On my parents’ living room wall hangs a large clock made from the highly polished, stained, and glazed cross-section of a cypress tree. The outline of its spidery figure never looked like a tree to me, and it was a very long time before I even knew that’s what it was. Instead, I always thought it was deliberately made to be in the shape of a very squat chef wearing a chef’s hat and oven mitt. I perhaps even experienced some confusion over why the clock’s home was the living room instead of the kitchen.
But there was another layer to what I saw with my child’s eyes – something that my mom to this day can’t really see, but I, on the other hand, cannot unsee. Inside the clock, where the tree’s rings and clock hands are, lives a dancing Arab man.
Disney’s Aladdin came out the year I was born. I imagine my young life was much influenced by this movie, not least of all because of Robin Williams’s undeniable talent. One of my most beloved piano books was the reduced score of this instant Disney classic, and I played and sang “A Whole New World” (both voice parts, of course!) multiple times, daily, for probably several years. My piano was situated next to the wall with the clock with the dancing Arab man.
He wears a white robe and a white turban that has a long, white feather sticking out the top. His beard is long, dark, and pointed. He appears to be dancing a jig, and far in the background a lady attendant stands, a white scarf draped over her head.
When I was growing up, I thought this curious scene was intentionally put there by the clock maker. That’s how conspicuous the picture was (and is) to my eyes. Even looking at him now, I still have a hard time admitting to myself that the dancing Arab man is naturally occurring, or at the very most brought forward by the wood stain.
For a long time, the clock as a functional timepiece was not very useful to me, as it only has small hashes for most of the hours and Roman numerals for the rest, so when I looked at it I hardly saw a clock at all, although I knew it was one. What I did see was a strange little chef and a strange little Arab man, and I don’t even remember questioning why the two were paired. They just belonged together, living in joyful unity above the piano, listening to the repetitive serenades of a ten-year-old.