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Florence in Words

Visitors from Fes

Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji, two of the editors of the Northern region’s Women Writing Africa, came into New York this week not only to have brunch with me, but to attend meetings at the United Nations (Fatima) and at Pace University (Moha). They are also seeing one of their three sons, who is now working in New York—and talked of the other two, in Seattle and London. For the first time in their married lives, they are alone together, and rattling around in their large home in Fes.

Fatima SadiqiMoha Ennaji
Fatima Sadiqi
Moha Ennaji

We talked of depression, both personal and political. I was most interested in their view of the Arab spring, not only in peaceful Morocco, but in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria.
They are close to friends in Tunisia and they are taking an optimistic view that sense will prevail and that the Islamists will remain moderate and permissive towards the secular members of the country. Moha’s latest piece, to be found on the web in Project Syndicate, “The Maghreb’s Modern Islamists,” contends that sensible people—in Morocco and Tunisia—will realize that their first goal most be strengthening the economy. As Moha puts it in his essay, “These governments’ first major test of economic stewardship will be how they treat the tourism industry . . . [as] a critically important source of employment and foreign currency.”

Fatima has recently written about issues of gender and language “at the heart of the new Moroccan constitution.” A major feminist issue she has espoused for several decades is the marginalization of women who speak Moroccan Arabic and/or Berber. While the new constitution, Fatima contends, “institutionalizes gender equality through reinforcing the presence of women” in various public domains, still more important is the recent establishment of Berber as an official Moroccan language. She understands, however, that statements or labels are not enough. How to implement the promotion of Berber is a major feminist political issue.

Their views of Egypt are far less sanguine, and about Libya and Syria, they are frankly frightened, not to mention Iran and Israel. Most of all, they are aware that, in the ten years or so we have known each other, their region has been turned upside down. I have long admired them for many reasons, not the least of which is their stable marriage. I also envy their multi-linguist talents: they can converse or write—and in the case of Moha, translate on the spot—in Berber, Arabic (both Moroccan and Standard), French, and English.

I should have taken photographs on the street in front of my building, but alas, I didn’t. But the photos above are a couple I happen to have. Read More 
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I thought it had gone, and last week I had said so to Dr. D. I felt good, had written several new blogs, was reading again—whole issues of NYRB and the New Yorker, as well as the NYT daily, and novels, of course. I’ve begun Lessing’s four novellas called The Grandmothers. I had even begun on the income tax, spent two nights sorting, and knew I would need only three or four nights more. (All best done while watching television.) I had also taken some initiatives: had made one appointment with a friend coming to town from Maine, and another with a young colleague to begin work at the New York Public Library on a book together. I had also gone to my first appointment with the “balance doctor,” who had assured me that I did not need a cane. I needed to work on some exercises he was giving me.

And after my appointment with Dr. Jamey, I went for a walk on Third Avenue and bumped into the Mephisto shop. I was, I thought, feeling great. So I went in and bought three pairs of shoes. This is the first time I’ve done anything like that since returning from Vietnam. Yes, I was feeling good. So what happened?

Sunday afternoon, when I had planned to do grocery shopping, I sat down at the computer instead, answered a couple of emails, and then, perhaps a fatal move, went on to my Scorpion game. Why? I don’t know. I thought I’d play for ten minutes, but I should have known better. I played for two hours, occasionally asking why, but not stopping. I even broke the rules I had long since made for stopping. What was going on? And then it came to me and I thought, “It was back.”

The next thought was that it had slipped in, the depression had slipped in. “Slipped in?” I said aloud, with a question mark at the end of it. “How could it slip in? Had it been out having a good time and had come home too late to announce its return?”

Well, I was still waiting for Marietta, my god-daughter, who had come up from Washington on her own two-day agenda, but was spending her only evening having dinner with me. I would quit Scorpion and write a blog. Maybe writing blogs sends the depression away. Maybe it would have to back off again and get lost.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt the depression before as a “presence.” As a quilt, yes, a heavy blanket, yes. But not a presence. But this afternoon, I felt it as a presence and an enemy, something that is both inside me and outside, something that does not wish me well, that scares me, that itself is scared of something, and of course the first thing that always comes to my mind when I think of fear is not my father’s suicide, but my mother’s Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps it is my birthday coming up very soon now. Perhaps that frightens me, the idea that I am getting closer to the losing of faculties. But why do I continue to fear when so many doctors have said I have nothing to worry about—a neurologist, an ear/nose/throat doctor, and my dear therapist. But how could they know? I ask myself. Aren’t they simply being kind?
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We Love Our Dentists

My neighbor said the other day, seemingly for no reason, that her dentist was the most expensive in New York. Would you like a referral to someone more reasonable? I asked, just to be responsive, even friendly. Oh, no, my friend said, I couldn’t leave him, he’s an artist, a perfectionist. I couldn’t do without him.

No, I didn’t return to the question of cost. I simply dropped the subject, though I was tempted to ask what he had done for her mouth that was “artistic.” I would have been glad to see the work. But I have discovered that few people will talk about their teeth in any detail, though those I have tried to question are quick to praise the worth of their particular dentists. The dozen people I have talked with recently consider their dentists irreplaceable; they would not go to another dentist even if his service were free.

I am not surprised, for after moving from Baltimore to New York in 1971, I continued to see my two Baltimore dentists (teeth and gums) for the next 16 years, as though there were no possible replacements in all of New York City. Only when my dentist, Dr. Smith, died did I search for one in Manhattan, and then asked Dr. Nemerov to send me to his periodontist for my gums. He sent me to Dr. Pollack, who is still my gum doctor and surgeon, and who, after Dr. Nemerov retired, sent me to his dentist, Dr. Murphy.

I raise this subject in a blog because I would like to collect anecdotes of good and bad dental treatment—names are not essential, indeed, probably ought to be omitted. I’m writing a long essay on “Teeth,” for a new memoir to be called What I Left Out, and I’d like to include experiences beyond my own.

You can comment here or you can write to me at if you’d rather.
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