Tag Archives: marrakech

To wish impossible things

the prophet
We are walking back toward the towering Koutobia mosque that we’re using as a handy landmark, when we realise it’s 4pm and the resonant solemn call of the muezzin rings out from it, amplified but pure, clear and bright as a summer stream but rich and deep like molasses, dewy, soft thick emerald Scottish moss, old longstanding trees. Heartwood. We are awestruck and silenced and it feels odd to think that the call is not for me, so pervasive and essential does it seem, and I don’t know what to do and sit down there to think and listen, listen and think.

Another day, as I look out of the window, the later prayer time must fall and a man in a red shirt stops where he is, unrolls his mat and kneels there, bowing toward Mecca, as this wonderful hot bright city seems to pause for breath in the purple twilight, dusky and dusty, breathing in deeply and calmly and just noticing, just taking stock, at this moment when day meets night. Again something takes hold of me, my heart – I’m humbled and shy; I feel perhaps I start to understand, being here, why one might believe and say and sing that God was great. I feel a part of something bigger, and at the same time I feel refreshed and affirmed to be one and unique and me; one of many.

And it’s the stars I think of, not the ones I know obscured by London smog and Edinburgh haar, but dreams, simulations or imaginations of journeys through space with them whooshing up huge and burning on every side; the stars up there in the thin atmosphere and the neat bounded glassy stars of the intricate repetitive tile work down here, radiating their own way, in painstakingly-mapped, bright, straight lines and angles; and the people, who glow like little stars, one and all.

And I think that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, and Stephen Dedalus and Dr Rieux and Billy Pilgrim and old Wandering Aengus, and maybe Winston Smith, Alex Portnoy, Candide and le Petit Prince and Titus Groan and certainly old Walt Whitman and his body electric, would have got it as well and nodded and swung to this same beat, I’d always thought it was all about searching for something inexpressible and elusive, something subtle, indefinable, untouchable, something that would never be found, but now I think perhaps at the same time it’s about knowing and realising, feeling it, that it’s all over us and under us, that it’s inescapably there, here, now.

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I can’t forget.

From my notebook:

Marrakech is hot and red and dusty and everything I thought it would be and more. I wasn’t ready for the sleepy, hungry tough cats and kittens who stalk these streets like quiet implacable kings; napping in ruins, artfully evicting the last little particles of meat and marrow from scrap bones, almost skittishly watchful yet lazily proud. Tiny birds hop and flit picturesquely in the dust and the orange trees and teeter shyly forward to drink tiny sips from the fountains.

perfect speedI wasn’t ready for the omnipresent dirt bikes – ‘scramblers’, says the boy – which zoom unpredictably down every street and many pavements and even, haltingly, noisily, through the narrow walkways of the souks, penetrating into every possible twig and stem and vein of the red city and issuing big belches of heady petrol smell into the still air.

These seem to be ridden by every imaginable class of citizen – old men in djellabas, chic ladies in shades, people going to work, laughing young couples and skinny boys in football shirts and striped shirts and trainers, two to a bike, cruising with the bright, assured and wonderful air of the vivacious young of every land, looking confident full of the intent of grabbing Life soundly in both hands and squeezing the vital hot sweet juice out and drinking their fill, and starting with this here overheated and shining red motorised pedal cycle and this wide clear road that turns violet at nightfall when the big fat moon comes up; when the merchants pack up their multi-coloured, glittering, paintbox stalls and kneel to pray; when we pass a man washing his face, hands and feet from a big metal drum re-filled with water in the street and it looks such a vitally simple and refreshing prospect as this incredible baking day draws to a close; when I feel like perhaps my eyes will never be the same again, permanently just a little widened with the sheer effort of trying to take in all the amazing sights I’ve seen: all the sweet-shop, chalky colours, all the dazzling, endless, repeating, calming inlaid tile work of palaces and tombs, all the life and light and the multifacted breathing singing shining unity of the market, a time and a place, a small world.