Shah, Tahir. The Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca. New York: Bantam Dell Books, 2006.
Reason read: Morocco’s independence was obtained in November.
Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph’s House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother’s contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn’t refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of “how things get done” when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode?
Most startling takeaway – even Casablanca has a mafia.
Quote to quote, “There was a sadness in the still of the dusk” (p 1). Yes! I have always felt the melancholy amid the gloaming, especially on Monhegan. I can’t explain it.
Some funny quotes, “We were both blinkered by our upbringings” (p 105), “The nervous man pulled the lid off one of the toilets and fishes out half a dozen samples of cedar” (p 294), “But it was the first time I had hired a troupe of exorcists, and I didn’t know the protocol” (p 314), and “I like my meat to be anonymous, severed from its connection to life” (p 318). Don’t we all?
Author fact: Shah has a few videos on YouTube, including one of a tour of Dar Khalifa that is pretty cool. He talks about having to placate the Jinns and how he ended up having a grand exorcism with twenty-four exorcists.
Book trivia: the illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro are wonderful, but what is most impressive is the assumed photograph of Dar Khalifa.
Nancy said: Pearl just describes a tiny bit of the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bought or Built a House In…” (p 210).
What do you do when the most inappropriate sentiment unexpectedly comes out of someone’s mouth? A confession that should never have left the lips of the confessor? Instead of thinking of the actions I should take I chose to take none. I do nothing. Distance makes it easy to ignore and deny. When I can’t avoid I read. Here are the books started for November:
- Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone – Malone was born in the month of November; reading in his honor.
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – in honor of November being Native American Heritage month.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – November is National Writing month. Choosing fantasy for this round.
- Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller – Routsong’s birth month was in November. Reading in her honor.
- Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser – reading in honor of Millhauser’s birth place, New York City.
- Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic by Martha Beck – in honor of my mother’s birth month.
- The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – in honor of Morocco’s independence was gained in November.
- Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month in August.
Fun: nothing decided yet.
Early Review: I have been chosen to receive an early review but I will refrain from naming it in case it doesn’t arrive.
March was one of those weird months. A few Nor’Easters. A few miles run. A few books read. We had two school closings in back to back weeks so that helped with the reading, but not the run. I finished the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race just two minutes off my time last year. Considering I didn’t train (again) I’m alright with that. There’s always next year! Here are the books:
- The Good Son by Michael Gruber
- Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
- White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling
- Witch World by Andre Norton
- Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis
- All the Way Home by David Giffels
- Slide Rule by Nevil Shute
Series Continuations –
- Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to finished the series started in honor of her birth month in January.
- Entranced by Nora Roberts
Early Review for Librarything –
- Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (started)
- Infinite Hope – Anthony Graves
- New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (not finished)
Fun – I’m not finished with either fun book so I won’t list them here.
Giffels, David. All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House. New York: William Morrow, 2008.
Reason read: All the Way Home takes place in Akron, Ohio. Ohio became a state in March.
Who buys a house they describe with adjectives and nouns such as these: rusty, dusty, decay, debris, ruin, smelly, stained, treacherous, flaking, rotted, grime, filthy, cluttered, damaged, wreckage, decomposed, dark, cracked, dingy, chilly, ugly, broken, dirty, scratched, soot, dangerous, rotten, warped, collapsed, cramped, broken, discolored, disintegrated, discolored, poisonous, fermenting, or crusted? You half expect to find, buried deep in the debris, a mummified body a la Bates Motel. In fact, when Giffels first tours the house there is a woman, perched amid the disaster. But, buy the house he does.
Giffels, a self described handyman, needs projects. When he buys the 1913 mansion on North Portage Path (Akron, Ohio) there is every indication he has bit off more than he can chew. That only becomes apparent to himself when he attempts to remove paint from every single door hinge in the house. The master bedroom alone has seventeen doors with at least two hinges…you do the math. And that’s just hinges. Never mind the structural damage like a leaking room that requires 55 roasting pans to catch the downpour whenever it rains, or the jungle of wisteria growing in through the cracks. Then there are the uninvited guests: mice, squirrels, raccoons, termites, carpenter ants, gawkers…it’s a wonder Gina didn’t divorce him.
One of a thousand quotes of humor, “more than anything else, I do not want to die a cartoon character’s death” (p 5).
Quote of foreshadowing, “And I honestly couldn’t decide which I wanted more; to get the house, or to get the house out of my system” (p 73). Indeed, there are numerous times he hoped to get out of buying the house. Starting with his sister-in-law’s neighbor, Earl. Hoping seventy-plus-year-old realtor Earl would advise him it’s a lost cause after seeing it; praying the inspector would say it’s his professional opinion the house is hopeless; and wishing the owners will refuse his insultingly low ball offer. Giffels is seeking any and all opportunities to wriggle out of the fantasy; to escape the choke hold of unreasonable and borderline fanatical desire. None of “outs” happen for Giffels and All the Way Home is born.
Author fact: Giffels used to write for MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head so you know he has to be funny. And. And! And, I think it goes without saying he must like music since he worked for MTV. Indeed, he quotes Tom Waits right off the bat. Other musicians mentioned:
- Lou Reed
- Henry Rollins
- Paul Westerberg
- Rage Against the Machine
- Judas Priest
- Henry Mancini
- P.J. Harvey
- Dave Brubeck
- Guided By Voices
- Suzanne Vega
- Liz Phair
- Duane Allman
- Janis Joplin
- Sonic Youth
- No Doubt
- Gewn Stefani
- Henry Rollins
- Circle Jerks
- Rod Stewart
- Guns ‘n Roses
- Cyndi Lauper
- Joe Strummer
- The Clash
- Andy Summers
- Pete Townsend
- Jimi Hendrix
- Kurt Cobain
- Chrissy Hynde
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- Mark Sandman
- They Might Be Giants
The list was so eclectic I thought about making a mixed tape (because that’s how old I am coming from an era when mixed tapes were a thing). I would call it “All the Way Home.” Here is my (short) fantasy track listing:
- “You’re Innocent” (when You Dream)” – Tom Waits
- “Unsatisfied” – Paul Westerberg
- “So. Central Rain” – R.E.M.
- “Moon River” – Oranji Symphony
- “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
- “Money (that’s What I Want) – Beatles
- “I’m Just a Girl” – No Doubt
- “Cats in the Cradle” – Cat Stevens
- “Swing it Low” – Morphine
Book trivia: Aside from a smattering of photographs in the beginning All the Way Home is mostly devoid of pictures. Bummer.
Nancy said: “This is more than a do-it-yourself memoir; rather it’s a paean to his hometown” (p 168).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Ohioana” (p 168).
The only run I have planned for March is St. Patrick’s Day. No surprise there. Here are the books planned for March:
- The Good Son by Michael Gruber (AB) – in honor of the start of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
- White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling – In honor of Dooling’s birthplace (Nebraska) becoming a state in March.
- Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor – in honor of Saylor’s birth month in March.
- All the Way Home by David Giffels – in honor of Ohio becoming a state in March.
- Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to continue the series started in January for Stark’s birth month. This will end the autobiography.
- Entranced by Nora Roberts (EB) – to continue the Donovan Legacy started in February in honor of Valentine’s Day.
- Infinite Hope by Anthony Graves
- New and Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz – in honor of National Poetry Month.
If there is time:
- Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer by Nevil Shute – in honor of the birth month of William Oughtred
- Which Witch? by Andre Norton – to remember Norton (who died in the month of March).
- Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis in honor of Reading Month.
I should have said Yours for the Keeping because it’s not like we took anything out when we moved in. Things just stayed where they were, left by someone else. We didn’t need to bring our garbage can for the kitchen. There was already one there. We didn’t need to bring soap pumps. The kitchen and bathrooms still had their originals. Lightbulbs. Plant containers. TP holders. It’s like someone fled in the night and I’ve shown up bright and early the next morning. Settling in to the already settled.
I’m reading a new book out of season. It’s called Daniel Plainway or The Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League by Van Reid. It’s not only out of season (the holiday is Christmas), but it’s also out of order. This is a book to be read later in the Moosepath series. But, all of that is neither here nor there. My point is, I’m reading this book and I came across this passage: “What I need to know,” Gerald was saying, “is there such a thing as a stipulation in a selling agreement that says if something valuable is found after the transfer of the building, it must be turned over to the previous owner?” (Viking, p 17). Do they really want their cheap sunglasses back? How about their Easter basket? And their chopped broccoli in the freezer? These are the things I wonder about. Are they yours for the taking or mine for keeping? Do I really want them?
We don’t know when we will close. How silly is that? The biggest purchase of my entire life and I don’t know when it will happen. I knew there was trouble last Thursday when kisa said there was a “miscommunication” with the seller’s lawyer. Whatever that means. Unprofessional moment #1. It was hard to go to bed not knowing the plan for the next day. No idea of the walk-through; no idea of the closing. But, I had a good idea it wouldn’t happen at all. A feeling of helplessness was mounting and all I wanted to do was vent – to cry on someone’s shoulder. I’m at the point where I just want to be done with this whole thing. Anticipation is giving way to frustration.
Friday comes and goes. Kisa and I are at the mall. Anxiety is creeping in and people are starting to look stranger and stranger. I couldn’t admit to being okay. We try to stay busy to stay focused. I’m buying candles to light the gloom: gardenia, tea & honey, cedar & pine, and HomeSweetHome (as if!). When we get home every time the phone rings I retell the story and it gets funnier and funnier. It all comes down to a bad boob job. Suddenly, I’m making breast jokes like a guy.
Finally, it’s Sunday and we are back where we started. It’s Thursday night in reverse. We don’t know when we are closing. We don’t know anything. It’s as if we are on a plane, sitting on the tarmac. We are about to embark on a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime vacation. There’s nervous energy in the air. We are excited. We’ve planned for weeks. But, we’re not moving. Minutes turn into hours and there is no explanation for the delay. The idea of going anywhere seems slim, yet we do not understand why. The captain comes on and to say there has been a miscommunication with the tower. Whatever that means. All we know is that we aren’t embarking on that fabulous vacation. We’re stuck looking at the airport terminal. Our bags are packed – have been for days. Yet we cannot move.