“I don’t believe you should take anything too seriously.”
— Jerry Garcia, during our first conversation, July 9, 1970
“You need to get into something serious.”
— Jerry Garcia, during our last conversation, December 11, 1972
In the beautiful redwood country of Sonoma County, California, a group of our friends had bought a mountainside ranch across the road (& up the mountain). A few families, couples & individuals lived on it in some old farmhouses and a geodesic dome they’d made from barn siding, making sure the large grape crop stayed healthy enough to harvest and sell to a well-known winery in town.
Not that any of these folks would touch alcohol. LSD eye drops, sure, psilocybin mushrooms, naturally, marijuana — well, if they could grow grapes there, take a wild guess. For minor personal use only, though.
One thing these folks had in common was that many of their initial mutual contacts resulted from attending the same fairly prestigious college together. Another was that, like quite a few other locals, they’d developed what seemed (to me, anyway) pretty intense interests in astrology.
Astrology was an interesting element in the hippy lifestyle. On one hand, it posits interconnectedness on a pan-galactic scale. On the other hand, it assumes differences that separate people into classifiable groups. I always found it strange to hear someone say something like, “Oh, he’s a Gemini – I couldn’t ever get along with him,” as if espousing a kind of cosmic racism.
I only bring up this planet-based faith regarding how the universe operates because of one particular visit up to the ranch. As night fell, while we were all finishing a delicious very-natural foods dinner, there was excited talk. Full moon tonight!
Now it’s true that the night skies in that area at that time could be awesome to behold; look straight up, and it looked like you were in a gigantic circus tent made of stars. Planetarium-quality stuff. And it’s true watching them for awhile could certainly feel like there was some kind of message of orientation in the local universe being beamed down. A telescope and a little knowledge of the physical cosmos could have been a groove.
But no one around the table was thinking about a sky show. It seems they all took it for granted that if you held your open wallet up to a full moon, money would come your way. It was apparently a well-known fact.
I’d never been aware it was that easy.
It got darker & the moon rose. We all went outside and away from the lights. Everybody took out their wallets and held them out, open, under the big shining moon. Then we went back inside. There was no chanting, no prayer or incantation, but still, standing with all these well-educated hippies, I felt like I was participating in some mysterious, possibly ancient ritual.
Just a really stupid one.
(And no sudden windfalls came my way either.)
Somehow, we’d managed to meet up with Hamid and Abdu — I thought of them as Yogi and Booboo — who we’d met the week before on the ferry that took us from Malaga, Spain across the Strait Of Gibralter and over to Morocco. They happened to be Moroccan, were winningly friendly, and like us seemed to be in their very early twenties. With just enough usable Spanish between us along with the helpful Arabic words Hamid wrote down in a little notebook, we managed to communicate in a surprisingly detailed fashion, hitting it off and vowing to see each other again. And now, about a week later, upon arriving in their home city of Meknes, we’d miraculously met up with them right as scheduled, on the outskirts of the maze-like medina (casbah).
Meknes seemed kind of scary — the kind of place where you might expect to be grabbed and sold into the slave trade or some other swarthy old movie trope. It did not possess the charm or openness of similar areas in Fez or other cities we’d been seeing. And we were heading deeper into it as the day grew later and darker.
First we were taken into a small teahouse where grizzled Moroccan men sat in a big circle around a fire in the middle of the floor, as if in an Arab tepee. Goatskin-covered musical stringed instruments hung on the walls. Fresh mint tea was poured. A pipe that was essentially a small hollowed-out branch was passed around the circle. Each cross-legged man would attach a little clay bowl to the end, fill it with kif (cannabis flowers), smoke it up, and toss the empty bowl into the fire. The only females there were the two in our party of four traveling Americans, My Future Ex-Wife and a young woman accompanying a home-town friend who was along for half of the journey, with the only local representative of sisterhood the silent downward-gazing woman pouring the tea.
We were invited to Hamid’s home for dinner. Apparently they were quite well off (which explains how the two friends had managed to be outside the country at all, a privilege allowed to very few Moroccans in the early 1970s). Hamid’s father owned a bunch of farmland surrounding the city. This didn’t mean they had things like electricity or a telephone, but then, as in other cities, that was mostly restricted to the old colonial French district.
The entrance to their home was a sudden nondescript opening in one of the many featureless mud-clay walls we were led along. But stepping inside, the scene was fairy-tale ethno-history fantasy: a fountain in the midst of a charming tiled courtyard, leading to lamp-lit, cushion-filled rooms. Grandma loaded coal into a clay cooker and prepared a feast that everyone ate in the traditional finger-style manner, balling up some couscous and tossing the balls into our mouths (although the teenaged daughter of the family had a great time popping a ball into my mouth with a red-hot pepper in it — I thought Grandma would bust a gut laughing at that one as smoke and flames were probably shooting out my ears).
Hamid told us that after dinner we’d meet up with Abdu and some of their other friends for something special that we would surely like. He asked if we would like some hashish cookies for later; we said we’d surely like that.
So we set out through the dark, deserted passageways of this ancient neighborhood, guided by the beam of Hamid’s flashlight, stopping alarmingly at some sinister corner among quick whispery shouts In Arabic and on/off flickers of flashlights to, it turned out, meet up with the friends (phew!). This was the first and perhaps only time we saw any Moroccans who were wearing casual Western-style clothes rather than traditional djellabas (long hooded robes). We then proceeded en masse until finally we reached a small building, somewhat apart from the others and dark except for the upper floor, and were quietly led inside. We climbed a flight of stairs and were ushered through a curtained doorway. The whole way there, our hosts and the few friends they’d met up with along the way, lurking around the sinister corners, all seemed paranoid that they might be spotted, and there’d been much checking over shoulders by the young Arabs, although we never saw a sign of another soul. We, on the other hand, were paranoid because it seemed just the sort of scene where one might get killed or kidnapped and we never saw a sign of another soul.
Passing through the curtains brought us into a fun-house-mirror version of what had been going on on the other side of the world, the collision of cultures counter and otherwise we’d just come from in America, thousands of miles – and seemingly years – apart. Young adult Moroccans, both male and female, were gathered in this dim, candle-lit room – another unusual social aspect in this particular corner of the universe. They sat or lounged on cushions on the floor. The atmosphere was warm, calm, and happy, very much like a classic “underground” bohemian hangout. Peace signs and the words “PEACE” and “LOVE” were painted in day-glo on the walls. This in a country where we’d seen no evidence of any coverage of the Vietnam War, no mass media, and where most people spoke zero English. And they were all getting together to peacefully laugh, converse intimately, and get high…on wine. The forbidden fermented fruit. We were handed our “cookies” (they seemed like large chunks of hashish covered with crystallized sugar) but the psychoactive portion of this ritual was being fulfilled for the Moroccans by passing around the illegal-in-Islam alcohol. Sometimes “different” is clearly a matter of perspective.
Some rebellion is socially motivated. Some relates to behavior from being a certain age. Some can be an echo of some wild freedom heard of from far-away rumors. But what is actually rebellious is also highly subjective.
Whatever was going on here (and obviously these young people were no longer remotely young by the time Morocco started producing any young jihadists), we saw compelling, if not clear, evidence that this isolated segment of the “younger generation” had somehow, somewhere – as if through some kind of cultural quantum mechanics – gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
We pulled our VW Microbus into the dirt-with-patches-of-grass parking lot, past the decrepit sign welcoming us to the derelict Geyserville hot springs. This Northern California town had at some point been selected as the test site for producing electricity using geothermal energy, dooming what was, apparently, once an actual spa of some sort. Now it cost $2 to park there and stay for, well, forever, if you had nowhere else to go. Someone, I don’t remember who, had told us, “Go check out the hot springs in Geyserville,” so here we were.
All that was left of the facilities was what nature provided. The wrecks of one or two buildings were deteriorating into the landscape. That still left natural hot springs, sulfurous mud hillsides, shaded waterfall-fed pools.
As My Future Ex-Wife and I started to look around, someone said to us, “There’s a wedding at 3:00 — you’re invited.” I’d never actually attended a wedding party, so this sounded like a good opportunity to broaden my horizons. We could see long tables with food being set up under the trees. We could see that a few folks had tents set up for their stay, and there were several other Microbus-style vehicles that were clearly, like ours, suitable for sleeping in.
So we spent some time exploring, eventually finding ourselves some distance away in an isolated, gorgeously idyllic spot. Soft, mossy, leafy ground under a Zen-worthy tree, perched just a few feet above a small rock-lined pool of cold, crystalline water, spoke to us as clearly as the serpent in Eden must have addressed Eve. And, as in the Old Testament, this led to a valuable lesson which, in case it can save anyone else from learning it the hard way, I’d like to pass on: Do not be so blindly transported by the beauty and comfort of a natural setting that, days after having lain there, you discover you’ve made it among the poison oak.
After we’d checked out the environs, we hustled back to find the site of the nuptials.
We were told the happy union would take place where the stream forked. This turned out to be a lovely open area where two little streams flowed around a tiny island and became one.
People there were sitting on the edge dangling their feet or standing around. One wedding touch that even I, with my lack of experience in such matters, could tell was unusual was that everybody was completely naked. Even the middle-aged parents were naked, gamely standing in the stream letting it all hang out. We conformed with the dress code (cheaper than renting a tux, anyway, not to mention allowing the assembled throng to easily catch that I had the hottest date) & sat streamside, dangling our feet in the gentle current.
Music began to play. The tiny island was just big enough to serve as bandstand for an Indian taboura player & a bamboo flute player. The beautiful bride & groom – naked, naturally, except for being garlanded with flowers – came walking downstream, each aptly in one of the about-to-fork streams. When they’d almost reached the little island they each placed the flowers they’d been wearing into the water and we all watched the flowers float a few feet further downstream and past the little island, where they, like the two streams, then joined together.
And they were married.
And then we ate. (We dressed for dinner.)