Paul's Bowles-ing Me Over
Still reading this delightful book and the writing therein: Paul Bowles travel book, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue. I found this wonderful bit of observation about the relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the chapter entitled "Africa Minor"--explanation for the reason these are the major religions who look to the sky for salvation--the others look to the earth for their salvation (Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American rituals, Taoism).
Bowles deduced this after riding in a truck across the Sahara, he sitting in the glassed-in compartment with the driver and a Muslim dude riding back on the flat bed of the truck out in the open. Dust is billowing up and then winds are whipping the dust racehorse fast at them--the dust gets so bad it starts seeping in through the glass to dirty them up in the truck cab while out on the flat bed the Muslim becomes totally coated in thick layers of sand. Reaching his destination, Bowles descends out of the truck cab and then the Muslim descends off the back of the truck. Suddenly the Muslim, after shaking the dust off his burnoose, starts arguing with the truck driver and soon the truck driver slams the door shut against the Muslim catching one of the Muslim's hands in the door as he slams it. The Muslim pulled his hand out of the door with one finger dangling down hanging by a mere string of flesh. Without any sign of pain or panic, the Muslim dude simply reattaches his finger and then reaches down and picks up a handful of sand and encases the torn finger in it so that the sand hardens around the wound in the direct sun, and the Muslim takes up his carryall, slings it over his shoulder, and traipses off on into the lost depths of a narrow street of the city.
Bowles writes: "Clearly, examples of such stoical behavior are not met every day, or I should not have remembered this one; my experience since then, however, has shown me that it is not untypical, and it has remained with me and become a symbol of that which is admirable in the people of North Africa." These people have a saying, "This world we see is unimportant and emphemeral as a dream. To take it seriously would be an absurdity. Let us think rather of the heavens that surround us."
Bowles continues: "And the landscape is conducive to reflections upon the nature of the infinite. In other parts of Africa you are aware of the earth beneath your feet, of the vegetation and the animals; all power seems concentrated in the earth. In North Africa the earth becomes the less important part of the landscape because you find yourself constantly raising your eyes to look at the sky. In the arid landscape the sky is the final arbiter."
Here's the great part, the part that overwhelmed me with its simple deducing: "When you have understood that [the sky's the final arbiter], not intellectually but emotionally, you have also understood why it is that the great trinity of monotheistic religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--which removed the source of power from the earth itself to the spaces outside the earth--were evolved in desert regions. And of the three, Islam, perhaps because it is the most recently evolved, operates the most directly and with the greatest strength upon the daily actions of those who embrace it."
Wow, what wonderful stuff to a sociologically thinking writer--of course this is why desert-evolved religions look to the sky--that's where "life" and escape from death for them comes from--the rain--called "manna" in the Old Testament of the Christian Torah. From the earth comes Hell to these desert dwellers--the only escape from vast deserts like the Negev and the Sahara is through the heavens.
Paul Bowles, ladies and gents, is a masterful storyteller--one of the best I've ever read; why, I'd compare him to Somerset Maugham (I know, "Who?").
Interesting woman freethinker on Uncle Bill Moyers's PBS show tonight--Susan Jacoby--she wrote a book called Freethinkers, a History of American Secularism, and her new book is Age of American Unreason--she says Americans are ignorant--(has she been reading The Daily Growler? 'Cause Growler fans know The Daily Growler has been hollering like a madman loosed in a square of square dunces since the Growling of the wolves, men, a two-headed woman, a high-brow, flat-broke widow ("How dare you," she's screaming from the back office), one of the greatest sadistic sports writers ever and a very stable and working house pianist started ranting back from the very beginning (2006) how the American right and left wing are numbskulls--not that they're stupid, though a lot of them are--
And speaking of stupid, hell, down right embarrassingly stupid--and I had to tune it in, it was too good to be true for a searcher for idiocy like I am--what was it? It was on CBS low-life network teevee tonight--a big one, Celine Dion and special "friends" as she called them, and what a mess'o'friends she trotted out--first of all a jive dude I'd never heard of before Will I. Am (sorry, it's will i am--he's from the Black-Eyed Peas)--or some such jive shit--and Will wasn't bad--he played keys and did his thang--but God he was giving homage to Celine Dion--the Canadian off-key canary who flies south every now and then to pick up another million or two so her failing 99-year-old husband can blow it gambling--poor Celine--she will work a funeral home for a gig, man, she's that desperate. And she then trotted out one of my all-time favorite lucky-bastard BAD and I do mean bad in the true sense of the word--god-awful, creepy entertainers ever, the perpetual castrati, Josh Groban--damn, did I see a beard on Joshie? God I deplore Josh Groban. But tonight was such a grand time for me, laughing my wolf ass off, first watching Celine Dion, pale and skinny, shaking her bony ass in a bad (again the true sense of the word) imitation of the younger Britney Spears, shakin' her bony butt and cocking her popsickle-stick legs, singing magnificently off-key--I didn't think she could top that one--I was rolling in the aisle by then like a Holy Rolling sister tumbling free-fall down a steep church aisle babbling holy-moly nonsense as she rolls down into the arms of the infallible Jesus X. Christ--and Susan Jacoby had a great thing to say about people who believe the Jesus tale--and by the way, she added, it's the 199th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.
But then Celine topped herself when she brought out Joshie Boy with a banana in his crotch--a fake hard-on for Celine--I don't think Josh likes girls--maybe I'm wrong and I may have to give an apology like Chris Matthews had to give--and speaking of fools, what a fool that pig-jowled prefabricator is--looks like Jerry Falwell right before Jerry fell face-down dead in the possum gravy that fatal Sunday for him back in '06. And after Josh had done his normal high school talent show song--3rd place against a blind 13-year-old who played the Sabre Dance on a zither, which at the end he set on fire and left burning in the middle of the stage. He was heard to say to Josh as he left the stage, "Let's see you top that, pretty boy."
Then the wreck of the Hesperus happened, Joshie joined Celine in a duet!!!! Ouch! I couldn't take it--I wanted to wait for the big finale where Will I Am and maybe Barry Manilow or maybe David Hasselhoff would all tumble out and join Celine in a big surefire Las Vegas jam session--yahooooo. But I turned Celine off just as she and Josh were banking into one of those high-note finishes--where they're screeching by the end of the big crashing finish. Ugh.
I now sit in the fair stillness of a New York City night.
for The Daily Growler