From here on he let go little by little of musical composition and lost touch with the theatre world. He finally settled in Tangier. “A place”, he explained smiling, “where it is still hard to find a piano in tune”.
It was in Morocco that he developed the majority of his literary works. “Little by little” he said “I was aware of there being atmospheres which I could only portray by writing about them. I was unable to express my emotions in their entirety through music. My music was joyful as I was myself. The more nocturnal side to my personality, I managed to express through language.” He published ,,Un The au Sahara”, the novel which made him famous (adapted for the cinema by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1990), then three other novels and most notably over sixty of what came to be seen as model short stories. Then there are poems, travelogues, as well as about fifteen volumes of Moroccan tales in translation.
Funnily enough, whilst being the inspiration for poets of the “beat generation” and bringing Tangier to the attention of William Burroughs as well as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, he was among the first to take an interest in the traditional music which was around him at the time. Sensing that a people’s treasure would vanish irrevocably, he made hours and hours of recordings of the music of the Berber tribes from throughout the whole of Morocco at the end of the fifties. He may unquestionably be considered as the founder of what has become known as “world music”, long before the term existed. It was as such – and in spite of himself – that he was to cross the path of the Rolling Stones and to influence musicians such as Richard Horowitz, Sting, and Robert Fripp & King Crimson ...
A life full of words, a life full of sounds. Paul Bowles’ transcriptions of the human condition in
all its brutal reality were meticulously observed, and in his self-imposed exile, he continued
always to listen and watch for the music of the crowd, for the sound of cries and laughs at night
coming from the Dradeb houses, as well as the howling of the dogs answering each other on the
slopes of Dar Barkain California. This touching ability to imbue his music with the noises of the
world make Night Waltz, for instance, one of the dreamiest, most nostalgic pieces there is. I
knew Paul Bowles at a time when he no longer even had a record-player. One evening I got him
to rediscover his own music, on his old crackling LPs. In fact we started with Night Waltz.
“Music only exists when it is played” he once told me. And at that exact moment the Tangier
night was dancing in his eyes.
An American in Paris
by Yves Petit de Voize
Amongst the literary travellers from throughout the world, forcing their way to his house in
Tangier, there were very few who spoke to Paul Bowles of his musical output. There was one
terrifying exception however in a French journalist. She, discovering Bowles incapacitated by an
attack of sciatica, alone and almost unable to open the door, pushed him onto his bed, sat on his
suffering leg and exacted from him in his agony a most tedious interview about music. No
sooner had Bowles mumbled to her his fondness for French composers (especially Debussy,
Satie, Ravel, Poulenc and Milhaud); no sooner had he professed his loyalty to his friend
Copland, his curiosity about Georges Antheil, his fondness for Kurt Weill, the popular music of
South America, of Asia, and of Africa, his minimal interest in post-romanticism and the twelve
note system, his ignorance of Boulez and recent composers of the avant-garde movement, then
he found himself attacked as a “fascist” by the intrepid trespasser. “So you are a fascist!” she
reiterated, delighted by her discovery, and all the while sitting on the leg of the suffering old
This surrealistic sketch, as told by Bowles bouncing up and down on his bed, is irresistibly funny. For others his music remained ever more pleasing precisely because its sources of inspiration are so very varied and freely chosen – just like a literary work brimming with the spirit of Mexico, of the Caribbean, of North Africa and of Ceylon (where Bowles owned the little island of Trapobane). He was an eclectic composer, keeping the rhythms of dances and popular tunes from the old Europe and North America already dear to his French contemporaries in the “Groupe des Six”. Today, thanks to the work of his faithful translator, Claude Thomas, and to his painstaking biographer Robert Briatte, it is now possible to reconstruct in part his musical journey. But only in part: for there is nothing left of his own – the literary vultures having long since picked everything clean, in the presence of a half-acquiescent half-indifferent Bowles!
A few literary scholars with a passionate interest in music (such as Benoit Duteurtre and Michele de Bonnerive) and a few musicians equally keen on literature have noticed that such research and excavation throws an entirely new light on an artist quite out of the ordinary. Unlike Rousseau, Nietzsche, Burgess and Savinio – writers who were continually attracted by musical composition but defeated by it – Bowles was first and foremost a composer. In this respect his work is closer to that of Wagner, Berlioz and Debussy whose literature was sporadic, although his output cannot be otherwise compared with theirs.
Enamoured of what is nowadays called “world-music”, Bowles from an early age represented a complete break from western culture, in terms both of his methods and ambitions. With his excellent ear he has managed to capture the originality and the particular halting quality of these popular forms; altering and correcting very little. Herein lies the whole charm of his songs, but also of those of his works that borrow their titles from the sophisticated forms of western music (sonata, concerto, opera, etc.) but are internally the work of a primitive inspiration lacking what Debussy described as the “modern comfort” in Stravinsky’s writing for The Rite of Spring. For some people it is this that makes the weakness in Bowles’ musical writing – as compared with the sophisticated users of folklore, such as Bartok, Poulenc, Milhaud and Copland. But at the very least a reader of Bowles is moved by finding in some Prelude, or some Huapango or in Night Waltz the same bewitching strange musical atmosphere that he loved in novels and short stories such as “L’Escale de Corazon”, “Reveillon a Tanger”, “La Jungle rouge” or “Un The au Sahara”.
The Paris concert on 8th May 1994 dedicated to Paul Bowles’ work by some significant French and American artists will remain a moment of musical magic (and not just for Bowles enthusiasts) of which this disc, recorded live, is a faithful reminder. Bowles, most intrigued by the enthusiasm and the level of musicians taking part, finally made the decision to leave his far-away “Socco”. I shall never forget his entry into the huge packed out concert hall in the Theatre du Rond Point des Champs-Elysees – in his dark glasses and heavy tweed overcoat – on the arm of the faithful Abdelouahaid and surrounded by the generous host of the evening Cherif Khaznadar, Robert Briatte and Claude Thomas. As soon as the elderly writer appeared, the entire hall rose up spontaneously for un unforgettable and moving standing ovation. Bowles whispered in my ear “What’s going on in here?”. I replied “It’s your concert Paul!” and he answered with a twinkle in his eye “Ah yes, of course!”
Ives Petit de Voize
Essaouira, April 1995
- p. 16 [Songs (1935-1982)]:
Faint as leaf shadow
From ,,Gothic Suite” on poems by Tennessee Williams, Tanger 1960
Faint as leaf shadow does he fade
and do you fail in touching him.
His eyelids close upon your eyes’
quicksilver which bewilders him.
At times these frontiers of the twain
may seem no longer to exist.
But why then is the breath disturbed
And does the silver body twist?
And why the whisper of a name
as though enquiring is it true?
Which goes unanswered until sleep
has loosened his fierce hold of you.
Night without sleep
New York, 1943. Text by Charles-Henri Ford.
Will I die if I sit in that chair?
The moonlight will fade my hair
though the watersnakes drown
The day I am found.
Trees blowing the wrong way
hinder night’s becoming day
Do bats calculate their flight
or does the day light?
Father eats black bread
while I eat white.
My sister wears one hat
and I wear nine.
When I die
there’s no telling where,
the moon light will find my hair.
But if I walked on the sea
between your bed and mine
should I reach it in time
or would sleep save me?
- pp. 17, 18:
Song of an old woman
Renamed “Farther from the Heart” in 1946, this is the first song on a text by Jane Bowles.
O, I’m sad for never knowing courage,
And I’m sad for the stilling of fear.
Closer to the sun now and farther from
I think that my end must be near.
I linger too long at a picnic
‘cause a picnic’s gayer than me.
And I hold to the edge of the table,
‘cause the table’s stronger than me.
And I lean on anyone’s shoulder
because anyone’s [taller] than me.
Oh, I am sad for never knowing courage.
And I’m sad for the stilling of fear.
Closer to the sun now and farther
from the heart.
Think that my end must be near!
Letter to Freddy
A song (1935) based on a letter from Gertrude Stein (1932) received by Paul Bowles who just suffered from a bad cold.
My dear Freddy,
I did not answer sooner because being
a little troubled about you I wanted
to see Harry first. Now I have and as it
seems that you are really not well,
don’t you think it would be best to come
to Paris where you can be looked after,
and then we all can decide,
what you ought to do.
You poor boy, it’s bad to be alone
and I do think that you had better
come here, don’t you?
Always, Gertrude Stein
- p. 20:
A little closer, please
This song is part of an incidental music for William Saroyan’s ,,Love’s Old Sweet Songs”, New York, 1940.
It’s a small world if you’re near.
But if you’re not
It’s large, very large,
too large for me
and dark and lonely
and full of barking dogs;
great, great distances
and brooding trees.
Step up just a little closer, please,
a little closer, please,
don’t stand so far away.
A deck of cards,
a few poetic words
and love is all
that I have brought with me.
A little closer, please,
don’t leave me here alone.
A nine of clubs,
a few romantic songs
and faith is all that I have brought with me.
Step up, step up,
just a little closer,
a little closer, please.
In the woods
New York, 1944. Text by Paul Bowles.
In the woods she hears a bird
making music for himself
and not for her.
And a song goes away
leaving shadows in the woods.
And a wind across her face
dries the tears that careless thoughts
can sometimes bring.
And she goes like the bird,
singing, singing to herself
in the woods.
April fool baby
New York, 1935.
Text by Gertrude Stein.
It seems to be a note to she the
But actually it’s April Fool to
My sweetie, she is all my sweetie.
April full of fool which is me
for my sweetie.
Dear April which myde she to be
All to he April Fool to his sweetie
which is she
Tenderly excessively sweetily
My April Fool baby.
- p. 22:
Another of the ,,Blue Mountains Ballads”, 1946.
My chair rock – rocks by the door all day
But nobody ever stops my way,
Nobody ever stops by my way.
My teef chaw – chaw on an old ham bone
An’ I do the dishes all alone,
I do dishes all by my lone.
My feet clop – clop on the hardwood floor
‘Cause I won’t buy love at the hardware
I don’t want love from the mercantile
Now the clock tick-tocks by my single
While the moon looks down at my
While the moon grins down at an ole
An American literary cult figure, Paul Bowles established his legacy with the novel The Sheltering Sky. An immediate sensation, it became a fixture in American letters. Bowles then returned his energies to the short story -- the genre he preferred and soon mastered.Bowless short fiction is orchestral in composition and exacting in theme, marked by a unique, delicately spare style and a dark, rich, exotic mood, by turns chilling, ironic, and wry. In "Pastor Dowe at Tacate," a Protestant missionary is sent to the far reaches of the globe -- a place, he discovers, where his God has no power. In "Call at Corazon," an American husband abandons his alcoholic wife on their honeymoon in a South American jungle. In "Allal," a boys drug-induced metamorphosis into a deadly serpent leads to his violent death, but not before he feels the "joy" of sinking his fangs into human prey. Also gathered here are Bowless most famous works, such as "The Delicate Prey," a grimly satisfying tale of vengeance, and "A Distant Episode," which Tennessee Williams proclaimed "a masterpiece of short fiction.""Beauty and terror go wonderfully well together in Bowless] work," Madison Smartt Bell once said. Though sometimes shocking, Bowless stories have a symmetry that is haunting and ultimately moral. Like Poe (whose stories Bowless mother read to him at bedtime), Bowles had an instinctive adeptness with the nightmare vision. Joyce Carol Oates, in her introduction to Too Far from Home, writes that his characters are "at the mercy of buried wishes experienced as external fate." In these masterful stories, our deepest fears are manifest, tables are turned, and allegiances are tested. Fate is an inexorable element of Bowless distant landscapes, and its psychological effects on his characters are rendered with penetrating accuracy. Like Hemingway, Bowles is famously unsentimental, a skilled craftsman of crystalline prose.