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One afternoon in Marrakesh, a French pilot in dusty boots came into my wife’s restaurant for one of her famous hamburgers. He’d been out scouting parcels of land vast and flat enough for his dream which was to build a flight school for women and name it after Touria Chaoui. We’d never heard the name, but in 1951, at age 14, she had become Morocco’s first pilot, North Africa’s first aviatrix. This had made her a hero to the resistance against the French who had occupied the country for over 30 years, and she spent her short life fighting for the freedom of Morocco and its women. Then in 1956, on the eve of Independence Day, she was killed by an unknown assassin and forgotten just as quickly.

Inspired by her story, my wife swore to enroll at the flight school that would someday bear Touria’s name. As if in preparation, she started flying up to Casablanca in a Cessna with a pilot friend of ours. She dressed like a 1950s stewardess, low-heeled shoes, fitted skirts to the knee. Our friend was also the British Consul and flew with a co-pilot so that he could drink himself to sleep over moonscapes of sheepherders and scrub. Sometimes as he snored, or half-consciously hummed Cat Stevens tunes, the co-pilot would gamely nod for my wife to take the yoke which she did happily before envisaging their fiery deaths, smoke and scrap metal provoked by an involuntary twitch of her wrist. Sitting straighter then and furrowing her brow, she would attempt to make her hands as dead as a statue’s — terrified, and yet I imagined that feeling of control must have been exhilarating. More… “Post-Revolution”

Josh Shoemake was born in Virginia and attended Columbia University, after which he moved to Morocco. He spent three years in Tangier, where he taught literature at the American School of Tangier and formed close friendships with Paul Bowles, Mohamed Choukri, and other local writers. At age 29, he was named headmaster of The American School of Marrakesh, a post he held for five years. He has published short stories, essays, and books, including a history of literary Tangier, which was a Book of the Month in The Sunday Times, and one of Condé Nast Traveller’s all-time best travel books. He now lives in Paris.
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The pigeons scuttle into a corner when Conrad Mullins enters his backyard loft. He lunges for a bird and they fling themselves up, battering around. His arm snaps out and he grabs one right out of the air. He quickly secures its feet between his fingers and cups its tail with his palm, and then presses it against his stomach to prevent it from flailing and hurting itself. He turns it over in his hands. “Beautiful, beautiful,” he murmurs. “I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

 

Two days from now, nearly 500 pigeons like this will race across the Nevada desert, back to the lofts like this, to which they have been trained to home.

The bird in Conrad’s hand seems resigned if not calm. “Here, hold it,” Conrad says. I take the bird’s feet, then its… More…