Morocco Bound


‘Fez is for culture, Casablanca is for trade, Marrakech is for tourism,’ said the driver.

Marrakech is a city of two halves; the post-colonial remnants of its former French incarnation and a far older Berber Medina of clay walls, narrow souks, feral cats, bread-carts, overladen motorbikes and those old men who sit in hatches surrounded by fiercely coloured spices all day.

Out on the Place El Fna are the daytime purveyors of perfumes and oils, the snake charmers – some of the hooded cobras are intimidatingly large – and men with monkeys that will jump onto your shoulders for a selfie. There are the tea-sellers, older than time, in their strange tasselated crimson gowns and flowerpot hats, strapped with metal tea-cups like bandoleers, then at night the steaming food market stalls, the storytellers and acrobats, the incessant drums. Mercifully  the cross-legged dentists with their pyramids of successfully pulled teeth seem to have vanished.

A trip to Marrakech has always been a great way to chill out – or get gastro-enteritis, depending on how late you eat in the Jemaa Al Fnaa, the market place in the medina where the cutlery-washing buckets only get rinsed once a night.

The Al Fnaa is definitely more orderly these days yet it has somehow kept its feeling of chaos. The city is savvier, less risky and more welcoming than when I first came here at a much earlier age. Back then it had more of an edge, but I prefer it now. In the seventies Tunisia also became a popular cheap holiday destination, but after the Arab Spring its hard-won democracy was damaged by terror attacks on tourists.

Morocco always feels safe to me – at midnight its parks are still filled with mothers and children enjoying the cooler temperatures. The city’s European influences can be strongly felt, from the Majorelle, the Yves Klein blue-tiled gardens, to the French boutiques hidden away in backstreets and the old-school hotels like the Royal Mansour. I stayed in La Mamounia once and enjoyed its magnificent gardens, but found its rooms poky and dark, its attitudes too mired in nostalgia – fine for the English straw hat brigade but not for me, especially now that riads have become self-consciously hip.

With a rare day of rain and sandstorms today, I headed off for a hammam, then to seek out some of the pungent oils and soaps for which the city is famous, along with its truly fabulous pastries, the kind so light and buttery that they make French patisserie look like Greggs. Even now, part of my head is thinking about finishing the final draft of my third memoir, ‘Word Monkey’.

It takes three days out of London to slow to a normal pace of life, and when you’re away it feels as if London is where all your problems live. No wonder I’m in no rush to get back there.

21 comments on “Morocco Bound”

  1. Rob Lloyd says:

    Kate and I had our honeymoon in Morocco, starting and ending in Marrakech, staying in Essaouira, Agadir, and a place called Ksar Massa, further south, which is my favourite place I’ve ever been. I found the desert, and the heat, strangely settling. One day, I’ll return. Enjoy the break, Chris.

  2. Helen+Martin says:

    I think I’m restricted now to television and memoir traveling so I really enjoy the comments here. Carry on, Chris, and I hope Pete got in on the hammam, too.

  3. BarbaraBoucke says:

    I agree with Helen’s comment. I am enjoying the photos – I love the one of the sign for the Men’s WC – and the comments. I think – from my own experiences – that it does indeed take at least three days to get in tune with the place you’ve travelled to. Each spot has it’s own rhythm, and I’m glad that you and Pete are enjoying what Morocco’s is.

  4. Jo W says:

    Chris, your enjoyment is oozing out from my I-pad. I can almost feel the heat.
    Keep on travelling, my friend and don’t forget to send us more of these virtual post cards.;-)

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin London may be your corporeal life home, but the mind has a life of its own. And right now it’s enjoying a mint tea and contemplating a cloud or two.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    Interesting that you mention the ‘Yves Klein blue tiled gardens’ and the ‘Majorelle’ Gardens (and the now Yves Saint- Laurent villa therein) — assuming you didn’t mean to conflate them, since the Majorelle has its own shade of cobalt blue ‘bleu Majorelle’ or Majorelle Blue, named after the original creator and owner of the estate, French artist, Jacques Majorelle — patented, as it happens, as is the Yves Klein blue (International Klein Blue), which is more ultramarine in tone. The colour blue in all of its many tones was everywhere in the Marrakech I remember — symbolising (I subsequently learned) the infinite and embodying peace of mind and tranquility. A seemingly futile reminder in the legendary bustle or organized ‘chaos’ of the city.

  7. Ian Mason says:

    “MOROCCO BOUND” – I see what you did there, you old goat.

  8. Jan says:

    I’ve been trying to get your last point about being out of London making your soul feel much easier across for years Mr. F. I’ve failed miserably but you’ve got it on the nose.

  9. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Jan – This is just my own perception, but I don’t think you failed at all. Sometimes it just takes time for the pieces to fall into place, so to speak. They have – and that’s what counts.

  10. snowy says:

    Morocco bound, very loose, working copy, heavily sunned, slight wear on bottom.

    [I didn’t start the book jokes!]

  11. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Well done snowy! It reads just like what I see from booksellers on Abe books when I looking for a copy of something.

  12. Gail says:

    “Like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco bound”

  13. Jo W says:

    Ha ha Snowy, applause, applause!

  14. Peter T says:

    …like Webster’s dictionary …

    And I’ll lay you eight to five, you’ll meet Dorothy Lamour.

    In music, my level isn’t even delightfully low. Ugh.

  15. John Griffin says:

    Three visits, each (roughly) a decade apart, to Marrakech. The first, very very edgy, with bits of the souk to avoid. The square was wild and packed with real character, the tourists often young Americans, the nightlife crazy and libidinous. the second, much more tourist orientated and although the square was partly earth still, there was a sense of ordered theatre. I found myself in the new town more often or the Berber souk away from the tourists. It was enervating though, temperatures in the 40s. The final visit, a decade ago, much of the wildness had gone (unless you were there for the late night gay scene, complete with muggings), and my wife found my stories implausible looking out over the paved and orderly square.

  16. Stu-I-Am says:

    I, on the other hand, saw ‘Morocco Bound’ as a indicating a gastrointestinal problem.

  17. snowy says:

    When I read the title of the first post “Call Me Scheherazade” my initial thought was ‘You are looking in very good nick for a very recently deflowered ex-virgin from 7thC Iran, gowan gissa a story then’.

    But having batted this away, [all run 4 most probably], it sparked a ‘Thoughtmash’ and those not fully engaged in more useful pursuits like cleaning the bath, arranging soap or de-fleaing the cat may choose to follow along.

    Rather than following the footsteps of a mythical ex-maiden, our host is closer to trolling in the lallie tappers of Orton and Williams. Now, not having copies of their diaries to hand, [and suspecting that the print version would be… less than comprehensive], a search for snippets began.

    This was less rewarding than one might expect, unless one is very interested in the price of ‘hand relief’ from a frisky Arab boy in 1960s Tangier, [£10 if you were curious – seems tres expensive].

    But what did come to light was all 43 of Kenny’s diaries and 2000 personal letters are resting in the British Library, open to researchers that apply for access.

    Now this birthed an new thought, if I was a) an author, b) writing a memoir, c) had worked with him in the 1980s I’d be round there like a shot, [just to find out what the old cow had written about me].

  18. Peter T says:

    Oh dear, memories from half a century ago. Where was it, somewhere in ex-French North Africa, the self flushing toilet, devised because the locals couldn’t repair the original siphonic mechanism? A dripping tap over an old bucket standing on a sloping plank. When sufficiently full, the bucket toppled and the contents performed the necessary cleaning, unless it missed. The arrangement, on top of the general hygiene level, most certainly encouraged a speedy evacuation of the facility.

  19. Paul C says:

    Morocco reminds me of a fine novel – The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Anyone read this ?

  20. admin says:

    Snowy – I wondered if Kenneth Williams mentioned me. We only worked together for a week, but it was a wonderful experience.

    Pal C – I always thought that in the book of ‘The Sheltering Sky’ Kit’s ‘freedom’ at the end was both a good and terrifying thing, but in Bertolucci’s hands it became indulgent soft porn. I like ‘Let It Come Down’ too.

  21. snowy says:

    Well there is only one way to find out, your ‘fides’ are certainly ‘bona’ enough to gain access.

    It’s only up the road, if you are tempted; write them a nice e-mail outlining the three points mentioned above and ask them how you can obtain access. They will explain the process, reader pass, book seat, book material etc.

    [Mostly online now apart from proof of ID in-person and visiting to see the physical material. The only extra might be if it is classified as a special collection, that might need a ‘Letter of Introduction’ but that is something your agent can furnish – or somebody else suitable.]

    Who knows? Might be fun, you might be able to wring a few blog posts out of the process, or you might even get a new quote for the book covers…..

    What people have said about Christopher Fowler

    “Taut Muscular”

    “Granite Chiselled”

    “Nice bit of rough”

    [If you are a bit hazy about the dates in question, give me a shout here and I’ll regress you.]

    *Exits… …..mysteriously*

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