Sunday, 18 April 2010
Morocco Visit Revisted
Since my last post I've spent some time in Morocco while Rachel McCarthy flew the April Blah Blah Blah Show solo. What she featured and who she played, you're more likely to know than me, but Harry Guest was her guest.
Many of those who visit Morocco confine themselves to one or two of Marrakech, Fes, Tangier, Essaouira and Agadir but the grandeur of the country's klandscape is most apparent if you can get up and over the High Atlas and experience the Sahara as it begins its journey from scrub into dunes - 52 days to Timbucktoo.
My trip was more concerned with culture than Culture but Morocco is a natural film set and Ouarzazate has become Ouallywood with two major studios on the outskirts of town and landscape that can double as anywhere from Arizona to Israel all around.
Here is a list of foreign movies filmed in Morocco. On the road, we came across an American garage that was presumably a set for The Hills Have Eyes. Ait Benhaddou is a ksar or fortified village that is both a world heritage site and the star of films such as Gladiator and The Sheltering Sky, the definitive movie for those who wish to see the Kingdom of Morocco as it begins in Tangier and fades into the southern desert, also shot at the Oulad Adbehalim Ksar among other locations. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring John Malkovitch and Timothy Spall, this is especially recommended to admirers of Debra Winger.
The Sheltering Sky is one of the several novels of Paul Bowles set in Morocco and taken collectively they express that fusion of alienation and fascination that is typical of the occidental in the orient, deconstructed by Edward Said in his book Orientalism.
Paul Bowles was the not entirely welcoming host and mentor to the Beats in Tangier and while most of them were just passing through, leaving a trail of kif smoke and boy flesh behind them, Morocco is essential to the work of William Burroughs, his Interzone being modelled on Tangier and Marrakech and its surrounds bleeding into the red lands of his later work. Read Naked Lunch and weep or try Tangier: City of a Dream for a comprehensive introduction to the literature produced there during its international period.
For those who prefer a lighter but no less intelligent read, try the travel books of Tahir Shah set in Casablanca. The Caliph's House describes he and his family's first year buying and renovating a riad in the city, confronting a depth of cultural difference that is only hinted at in surface dealings with a friendly and humourous people. In Arabian Nights continues the narrative and branches out in journeys to find the storytellers of Morocco so beloved of his father and recount their tales.
Naturally, that book ends in Place Djemaa el-Fna, the main square of Marrakech, where storytellers, clowns and acrobats still ply their trade. There over Easter weekend with the city occupied by tourists from all nations, it was the snake charmers, monkey boys and gnawa musicians that seemed to dominate, more international and photogenic entertainments maybe, but the mystery of Marrakech is being Disneyfied, or so it seems until the sun sets and the smoke of a hundred wood grills fills the air with the aroma of heart and tongue. In the dark, the medievalness of the souks overwhelms their modernity and you are someone else, somewhere else again.
Morocco was fertile territory for my writing and I hope to begin to publish and perform some of the pieces I began there in the near future. I spent a happy last day at Cafe du Livre in the French colonial quarter, reached through the entrance to Burrough's Marrakech hotel. For good food and drink, a fine selection of new and secondhand books, free wifi internet and place of calm to collect your thoughts, I recommend it.