Gary Cooper and my new shoes

Last nights’ post break-up vodka festival has sucked all the moisture from my major organs. There’s a desert in my mouth. Can’t move. Too soon to test the efficiency of any limbs. Can’t form any plan yet to slake pernicious thirst. Becoming aware that arm has a pins and needles sensation. Obviously been sleeping on it. Arm should have had better sense than to get rolled on by drunken, leaden, vodka soaked torso in the middle of the night. Have no sympathy for arm.

The sunrise knocks at my window. It’s an urgent knock. Like it has lost it’s key and really wants to come in. I open one eye. Decide sunrise can wait. Sunrise can just come back later when it has better manners. Eyes have only been shut for a couple of hours and eyes have been crying well into the night so eyes are raw like the sandman had given them a good sandpapering, then a good shellacking, then another good sandpapering. I think Sandman has actually been preparing to stain a roll top desk rather than sprinkling gentle somnambulant grains on my peepers.

The sun is well up in the sky when I wake again. Sun says I thought I’d get on with things without you since you didn’t get up to let me in. I call Sun arrogant bastard, say it can do whatever it bloody well likes just so long as it doesn’t bother me again. Sun harrumphs and says it will do just that; that there are lots of other people that appreciate his beautiful day and I can just stew in morose darkness. Fine with me I say.

Decide that the desert in my mouth is the Sahara. Hmmm… cliché. Choose another desert, a less well-known desert. The Mojave? The Gobi? Those are the only other deserts I can name this morning. Well, let’s make it the Sahara then. Conjure endless, rolling, majestic dunes to mind…. SUDDENLY… through the heat haze… the French Foreign Legion march into view. Soundtrack swells. All colour leaches from the image. We’re in black and white now. We’re in the film Morocco. Made in 1930. The film that made Marlene Dietrich famous for wearing a man’s dress suit.


The French Foreign Legion is getting closer now. They must be thirsty too. What on earth would compel them to march across the Sahara desert in the middle of the day? Could they not have hired a camel train? Do they have sunscreen? The peaks on those little kepi hats aren’t really effective against the arrogant bastard sun.

As they come yet closer, I call out. ‘Gary!’ Gary ignores me. The Gary is Gary Cooper. I’ve never thought him much of an actor but the camera loves him. He knows how to wear a French Foreign Legion uniform, I’ll give him that.

I call again, ‘Gaz! Do you wanna come to the pub? I’m feeling a bit shit, I just broke up with…..well, you know blah, blah blah.’

Gary calls back, ‘I can’t, I’ve got some more marching to do, then I’m meeting up with Marlene later.’

‘Are you wearing sunscreen?’ I shout. ‘The sun’s a bastard, and there’s a big hole in the ozone layer.’

‘No,’ he shouts back, ‘It hasn’t been invented yet.’ He momentarily breaks step. ‘There’s a hole in the what?!’

‘Don’t worry, I’ll explain it later.’

The Saharan sand is hot. Hot in a stupid molten way that is about to make my feet burst into flames. I think…If only there was an oasis offering pedicures and Long Island iced tea… Oh look, there’s one. A little bit of self-care is exactly what I need after my emotional night.

I ring the bell at the front desk of the oasis. A dusky, bejewelled woman – let’s call her Fatima – shows me to a foot spa and helps me pick out a colour for my toes.

‘What are you doing on the weekend?’ Fatima asks.

‘Not much,’ I reply. ‘I’ve just broken up with someone so I’m a bit sad, probably just stay home and watch Game of Thrones or something.’

‘Oh, she says, you should buy a new pair of shoes, put some lippie on and go out. The French Foreign Legion’s in town. Those boys go off, you know.’

‘Yeah, I just ran into Gary, but he said he’s catching up with Marlene later.’

‘I dunno what he sees in her’, says Fatima. ‘You know, at the end of this film, she throws away her shoes and follows the Legion across the infinite, stinking hot dunes.’

‘I know?!!!’ I exclaim. ‘Is she mental? That sand is freakin’ hot! What is she thinking, following some dude across this incredibly cinematic yet largely inhospitable topography?’

‘It’s Marlene, you know how she likes a grand gesture,’ offers Fatima.

‘Yeah, well we’re in a film, I guess that’s what you do for love in a film,’ I sigh.

‘I don’t wanna touch those feet when she comes limping back.’ adds Fatima.

‘I don’t blame you.’

I lie back in my massage chair while Fatima paints my toes Mecca Gold. The pins and needles in my arm are subsiding now.

‘Is there a shoe shop around here?’ I ask Fatima.

‘Of course,’ she says, ‘Just over that dune, turn right at the angry camel.’

I try on every shoe in the store before settling on an open toed lace up Cuban heeled clog by Jeffrey Campbell that shows off Fatima’s fine work.


Then I put on some lippie as per Fatima’s excellent advice and pop into the medina for a refreshing beverage. I enter the funky coldness of a smart bar. I see a man through the arch silhouetted by the candlelight from the gently swinging lanterns. It’s Gary. He’s slumped over the bar, crying into his mint tea.

‘What’s going on, Gaz?’ I say. ‘Where’s Marlene?’

‘She’s busy with Adolphe Menjou.’ moans Gary.

‘Oh. Sorry. It’ll all turn out alright,’ I say.

‘How do you know?’ asks Gary.

‘I just know.’

‘Have you seen the end of this film?’ presses Gary.

‘No, of course not,’ I lie. Then in an effort to distract him I say, ‘Look at my new shoes.’

‘Nice,’ he says, ‘No good for marching though.’

‘I don’t intend to do any marching,’ I say. ‘They’re my break up band-aid shoes. I’m going home to watch Game of Thrones this weekend in them.’

‘I don’t know what that is,’ says Gary. ‘Don’t you wanna go out? I could introduce you to the rest of my regiment.’

‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘I’ve had enough of unavailable men. And the whole marching obsession thing you’ve all got going on is a bit weird.’

‘Fair enough,’ says Gary.

‘I’d better be off,’ I say, ‘Will you be alright?’

‘Well, I thought I’d mope for a bit longer, then see if I can hook up with a belly dancer.’

‘Don’t bother with the belly dancer, Gaz. Marlene will be back later. Her and Adolphe won’t last.

‘Are you sure you haven’t seen the end of this film?’ he asks.

‘Trust me’, I call back over my shoulder, ‘Love always works out in films.’


Cue final sequence:

Shot of the Saharan dunes framed through an ornate Moroccan archway. The French Foreign Legion march in formation toward vanishing point. Suddenly Marlene! A moment of decision. She tries to run but the damn sand! She stops. Takes off her shoes. Flings them aside, and with them her past, her history and all the doubts she had had about Gary. She catches up to the back of the regiment, joining the other camp followers that have given up everything to follow the Legion to God knows where.

We watch until the endless rolling majestic dunes swallow them all. Soundtrack swells. The End.













Moroccan Poetry and The Lady in Brown

I met a Moroccan man in a bar last night. ‘I come from the first dune of the Sahara desert,’ he said. There it was. Poetry. On a cold June, Melbourne night – poetry. He told me his heritage was Tuareg from Mali. His friend told me he was from the Berber people in the Atlas Mountains. They were delighted that I’d been to their country. They said many people they had met in Australia either didn’t know where Morocco was, or confused it for Monaco.

As we talked I recalled the extraordinary landscapes of Morocco from a trip I took there with a friend a while back. I remembered the relentless heat, bumpy bus rides through the tiny Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains and being overwhelmed by the snake charmers and the false teeth sellers of Jemaa el-Fnaa, the famous Place in Marrakech you need to see once in your lifetime.
And I remembered the poetry I’d heard in a bar there…

It’s Saturday night in Marrakech and my friend and I (both of us blonde) draw more than our fair share of attention in Jemaa el-Fnaa, so to escape our curious entourage and the oppressive heat, we duck into an international hotel for a beer. The bar is empty except for us, and a lizardy looking lounge singer in the corner. He’s murdering a Spandau Ballet song on a keyboard. Seeing us walk in, his face brightens and when he’s finally wrestled ‘Only When You Leave’ into it’s grave, he comes over with his flip book of music and asks us if we’d like to request something. We say, ‘Play whatever you like – we don’t mind.’ He looks deep into my eyes and says he will play something very special for me. (I will explain to you at this point that I was wearing a brown tee shirt. I don’t like brown. I never wear brown. But brown it was.)
The lounge singer launches into the first few phrases of ‘The Lady In Red’. You know, the Chris de Burgh song we all had to suffer through in the 80s? He fixes me with his romantic lizardy stare and proceeds to change the words: ‘The lady in brown is dancing with me….’

For a full five minutes I sit with a fixed simper on my face and every time he gets to the lady in brown bit I struggle to suppress a giggle. My friend, also trying to maintain an attitude of respectful listening, now has tears rolling down her face. The song is going forever. Just when we think it’s over, he presses a button on the keyboard eliciting a slow drumbeat. He takes the mike from the stand and slowly makes his way across the floor to us for the final chorus:
‘The lady in brown, the lady in brown,
The lady in brown, my lady in brown…’
When he reaches us, he takes my hand tenderly, earnestly, and whispers:
‘I love you…’

Then it gets a little awkward. How long do I hold his hand? It’s clammy, no not clammy – wet. How long do I hold his gaze? It’s becoming disturbing now. The slow drumbeat continues. My friend applauds, says things like ‘Wow, beautiful voice.’ Finally he disengages and goes to turn off the drumbeat. ‘Thank you for the song.’ I say. ‘It made my night.’
‘You are most welcome, my lady in brown. You are welcome in my country.’

I have to catch the last tram so I say goodbye to my new Moroccan friends after a most convivial evening.
The Berber man says, ‘You are always welcome at the table of my family in the mountains.’ There it is again. Poetry, on a cold June Melbourne night.