Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Mill on the Floss of My Saudi Apartment

 ‘“What is it?” said Maggie, in a whisper. “I can see nothing but a bit of yellow.”’ -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

In Saudi, I spent a lot of time staring at the walls. With 115F degree heat outside, there wasn’t much else to do. I lost hours inside, thinking, pacing, writing letters, and of course, reading.

“But that same nature has the deep cunning which hides itself…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

I read every single English book I could find. There was a book store with limited selection of classics… Dicken’s Bleak House. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Yeah, I know… a lot of male dominated 19th century lit… where’s the Austen and Bronte sisters? Are you serious? Do muslims allow women authors into their country?
 “But then the need of being loved, the strongest need in poor Maggie’s nature, began to wrestle her pride and soon threw it.” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

That’s why finding George Eliot was my own little hilarious secret.
 “But you see, when a man’s got brains himself, there’s no knowing where they’ll run to…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

I mean, what modern person actually sits down to read Bleak House let alone The Mill on the Floss. Narratives filled with unrequited desire, clashes of family bonds, intense awakenings both spiritual and intellectual that result in tragic isolation and death. Books written in the depths of personal anguish and enlightenment, meant to be poured through on rainy afternoons… and so, what else was there to do in the desert. (Personally, I cloud have written about the cache of George RR Martin books I poured through… those books are like Twinkies filled with heroin) But this is a blog about surviving in the desert, and you've already heard too much about Game of Thrones.
 "It is a wonderful subduer, this need of love…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Here’s what my life in Saudi was reduced to when I wasn't teaching. I’d wake up in the morning and boil water in the sparse kitchen, drinking flavored sugar coffee from a chipped glass mug.
 “She was fond of fancying a word where the people never got any larger than children of their own age…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

I would fry a slice of bread on a pan. Maybe there were eggs from the store.
 ‘“But it’s bad… it’s bad,” Mr. Tulliver added, sadly, checking this blamable exultation, “a woman’s no business wi’ being so clever; it’ll turn to trouble…”’ -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Oh… have I mentioned the store yet? No? Well, there was a little grocery store about half a mile from the compound that had only non-perishable foods like cake mixes and soda crackers.  I would walk there every day for water. Of course, if you didn’t have water, there was no other place to buy it… and if you were even one minute late and arrived during prayer time… the entire store was closed and you’d have to wait an hour while you staved off the Grim Reaper (I accidently typed Grim Reader… yes, pun intended).
 “Nevertheless, there was a visible improvement in Tom under this training; perhaps because he was not a boy in the abstract…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

So I would return to the apartment and stare at the walls… or go up on the roof of the apartment and run wind sprints between the walls. Hartenstein… why are you running on the roof of your apartment? Oh, I haven’t told you how I was almost arrested and threatened by the police for jogging outside the compound. Yeah, that was nice. (my make shift clothes dryer is pictured above)
“That in the onward tendency of human things have risen above the mental level of the generation before them, to which they have been nevertheless tied by the strongest fibers of their hearts.” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

And... as if I couldn't contain my excitement any more… I would sweep. There was always plenty of sweeping to be done because of the sand everywhere. Sand in my ears. Sand on my toothbrush. Sand on my burnt morning toast. Sand seeped in under the doors, through the closed window, through the air-conditioning vents. Even inside, the desert was always trying to swallow me whole.
“Was it possible to quarrel with a creature who had such eyes…” -Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

So I survived on books.  What a shock!  I can think of many pains worse than that delightful death.  

No comments:

Post a Comment