30.05.2011 - 26.06.2011
I sit among a handful of lost souls -- types from the Sahel, a couple of Russians taking the cheapest route from Moscow to New York -- waiting in the no-longer/not-yet of seemingly interminable transit -- all of us al limine. But it gives me some time to write and post for a change.
Now that I already likely outnumber my audience, I thought it a good time to state the obvious: The project of keeping this blog as a more or less contemporaneous account of my travels has been a spectacular failure. But I count that failure as a good thing: The absence of the spare time and reliable connections necessary to maintain the blog is a sign of a success at the project of the trip itself. In a nutshell, experience overtook my ability to make a record on the fly.
If there was a single turning point, it was Jajouka – a tiny village on an unmarked dirt road in the foothills of the Rif mountains. Before then, I was, to be sure, having a fabulous time, from Marrakech to the High Atlas, the Cascades d'Ouzoud, Ait Bougoumez, the cedar-mantled Middle Atlas, Fes, Moulay Idriss. Many things to tell of this first phase, if there is world enough and time. But in Jajouka, time and space turned fluid. Three days (or so the calendar tells me) melted away. The sun did not cease rising and setting, but those movements became a matter of indifference. The drums; flutes; ratas; the joy, unflagging warmth, and energy of the old men of the green hills – all of this made impossible to be anywhere but in the moment . And there I stayed. From Jajouka forward, the trip became a roiling sea, churning a liquid kaleidoscope of sensations. I became a bouchon – a cork – bobbing along seemingly wherever the forces around took me, to self-inflicted trial and providential salvation, to jaw-dropping vistas and bike-dropping pistes, to splendid imperial cities and humble houses and tents, to burning plains and cool, beach-side shrines, until I wound down (sort of) in Essaouira. But I get ahead of myself.
I have decided to make this record more of a long-term project of reconstruction and interpretation than one of present sense impression. That said, I have done a good deal of contemporaneous writing, mostly incomplete and fragmentary, on whatever surface I could find: this netbook (not often), a little notepad and scraps of paper (more often). I will draw from these notes, supplemented with other types of aide-memoires: concert programs, tickets to monuments, receipts, cartes visite, scarves, fossils, a piece from a broken plate, tea glasses, pebbles from dry oueds and beaches, some now-dried lavender and chamomile plants, a chicken bone, a burnt guidebook with pages glued together by molten plastic (Lonely Planet found its highest and best use -- as a fire extinguisher!). These fragments I have shored against my ruin, as the Poet said. These will be -- must be -- my mnemonics, for as events unfolded with increasing pace and intensity, I wrote less and less. I will, I must make a record of all this, an honest one with every odd thought and pratfall on the way, heedless what it does or does not say about me as a person. It feels important, at least to me.
So I will write as one who knows how things turned out, as a novelist who has planned the ending. Spoiler alert: mirabile dictu, I have emerged unscathed physically (albeit wind-burnt and subnburnt, bitten and bruised) but forever changed spiritually (for want of a better word). No, I did not find God, in the sacred spaces I visited. But I believe I have touched what is sacred in the hearts of the men, women, and children I have had the privilege to meet, to break bread with, to take shelter with. I found what I was looking for without realizing what that was: Reasons not to give up on humanity. I've also had the good fortune to take in outstanding music in settings filled with beauty and joy (which was after all the plan, such as it was). I feel a better person for all this and wish to hold to this, my authentic self, as long as I can. Failing, as I must, to recreate the experience, I can at least hope to share some of the feeling of brotherhood and community I have felt on and off the road. It is, as Roberto Benigni's character in Down By Law said, A Sad and Beautiful World. It's been a privilege to feel a part of it again. Alors, hypocrite lecteur, mon semble, mon frère, if you care to read further, check back over the next couple of weeks.
But now, I must head to the toilet to take a sink shower, repack (properly this time, as my pre-dawn rush job was a catastrophe), and, most importantly, change out of the riding suit I have worn on throughout the day's travel by motorbike, pickup truck, and airplane. It’s time to come home.