Strange Customs

Letter From Venice

I had sworn I would not buy any carpets, and, in the end, I did keep that promise, but then one scorching hot day my friends finally came to pry me loose of the snug little corner of the hotel bar.  Before I knew it, I was in the market, buying a preternaturally heavy wrought-iron table with four matching chairs for the balcony and arranging the transport of these precious curiosities home to Venice.  It isn’t really true that I’m a compulsive lounger, by the way, an Oblomov type who has lived in the West long enough to learn how to cover his tracks by posing as a writer; at times, I’m capable of great displays of energy, as everybody realized on one particular occasion during that stay in Morocco when, in a restaurant less authentically Levantine than many a British bank, I collared a passing waiter and persuaded him to sweet-talk his mother into asking us to lunch on the following day.

The meal was served below ground inside a mud edifice that, bunched up like a grape against a cluster of identical dwellings, belonged to a Berber village 150 kilometers—three-and-a-half hours of faulty suspension and tourist suspense, relieved only intermittently in the ellipses of police checkpoints—from the king’s palace, which, as even university students and other republican scum would agree, is a charming way of referring to downtown Marrakesh.  There were flies in the room.  Perhaps it...

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