A Travellerspoint blog

The Long Road Home

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.

Posted by phostak 16:03 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Catching Up

Café Clock, Fès, 7 June, 2011

No, the radio silence does not mean that I fell off a cliff (although I did fall down once, about which more later) or otherwise come to harm. The pace of my activity -- and the complete absence of internet access in the mountains -- have made it impossible to update the blog until now. I have, however, been writing, and so will be able to dump a passel of posts while I'm here. In brief, from Marrakech, I went into and out of the High Atlas (a couple of times) and then made my to Fès via the cedar-forested Middle Atlas. The (much) longer version will follow in torrent of loghorrea, starting with my last day in Marrakech and catching up from there.

As for now, I am determined to take it a bit easy today, having been in headless-chicken mode for days. I sit in what I think is the hippest space in Fès, Café Clock, having just finished a great plate of ouefs berberes -- a soupy mess of eggs,tomatoes, onions, cilantro and a load of spices. The joint is named after the ancient water clock (the Dar al-Magana) on the Talaa Kebira just outside the alley in which the café is nestled away. The clock consists of 13 stone and carved-plaster windows with carved wooden beams above and below them. When the clock was operative, I am told, the hours were marked by water flowing into and out of brass bowls that sat on the beams. There is a restoration effort in the works, but it's unclear if anyone knows the precise mechanism by which the clock operated.

The cafe is the project of a former London restauranteur, Mike Richardson, who conceived the place (I think, with great success) to serve as a cultural meeting point, with great art, live music, lovely people, and, incidentally, terrific food and coffee. A fine place to see how long the computer's battery lasts.

More soon. Much has been packed into a few days.

Posted by phostak 02:28 Archived in Morocco Tagged fes hipster-hell Comments (0)

Marrakech - Dar Tchaikana

Arrival, a word or two about the title, and the plan (such as it is)

semi-overcast 21 °C

Well, I made it. Spent the 26th to the 28th in Portland, made it back to DC in time for the U.S. installment of Ben and Eloise's nuptials (congratulations, you crazy kids you!), and, notwithstanding the Pisco-drenched reception, preserved enough brain cells to pack the next day and make my flights (NY-Casablanca-Marrakech). Currently relaxing in the verdant courtyard of Dar Tchaikana, my home for the next couple of days, drinking mint tea, watching the birds chasing each other through the orange and kaffir lime trees, and generally purging the last 96 hours of stress and seemingly endless plane trips.

Tchaikana is a small guest house buried deep in the medina, named after the inns in Persia and Afghanistan where tea is habitually consumed. It's a traditional Moroccan house, restored in a tastefully minimalist way. Behind these walls you can't hear even a distant whisper of the crazed hubub just a few dozen meters away. A few pictures will follow, inchallah.

A word or two is in order concerning the title of the blog and the general concept and plan. The only things giving much of any structure to this trip are music festivals--namely, the World Festival of Sacred Music, which runs for over a week throughout the old city of Fes and, toward the end of the month, the Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira, a celebration of the musical and spiritual tradition of the Gnaoua, a Sufi brotherhood with its roots in West Africa. Apart from those two fixed points, I will also be heading to Joujouka, a tiny village in the Rif with a centuries- or perhaps millenia-old musical tradition, to hang with the village's Master Musicians, once referred to by Timothy Leary as a "4,000-year-old rock-n-roll band." Apart from that, I will just be riding a motorbike around the country. The title, then, is simply a riff on the concept of a most atheistic (or, perhaps, pagan) traveler going to great lengths to experience spiritual music and ritual in especially sacral spaces. More on this anon, perhaps, but now it's time to wash up and plunge into the city for a while.

Posted by phostak 05:05 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

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