I had hoped to find on this trip to Morocco, like countless great ones before me, the scent of my youth, to create the volumes of my own tale. To find beauty in the colors of my heritage, to reinvent all that I am and all that I am destined to be. The joy of knowing that some of the greatest writers, artists, musicians, poets, have found solace, inspiration and true peace in the country I am blessed to call my home is unmatched. I wanted to be able to hold the sunshine in my soul, the world in my mind and the fateful nonchalance of destiny in my heart.
From what little I saw of Paris from the aisle seat on the relatively small Airbus 370 was magical. It was a glimmering and sparklingly beautiful city that filled me with a nostalgia that was not my own, but of the stories I'd read set in 1941 Paris. I pictured Henry Miller and Anais Nin meeting there in secret along le Rue de Provence. The fear that I held within when I stepped through customs into le Royaume du Maroc was smothering. There has to be a word for the fear of new beginnings, the fear of your heritage.. But as soon as I was out of the airport and in the back seat of my fathers rented Dansia, driving down the scenic coastal highway, I found my relief.
The relief came from the overbearingly-beautiful smell of honeysuckle and jasmine, with slight undertones of burning *******. It hit me and I no longer felt that overpowering fear. I started gulping for air, this time not because of a panic attack, but for memories sake. I never wanted to forget that smell. It smelled like my childhood, something long dormant, suddenly released. All of the places that I had ever tried to fit into and this was the closest to perfection. The beauty of the beggars, the commotion of the families of six packed tightly into the back of a speeding fruit truck, the droves of young punks taking over the sidewalks, they all brought me instant comfort.
The drive from Sale to Harhoura was, to put it lightly, riche. They were modernizing my roots with bypasses and tunnels built underneath of centuries-old, roman-built fortresses. New sidewalks and high dollar condominiums built on the edge of a brand new, man-made medina. The water was occupied by artesian fishing boats and the frail, brown men who powered them for measly pay or a days meal. My father was uncovering all of the wonders of his country in a booming, baritone voice. Showing me old stomping grounds and schools, and teaching me the history of everything we passed.
The vernal equinox, waning crescent moon on my first night was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever been privy to. Unable to be adequately described or properly photographed with the tools I possessed. It was the color of a blood-orange toadstool, hanging dubiously on the horizon. Barely visible but for the every-other peeks between the shantytown. It was enough to move me to tears and to fill me with a childlike wonder about the lunar beast and it's meaning relative to my being. She hung there, heavy and forbearing of the adventures I was about to partake in and the layer of my soul that was yet to be discovered. When I lost her I became frantic, craning my neck every which way just for one last glimpse at her celestial magnificence. When I lost her I gained realization - that although something was not with me, it was always there, watching over and hanging in time.
My first real day in Morocco was well spent, sleeping until 3pm, buying a SIM and minutes for my cell (of which I used all almost immediately on nonsense communication), and smoking hashish in the locale café. The hashish and the rolling techniques were very intriguing, I watched astutely for future reference. They used cigarette tobacco and white Moroccan hash and rolled it into a paper with the cigarette filter on the end. I wondered about what the people I was with and around me were talking about, due to my lack of fluency in either Arabic or French and their broken English that was too much effort to decipher.
What I really craved was a nap and to know where my father was since he had disappeared early in the day with my step mother, which was less of a surprise and more of an annoyance. The Marlboro cigarette smoke was extremely dense & bothersome and it became hard to breathe. I stood out there and everywhere like a token, sore thumb of an American, despite my demure outfit of boyfriend jeans, white tee shirt and Louis Vuitton scarf tied around my head á la Lou Lou de la Falaise in 1970.
On day three, I went to visit my potential 6 month employer. His vision was impressive. Khalid ran a small, local travel agency in Centre Temara, specializing in appealing to the nouveau-riche of America & Europe. His tours were of quality rather than quantity and consisted of showcasing the small co-ops of Morocco, argan oil production being one of the biggest. American sows will eat up any exotic cosmetic product that claims anti-aging benefits. They're all trying to fight time to keep the attention of their ******, manic-depressive spouses. My position in the company, if I stayed, would be to appeal and connect with the American market, to take my honed, Yankee accent and throw pretty words at the yuppie clientele. It wasn't a bad gig but it felt like I would be ******* my heritage. Aside from that I was dying to go on the tours myself.
My father was still battling me on the never-ending war of my outfit choices. Again, despite jeans, leather sandals & my favorite mans' t-shirt. I think it may have been the heart-shaped sunglasses he disliked, or maybe it was just too early in the AM. For him it was all about "blending in", "not attracting attention", "sameness". It almost brought me to tears to hear him say those words. It wasn't in my nature to go with the masses. Twenty-three years of uniqueness and he was trying to strip it from me under the guise of "protection from harassment of any sort".
To me, it was natural to want to adorn myself with bright colors, sheer fabrics, intricately designed scarves not traditionally worn as head pieces. He dropped the topic but I knew it wasn't the end in the twenty-three year old argument. We were in the middle of life, I wanted my dress to reflect the elation and bustle around me. Everything was full of depth and ornate decoration. From the stones we walked upon, with their repetitive, diamond patterns, to the grand architecture of what would be considered "the slums" in America.
I was trying to convince my father that I would be a great candidate for a moped or a motorcycle. He wasn't buying it, something about heart attacks and my lack of attention span. The beauty of the travel agency was that there was a small cosmetic tie-in via the argan oil and rose water co-ops. I was given the outlines for his guided tours and asked to edit them, which I was more than happy to do. Following a small me once back home, my cousin and I headed to La Plage de Temara.
The beach, how do I put this kindly, was less than spectacular, but the view was breathtaking. Once you got passed the scattering of soiled diapers and broken glass bottles from the vagrant winos, there was mile after mile of cerulean blue Mediterranean sea outlined by a coast made of porous volcanic rock. The hazy, white, almost-Grecian inspired homes that were stacked against the bank were technically dingy but beautiful still. I was praying for the sun to burn away my psoriasis and the brand new, but entirely expected, mosquito bite on my cheekbone.
The shoreline was terrifyingly littered with human detritus that almost ruined the picturesqueness of the scene. I waded in up to my kneecaps, saw a roll of toilet paper drifting like a jellyfish and ran out as fast as I could. After about an hour of sunbathing, we walked through the run-down, once beautiful coastal beach town, Casino. Our destination? The rooftop of one of the abandoned buildings to meet with a friend of my cousins. My first impression of the domicile, with its staccato flooring and the multicolored, crumbling walls, was trepidation.
The open plan of the rooftop, line with hand-strung bamboo walls & open wrought-iron roof was very Rabat. The view, an over-whelming 360 aerial, of the bounding city and the crystalline, raging sea. The cooing doves flapped about lackadaisically from roof to roof, landing near me on the branch of a blackened, dead rose tree. The high walls of the dilapidated homes were lined with broken glass bottles to thwart trespassers and graffiti artists. Although, it didn't stop them from defacing the outside walls with proclamations of "FAMINE OR FREEDOM", "BLACK ARMY 06" & "BEAUTIFUL DEATH" .
There was one, lonely grazing sheep tied to a frayed, red rope claiming him as a family meal. I could relate. Albeit, here the slavery was less pronounced. Everywhere I looked, I found inspiration, which is the closest thing to freedom we human animals can hope for.
As I prepared my bag the night before I was to head to Marrakech, my head was filled with visions of the spectacular. I had read stories and seen pieces on the fabled city and all of the magical things there was to be seen. It was a 4 hour, beautifully scenic drive down the auto route through hilly countryside and passed the city of Casablanca, covered in a dense brown haze. The difference in the quality of the air once you go out of the city was hard to believe. The one complaint I have to write about this 'god's country' is that the inhabitants have no respect for the land.
I don't mean that they don't appreciate the food that comes to fruition or the sea that supplies the freshest fish. I'm talking about their complete and total disregard for littering. When I drove passed the outskirts of Casa and saw a beautiful village with a backdrop of the famous Atlas Mountains, surrounded by a summit of garbage, I had to ask myself, "why?". Why do the people of a gracious and humble culture, not to mention an endemically CLEAN culture, throw their disgusting waste wherever they want? I'm straying off topic, but you understand my woe.
We arrived in Marrakech in brilliant time, around 1 PM, just in time to throw on my high-waist bikini & hit the pool. After sunbathing for a few hours, I readied myself to be astonished by the wonders of Djema el-Fna, the Mosque at the End of the World. In simple jeans and a tee-shirt once again, we headed out around 6 o'clock. The square was packed full of tourists from all over the world, of all ages, races, sexes.
When we entered into the square I was quite disturbed by the looks on the faces of the locals. They had the dejected look of what reminded me of the Chateaux Marmont, like 100 years lived in only 25. Like love lost and lack of options. There was nothing magical about the aggressive competition of the young and old men alike, vying for a bit of coin from some idiot tourists. The Barbary apes in captivity, dressed stupidly and piteously in women's clothing, the children of 4, 5 & 6 hustling those god ****** tissues, sickened me. The beauty of the place lay in the landscape, surrounded in the West by snow-capped cordillera.
There were charming things about the center, the smells of the many cooking tents, the sunset that left me gasping, and at night the stars shone and the moon was bright, but it all felt jaded. The old city was awash with men selling the exact same things for a higher price the farther in you walked, the jewelry was cheap and there were so many mopeds in the alleyways that it was dangerous to not pay attention for a moment. All in all, I saw the reason that UNESCO saved the location as an officially protected "cultural space", but I saw no magic, no story tellers, nothing bewitching of the spirit. Sure, there were snake charmers, but half of them were fake. It was all smoke and mirrors.
The day following, my party and I took a guided tour into the High Atlas. Now this, this is where the enchantment laid, miles of blue-brown rock, stretched the length of as far as you could see all around. We had to travel into the mountains about an hour through deep country and the Marrakech of the locals, the real Marrakech. Through the towns that the government created when the foreigners started coming in, in droves of poisonous tour busses, and inflating the native infrastructure.
I had notions of grandiose to come and realizations of just what a small part I played in a large production. I had left selfishness on the air France flight into Rabat and quickly learned that peace is a relative thing here. People were not going to stop asking you questions but you realize that if they weren't questioning you it meant that they didn't give a ****. I felt loved undivided and genuinely, nothing comparable to the falsities I had thought were love previously. I learned of real beauty and to welcome, not fear it. That there were sad things in this world, yes, but I was a lucky one. I could not afford depression because I was taking it from the ones who had the right to own it. I still held my dark passenger inside but she's was lighter and quieter, she no longer bogged me down or spit vulgarity at all that I contacted. I still felt longing for my lost, lost lover as I would always but he no longer brought pangs at the thought of his eyes. I looked virginal in all white linens against a cerulean Mediterranean back drop, I felt virginal as I had taken no man in a month. I had been scrubbed and cleansed and covered to attain my rebirth and I had never felt the emotions that unearthed me. I clamored for more life, I hungered for it.
The way I used to be weak for him, I now craved strength with a sense of urgency for everything. I had new eyes for the world and the world, for me. I felt the pull and flow of the Andalusian and Berber blood that poured through my veins and nothing, not even not even the scorn from strangers calling me a daughter of the devil for my ensemble, could deter me from owning it. I had maddening notions that I was omnipresent, akin to a demi-goddess. I was earth, sun, ocean and blood - but unlike my peers and relations I was the only one who could find contentment in the peacefulness of silence. Still I would have liked so much to kiss you, with your full mouth and straight teeth, after a year of absence. For you to grab me by my neck and pull me into you hungrily, in the way only distance can make you sick for me. I fell asleep on the way back from Spain and I was awoken by me uncontrollably calling your name in my sleep. Yet how I longed to strike out on my own and meet a man of my future. I would not, like my dream, lie chaste and whole while in gods country and wait for you. No matter the poems I've writ nor the words I've scribed indicating so. I wanted something deeper and more deserving, though I will always love you, of my fullness and my crass, broken nature. My journeys were worth writing in diamond ink on golden pages and I needed someone who lived to review them at the peak of their worth.
I had mostly humdrum days in between which bled together until the day my father left for the states, sans me. It was an emotional scene and I was reminded about just how unprotected I really was without him. I took journey to Fes the following day with my Aunt and grandparents. It was a breathtaking drive through rough terrains from which masses of vegetation magically sprung forth to feed a nation. There were fields of wildflowers, all red peonies, brilliantly yellow buttercups, butter-colored daisies, intricate and massive wedding lace. Thousands upon thousands of sacred olive trees littered the landscape, it was perfectly picturesque. We journeyed into the 2,000 year old city and you could feel it's pulse. The stench was my only complaint, a mixture of ripe sea-water and rotten meat in some areas. It was a standard medina with hundreds bustling about, the most distinguishing difference being the beauty of the architecture. You had a feeling of heaviness from the age on the buildings and the locals looked as if they had been there since the beginning. I was in a pure state of wonder and vowed to look everything up about Fes that I could during my next peaceful wifi moment. We bartered and shopped and went as far into the twisting alleyways as we felt comfortable. For lunch we traveled into a small outer lying town in the hills and had the best kefta I
this is just the beginning