31st Dec 2007 … The dogs must have eaten something unsavoury during their beach run. Ulla worries. Ali is unwell, though recovers during the afternoon. After fresh prepared fish meal for lunch, I consult the I Ging. It’s tempting to veer decades back into the past, a time I consulted the oracle daily during my solo trips through Italy in my VW Bus. Such free strands of associations would easily make a novel of this report.
Anyway, the I Ging brings up ‘determination. What the heck for?’ Not having to make decisions is a fascinating experience for me, if slightly unsettling. I reckon Ulla’s moods slow my futile attempt at reducing ruminating thoughts, like I puzzle over how frequently she marks events in a negative frame. ‘I knew it was going to be a bad day,’ that sort. I made the decision (ha ha, I made a decision after all) to trust in her powerful guardian angel. The sharp way she sums up the occasional unpleasant person we meet, I fully admit, creates an instant emotional clearance, which I like, as long as an analysis of my congruence follows. I was born that way, and too easily succumbed to my mother tabooing cuss words from my vocabulary. Further, with vital exception in cases of injustice, or when pushed too far by idiots, which sparks pure anger in me, I tend to neutralise my attitude when negative reactions towards people perk up. That is to say I trained myself stepping into other people’s shoes, even when they pinch. I fully own the torture of this tricky ideology. I’d not recommend the style. Phew, that was a droll effort at self-observation.
1st January 2008 … Last night was a non-event, though a hilarious late TV show diverted me away from sulking. We wait ages for a camel dish. I’m unsure about eating the mutton of such useful and loyal creatures. The dish tastes fine, but scenes I witnessed of how animals are treated before slaughter always trouble me. Just then Ulla storms off in disgust as a truck with cramped chicken cages arrives at the restaurant. She eventually returns. Our waiter friend packs up the content of her plate for us to take along. On way back to Bou Jerif we almost turn around when another troupe of four-wheel drivers showers us with clouds of dust. Short of time, we call the fort and order a tent for me. All turns out well. I get a tower room for the price of a tent. And the manic French group leaves shortly, for whatever reason.
2nd to 3d January 2008 … After a walk following a parched river bed with patches of blooming desert, we return to an Oasis below Bou Jerif. Later Ulla takes the van to the fort to recharge batteries, while I have a hot shower, and read. Tomorrow we’ll head up the Atlantic coast.
4th – 5th January … We get meat for the dogs in Goulimine and drive on to Sidni Ifni for a late lunch at Suerto Lorca. My choice is octopus. I’ve run out of colour film and have been using a spare black and white film for a while. We plan to shop in Tiznit. I access my email to check whether Julio has answered my query re: a room at his Marrakech Riad, Dar Pangal for the day before my flight back to London. No luck so far. Off to Tiznit. After I rent a room for the night, we have lunch and go shopping. Ulla strikes a bargain for a beautiful hand-embroidered Kaftan, intended for cushions. She frowns when the trader asks her to smile. A deal that is not sealed with smiles seems to signal disapproval here. The trader relents, is forgiving, ‘Inshallah.’
Near Agadir we stop for the night at a place called Paradise de Nomade. I’m impressed by the fresh sheets in my Berber tent. And the massive boulders in the dry riverbed nearby are an epic sight. Unfortunately the night turns noisy from 11:30 pm onwards. Four wheel drivers arrive, dogs bark, music, jolly talking … until 3 am.
Next morning we hear the sudden influx was due to a desert rally being called off at short notice, because four French tourists were murdered in Mauretania. The locals, it was said, asked the party for some money and were refused, so they killed them. Sadly, past political grievances, lack of deep listening, arrogance, and the refusal of dialogue can have terrible consequences. Morocco has a complex history and a hard won independence.
6th Jan … Images along the road to Essaouira, and some reflective thoughts … As the light, colours, food, scents, the warmth and hospitality of ordinary people in Morocco grow on me, I ponder on how outer impressions oscillate with my inner pilgrimage. Sound plays a powerful role in stirring the unconscious. The tunes I hum unawares, I realise, include folk themes, lyrics from German romantic poets set to music by Schubert, even Kurt Weil songs; melancholic echoes from childhood and teen days. Yet even then I probed the meaning of home, of belonging. Being a stranger seemed more exciting. There is a kind of accord with other strangers around the world, due to a gap in narratives, demanding keen attention, shaking up perceptions and allowing for the unfamiliar to astonish.
On this stretch of road, the predominant sound, whenever Ulla stops the engine, is the rhythmic surf of the Atlantic, Sea of the Atlas, into which many rivers flow, and which, through a narrow strait, connects to my beloved Mediterranean. The high and low tides of this expansive body of salt water, dividing Europe from North America, and Africa from South America, make up the drone to dreams criss-crossing cultures from East to West, with ancient legends adding a shimmer to images that present themselves each day. To these inter penetrating worlds a constant wind adds turbulence, creative chaos.
Approaching Essaouira, we’re both a bit tense. Neither of us slept well at Paradis de Nomade. We search a hotel for me, after Ulla missed the earmarked camping place. She has the beach in mind, to give Ali and Leila their deserved run. Her stress and impatience adding to mine, I accept a hotel at the outskirts of Essaouira. The receptionist makes to pretence about relishing my embarrassment when I mistake E120 for 120 Dirham. A shock, considering my dwindling finances, but I can’t just walk out and sit on the curb. Overcoming the inner struggle, I decide to switch attitude, enjoy a hot shower and have sublimely quiet night.
7th of Jan 2008 … I find my kind of place, affordable and relaxed, in the Medina of Essaouira. At Hotel Souiri my inner harmony is restored. Ulla and I meet at 2 pm for a meal of irresistible fresh-smoked sardines at the harbour. The dogs enjoy a walk along the fortress walls, but are less pleased when we trundle through narrow streets in search for bargains. We both find items after appropriate spans of haggling. I buy a carpet runner to cheer up my kitchen at home. The labyrinth Medina has a lively and friendly atmosphere, and a well sustained patina of hippy charm, inviting a longer stay, but not this time, since I must catch a plane in two days.
Ulla offers to drive me to Marrakech. In hindsight, I should’ve made the decision to refuse and organised a bus. Marrakech does not welcome dogs, which traditionalists consider unclean in Morocco. We were rejected at the outside table of a restaurant at central market place, Jemaa el-Fnaa, even while sitting on the fringe, because our lovely friends, Ali and Leila were unwelcome. It was a sad downer.
In all, the journey reminded how moving to England in 1978 marked a departure from my crazy life in Germany, with all its professional successes and private failures, opening another crazy section of my life, with equal successes and failures, coinciding with a change of my name. The bridge I crossed then, offered a deep learning, and it allowed me eventually, through another language, to find my way back to writing. But that’s a story in itself.
My friend and travel companion, I must add, while inclined to retreat into her shell, is to my heart an iridescent pearl. I’m grateful she suggested the pilgrimage, and thank her for her companionship during these remarkable weeks.
Note: Please ignore grammar quirks in this spontaneous sharing. Thanks .Also, the underlined blue words in this text open safe links to Wikipedia, and bring up a separate screen.
Blessings for 2021. Wishing you, us, a better year ahead, one that makes pilgrimages possible again.