Call Me Scheherazade

Christopher Fowler
Good morning. There's an old Stanley Holloway music hall song called 'My word, you do look ill', in which Holloway is stopped by various acquaintances who tell him he looks terrible, until one says he never looked better in his life. It's amazing how easily we can be affected by outside news and the opinions of others. In London, endless depressing news can drag at the soul. Health problems had taught me to avoid anything which required too much exertion or balance. But the path leads to an armchair and introspective gloom, so after my treatment on Saturday I did something about it. 'I expect you're ready to go home and have a nice kip now, aren't you?' said my nurse. 'No,' I told her. 'I'm going to the Sahara Desert.' Well, it turned out they're having a heatwave, and proved a bit too hot to reach the Sahara this time (it's 45C today, 35C after midnight), so we're hiding out in an oasis in Morocco. I've been here before and Pete has crossed the Western Sahara, but this time the trip is less about culture and research, and more a little R&R. Good intentions (work on book, exercise my way out of fatigue, try to walk up a flight of damn stairs without falling) have been decimated in favour of a delightful languid torpor. For me Morocco at its best is lush and unhurried, with little of the frenzy of India or Thailand. The outskirts are filled with tiny colourful birds, dark cool interiors, motorbike workshops, muezzin calls, hijabs, shawarmas, camels even the odd red fez. The interior, divided into old and new quarters, offers a day/night contrast that makes for brilliant people-watching. Jason Goodwin, in his masterful study of the Turkish Ottoman dynasty, 'Lords of the Horizons', describes the rise and fall of a power that ruled over the Danube and the Euphrates with the richest court in Europe. What is it about such dynasties that eventually sink them into desuetude? Morocco shows no signs of following such dynasties and has remained pretty stable in North Africa. It's unique for its Arabian, Berber and European influences, and it has evolved into a country with sophisticated, cosmopolitan cities and timeless rural societies where very little has changed at all. And yet. Modern technology sits within ancient landscapes. Last night my taxi driver was checking his SatNav on a mud road between dunes and mountains. It reminded me of Ian R MacLeod's award-winning 'The Great Wheel', his future-novel set in Africa. By now I no longer feel the need to visit tourist sights, so we're finding new dining experiences recommended by friends (for anyone in the area of the Palmerie, we'd suggest trying the cool +61 for Arabic/European fusion dishes) plus visiting a few old places, because why wouldn't you take a cocktail at the Grand Café de la Poste and watch the world go by for an hour? I've always preferred Islamic society to its Christian equivalent (my antipathy toward Italy is largely connected to the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church). All of which is beside the point; the purpose of the trip is to prove to myself that I can still find my joy and energy. I'm heading from here to Barcelona next week, then back to London the week after. Expect despatches.  


mike (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 09:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm so pleased to hear this! Hope you enjoy this and many more impromptu trips.
I've settled for 4 days in Malvern.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 09:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That salad looks good.
Enjoy yourself in the sunshine.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 12:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This is great! Thank you for the photos and all the info. My niece lived in Morocco for a short time and I remember the amazing photos of the mosaic work that she sent. I wish both you and Pete a great holiday!

Roger (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 12:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Enjoy yourselves!
I've just read Paperboy and can see why you seek out new foods so eagerly. The wartime and post-war generations seem to fall into categories with food - the followers of Wittgenstein ("I don't care what I eat, as long as it's always the same thing.") the followers of Ronald Searle ("Food is just fuel, anyway.") and the "Try anything once except choux a l'Anglais".

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 13:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What a grand choice. Jouissez! Far better than Rutland and gives you a chance to dust off your French. Do they still change tablecloths after each course in the better restaurants ? If you and Pete get bored, I suggest you visit the La Mamounia resort and tell them Anna Delvey (Sorokin) sent you.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 14:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well, if it's to be largely food tourism for you --- you made the right choice. Moroccan food and preparation has to be among the top five or six international cuisines and especially for anyone who enjoys the wonderful blending of spices and cultures. And Moroccan street food is outstanding, as I remember through a veil of many years.

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 15:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jealous. My favourite holiday country. So many hidden surprises in the cities, and such beautiful architecture. I never did get round to checking the legend about Irish builders leaving their genetic mark (pale skin, red hair) around Essaouria.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 18:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Marvelous! Another gorgeous site of sunshine and heat we can visit without feeling the effects of either of those things. Enjoy to the utmost, both of you.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 19:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

May your morning msemen or "Full Moroccan" come with a large helping of joy and energy each day.

Andrea Yang (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 21:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Enjoy you look happy in your photo!

Jo+e (not verified) Wed, 11/05/2022 - 22:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think the song or monologue was My Word You Do Look Queer.

First performed by Ernest Hastings who had been a music hall entertainer and then later by Stanley Holloway as a comic monologue. A sample:

My word you do look queer!
My word you do look queer!
Your cheeks are all sunk and your colour's all gone,
Your neck's very scraggy, still you're getting on.
How old are you now? About fifty, that's true.
Your father died that age, your mother did too.
Well, the black clothes I wore then'll come in for you.
My word! You do look queer!'

This was before Netflix though. Or salad.

Peter T (not verified) Thu, 12/05/2022 - 11:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm sure my grandad had a record with that song. The other side was the Beefeater: "it's 'ad a new 'andle and a new 'ead, but it's still the original axe."

Italy: never mind the church, it's the b*****y post office, that gets me.

Have a great time!

Jo W (not verified) Thu, 12/05/2022 - 16:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh yes, Stanley Holloway songs ,we loved them in our family,I felt lucky to buy the LP versions. My sons the listened and sang along with them. Their favourite was Brahn Boots.
But while we’re on the subject of, “My word you do look well” you my friend, are looking better than I am! Please remember you are younger than what I am!!

Jan (not verified) Thu, 12/05/2022 - 20:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Looks like you made a very good decision there Sir! Not just with the choice of grub either...
Have a good time.

Jo+e (not verified) Thu, 12/05/2022 - 21:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And the Beefeater pre-dated Trigger who claimed to have used the same road sweeper's broom for 20 years.
With 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The Ship of Theseus Paradox.

SteveB (not verified) Thu, 12/05/2022 - 22:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You’re looking good! Blue sky, healthy food…

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Fri, 13/05/2022 - 17:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I saw Shakshuka advertised as the Breakfast of the month in my local Mega Tesco recently. So of course I had to give it a try. (I lived in North Africa for a, while many years ago.) It was excellent. This month they are featuring waffles with maple syrup as the breakfast special. Food tourism turns up surprising treats in surprising places.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 13/05/2022 - 19:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hazel, I like that idea of a different "breakfast of the month" . I think we'd be likelier to try something different for breakfast than other meals. Perhaps I could work out a sample "trip" on my own.