Windo didn't start out as a writer. Until 1986 she was a musician and a songwriter. She was in the band called Pam Windo & the Shades, managed by Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. In 1986, Grossman asked her to write a hit single. She knew then that she had to quit.
She eventually took a creative writing class at NYU in the fall of 1988. Her very first story was published in the Village Voice. "I loved songwriting," said Windo. "So it [writing] was a natural progression. One thing led to another." Windo was born in England, but has spent many years traveling except for the last eight, which she spent in Jersey City. According to Windo, she considers herself to be a world citizen, which is fitting since she knows several languages and has immersed herself in other cultures. The prologue of the book says it better:
"Landscape, or its absence, is the setting for our lives. I was born and lived my first years in the rolling green country of southern England. These days, I live among the grey concrete forests of New York City. At the two most poignant moments of my life: my entry into womanhood, and my leaving it, it was North Africa that claimed me."
After reading her introduction, one can't help but wish to be able to describe the ordinary occurrences of life in the same manner.
The book, which is essentially creative non-fiction, is separated into four sections, which are simply named parts one to four. The writing is compelling and draws the reader in. Even when Windo tells the reader that she doesn't know how to describe Morocco, the prose tells a different story.
"When I began to write about Morocco, I realized that the more I tried to describe it, the more facts and explanations could not capture the country's essence. Mystery and mysticism lie beyond what the eye can see, in the deeper reaches of the heart. Our habit of analyzing everything has left us an un-mysterious people, fearful of, yet still searching for, mystery. And so I simply allowed those moments that wanted to be written to jump out at me."
The book can be absorbed in glimpses of another way of life if you like to flip around as you wade through a group of stories. Yet it can also be read as a connected piece. This is the woman the first time in the bath, here she is at the market, then at a party, and then she is cooking dinner.
Most of the scenes in the stories tell of ordinary happenings like in the title story "Zohra's Ladder," which tells of getting locked in her house. The story is familiar yet different. The narrator has to climb down the neighbor's ladder to get out of her house. There are no windows in the house. We can't imagine a house built that way, but we can imagine or know what it is like to be trapped.
Another story, "The Street Cleaner's Clothes," tells of the narrator's search for matches to light her stove to make coffee. She goes out to the street and encounters an old man who searches a long time through the layers of his clothing to find the matches. When he hands her the matches, he gestures for a cigarette. She returns with the matches and three cigarettes for his trouble. After that, she watches for the street cleaner every day. She notices that every day he takes his breakfast in the same spot, but sees that the dishes on the tray are different daily. She realizes that the neighbors all take turns feeding the man and decides it might be her turn.
The author is a watcher. It is through her keen observations of daily life that the reader is transported into Moroccan life.
Pamela Windo is currently working on her fourth book, which again is about Morocco, but instead of daily life it, is a story about a love affair.
The author has two events planned in October. The first reading will be held at the Symposia Book Store in Hoboken on Friday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. The second event at the Jersey City Museum is on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. Windo will read passages from the book. There will also be a slide presentation, Moroccan music played and mint tea served. For more information on the events or the book please visit: www.eye-books.com .