Monday, April 7, 2008

Reading Matter: Books you might enjoy

First a few random picures.........

Yellow fabric and orange yarn drying in the dyers' souk.

Snake charmers early in the morning - waiting for the crowds to appear in the square.

A little garden by the bus stop in Gueliz has been over-watered - but is beautifully green.

Sitting on the wall by the post office, passing the time of day.
Telling stories perhaps?

People sometimes ask me about books to read about Morocco, so here is a version of an article I wrote for a publication in Marrakech.
There are lots of other books , but these are ones I particularly enjoyed.
Peter Mayne’s “A Year in Marrakech” (Eland Press) is the best introduction to life in Marrakech - even though it was written fifty years ago.
Mayne introduces vivid and amusingly described characters and revels in their quirks and foibles.
Among them:
the caleche driver who insists that Peter wants the roof up when he would much prefer to see the view as he is driven towards the medina from the station.
Haroon the dwarf, not in the least put out by his short stature; he thinks his height gives him an advantage - he can easily bite people’s kneecaps.
Abdeslem wants to wear Peter’s tie for a party and uses the most round about means to achieve his aim.
We often - as in most days - sit at Cafe de France, in the north east corner of the Place Djemma elFna, where Peter Mayne sat trying to write his novel - amidst many distractions. A good place to drink mint tea and watch the world, caleches and donkey carts pass by.
In Mayne’s day there weren’t any mopeds(luckily), the streets were unpaved and water had to be collected from a communal tap. His accommodations were pretty primitive though he does visit the exquisite hotel Mamounia - now sadly closed for extensive refurbishment.
An acute observer, Mayne presents a view of people he doesn’t quite understand. But, like Cafe de France, there is much the contemporary reader will recognize. The Marakshi character hasn't changed much at all.
Many of the people and places Mayne describes seem to have sprung directly from the pages of “A Thousand and One Nights” ( Penguin Classics) a compendium of scheming viziers, astoundingly beautiful women, impoverished shoe makers, and amazing holes in the ground leading to untold treasure........
The sorcerer in “Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp” came from Morocco. He was “ deeply versed in astrology, and could by the power of his magic, uproot a high mountain and hurl it against another”. Obviously a pretty powerful fellow! Though many of the tales are set in Baghdad and Cairo, the world of wonders, - of genii and hair breath escapes - are retold nightly in Place Djemma Elfna to rapt audiences; even if you can’t understand the words you are sure to get a glimpse of the enchantment of the miraculous, scurrilous, and amazing. Those with a ribald sense of humor will enjoy “The Historic Fart” where an unfortunate merchant “was so mortified and filled with shame he wished the ground would open up and swallow him”.
Those of you tempted to buy an enticing, dilapidated Moroccan riad to restore will relish “The Caliph’s House” Tahir Shah’s amusing and sometimes alarming account of his renovation of a huge, haunted house in Casablanca.
As you read, you alternately feel glad that all the various disasters that befall him - including plagues of locusts,bees, giant mosquitos, and workmen falling through glass roofs - didn’t happen to you, while half wishing you had the guts to undertake something so quixotic and wonderful. In the tradition of both Peter Mayne and the writers of The Arabian Nights, Shah delights in the mischievous, puzzling and sometimes maddening characters he encounters. Believe me , after living in Morocco for three years and doing only rather small renovations/restorations, on the whole it's less hair-raising to read about than actually do. Shah is a wonderful story -teller.
Through the years Morocco has attracted large numbers of European and American writers the best known of whom is probably Paul Bowles. His most famous work, “The Sheltering Sky”, though set in Algeria, reveals both the attractions and the dangers of North Africa, a landscape and society quite ‘other’ than the west. It is beautifully written - sharply evocative of the sounds, smells and sights of North Africa. However it is a dark and rather unsettling read whose three main characters - Port a narcissistic dilettante, Kit his equally drifting wife and their companion Tunner, have little to endear them to the reader. That two of them meet horrible fates is not much of a surprise.
Another very wonderful book - but hard to get hold of - is “Women of Marrakech” by Leonora Peets, a Lithuanian doctor’s wife who lived in Marrakech between 1929 and 1970. A really fascinating glimpse into the very cloistered world of Marrakshi women. Some rather spooky stories here too.
Go to Joan's comment below for more suggestions!


Annie said...

Thanks for that. I have wanted to come and visit ever since I became a fan of Paul Bowles :-).
Thanks for the photos too!

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks for the book list. I will have to look for a few of these. Morocco seems like such a romantic place to me.

Anonymous said...

In English there is also the book by Walter Harris (I think that's the name, published by Eland, same publisher as P. Mayne's book) called Morocco as it was (or vaguely like that) - sorry I can't be bothered to look for my copy to check.... I think I must have about 500 books on/about/set in Morocco or by Moroccan authors, but most of them are in French.
At the moment my favourite Moroccan writers are the (late great) Driss Chraibi and the new young authors Mohamed Nedali and Abdellah Taia ... In English there is also a book by Elizabeth Fernea Warnock, an anthropologist who spent some time in Marrakech in about the 60s or 70s and wrote a book called A Street in Marrakech (a blog before the blogs!!). Sorry about the rambling and vagueness... I must catalogue my books!!!!

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

As a librarian I salute you! I'm such a fan of reading books set in the location to which I am traveling. Thank you for giving such great suggestions!
The only thing I would add is to be sure to read the blog "The House in Marrakesh" too.

Jeannie said...

Another book by Tahir Shah is called, "In Arabian Nights" which Mr. Shah talks about story tellers in Morocco. This too is a good book to read on Morocco

downunderdale said...

Yes - Peter Mayne's book was fantastic I found and easy to imagine he was there when we were - Dale

Eamon said...

Have you read the Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho)? About a shepherd boy who crosses from Tarifa (most southerly point of Spain) to Northern Africa). About following dreams.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

All of these photos are touched by the incredible atmosphere of the feels warm and bright just looking at them. How happy it must be to wake up every day to bright sunshine! Your post looks interesting and I have printed off to read it through on my lunch hour.

Lynne said...

anothe excellent book of Bowles' is The Spider's House and all of his short stories about Morocco also!

Sara said...

Thanks for the reading recommendations! I shall be on the lookout for these, they all sound interesting to me, but particularly Shah's and the one about the women by Peets.

So, we have Peter Mayne, Peter Mayle, and Frances interesting similarity of last names, and all of them writing similar sorts of books!