The Monthly / The Pull Of Morocco

What Was on My . . .

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The 30th of the month means that it is my turn up. So, if you’re dying to know what I’ve been up to during October, read on.

What Was on My . . .

Agenda: The Sahara, the road of the caravans, a rendezvous with a camel, and Marrakesh.

Tent’s Carpet Floor: Elias Canetti’s The Voices of Marrakesh and Edith Wharton’s In Morocco.

List of Things I Will Never, Ever See Again: An intricately illuminated Koran from the year 1021.

BBC: An interview with Esther Freud, where she talks about her very early days in Marrakesh and Hideous Kinky, the semi-autobiographical story, narrated by a four-year-old, that grew out of that experience.

Plate: Variations of tagine—vegetables in cumin, preserved lemons & monkfish, a sweet and salty lamb with dates and cinnamon.

Skin: A thin layer of sand—always—making me feel heavier, but never dirty.

Wish List: A linen kaftan and a silver Berber pendent from the Atlas Mountains.

Mind. The pull of Morocco.

I arrived in North Africa as many a tourist, unread and unprepared, with vague ideas of sand and souks. Yet, by the time I left, Morocco was deep in me. As Elias Canetti experienced, a ‘marvellously luminous, viscid substance’ had been left behind to flow. The sort of substance that might form over 60, even 360 days, in some other land, but in Morocco, grew in only 10. I left, not wanting to leave.

How had this happened? And happened so quickly? My husband says it is because Morocco is a country that spreads a weighty and distinctly edged cultural footprint. No wide avenues of shops that could be in Paris or New York or Shanghai. No touristy river cruises. No Miley Cyrus singing Wrecking Ball. Here is a country that is purely itself.

He is right, of course. It is rare these days to travel into a world as if you were traveling into a book, and be drawn-in step by fascinated step by words you have never heard and history you have never been told. The Almohads. The Merinids. The Battle—and deaths—of the Three Kings.

But, words and history alone do not create the sort of persistent luminosity that has returned to Switzerland with me. That, I believe, comes from rhythm and repetition. Morocco plays out echo after echo of itself.

It is most obvious in the souk. In the first stall I came across, I saw tassel after tassel, the form repeated. Here, the large, there, the medium, over there, the small. Hundreds upon hundreds of tassels. The colors differing, then recurring, then recurring again. And when my eyes could no longer take in this bounty, I moved to the next stall and it all began again. Tassel after tassel. Hundreds upon hundreds, the colors recurring. I found the same in the next stall. The next. The next. Until I turned the corner, and came to an herbalist with jar after jar of dried fronds and colored powders and with the ruling scents of musk and amber. When I could absorb no more, I moved to the next stall, to more rows of jars, to more musk and amber. And after that, more stalls, more jars, more glorious musk.

Yet, this repetition isn’t confined to the souk. It reaches beyond it and beats out its rhythm in every perceptible aspect of life. In the Berber people. Architecture. Rituals. Faith. The generosity and openness of one Berber followed the generosity and openness of another. Pink home after pink home punctuated village upon village. Mint tea never came with one pour, but was high drizzled time and again, in its own tempo of hospitality. The call to prayer sang out, with its long and melodious Allah-u and clipped Akbar. God is great. The single phrase repeated within the call, and the call repeated throughout the day. Always the same litany. Always the same cadence.

In Morocco, the reprise always comes. And I believe it is this chain of rhythm and recurrence that has taken hold in me. It wound itself so brightly together that even now at home, it stays marvellously luminous and viscid within me.

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If you are interested in reading more of my thoughts inspired by Morocco, check out ‘Silence and Space,’ my guest blog on L. Marie’s latest series on El Space. Otherwise, be sure to stop by again on November 10, when Gabi Swiatkowska, the illustrator of Infinity and Me, A New York Times 2012 Best Illustrated Book, will be joining us as our first illustrator on What Was on Her . . .

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