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The Belly Dance

from Mahu or The Material

Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan-Smith forthcoming this fall from Dalkey Archive Press

A moukere or a fatma or a mousmee was moving her belly, it was a belly dance. She’s got rolls of fat and strings of pearls that hang down, and a specially big roll of fat just below her navel, I couldn’t see very well, so I turned round a bit in my chair, she’s got large soft breast with a deep divide. The belly rotates and spirals upwards as far as the hips, Ninette was helping me to some cous-cous and Latirail was sitting right opposite the dancer. There are three rolls of fat, I think, one near the navel and the others going from the breasts to the arm-pits. She was twisting and turning metal castanets around her head, it was enough to burst your eardrums. The mutton in the cous-cous was as tough as leather, but it’s interesting how she moves her fat around even though it’s so soft she does it so that people will put notes under her belt. Latirail gave her one, I asked him what it was like to feel. Ninette is eating, she says, “Excellent.” I find it annoying having to do two things at once. I like cous-cous, but it would be better if she could do her dance afterwards, so that we could get on with eating and not have to keep looking at her belly. She kneels down and starts moving her titties, but her skirt gets on my nerves, it would be nicer to see everything, after all there are dancers who dance with nothing on, so I don’t see why this one should be half-dressed. I ask Latirail if he thinks she has any hairs, she hasn’t any under her arms, he says they’re shaved. “Some more sauce?” Ninette asks, I say yes but I don’t like the carrots and this sauce is full of carrots, you might as well have a good pot-au-feu at home without all the pepper, especially as we’re not drinking much, Latirail is at the end of the month.

She’s off again, twisting and turning, if I could turn right round I might see better, but Ninette is eating and Latirail is doing both, they’ve got a good view, but I’ve got cricks in my neck and those castanets are giving me the staggers. Couldn’t she just stop moving for a moment? If it’s not that it’s the paprika. Anyway this white roll of fat jerking its way upwards in front of her thighs, these clothes are really too tight. I can see the point of oases with fountains and cushions and baggy trousers. I wouldn’t mind putting a note beside that belly and letting my hand slip down a bit, she’s coming this way, she’s coming over here, the mousmee’s smiling at me. Better say to yourself, “Put your hand down and leave it at that,” I daren’t ask Latiral for another note, perhaps one eats cous-cous at the same time to give one’s hand something to do.

The proprietor asks me if it’s good. I say yes and they’re still singing the same song with banjos and castanets, even her backside moves. You could slip a note down that huge divide between her breasts, pity, other people are doing it, we’re broke of course. Ninette’s eating her cous-cous, mines cold. For a laugh, I asked Latirail whether he thought the rest moved underneath as well, and he said, “You don’t change, do you? We take you out to an Algerian night-club and you can think of nothing but obscenities.” I was quite taken aback, what does he think about, when he sees rolls of fat? His novel? He’s got so much work it makes no difference whether he sees anything or not, he should have sat in my place with his back to the dancer, we didn’t think about it.

If that’s what oases are like, then I’ve got no objections, but let’s have it without cous-cous, or after cous-cous, unless we can go straight to the harem. What’s it like in a harem, anyway? What I’d like most would be the stuffed dates that make you fat, and the Turkish baths, all those women in the steam. But Ninette thinks I look too much instead of eating while it’s hot.


Robert Pinget


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2004

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