Pieces of Barefoot Bohemia
By: M. Selim C. Bouhamidi, W.C.W.A. 2015
This book is in memory of my Dad, M. Cherif Bouhamidi, A.K.A. Shez Riff, No. 52 5-1-50—2-4-15
“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” –Bob Dylan
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
– Langston Hughes
Chapter 1: Introduction:
Tugging at this grandeur, thoughts and memories formed by snatches of old conversations –I spoke with my father about the wide-openness of everything. Measuring up remembrances past, these are the pieces I shape together to form a final resting place for my dad, a collection of thoughts, a composition of a man without the desire for convention. I sketch these images to honor my late father who introduced me to this borderless place I call “Barefoot Bohemia”.
My father was of less than average height – about 5’8”. He had a dark, smoldering look with mischievous eyes that sometimes widened betraying a confused thought process. His face was very animated, he was full of expression and dramatic but my dad wasn’t a screamer – I don’t remember him screaming at anyone or anything. My dad was very observant and was a master at mimicking others – facial expressions, postures, laughs, the ways that people talked and acted. Hearing him tell a story was delightful because he acted out events like they were stage plays. My dad seemed to be attracted to the absurd – his stories about dealing with the DMV, the government, and school administrations were priceless. He didn’t really tell the same story twice however – an event happened, he talked to everyone in earshot about his stories full of detail and color and he would move on with his life usually picking up and going to work. I would ask him about an old story and he would inevitably say “I was too young” even if the story he told was a week old.
Some of his favorite stories were about the family restaurant – Dar Maghreb in Hollywood, California. The restaurant industry is fraught with tension – in the kitchen, between servers and kitchen, between servers and customers, between management and the owner, between the owner and everyone, between the management and the valet, between the “front” waiters and the “back” waiters, between the waiters and the bar tender, and in the case of Dar Maghreb, between staff and belly-dancers. At the end, all the servers laughed and picked up their tips and went on with their lives around Hollywood or at some “affordable” Los Angeles accommodation. My dad worked at Dar Maghreb from 1980 for more than 30 years until the cancer was too unbearable for him. I had the pleasure of working with him for about 8 years off and on while I was studying at UCLA and in between Undergraduate and Graduate school at UCLA.
One of the images that will always stand out to me of my father are of his feet – the rough and calloused, blackened ends, brittle nails – feet that seem to have walked mountainous miles and endured many battering winters. Endless prints on desert sand stretch across the horizon. My dad liked to walk and escape from reality – the reality of parking, congested streets, freeways, stop lights, overpasses and traffic jams. The sidewalk was his dream come true. He told me of long, torturous walks through the Sahara desert as a kid when he was growing up in Morocco.
He died in what amounted to a little hovel on Barton Avenue in Hollywood, California on February 4th, 2015 next to Paramount Pictures Studio and Hollywood Forever Cemetery, an area so urbanized and dense with long, treacherous walls of graffiti and tiny alleys with cars and people darting all about. My dad found a tiny little corner of the earth where he could write and wait out his final days as prostate cancer ate away his health, his mobility, and eventually his life, dissolved into other people’s memories. He endured slum-like conditions in his final days but he didn’t want to move from the bowels of Hollywood – the dreamy Dionysus of a City lined with slaughtered dreams. Throughout it all, cancer did not take away his keen sense of humor as he laughed and laughed in the face of encroaching death. He was alone a lot and I’m sure he pondered many regrets and lost causes. I tried to be a continuing positive presence in his life even as I worked like mad and began a family of my own. Our movie nights became sporadic lunch dates and breakfast visits until he was taking his last breaths on his hospice bed in his room.
My dad was always hopeful that the world would appreciate his dreams like he appreciated his dreams. He had a sobering way of dreaming however with eyes wide open to reality in all of its ugly religiously zealous and provincially greedy way. He had so many evolutions from bohemian bard in Morocco and France, to family man with five children and a mortgage in Arleta, California. He began businesses, he was instrumental in the operation of Dar Maghreb restaurant which was the creation of my uncle, the restaurateur, Pierre Dupart. My dad loved to be hospitable. He welcomed every wayward soul into his little corner of chaos and artistry. He liked nothing more in the world than to make people laugh and forget their worries. Every tense moment was for him an opportunity to observe so he can retreat and laugh, and laugh and point out all of the stupidity and frivolities.
My favorite memories of my dad was working with him on his catering parties for Diafa Catering – his marriage of Hollywood and Morocco where our family, when lucking into parties, worked day and night to deliver beautiful caterings with Moroccan tagines, ambiance and Moroccan décor. He was always undermanned and tried one too many times at making big tents and big promises. I would usually get about $60 to $100 for my hard work and 12 hour days but what was pivotal was that I could be there with my dad and I could see how hard he worked. I’ll never forget a string of catering parties that we did in 1999 as his business picked up a bit – there were parties for world-class chefs, famous fashion designers and many other moneyed Los Angelinos. My favorite work memory as a kid in 1992 was a huge catering he threw for a large number of famous Scientologists as we received boxes of books on Dianetics and other assortments of Hollywood dreck and disposables. It was a very fascinating and colorful life and that he lead and he had a ball.
My dad was a character with a mega-watt personality. He had that big smile and torpedo-like zeal snatching up smiles and dishes and drinks as he worked the restaurant and his caterings. When business was good, he pounded out catering parties with such ferocity and mania. He loved entertaining people and watching them smile. Later as I worked in the family restaurant, he would tell me that it was always his dream to entertain people and serving tables was his opportunity to be hospitable.
He opened a restaurant in Burbank called “Chez Raja” in the early 1990s, named after his business partner. This was a huge undertaking that ultimately failed as he opened the restaurant during a bad economy and he was in over his head. Our childhood home in Arleta on Pinney Street was foreclosed on in 1993 when I was a Fourteen year old boy and our lives went on. We remained a tight-knit family even though this was the beginning of our family being dispersed and held together by phone calls and intermittent visits. He stayed in Los Angeles and worked at Dar Maghreb, as my brother, sister and I moved to a trailer home he found in Palm Desert and we had to move on with our lives and stay strong. My older brother Rene found a place to live with a friend during this unfortunate event in our lives. My brother Nick stayed in Los Angeles at a friend’s place to finish High School and prepare for Syracuse University.
Life in Palm Desert was not easy. My mother was alone and had a broken-down car that would inevitably be replaced by another broken-down car. We had a bad air conditioning unit that ultimately failed as my brother, sister and I did not work and my father could not afford to fix it. This proved especially daunting when temperatures reached 110s. We bought a swamp cooler which would kind of work. There are the most disgusting flying date-bugs in the desert that look like flying roaches. They would soar around the house sometimes.
Palm Desert however was such a beautiful and magical place. I loved being away from the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles. I would stare out at the mountains from my roof that also served as a patio with a small table and chairs. The desert is amazingly beautiful albeit lonesome. I loved the sounds of the desert – there is a sort of buzz in the air. I would take long walks through the desert to see my friends or to visit the Palm Desert mall – the only real hang-out in the City for kids at the time. There is this nurturing sense of being surrounded by desert – it’s something that I’ve only experienced in the desert – it feels like one’s heart is healing.
What my dad did with his money from his caterings, waiting tables, and small businesses was always a mystery to the family however as much of his life was. He lived life on his own terms and we were simply passengers to his bizarre bohemian missions through Los Angeles and Coachella Valley. My dad had a very casual relationship with money – after the rent was paid, anything goes – no investments except for bad ones and he would lend freely. He would wander around in ragged clothes and pull out wads of tip money from his bag so that he can pay for his Snapple or dinner or movies and the sort. Months before he passed, we talked about money – he said my money is everyone’s money and that was that. If we needed money, my dad would find someone to borrow it from or some bad loan to sign up for. It took me a while to realize that as a young professional, I would need to save for my retirement as my dad was not exactly the person to learn this from.
In the course of this work, I will try to understand my life with my bohemian dad and the life balanced by my mother, Marie Jose Bouhamidi, who studied Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry and who was always the realistic person in my life as we would chase down my dad’s big colorful whoppers. He wrote children’s books for us, and even as adults, we watched movies and shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Columbo” together, drawing, making art, laughing and talking until it was time to sleep. My mother thought that this was nice and grand but she wanted to instill in us a sense of reality and pragmatism. She pushed me to go through with my education and career even though all I wanted to do was retreat into myself and write and draw while listening to my favorite music. We had to balance our lives trailing the whims of a poet and the reasoning of a scientist.
My dad lived his life until the end in a very unorthodox manner. He was an escapist, sometimes too trusting, sometimes disorganized and disheveled and he liked to surround himself with lots and lots of stuff that he found at thrift shops and collected throughout the years. He loved animals and our house in Arleta was the home to many dogs and cats, many he found around the neighborhood without a dog tag or collar.
He was very difficult to understand sometimes and would avoid talking about his difficult childhood in Morocco where he lost his dad at about 5 and lived with his strong-willed, very religiously devout mother and two brothers. He tried to talk to me about this life before he had a family but it was so difficult to pinpoint and parse out. He had many memories that he banished forever or simply forgot as every person does. I found out recently while reading through the memoir that he recently left that his life was indeed tragic early but his life is a triumph of the will and the wakening of an artist. I will bring to the many my stor about my dad and introduce his works in the process.
I will organize this sparse book with a chapter dealing with a variety of places – one, to highlight my interest in urban planning, and two, to talk about place and memory. This is a book about grieving and losing and memory. This book is about picking up and moving on. I write this at a terrible vulnerable time in my life – a life that is punctuated by bouts of self-doubt and depression. This book is about losing everything but taking whatever is left and trying to make the most out of it. I want my family to be at peace with the memory of our dad who loved his kids like mad. He loved life like mad. He loved to laugh and make people happy. He could have been a bitter, horrible man but he chose to be at peace with himself and the world around him.
[Read dad’s memoirs and write notes for future reference]
[The point of this introduction and text is to introduce people to my life with my father and to introduce a place that I’ve created called “Barefoot Bohemia” which honors my late father. This project is about grieving and trying to find my way as a writer and thinker. This project is also about places – Los Angeles, Arleta, Westwood, North Hollywood, Moreno Valley, Commerce, Coachella Valley, Errachidia and other cities that remind me of my dad. This is also ethnography and I want to interview people about my dad and about place and memory].
[Strategy: write as much as you can about your dad and cities in this intro without fitting it into any rigid structure. Once you do this you can structure chapters and your intro as needed. Enjoy writing this every morning for a bit. Concentrate on this project and update your blog post periodically when you have written something new.]
[This project will be sparse – about 200 pages. It is about my dad, my family, my history and about cities].
[Describe the City of Errachidia and piece together our history there from dad’s memoir.]
Expand on this: I’ll never forget a string of catering parties that we did in 1999 as his business picked up a bit – there were parties for world-class chefs, famous fashion designers and many other moneyed Los Angelinos. My favorite memory as a kid in 1992 was a huge catering he threw for a large number of famous Scientologists as we received boxes of books on Dianetics and other assortments of Hollywood dreck and disposables. It was a very fascinating and colorful life and that he lead and he had a ball.
Each chapter will be named after a place even if it doesn’t relate to your family and dad.