Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"SaharaSorbonne" Couscous

It was because of a bad neighbour that I came to believe there might be some grain of truth in the saying: " you can take a man out of the desert, you cannot take the desert out of the man". The neighbor, Mr. A, was born in a small town on the fringes of the moroccan Sahara , which like some other towns and villages in that area served as a gateway to the vast desert.

[This region of Morocco is nowadays a very popular and highly exciting tourist attraction. Towns like Marrakesh, Quarzarzate , Merzouga , Zagora have become famous as starting points for treks in the Sahara desert. Here is the place where all the arrangements are made to ensure that tourists get a one-time experience which includes riding camels, feeling the dunes of sand, watching the nomads and palm grooves, sleeping in tents, and listening to the the unique stillness of the desert].

It so happened that when this neighbor was about 10 years old, a french movie producer spotted his elder sister and found her fit for the role of a native girl who could ride a camel and speak the local dialect. When the film shooting was over, he took her with him to Paris. The moroccon family followed her and settled there permanently . After graduating from Sorbonne (philosophy ?!) Mr. A couldn't 'find himself' in France, so he came to Israel, where he 'found us' and made our life a misery.

It started with the little garden which was common to both appartments: his and ours. Whatever my mother planted, he destroyed. She kept planting flowers and trees , he kept destroying them and levelling the earth. It went on to the water issue. He warned us not to"waste" water on the garden, but he shamelessly used the garden water pipe to wash his car, and there were many other things that made us unhappy, to say the least. My mother didn't want to file a complaint against him. We were afraid , he had "friends" who were apparently close to the philosophy of Sicily not to that of Sorbonne.

It was only when he started demolishing walls in his appartment, and changing his cars as often as one would change one's socks - that my mother finally understood the situation was hopeless. " It seems the man has the desert in his blood and veins" she said bitterly. "He doesn't want a garden but an arid plot, he 's restless in his appartment, he'll feel at ease only close to earth, perhaps in a tent, cars don't seem to suit him well, probably only camels will do." "But Mom, he's got a diploma from the Sorbonne university in Paris, I saw it with my own eyes." "Well , education has its limits ; it probably cannot always, if at all, change the essence of a person, only the outer layers, and in his case not even this," she said.

After her 'discovery', we felt that the only thing to do was to pray to God to help us get rid of him by way of making him consider moving to another place. God heard and accepted our prayers. . At the end of that year, Mr. A finally got tired and bored of constantly demolishing and remodelling the walls which seemed to strangle him, and moved to another building, in the center of the town. I knew where he lived so I kept away from that area to avoid bumping into him.

One day, a friend of mine wanted us to meet in a small coffee shop located in that "red zone". Although I wasn't sure the 'philosopher' was still around, I was reluctant to meet her there, but she insisted. We sat at a table outside the cafe. After we had our chat and coffee, we asked the waitress for the bill. "It has been taken care of'' she said . "What do you mean, by whom?" She looked me into the eyes and said :"By Mr. A, my boss, who wants you to feel welcome here." So, he was the owner of the coffee shop. I kind of panicked, I didn't want to see him, and didn't want his free coffee.

My friend decided to do something about it. She felt guilty for insisting on coming here, so she went into the coffee shop, thanked him, using all her arsenal of charming french words , paid the bill , brought the receipt for me to see it and calm down. When I rose from my seat intending to leave the cafe, a heavy hand pushed me back into it and a known voice in a french accent said : "You're not going anywhere without eating my couscous first"; a bowl of hot couscous ( moroccon specialty based on granules made from semolina flour) was placed in front of me.

I forgot to mention that the only good thing I remember about my former neighbor was his ability to prepare the best couscous imaginable. Well, I could never resist the temptation of eating good couscous.


  1. Duta, you outdid yourself this time! I could smell the aromas arising from the coffee shoppe and almost taste the warm couscous. My lady, you have led a most interesting life.

    You have a splendidly blessed weekend my friend!!!

  2. You make my youth seem quite dull by comparison. Great story.


  3. Wow.. what a story.. magnificent.

    Betty Ann

  4. I have an AWARD for you at my Blog.. come collect it. I love your blog. :)

  5. "Well , education has its limits ; it probably cannot always, if at all, change the essence of a person, only the outer layers, and in his case not even this," <- You Mother is such a wise woman!!! :)

    Though at the end of this Story, I have this feeling he might have changed & his restless soul might have become more serene!?

    Oh, and I love Couscous, my childhood/school friend came from Morroco and her father would make us some of it or eggs with olive oil & red pepper on top... you made me hungry... :D

  6. Mmm - I like couscous too - I'll bet I'd like Mr. A's.

  7. I have some on the cabinet now waiting to be cooked up with nuts and dried fruit and all kinds of spices... A strange man. Sounds like his desert food and coffee soothed his restless soul.

  8. Ah Duta, one of my favorite meals is honey baked chicken with couscous. And I've always been told you can take the girl out of the country but you can't take the country out of the girl. People are the same all over! Hope you're doing well.

  9. Oh, my dear, Duta! You keep telling me you are not a writer but I, respectfully, disagree. This is such a well told and interesting story of exotic places, cultures, relationships and realizations.

    What a turnabout good couscous can make. I savored every word of this post!

  10. How interesting... Thank God for answering prayers! I have been told before "You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl." Such an interesting story. You need to write a book! Thanks for sharing.

    until next time... nel

  11. Did you go back for seconds? Or is it still a 'red zone'.

  12. Nezzy,

    You've got sharp smelling and taste senses.There were some 'interesting' things in my life I would have better not experience them.
    Have a blessing weekend too!

    Sue (Someone's Mom)

    Thanks. I suppose my youth days weren't dull because I lived in two entirely different worlds: communist East Europe, and then free and chaotic Middle East.

    Ms. Hen,

    Thanks for the award. Although I've got this already from another blogger, I greatly appreciate your gesture.

    Pink Panthress,

    My mother was indeed a wise woman. I terribly miss her and her wisdom.

    Moroccon people have some very good dishes and beautiful traditions. I guess you have some knowledge of that from your school friend's family.

    The Bug,

    Indeed so. His' was not instant couscous, but couscous prepared in the traditional way.It tasted heavenly.

  13. Autumnforest,

    Yummie! Sounds great with nuts and dried fruit.

    Strange man indeed. He was thorn apart by his desert background and his western upbringing. I'm sure you're right about his desert food soothing his restless soul.


    Where are you? I miss you and your nice blog and comments.
    I suppose "people are the same all over" as you say.

    Ronda Laveen,

    Thanks, thanks, thanks for your kind words. I get big encouragement from them. You've made my day.
    Food ,like music can make a difference, can be "turnabouts".


    We were grateful to God. He helped us. Belief in God gives one hope.
    Thanks for your finding the story interesting.

    St. Jude,

    For seconds only. You see, it's hard to put behind and ignore the terror that we've been through.

  14. Couscous is one of my favorite things, but I imagine it tastes better with out that bitter hint of menace.

    What a story!

  15. What a lovely blog you've got here. SO interesting and funny. I am following your posts hereafter.

    I am glad that I stopped by from Ronnie's.

    Joy always,

  16. Duta,
    I am still around and about and continue to keep up with your wonderful writings. I guess I have become a creeper/lurker (whatever its called). I always look forward to a new post from you! I will be back to blogging when I have a design that I am completely satisfied with. You know how I kept changing mine!

  17. Wonderfully told story, Duta!
    I enjoyed it so much!

    Have a great weekend!


  18. You made me hungry for something I've never had.

  19. What an interesting story. I must say I couldn't guess what the ending would be and I was surprised! What memories you've shared.

  20. Nancy C,

    Right you are! Couscous is a delicious dish if eaten under proper circumstances.

    Susan Deborah,

    Welcome to my little blog! Thanks a lot for the comment and for the 'follower'.


    Thank you for still following my posts. You're such a perfectionist!! Sometimes it's not good. Look how long you've deprived us of your beautiful writing. Hope you come back soon to blogging!


    Coming from you , dear poetess, it's a big compliment.


    You should try couscous. It's a famous north -african dish. When it's well prepared in the classical way, it becomes a delight to the senses.


    Wll, a little surprise in the end doesn't do any harm to a story.

  21. Your Mother's statement about education is an amazing truth. It reminded me of the words echoed by Henry Adams in his book called: The Education of Henry Adams.

    This is an interesting story and so speaks to the essence of ourselves and how we treat others and the world around us according to what we have on the inside of us.

    You have provoked my thoughts today about Mr.A and his need for the desert. Hmmm.

  22. Wonderfull and well said story. Kind regards my dear friend Duta!

  23. Great story...captured my attention to the end!

    Sounds like Mr. A was making an attempt to offer you an "olive branch" so to speak. : )

  24. Bebedores do Gondufo,

    Hello Portugal, Thank you very much for visiting my blog and for the kind comment.


    I think so too. There's much truth in my mother's statement. I'm flattered that you find my little story interesting and thought provoking.

    Phivos Nicolaides,

    As always, your comment is very kind and friendly.


    I was too busy eating the couscous to think about an "olive branch", but with people like him, what never knows what he's up to.

  25. I agree with Angelina; but I don't blame you for being suspicious.

  26. Hi Duta :)))
    Love your story and I miss you! You are a writer, Duta! A super fabulous writer and a terrific friend!
    Missing you :)
    And PS: I love couscous. I make a really yummy one with cranberries...yummmmm....LOL

  27. Duta; What a wonderfully exotic and interesting life you've had. I love the couscous story and the irritating and mysteriuos Mr A. I just introduced my foreign students to couscous this week. Mine is pretty bland; but hearing of this makes me want to look at doing it differently.

  28. What a wonderful story Duta! i would not like a neighbor like that either. I love flowers and gardens. Maybe your mom was right. Maybe he just couldn't be happy living there. How strange that you ended up in his coffee shop. Hope you enjoyed the couscous!! :)

  29. Mi-a placut mult, dar am ramas cu o intrebare: ce s-a intamplat in inima povestitorului dupa aceasta experienta?

  30. This is a classic story of clash of cultures.
    Your mother was right.
    Beauty and character are a matter of geography.
    Perhaps he is a selfish man, who lives as a desert resident to survive
    Maybe for him ,Desert isn’t less beautiful than a than a green environment
    May be he's insensitive toward flowers, but he is sensitive toward people.
    He was pleased to run into you, without enmity.
    All residue of the past had been scattered by the wind, as sand grains.
    He treated you warmly, according to Desert Hospitality in traditional Arabian tent.
    Anyway,around couscous, you have reached reconciliation
    (By the way, also the couscous looks like desert sands)

  31. Talltchr,

    It was an "olive branch" and I behaved politely, but even the delicious couscous could not erase the past.

    The CheekGeek,

    I'm missing you too. Hope everything turns out well for you and you return soon to blogging.
    I'm sure your couscous is better than I am as a writer.

    Sandy aka Doris the Great,

    I believe whatever you cook is the best. Couscous being a north african dish, there are many versions besides the moroccan one: algerian, tunisian,libian. So, you find out what suits your taste best.


    Thank you. The couscous was delicious, as expected, but of course,it didn't erase the bad feelings that I had harboured in my heart for him.

    Donca Serj,

    Bun Venit la micul meu blog!
    Am fost politicoasa , i-am multumit calduros pentru hospitabilitate, dar ceea ce s-a intamplat nu a schimbat amaraciunea ce-o resimteam fata de faptele sale din trecut.

    Rahel/ Rdica,

    Thanks for stopping by.
    In a way, couscous looks like grains of sand, and indeed the guy displayed warm hospitability.
    But it isn't that he was sensitive to people and insensitive to flowers. He was insensitive to people that were sensitive to flowers.

    And by the way, Desert is beautiful. I like the desert part of our country more than any other part in it.

  32. What a fab story. I too have had neighbours from hell and at the time of living next to them, our lives where hell! In the end, we moved. It was just way too much!

    The irony of this story is funny though!

    Atleast he served up some fine couscous. I really love it too and wouldn't mind trying Mr A's!


  33. That Mr. A! Unfortunately, we all know or have known someone much like him. Although none I've met can make couscous, which I love. Your story and the way you wove it, was fab!

  34. Duta, you've left me with a craving for couscous.
    What a story! I am lucky to have always had considerate neighbors. When I was a little girl and lived in Romania, there was a woman down the street, who was known as The Witch. She hated Jews and Christians, and my family had both. Although she was well into her 70's she never failed to threaten to call the authorities on us. Imagine! I was just 7 years old!

  35. What a nasty little educated man. I think he was unhappy and wished others to share his fate. I do not know if I could have eaten the offering or not. Peace

  36. Pennycones,

    A bad neighbour is a big trouble. Sometimes, as in your case, it's the good people that have to move, and it's so unfair!


    Thank you for the kind words in your last sentence. I wish you never have to meet a bad neighbor even if he can make couscous or any other delicious dish.

    Angie Mureshan,

    Lucky you, to have considerate neighbours! Interesting, we have all known some witch in our childhood.

    Lady Di Tn,

    As always your comment makes me think. Thank you.

  37. Hmmm... Now I have to try some couscous.

    It seems Mr. A. was able to win you over, after all. I suspect her knew you were trying to avoid him, and he knew why. All's well that ends well.

  38. Jo,

    Just not the instant type couscous.

    As for me and Mr A , you could say it's a sort of All's well that ends well, but I continued to avoid him .

  39. Duta, never discount the fact that a jerk is jerk, no matter from where he hails ;-) I say blame the man, not the desert. Although it's nice to have some explanation for behaviors, and perhaps this man simply was greatly influenced by his culture of origin, it seems just as likely that Mr. A. was a bred-to-the-bone jerk and would have been so had he come to you via Kansas, Tripoli or Siberia.

    I also have an inkling that Mr. A. is likely short for something else starting with A.

    I love Moroccan food, by the way, and have a weakness for both couscous and hummus, but I've no fondness for unkind people, and I suspect that despite the attempts to make amends, Mr. A. was more unkind than he was kind. Living cheek by jowl with anyone does provide the opportunity to know them fully, doesn't it?

    As for education, I'm very sorry, Duta but I greatly disagree. Education is the great equalizer! (Says the daughter of two educators). We'll have to agree to each stick to our respective parental loyalties on that one :-)

    I do love your stories, Duta. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  40. You always have the most amazing stories Duta and this one kept my attention from start to finish. I feel like I do when I'm reading a wonderful book and I don't want it to end because I am so into the story. Great job!

  41. Land of Shimp ,

    Well said indeed. A jerk is a jerk regardless of where he comes for ( and I love the desert with its great stillness).

    As for education, I would very much want to believe it's an equalizer, only reality often slaps on my face in this respect.

    Thanks a lot for loving my stories. It's reciprocal, I love yours too.


    WOW! What a compliment! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I also enjoy your posts. There's so much warmth and beauty in them!