It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Alexander Blackwell headed out to Shannon Pub, just a 10-minute walk from his studio at 84 Boulvard Raspail in the 6th District. Of course, there was green beer, but Alex didn’t go for it, he took a stool and ordered a Bushmills Irish whiskey instead. He was already dressed for the occasion, with the black suit, white shirt, emerald green silk tie and matching pocket square he had worn to work. Even if it was a Monday, St. Patrick’s wasn’t to be missed.
Sitting nearby, Yacout Benazziza, a 24-year-old law student was out with her friends from school. Seeing Alex at the bar made her remember her last lover in Casablanca, an Englishman in his forties, with the same cool azure eyes.
The DJ put on an Irish 3-4-time fiddle tune so Alex got his ass off his barstool to dance a little jig, and that brought on a round of applause. Yacout’s eyes met with Alex’s, they both smiled, and she took leave of her little group of law students to go meet him. She was a head smaller, 4ft 11” and 99 lbs., her weight in just the right places and her dark brown hair cut short. A red leather jacket and mini-skirt matched her ruby earrings, lipstick, nails, and heels. The only green she wore was on her T-shirt, a green pentagram on a red background.
“Hi, that was a nice dance! Are you Irish?”
“I have some Irish blood, but I’m American. Everyone is Irish on March 17th though. I see you’re wearing green too, what’s the pentagram for?”
“This T-shirt was the only thing I had with green on it, it’s the Moroccan flag.”
“It’s nice. Funny coincidence, I made a print years ago with that same symbol, an interlaced pentagram, but I had no idea that it was the Moroccan flag. I’m Alexander by the way, you can call me Alex, and what’s your name?”
“Yacout, nice to meet you Alex.”
So, Yacout, you liked my jig? How about a dance? Just a slow one.”
“Sure, I’d love it, especially if you slow dance as well as you kick your toes and heels!”
Alex approached the DJ and whispered in his ear as he slipped him a tip, then he took Yacout by the hand as Van Morrison started to croon “Moondance”. Their forms merged into one as they glided slowly, Yacout’s head pressed into Alex’s chest and his face buried in her soft hair. Both were delighting in each other’s perfume, aroused, and fully relishing the moment. Yacout abandoned her friends for the evening, and they understood entirely. One dance followed another as the enchantment whisked them both away to another world. They were lost in their own world and no one or nothing could break the spell. Their lips combined and fire lit their minds and bodies.
As they walked in the street towards Alex’s miniscule studio apartment, he sang a medley starting with “Moondance”, then “My Foolish Heart”, followed by “Blue Moon”, all crooner songs about the magic of the moon. Yacout found herself entranced by his soft voice, capable of hitting high notes just as well as low, and his singing was certainly much better than usual because his newfound muse enraptured him, inciting him to put everything into the moonlit serenade.
They took the lift up the first 7 floors of the old bourgeoise building and walked up the back staircase to what had been the maids’ rooms on the top floor. The lift didn’t go there. A wall had been torn down between two of the tiny rooms to make one room, still only 30 ft², but with a shower and internet. Seeing a makeshift repair of his front door Yacout queried “Did someone break in?”
“The fire Brigade with the EMS. I was away for the weekend with a woman and my ex-wife was worried, or so she said, because I wasn’t answering the phone, so she called the emergency services and they broke the door with a fire-ax just to make sure I hadn’t committed suicide. When I got home, I was shocked.”
“Why would they think you’d committed suicide?”
“I was sick and tired of hearing her bitch at me on the phone one night and told her that if she didn’t stop, I’d jump out of the window. In fact, that’s the reason I left her to begin with, her non-stop bitching. She knew that I’d seen a doctor recently for a nervous breakdown too.”
Yacout’s eyes quickly take in the tiny space; a small shower was in one corner, a laptop and a telephone on a small wooden desk, and Alex had installed a futon mattress on an elevated loft bed to save space. An easel was set up with a canvas on it and under the bed there were paintings, artist’s material, and an electronic keyboard. Two large windows gave a view over the rooftops of Paris.
They didn’t waste any time getting down to what they came for, and after gratifying their desires, while the embers of their fire were still simmering, they started to learn more about each other.
“You’re a lot like Mark, my last lover in Casablanca, he was English and a painter too. He was a bit crazy, but in a nice way. We spoke English all the time, that was great ‘cause it helped me practice. He went south to Abidjan and I came to Paris for my studies. That was 18 months ago. I love Paris but I still miss Casablanca. Do you exhibit your paintings?”
“Yes, but I’ve never been able to make a living from it. It’s been a lifelong passion, but I stopped for 20 years after my first child, Flora Lisa, was born. I just started again a little over a year ago, after my breakup. I moved back to Paris and my wife stayed in our country house in Normandy. I used to be a broker in the music industry so I worked from home, that was great, because the fauna and the flora were magnificent; you could spot a fox walking across the garden in the early morning. Paris is all concrete and pollution. I went bankrupt two years ago when digital music came on the market and had no choice but to move back to Paris. There wasn’t any work to be had where I was. My wife said that she would never move back to the concrete. She asked me ‘what about Douna?’, that’s her border collie, and I suggested that we give her to a farmer. She said that she couldn’t live without Douna, but she could live without me I guess…Anyway, I found a job as Sales and Marketing Director for a company here, and that’s where I am now. We sell deco, picture frames, and POS displays. I get all of my canvas, stretchers, and frames at a big discount. I’m happy and sad at the same time. I love being able to paint again, and being able to visit the art museums and galleries whenever I want, but I hate the rhythm of the work-week, the stress of the hustle-bustle, the stink of the subway, the traffic jams and pollution, and the indifference of everyone. I miss being able to breath nice fresh air, to gaze at the stars, to walk in the forest. Most of all I miss my kids. By the way, like usual, I have to be at work in the morning, but I have an extra set of keys if you want to sleep in the morning.”
“No, I have to get up too, I have class.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’m doing a Master in Business Law at the Panthéon-Assas, I’ll graduate this year.”
“How old are you?”
“I just had 6 candles on my last birthday cake.”
Alex was quick to catch on. “So that makes you 24, and you were born in on February 29th, 1988. That makes you a Rat, like me, but half my age.” Alex points to a small square canvas on the wall above the bed that has a Yin-Yang, on it there’s a black rat in the white side and a white rat in the black side. “I just painted that for the Year of that Rat. I was born March 8th, 1960, so I’m Rat metal.”
“I thought you were 10 years younger! Anyway, age doesn’t matter. You’re as young as you are in your head. Mark was 45, but acted like a rebel teenager. No rules. He didn’t act like my parents or all their friends, but at least he was honest and direct. A lot of Moroccans are hypocrites. They act like they have high morals but in fact they’re corrupt and perverted. They cheat and lie and talk behind people’s backs. That’s one thing I don’t miss.”
“There’s a game they play often at high-society parties. When people arrive all the men put their car keys in a basket. When everyone’s loaded and it’s time to go home, all the women pick a set of keys out of the basket at random and everyone goes home with a different person than they came with.”
“Incredible. I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“Yeah, and that’s just one example. There’s also a double standard when it comes to sexuality for girls and boys. Girls are kept at home and not allowed to go out, and if people find out that they’ve had sex their reputation is ruined. They’ll never be able to marry. Boys, on the other hand, are allowed to go out, and often, their older brother, or father, or another older friend will even pay for a prostitute as a birthday gift when they turn 18. Girls are expected to be virgins, whereas boys are expected not to be virgins. Another thing, when a Moroccan girl goes out with a western man, everyone calls her a whore. On top of all that, there are Moroccans of both sexes who look to seduce and marry anyone with a passport from the USA or Europe, just to get out of the country. I really enjoy the freedom I have here in Paris, and no one here ever judges me for wearing what I want either. If I dressed like I did tonight in Casablanca, people would think that I was a slut, and men would harass me in the street. No one harasses me here, and women wear what they want.”
“If it’s so bad there, why do you miss Casablanca?”
“It’s hard to explain. Home is still home. Family is still a strong value for everyone in Morocco, and in general, people are warm and generous. Not like here, where everyone is individualistic and cold, and nobody cares about anybody else. It’s like you said, people are indifferent to each other. There’s a lot of racism too.”
“Well, you can go back to Casablanca for a visit anytime you like.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can, and in the blink of an eye. You have ruby slippers; you just have to click your heels three times and say ‘there’s no place like home’. Alex stated matter-of-factly with a smile. Yacout gave him a puzzled look; she didn’t know the story. “I see that you don’t know about Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers. I was just joking, it’s from the Wizard of Oz.”
“Oh, that story. You’re right, I’ve never read the book or seen the old movie. It’s funny though, Yacout means ruby, the gemstone, and it’s my favorite color. Too bad my ruby slippers aren’t magic.”
“Oh, but they can be…we both agree; We love Paris and we hate it at the same time, but we can be at home and happy anywhere we find ourselves. I think you know this in your heart. You have such a wonderful smile that I feel you’re a happy person. Me too. Horace said it like this: 'To sail across the seas, is to change our sky and not our state of happiness. Sterile is our movement! On the waters, as on the roads, we pursue happiness. But it is here, our happiness.' This means that we carry our happiness with us in our hearts and the place we find ourselves in has little or no consequence. So, little Ruby, the next time you find yourself wishing you were home, just click the heels of your Ruby slippers and say to yourself ‘There’s no place like home…and my home is where ever I am.’ And let the magic work.”
Their affair was a short one, it ended as abruptly as it had started, and for no particular reason, but they stayed friends. Alex even called Yacout a few years later to ask if she knew where there was an Irish Pub in Casablanca to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And she knew of one.