by R L Tilley
It is a dream
here. An Islamic dream. It is the spectacle of
the parade of hooded and veiled Muslims on the
streets. Out there there are hustlers trying to
turn a dirham or two and there is the ever
present silent parade of the religious also.
There is decay, faded elegance, disease,
disability, and charm and poverty and sadness.
And there is much dignity and quite a lot of
the minaret the faithful are called to prayer.
walking in the Rue de Belgique, a clutch of
Moroccan schoolgirls precede me. My hat blows off.
A gust of wind. The traffic is hectic and a
policeman is directing it. My hat blows under a
taxi. The girls giggle. The driver thinks I want
to hire him. No? He pulls away. I walk to the
middle of the road. The policeman sees my hat and
halts the traffic. I recover my hat.
Mint tea at
the Cafe de Paris again.
the waiter greets.
there. He neither notices nor sees me. Still he
scribbles on pieces of paper excitedly. I am glad
he does not see me. Too hectic for the time of
I did not
elude Olivier. I am drinking a small beer - Flag
Speciale - Moroccan - Tangerine. The patronne and
two young women work the bar. In walks Olivier -
he has a plastic bag and he spreads its contents,
a cashmere djellaba, several pairs of shoes,
along the bar.
today, he says. I sell you the
djellaba, genuine cashmere, for one thousand
dirhams, he tells the patronne.
you one hundred, says the patronne.
you my arse, Olivier replies.
undressing there and then. Taking his trousers
ladies! the patronne protests.
thinks I know, knew, Samuel Beckett.
I tell him I
am going to Asilah today. He recommends a
restaurant there, a fish restaurant.
to Asilah with you, he says. We will
wont. I go with a friend, I tell him.
I finish my
beer and leave the bar.
patronne tells me he has told Olivier he must
behave or he will put him out.
the patronne, he tells me, is not the impromptu
showing of the arse but the spreading of the
shoes along the bar.
arrives and we drive to Asilah.
We drive out
of Tangier and up La Montaigne where the rich
live. Mohammed says he knew Paul Bowles. He says
he drove John Malkovich and Debra Winger when
Bertolucci was shooting The Sheltering Sky.
We drive past
the grand palaces of the King, Mohammed the VI,
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait - the gardens reach down to
the sea, the entrances are policed by armed
The road to
Asilah. Dromedaries are herded along otherwise
deserted sandy beaches. The rains have flooded
the fields. We drive through a herd of goats,
carefully. A chicken is loose on the road.
Mohammed signals its owner, a peasant by the
roadside. The landscape is biblical.
people have no running water, Mohammed
tells me. They draw their water from wells.
Women in the
large wicker hats of the country sell rough
ceramic pottery, bunches of mint and coriander
and buttermilk at the roadside.
I notice that
there are tents by the roadside. I ask Mohammed
on the road, he says. A highway is
being built from Casablanca to Tangier. Asilah to
Tangier will be the last leg to be completed. The
workers on the road sleep in tents. No matter how
poor Morocco is, none shall starve, none shall
I notice he
frequently gives alms, as prescribed by his
It comes on to
rain and we stop at a roadside restaurant. A fish
restaurant. We are its only customers this
afternoon. We drink mint tea and talk about our
lives and loves.
in Briech, Mohammed tells me.
I go to the
lavatory which is a crouch hole.
We drive on.
Asilah in the
bite is troubling me. Mohammed sees me scratching.
He pulls over.
moment, he says, getting out of the car.
with a tube of antiseptic cream he has purchased
from a pharmacy. Applies it to the bite. He is my
sixteenth century rampart built by the
Portuguese, the winding streets of the
Medina. The English enclave. The town is elegant,
charming. Whitewashed walls, pastel shades.
Flowers bloom in pots outside the houses. The
smell of kif drifts in the wind. We walk out on a
jetty. Boys and girls sit there, together, in
love. A vista of the town in rain and wind.
outside of a cafe drinking coffee the smell of
kif is intense. I remark on it to Mohammed. He
points. A young Moroccan at an adjacent table
me to a bakery. It is mediaeval. The people of
the town bring their bread mix. A young man
stands in a pit with a large wooden spatula. He
feeds the mixtures into a kiln and bakes the
loaves. Mohammed gives him a dirham or two.
him happy, he says.
to show me the sunset. He cannot. Rain pours from
a leaden sky.
We drive back
Mohammed, I say, shaking hands with him.
I go to the
Moroccan restaurant for dinner. Harira, lamb
brochettes, rice, mint tea. No belly dancer this
I tell the
patronne that I have been to Asilah.
should go in the morning, he says. Eat
fish for lunch. Fresh from the Atlantic.
He purses his
lips. Kisses a forefinger.
R L Tilley 2007