Today I went to the rôtisseur to order my Thanksgiving turkey. Much to the dismay of the neighborhood, two local businesses run by food royalty have closed up and sold since last summer when the owners retired, and this was the first time I had set foot in the store since it had changed hands. The new owners never seem as well-prepared, and at five o'clock they were just putting up a new set of chickens to roast.
As the man wrote my name down for November 24th, I noticed several other Americans on the list. You have to order early (I discovered this the hard way) in order to get your turkey roasted on Thanksgiving day. I was glad I thought to do it now when I saw that one woman with a famous name had ordered seven turkeys!
"And what is your name?" I asked the man who took the order.
"Amid [Ah-meed]," he said. He was a Berber from Algeria, like so many of the small-businessmen in Paris. I told him I had several CDs of the Algerian Berber singer Lounès Matoub. Amid lit up. "Which songs do you like?" he said. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn't remember a single name. They are all in the Tamazight language.... I had learned to appreciate Lounès Matoub in an evocative movie called Là-bas, mon pays [My country, down there], about Algeria then and now, where his music wails in the background all through the story. He was assassinated for speaking out for freedom-- some say by the Algerian government, some say by Islamist terrorists-- in 1998.
Then I went to buy milk at the corner store and as usual started chatting with Mohammed, the Moroccan owner. (He's a Berber too.) I told him about ordering the Thanksgiving turkey.
"I miss Americans," he said nostalgically. "There used to be so many Americans in the neighborhood. They are such nice people. Always polite and friendly. I would love to go to the U.S. for a visit, but I always end up just going to Morocco to see my family."
"That's like me in the U.S.," I said. "I don't get to travel enough because we just go back and forth between Paris and visits to relatives."
"You could go to Morocco for the weekend," said Mohammed. "Why don't you do that?"
"Where should I go if I go just for three days?"
"Marrakesh," said Mohammed. "Oh, and Fez, because you like culture. It's got an ancient university. When it was first founded, it was one of the best universities and one of the most tolerant places in the world. You could study anything there. They had broad minds. Now, though, they only teach hatred."