Glory in a
Trekking through the
(Houghton Mifflin)Jeffrey Tayler is one of those weird people who prefers to be shuffling along behind a couple of camels across the heated sands of the Sahara rather than sitting in an Expresso bar in SoHo. Who knows why? In the forty-day trek described here, he encounters the usual woes of the belly and back and foot, black flies, grouchy camels, sullen guides, disgusting food, greedy border guards, trash bags moving in the distance (he thinks they are esoteric black jinns floating across the sands), fearsome winds, grit in the eyes and teeth and mouth, mounds of crap outside each town, and mirages --- one a woman in blue veils, dancing:
The blue veils turned into a blue djellaba fluttering in the wind; its wearer appeared to be bobbing up and down on a Stairmaster. Then all at once --- and finally --- the figure in blue was a man on a bicycle, pumping his way across the ragg at high speed.Despite all this, Tayler is a joyful sort and is able, somehow, to give the reader an affection for the Sahara in general and the Moroccans in particular.
Too, there is the sense of tragedy: an extended drought over the last decade has devastated the Wadi Sasi, destroying oasis, ruining crops, killing the villages, driving men and women to the large cities of Morocco to work (or to beg).
Camel's Eye is a primer on the politics and history of Morocco, the habits and culture of desert dwellers, the music and poetry of their language, and the reality of the Islamic religion, (La ilaha illa Allah! La ilaha illa Allah!) --- the religion that no matter where they are, what is happening, no matter how much they are suffering, enjoins them to Praise God!
The desert dwellers are innately suspicious of each other: the Zagorans versus the Tuaregs, the Ruhhals versus the Saharawis, all versus the Berbers, the city dwellers, and the Nasrani (the foreigners). Yet almost everywhere they go, they are offered tea, food, water --- even from those who have so little.
The Moroccans --- like the Inuit with snow --- have dozens of different words for the desert:
khal = barren terrain
- ragg = flat and sandy
- hidban = empty rolling land
- 'uruq = dunes (without vegetation)
- nibka or ghaba = dunes (with vegetation )
- mliss = flat smooth area suitable for camels
And the camels! In a place where one's wealth is measured by the number of these beasts one owns, in a place where one would certainly die without them, such is Tayler's complete Arabization (is there such a word?) that he falls in love with the three that carry them and their food and shelter: Hanan the obedient, Na'im the petulant, the "avid urinator," and Mabruk, who
carried the heaviest loads without complaining. I humored him and often brought him orange peelings on the sly or gave him a carrot or two from the couscous pot.
§ § §
When all is said and done, you and I (and probably Tayler) will never know why he spent these traditional forty days wandering the wilderness. But he is an engaging traveling companion, has much to teach us about the culture and the people and where they have come from, and what makes it possible for them to survive.
If I ever decided to go trekking in the desert, I would hope you would have my head examined. But, after that, if I was dead-set on it, I would want you to remind me to take Glory in a Camel's Eye along as my guide and my inspiration.--- Al Hefid
D. J. Levien
(Plume/Penguin)Eliot Grubman does pornography for a living. He was married to Lauren and they have a son, Andrew. He is very very rich.Now they are divorced, but he doesn't lack for companionship, being in the biz and all. His big problem is making sure that Lauren gets Antonio ready for his bar mitzvah.But Lauren and son are holding back. Seems they are becoming interested in Catholicism. So Elliot goes off to Florida for a polo clinic. He stays at the Breakers, "instead of housing the Medicis or Frescobaldis, it shelters the Barrows, the Beanstocks, the Smiths, the St. hyphens and some Goldfarbs."
He gets the biggest suite, calls one of his models, Lydia, to spend the night.
"You remember what I look like, don't you?" she says. "Of course I..." I begin to wonder if she's gained fifty pounds or taken a disfiguring wound.
Turns out she is lithe and slim, no wounds ... but how about Elliot? "My nipples ride the slope of my drooping pectorals and point hairily toward the floor." Worse, he can't get it up, so he pleasures her with a banana from the complimentary fruit bowl: "I am delighted as the banana did not at first appear firm enough for the penetration," he confesses to us.
Just so we get the point, there is a picture of a banana (on black background) on the front cover. A big, ripe, unpeeled banana.
§ § §
Sometimes we long for the good old days, the days of D. H. Lawrence or John O'Hara, Henry Miller or Philip Wylie. The heroes had some grace, the ladies were often charming, if not sly. Sex turned up with panache if not pizzazz. It was usually pro bono, rarely pro forma. There was spirit and life: the author cared for his characters, for the readers, and probably for himself.
Why, you wonder, does something as cheesy as this get sent out to the world? Fake mozzarella on a stale, seedy bun --- delivered with a big voila! from the publisher. You remember Penguin, don't you, back when they put out respectable books to pleasure to our minds, not our weenies?
Swagbelly is subtitled A Novel for Today's Gentleman. Dare we ask which gentlemen they have in mind?--- A. W. Allworthy
The Sexual Teachings
Of the Jade Dragon
Taoist Methods for
(Destiny Books)This is a sexual manual of Taoism. The Jade Stem is the polite word for what the Victorians would call "the male member." The Jade Gate the corresponding polite term for what was named "the vulva."
One of the lessons here includes various intriguing sexual positions, including the Soaring Dragon, the Forest Tiger, the Playful Monkeys, Floating Tortoises, Mating Cicadas and Licking Rabbits. "This [latter] technique will avoid the onset of any illness of the man."
The Jade Dragon starts off with descriptions of eight types of Jade Stems (various degrees of breadth, width, quickness to rouse, thickness, length), five "Correspondences" in the Jade Stem head (The Boar Head, The Horse Head, The Ox Head, The Ram Head, and The Rooster Head) and five Correspondences of the Semen, including Green Dragon, Black Tortoise, and Red Phoenix.
Ointments are recommended: Ancient ones that use sea grass, deer liver, cedar seeds and "immortal grass" along with modern herbs "that revitalize:" ginsing, yohimbe, and saw palmetto.
There are lists of practices to be avoided, and stories including "The Bamboo Immortal" which tells of the 18th Century Taoist Master Li Huang who started out as a "green cap" --- an impotent young man --- but once in a Taoist temple, the Heavenly Portal, was told by his master to study love making under the guidance of the experienced Chin Hua who would lead him to ultimate spirituality.
§ § §
Having grown up on various books of erotology that I sneaked from my old man's liquor cabinet when I was just a sprat, I was not too impressed by Jade Dragon at first, but on second thought, I realized that it offered a perfect way of schooling the modern young in these matters.
The classes they now presume to teach in public schools ---"Sex Education" an oxymoron if there ever was one --- are designed to freeze-dry one's passion. It is a matter of all those clinical diagrams, technocratic words, and VD/AIDS videos designed to chill any love for lust they may have had.
A few weeks with The Jade Dragon might well serve to get the juices flowing again, what with its plentiful supply of funny names and interesting tales, all set within the Taoist discipline. The main messages in this book can be summed up as  Sex can be a gas;  But don't take it too seriously;  Be good to the people you are sleeping with;  Experiment (continuously); and  Take your time --- getting your rocks off is not the goal.
I would hope that Destiny Books would petition the various state public school book-buying committees to make this a required text for any and all junior high, high school, and college classes on sexuality. It would do a hell of a lot for the politics of passion in this country, help get rid of those icky sex manuals with their repulsive little drawings, and, at the same time, start a little honest love flowing in the classroom, where it belongs.--- Lolita Lark