Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chris Dapkins on the first day of the workshop

Today was the first day of classes proper. We filed in and found ourselves seated in a room ringed with an impressive display of new editing stations. In the back of the classroom there is a small Plexiglas enclosure in which the invaluable translator, Ali, shifts effortlessly between French, Arabic and English, feeding translations into our ears via headphones as we grapple with issues relating to truth, fiction, epistemology, language and perception. Just the interplay of such different languages and backgrounds is impressive, let alone the subjects discussed.

The professors have performed well in this new environment where they have to adjust the pace of the class to accommodate of the demands of the variety of languages in one classroom. We watched a few examples of creative non-fiction work and discussed them. It seems the class is challenging students to look closely; for the Hunter students to de-exoticize their new surroundings in a sense rendering the unfamiliar familiar in order to engage with its reality. And conversely, inviting the Moroccan students to look closely at their familiar surroundings and hopefully see new and unfamiliar meaning in it. This is just one point in a day's worth of fruitful discussion.

After lunch, I walked down the boulevard which I have been told repeatedly is the longest in Africa, towards a distant hill with an ancient turreted wall rising along its back. When I reached the end of this boulevard I decided not to climb the wall but rather to walk down some of the neighborhood side streets. I sat down in a tea house where other men sat watching the street. An elderly man brought me a pot of tea and I sat with them watching the street, theEuropeann tourists, the woman with head scarves whipping past on motorcycles, spry young men shaking change in their hand like rattles calling to attention any eager smokers who might be interested in a few Marlboro "loosies."

The evening class began at 5 and focused on the conventions scriptwriting. We watched numerous tantalizing excerpts from films ranging from "Sideways," "Il Postino" to "Code Inconnu." Mick expanded on narrative concept such as the development of character through its actions, its dialogue and its needs. After class George, Kim, Diana, Simo, Youssef and myself strolled down to the Jemaa al Fna. The place was vast, wide and teeming with excited people. It is the center of the city and the night life, dazzling but not in a showy way, not for tourists alone. It's life seems self-sustaining where Moroccans mill about watching acts, talking with friends, and listening to storytellers. To see the fifty to a hundred grown men huddled around a storyteller rapt with attention as he spins his yarn is something unfathomable in NY. It is a tradition that seems to have preserved its legacy and vitality without becoming sentimental.

Later I sat with Youssef and Simo. Earlier, when asked by Prof. Cherrier to give a one-word impression of Morocco, they had said "commerce" and "contradictions," respectively. They took time to generously elaborate for me the reasoning behind this. Unfortunately, its late and I must sleep so I will not do the same, but others I am sure will. Insh'allah. -Chris Dapkins


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