Thursday 21 January 2010

Appointment in Marrakech

Dar Attajmil, Marrakech, Morocco

I had a good old wander about on my own yesterday before the others arrived from Rabat. I had the guide book and camera for company and set off with a vague plan of hitting a couple of palaces south of Djemaa el-Fna. I walked purposefully but with no real idea of where I was going, until I suddenly emerged through a gate into a large open space, impeccably maintained and in marked contrast to the streets I had been hopelessly attempting to navigate. There were no tourists, just a steady trickle of traffic. I walked back through the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter, up past the Bahia palace and through more souks until I eventually, and inevitably, hit Djemaa el-Fna. Just wandering like that, you get a true sense of how comfortable you are. I wished I could speak even the tiniest amount of Arabic, but most of the time a friendly smile and a salaam lets them know what you think.

I took a break from writing up the blog just now to go for a stroll around before sunset. I left the bag and camera behind. I just wanted to soak up the streets on my own one last time, walk about and feel the present without worrying about recording it for the future. In fact I have taken very few pictures in Marrakech. Perhaps because there are so many tourists, people seem less tolerant of being photographed, and I don't feel too comfortable intruding on their privacy.

I was walking across Djemaa el-Fna, successfully avoiding having monkeys or snakes thrust upon me, when I noticed the sun, hovering majestically just above the lowest point of the Koutoubia mosque. I reached for the camera that I had left in my room. It didn't matter. I take a lot of pictures, but there are some moments that a photograph will never do justice to, and this was one of them. Just a magical sight that lasts for a few bare seconds before it slips into the past for good. I was so glad I came out.

Back in the souks and, in stark contrast, I had what was my first unpleasant experience in Morocco. Some really mangy guy on a bike was riding slowly alongside and started talking to me in Spanish. We were in a busy street, and I just kept walking, ignoring him. He spoke in French, then English. He wasn’t threatening or dangerous, but there was something strange and unnerving about his presence. I thought of the legend of the Appointment in Samarra, when death jostles the man in the market. I stopped and turned and looked at the guy. There was something different about him. I don’t know why, but I asked him if he was Moroccan. He sort of sneered before saying Algerian. I turned and walked away in the opposite direction, quietly smiling to myself, happy beyond compare that the wonderful impression I have of Morocco, its imperious cities and warm, funny and dignified people, survives intact.

Death Speaks by W Somerset Maugham

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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