Paul Bowles often claimed that he lacked ambition. So when Daniel Halpern, an editor at Ecco Press, requested that Bowles start keeping a diary, he didn't seem to understand why. "I would have nothing to report", he insisted. Thankfully, he begrudgingly agreed, and "Days" resulted. Bowles recorded scattered entries from August 19, 1987 to September 5th, 1989. Contrary to his expectations, this short book burgeons with interesting slices of his life in Morocco. Everything from the inexplicable behavior of a spider in his room to the arrival of Mick Jagger in Tangier gets filtered through Bowles' unique perspective. Even the most trivial observations have interest in this context.
One of the more fascinating scenes involves the hubub over a package that Bowles receives. He quickly gets called down to the post office and told that he has a "contraband" book. They don't allow him to see it nor to find out who sent it. But from that moment on his mail gets delayed an extra day for security reasons. Some weeks later he finds out that a friend had tried to send him a copy of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses." Whoops.
Bowles also writes about day trips he takes with friends, journalists seeking interviews, health problems, his frustrations with certain biographers, aging, his friend's behavior during Ramadan, and the culture of Morocco. Many fascinating things happen. One woman finds him by pretending to be his daughter Catherine from Germany. A French journalist asks him "do you like living this way?" Another journalist keeps futilely asking him "why" questions. When Bowles tells her he won't give accurate answers to such questions, she asks "why not?" He also takes umbrage with writers who feel, by the act of writing, that they're "leaving a part of themselves behind." Bowles reflects, "This would have been understandable earlier in the century when it was assumed that life on the planet would continue indefinitely. Now that the prognosis is doubtful, the desire to leave a trace behind seems absurd." Later on he also says, somewhat uncharacteristically, "I was treated like a star and loved it."
During this time Bowles also finds out about Bernardo Bertolucci's intent of filming "The Sheltering Sky." The two meet a few times, but unfortunately the narrative breaks off before filming begins. Bowles actually appeared in the 1990 movie as himself. But, according to some later interviews, he wasn't completely sold on the project. Regardless, his acting career didn't end there. He also appeared in 1995's "Halbmond" as well as some early art films. If only he had written for a few more months.
"Days" remains a unique look at the seventy-something Bowles in Morocco. In it, he never shies away from editorializing, criticizing, or making poignant statements. None of his other writings or interviews provide quite the same perspective or intimacy. Paul Bowles died ten years after completing this mini memoir. He had spent the majority of his life in Tangier. Sadly, his diary seems to end here. Which leaves the only complaint about "Days": it ends far too quick and produces a lingering thirst for more.