Thursday, November 10, 2005

“From 212 to 212” by Ruomi Lee-Hampel

Last time forty strange men ran up and surrounded me, it resulted with me and my friend each having a gun thrust in our faces. He had his jacket stolen, while our other friend was knocked unconscious and sprawled out face down on the New York City pavement. Now, once again, a decade later in a different city sharing the same 212 identity forty strange men surrounded me and my new friend. I was concerned. Yet, apparently it was without reason. This night they didn’t want our jackets, or to sucker punch us. In fact the only thing they wanted to put in our faces was their own.
Bringing a Sony pd170 to the middle of the circus that is Djemma el-Fna apparently is a catalyst for the Cavana effect inherently changing the experience and creating a spectacle on to itself. I expected my focus; the Jellaba wearing, drum beating, singing senior citizen to be the focal point for the ensuing crowd. However, the increase of gathering men augmented the attention to not only the robed performer, but to us.
At the conclusion of his performance, we left the dissipating ring of spectators and drank some brand new orange juice. We were ready for round two. We found another man’s face that transformed to landscape due to time and experience. His contribution to el-Fna was to share these experiences and resulting knowledge with a heavy dose of charisma and flair. Once again the camera came out and the crowd swarmed.
It became clear that while the unfamiliar crowd felt comfortable to stare, lean, touch, tap and squeeze, they intended no ill will. The radius of personal space to which all New Yorkers feel entitled was unknowingly dismissed. In its place was tension, and perhaps even distrust, but more prevailingly was a sense of curiosity and interest, yet manifested in physical form. This new way of being was so adaptable that during the seconds when contact was absent I questioned it.
Considering the consequences, I haven’t abandoned by appreciation for maintaining a two foot radius of personal space, but while traveling in Marrakech, I realize it is a successful way to more rapidly experience the people from this 212 area code.


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