07 September 2009

The Raid on Smara (introductory fragment)

Michel Vieuchange, costumed as a Berber wife

North Africa, 1930, 2:47 a.m.

For him and in his eye, it is gray and that is a grayness called "pervasive" and it is contained within and it is part of all things seen and all things sensed, of sparse grasses and the greasy wools draped over the shriveled gray bodies of the sheiks and the sky at night, not black, but grayed by the smear of stars more densely spread and deeper than any French skies seen, unseen, or dreamed.

Out there, amidst and amongst the gray, squats Smara, long dead and long forbidden city of the Muslim desert's heart and neither ever home nor any shelter to any Christian white man. And his journey, his swift and terrible dash through that dark and terrible wasteland, is as much a journey through grayness as it an embrace of grayness and that grayness, as the sweetest and most terrifying of lovers always will, enwraps him and envelopes him and enters his heart, his lights, his liver, his lungs, his soft gray brain in equal measure for his penetration of itself.

Under a dull moon's light, he writes the mystery that surrounds him; he measures things and he collects small samples of what surrounds him. He imagines as much as he sees and, below him, across dully lit gray valleys, crawl ghost caravans of ghostly warriors and ghostly camels burdened with ghostly salt and trailing long ghostly lines of slaves. And the word “Smara,” no matter how imperfectly formed and imperfectly pronounced, remains inside the dry regions of his throat and upon the cracked posture of his dried lips.

Moonlight silver on dull, pebble-flecked wasteland and he rocks camelback half remembering, half recreating, half dreaming Josephine Baker and the dans savauge into some half again real. For six nights complete he’d sat as in mesmer, polished and waxed and falling to pieces, to watch the arc of her arm and her leg create an invisible hanging geometry, a geography of clear longing the led to this, his nightmare raid on Smara, gray dead ghost city raised and fallen among low gray, long gray hills.

And Vieuchange can taste the ice dry evaporation of champagne someday in his mouth, small amounts and parceled and savored. He will stand erect and tailored to be introduced as Monsieur Le Explorer Formidable, a veritable voyageur, socially poised and, yet, enclouded with a vision breaking far beyond Parisian walls, the imprint of a kind of lunar gray dust lingering, yet, around eyes both narrowed from having glimpsed the infinite and somehow sunken both but brighter and darker and opening more deeply.


"Mon Deux, monsieur," Josephine Baker will someday say. "Your eyes! How they burn! You must tell me everything."

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