I travelled to Morocco after twelve years again. Dozen international writers gathered in Fez and Casablanca to have a love affair with polis, writing and discussing about and beyond the cities of Tokyo, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Sejne and Bratislava, among others.
One of our hosts was this shy and friendly millionaire. After delicious lunch in his huge hotel, he ran his finger along the design of the dazzling mosaics. Then he served the traditional Moroccan mint tea and his friend Faouzi Skali, writer and scholar, talked about Soufi culture and the unique Fes Soufi Festival. The intimate lodge is a temple of marble, carved cedar wood, chiselled plaster, calligraphic inscriptions – and some Kartell chairs.
Eliot Weinberger from New York City, writer, editor and translator (Jorge L. Borges, Octavio Paz, Bei Dao) with the fez, the cap of scholars. His Jewish father from Bosnia used to have the similar one, before leaving for USA in 1912. Eliot is very smart, but also down to earth, which is not always the case among the people of his reputation. We had a nice conversation about Vítězslav Nezval, the Czech modernist. Eliot loves, as do I, Nezvals collection of poems Abeceda, designed by Karel Teige. Eliot’s essay What I heard about Iraq is a must read. Also recommended: notes on Susan Sontag.
Moroccans have a sweet tooth. Berbers attribute sugar special power from birth to death.
The consequence of the above: The Moroccan dental hygiene.
The car-free, donkey-full ancient medina in Fez: nine thousand streets without names and one million residents. This place was made for walking. It is an “enchanted labyrinth sheltered from time,” wrote my beloved writer Paul Bowles (who lived in Tangier). I saw many balancing bouquets of chickens‘ legs — hair and all — bundled up for sale. A peacock, anyone?
The poverty in Morocco is heartbreaking. One man even asked me for my old sneakers. Not just the people, but also kittens are often starving in Fez. But they remain overabundant and adorable. Household animals, particularly dogs, are considered taboo in Islam because they are said to be unclean.
Most internet cafés in Morocco have Arabic keyboards only. The therapy for all Facebook addicts.
The inhabitants of Fez believe on the narrow streets you can more easily touch the saint by accident. This on is the narrowest of all in the souk. Two more houses are supposed to be at the end. No one dared to go for the testimony.
The storks build their nests on the remaining Romans columns of Volubilis. Couple of weeks later they depart for middle Europe for summer. Two thousand years ago this was the most remote outpost of the Roman Empire. On the other side of the world they got as far as to Trenčín. Archaeological excavation is to be continued.
Sefrou had for centuries a vibrant Jewish community. In 1970s nearly all of Jewish population subsequently emigrated to USA, Israel and beyond. Only a lone cemetery and a synagogue endure in the town.
“Please, can you tell us some details on why they all left?” I asked Momo, our local guide.
“You know – the idea of the promised land…” he said and quickly changed the topic. The abandoned school next to the synagogue is one of the saddest places on Earth. “Have a good look. This is the future of books,” Mr. Weinberger said.
Moulay Idriss, smalltown near Meknes, is named after Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, the direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad. For centuries it is a place for pilgrimage for poor and sick, just as Mecca is for rich and healthy mostly. Five times Moulay Idriss equals once Mecca. Entry to the tomb forbidden for non-Muslim, of course – the French invention, by the way…
I am far from being photogenic on my first day in Fez under the strong North African sun and the sheltering sky. “The city aboundeth in all manner of provision fit for man or beast,” wrote the Scottish traveller William Lithgow in the early 1600s.
Paradise is said to have eight doors in the Koran.
Thanks to all who made this possible. Shukran. Ďakujem.