Monday, January 23, 2017

Book 1:11 Marrakesh 2

When you come to the city, don’t enter the gate....

Jemaa el Fnaa
 image by Sam Rogers on Flickr

A few weeks passed beautifully exploring Marrakesh, sorbing the Moroccan culture, the colors, the patterns. Taking in this gateway to Africa and the diversity of people of so many colors, races & costume. The first week we spent most nights roaming the Jemaa el Fna  and mornings on the rooftop cafe where we met interesting travellers, often with tales to tell about the way ahead to the south. Dakar, Timbuktu, Tam Tam...the names of places once almost mythical, now so temptingly within our reach. The middle of the days we just chilled in our room, relaxing, all the time planning our trip down the Atlantic coast to the west. 

I felt loved, cherished, appreciated.  Tom seemed to be the ideal travelling companion and nothing happened to give me any second thoughts about going alone into a remote place with him.  My mind was far from my brutal husband, but the memories of my baby tortured me all the time, giving Tom a lot of reasons to comfort me more and more in the way he knew best.  Although he wasn’t always as nice as he could have been. His teasing was often too much for me, but then how could he have known the hell of torment and betrayal an abused wife, who has had to leave her precious baby to that abuser, goes through. I got through the walls of grief and pain in meditation, writing, playing music and yogic dancing. OK, I didn't get through, but that's how I dispersed the energy, turning the thoughts from negative to positive where I could.

Green memories of the sun merge into evening’s mauve veil.
Suffering the reality of your absence
the empty hollow of my shoulder
moulds again her small warm head
and in my shame your angry eyes keep me insane
Georgy Porgy rubs salt into the wound, laughing
Clever clever Georgy Porgy

But Tom too was growing.  He had had a few of his “Son of God” raves printed up and with all the tunnel vision delusion of the iconoclastic drug guru was now certain he was the coming Avatar.   

God's Eyes
He handed his raves out when he sold the God’s Eyes in the markets.  He became an “event’, part of the nightly circus in the Jemaa el Fna.  I’d often have to elbow my way in to get to him through the crowds he attracted.   He had to spread The Word about Love, Peace, Beauty and the Magical Kingdom of the Insighted Vision.  And how the Native American Indian Church embraced all cultures in Truth.  We had both become very spiritual, determinedly remaking ourselves.  We wanted the world to be a good place, not the war-ridden, destructive hell of lies and deception we found at all levels.  Deluded idealistic fools that we then were, we wanted Heaven on Earth, Utopia, Nirvana, Shambhala and the rest of the dreams of the dreamers that encapsulate the need to find a better reality, or escape this, since the cultures started giving us back our reflections, showing us our overview as a species.  We decided if it was to be, then it must come from within us and began that immense struggle of the mind, the soul, the spirit, to conquer the evil within in order to be the good manifest in the external world.

Above all I wanted enlightenment; I wanted to understand the nature of existence, who we are, where we came from, where we are going.  I didn’t, and don’t, believe in the God the Father myth, the friend upstairs, and Tom still did.  It was part of his whole scenario, in which he was the Christ I guess.
I understood both of us were reacting to the full 60’s revolutionary political climate as conservative forces tried to quell the free thinkers, of women seeking freedom from male oppression, of the Vietnam War, and to our own lives having “gone wrong”.  He had lost his mother and left home and been alone, unloved, and I had left a husband who thought love was some sort of slavery by females to males and if they didn’t “behave”, then you show them who is boss with the law of the fist.  (Somehow the fact that he was the misbehaving negative role model had escaped him). Tom and I had found love in each other in our joined wish for peace and non-violence, of the woman and the man as complimentary parts of the whole, the Yin and the Yang, always moving in interplay. We wanted to spread it around to those others who had seen the light, sensed the way or who wanted out from the hell.  There were plenty of eager takers of all nationalities ready to listen.

Looking back I think now he saw our proposed donkey walk as his "40 days in the wildness", removing himself from society to allow a certain introspection. Reculer pour mieux sauter

In the darkening twilight of our room, I would sit on the bed listening to the deafening evening call to prayer from the minaret next door booming out over all around, absorbing the intensity of it.  Normally I would have hated such a racket, but somehow, there, it was wonderful to me.  Even today I enjoy hearing the wailing  Allah akbar allah allah illah allah and the memories of so many wanderings in Muslim lands come flooding back.  That call to holiness, lifting the believers’ minds from the daily grind to a higher spiritual plane. The reinforcement of a mass brain washing.

The courtyard of the house with its’ fountain provided a communal gathering place for the occupants of the house and visitors.  There we did our cooking and washing and sat around sharing experiences while these domestic mundanities were attended to, waiting for water to boil, or someone to finish with the bathroom facilities.  The Danish women had a lot of friends and were always bringing new people in to meet us all.

One afternoon I returned to the riad to find an itinerant musician sitting playing a primitive stringed instrument, a guimbri; it seemed to be no more than a shoebox with a broom handle stuck in it with three catgut strings.  But the sounds he produced from this were magical.  I was intrigued. Then he played it for us and sang an ancient traditional, yet universal, folk song.

The great mendicant musician Omar Arafa 
with his guimbri

When you come to the city, don’t enter the gate.
If you enter the gate, don’t drink the water.
If you drink the water, don’t talk to the people.
If you talk to the people, don’t accept an invitation to a house.
If you accept an invitation, don’t stay the night.
If you stay the night, don’t stay a week.
If you stay a week, don’t ask the daughter to marry you.
If you marry, don’t have children.
If you have children, don’t have grandchildren.
If you get old there, don’t die there,
If you come to the city, don’t enter the gate”.

I sat contemplating the message, having made the man a cup of tea meanwhile.   While he drank I smiled at him, vibing.  He was ancient, wearing faded patched robes, leaning back on a cushion made of a carpet rolled around his belongings.  In my twisted crazy mind I felt he was some angel messenger from the psychic otherworld.  With a message from the Gods, for me. He turned and brought out another instrument, a scaled down version of his guimbri,  from his carpet roll and handed it to me. He said was a lotar It was even more rudimentary, with only one string. I plucked it, surprised to find it come alive in my hands.  I sat playing it, coaxing music from its slow rather dull string and eventually started singing a song I had been turning over in my mind over the past weeks.

  Drifting down the river, rising high on the tide, floating gently downstream on the mainstream of the river, on the river of my dreams”.

It suited the instrument’s basic sounds, a simple song.  He picked up my rhythms and played along with me, although I was more just the bass and he the melody.  Meanwhile Tom had fetched down his drums and our flutes and we passed an hour or so making improvised music until the light faded and the sahn became busy with others and their evening chores around us.

Wordlessly the old man thanked me for the tea and gathering his bags together, rose to leave.  I offered to buy the lotar and he was happy to part with it for a small amount of cash.  I took my prize up to our room.  It was my first "ethnic" stringed instrument.  A child could have made it.  But to me it was the beginning of a musical voyage of discovery which found its’ blessed isles when I began playing a sitar in Benares and beyond, in India.

I began to have problems with my periods.  Sporadic bleeding.  I didn’t have a proper period, just burst of blood in irregular spasmic events.  One morning after an unexpected early morning flood, I came down to wash my panties out at the communal washstand in the courtyard, feeling out of sorts and very self-conscious.  Strange how periods make a woman feel secretive.  You always try to conceal the evidence, like an animal will consume the umbilical cord after birth, so I would clean up every trace of blood and make sure no-one saw me in the act.  Why I never fathomed. We all have ‘em, so what’s the shame, the cringe?

Bia and two of her beautiful Danish friends were squatting behind me across the courtyard, stoned stupid, laughing and sniggering in Danish, behaving like silly girls. I couldn’t understand a word, but I just smiled and covering my activities with my back, went about washing the blood out of my little white panties.  I felt quite “queer”, very paranoid, very psycho.  I felt as if they were entering my mind, reading it, controlling my thoughts.  The blood revolted me and my thoughts were negative.  My baby - would the brute harm her - I felt lost, stretched with period tensions, uncomfortable, down.  Needing to curl up and cocoon in our quiet little nest. I finished washing the pants and heard Bia say “put it UP” and I found my hand take the wrung-out panties, as if on the command, and put them up on a pipe above the washstand as I bent to wash my face.

The cold water jerked me into conscious awareness. I straightened up and looked at the now clean pants as if they had the meaning of life in them. Blood, blood. I was shedding all my hunched defences, my fear, the nonsense that had been going on inside me, released. 

Put it UP!”  I parroted, standing up to face the women, who had transformed back from the three alien superwitches of the psycho phantasmagoria of my tortured mind and now were just three giggling girls.  They looked a bit stunned.
I laughed and said it again and they laughed too. Yes, put it UP, I thought as I took myself back up to the room.  Put it UP.  High.  Elevate thoughts, don’t let low thinking interfere with the higher self in its’ search for Truth.  I must be objective if I was to overcome this subjective lower self.  I wanted to be high, to be free of the load of care and woe.  High was joy and bliss.  High allows me to see far and wide.  High was the key.  To get high I had to put it up.  My whole being embraced the Danish women in a rush of intense love and gratitude for having shown me my way forward.  Put it UP” became a joke greeting every time we met after that.

Later, as I sat in this state of inner revelation on my bed looking up at the high snow-covered Atlas in the distance through the filigree window, I thought: “I don’t think they said it at all”.  I reasoned that I had invented it in my own mind, a sort of resonance on their Danish patter that transformed into some kind of message I needed at that time to rescue myself from madness.    I was going psychotic.  I kept hearing a strange “click” noise in my head. The stress of being separated from my baby, my period, the drugs, the strangeness of it all in this strange land.  So far from anyone or anything familiar. Mad Tom my only link to a world I once knew.  Got to get a grip. Got to get a grip.”  I saw I had been locked in subjective inner reflections and had come out into objectivity.  It was a major coming to awareness of my workings and I held on to it like a lifebuoy whenever I felt engulfed by the mad episodes which consumed me again and again.  Objectivity was external reality and clarity, subjectivity was my inner world, turmoil, confusion. My task was to bring both into harmony. I realized my talk with the man who wrote The Divided Self had been my saving. The reactive psychosis of the battered wife syndrome.  Unrecognized then, but clearly seen now.  How many blamed and shamed women have succumbed to that madness and been categorized as unfit mothers by their aggressors crowing their victory as a defense for the droight de seigneur of the brutal husband.  Pushed over the edge and then blamed for being in that unfit state by the very one who did that to them.  Cute move eh !

Tom was still asleep.  He had a message, I thought, but he didn’t have the method of achieving the desired result.  His holy man trip was amusing and people liked to deride him but his comeback usually had them off skulking and biting their tongue in mortification, it rang the bell of their truth and opened their eyes to themselves and the nature of human compassion and togetherness.   The main thing was he inspired otherwise disempowered people to enjoy life and try to improve it, and of that I naturally approved.   Who wouldn’t!   Empowerment of the underdog is part of the democratic process.   We were both born of free democracies with a tradition of personal enterprise, so one thing we both agreed on was the right to personal freedom of ideas, speech, and lifestyle.   In Morocco that was tantamount to heresy for some. Of course now democracy has been revealed to be as open to corruption as any “system”, but then, in our naivety, we were believers.

But how were we to turn the tide of human self-destruction?  What was the recipe to save us from ourselves?  How do I, you, we, open the minds to truth and love and stop the brutality ? 

I felt I had found a starting point.  By elevating my own thoughts, not thinking bad thoughts about others, trying to be a better person, not lying, to myself or others, that would be my own personal start.  By being a “good” person I could change the world, I thought, I could create a world of goodness around me, into which no dark horrors could penetrate.  Ah yes, so naive I was then, so innocent.  But I was alone, despite my crazy companion/lover.  Alone and adrift in an empty alien world.  This revelation came into my sad, dark mind as if it had suddenly been flooded with light.  An awakening from a bad dream.  The force of it seemed so correct, so very “right”, undeniable, irresistible and it felt like falling in love, its’ warmth permeating every cell of my body with a nourishment I had never before experienced, a cosmic bliss. 

I found myself in meditation, sitting in lotus position on a cushion on the floor. I stayed there quietly allowing my mind to assimilate this experience, my first real enlightening experience, a coming to a higher awareness.  I felt blessed and accepted as a true aspirant of “The Way”.  From now on I would be defended by this aura, this shield of inner light.  Or so I thought, then, in the warmth of my new inner fire.

After this experience “turning on” had a different meaning to me.  Every time I smoked kif my mind automatically went into a mode of higher thinking.  All the small talk became like housekeeping, you did it to maintain the vessel on its’ journey, but in a Zen state of “work in no mind, no mind in work”. The real function of this mind had to be kept clear and high, away from the little time-consuming impedimenta of the mundane world.  The captain of my ship delegated responsibility to the crew in order to not be diverted from the captain’s job.  I was in control (the captain) but I was multi-faceted, polyschizoid (the crew).  When I wasn’t under the influence of the THC I kept myself as high as I could, meditating, sightseeing. But the stress of my personal problems made it hard, and I found myself locked in depression and distress, not enjoying the extraordinary life I found all around me. So I began to stay stoned on a full-time basis.  That, I now see, is the danger of this drug.  It provides you with a lalaland mindstate in which you can be happy, but the real problems of life slip past, compounding errors which should have been rectified, like leaving my daughter with a brutal husband.  But it was done, and I was an innocent, schizophrenic, a distressed abused woman entrapped by the philosophy of seeking and finding salvation. Turning away from pain and horror, seeking beauty, love, light, and peace in the only way I knew how.   Like so many like me who have reacted to the violent awakening from the beautiful dream and found the cruel despicable side of human nature the hard way.

Late one afternoon I was sitting in the rooftop café drawing, watching the people gathering for the evening craziness in the Jemaa el Fna below when someone touched my shoulder. Turning, I was amazed to be looking at myself!  A young woman so much like me in every respect I was completely stunned.  Speaking in a low vibrant accented English she said she was curious as to what I was drawing. When I recovered enough I introduced myself as Ayesha, as I now used that name all the time, and asked if she was aware how alike we were – mirror image twins! Altho now she was sitting across from me I could see some differences.  But the overall effect was still my first impression.
Talitha Getty with Paul 
courtesy Vogue Magazine

She said her name was Talitha and felt she had to meet me as she had been quite amazed to see her doppelganger. She said she was with some friends and indicated a larger table of about seven Western hippies, most of whom were wearing variations of Indian/Arabic/hippy drag and all so cool man. Talitha herself was a vision in a glorious saffron sparkling caftan with a red and white embroidered light burnoose thrown back off her shoulders.  Her lively eyes were heavily kohled eyes and her busy expressive hands were hennaed with a wrist to finger design. Each finger had a gold ring set with amber stones on it. This was a grand hippy of the rich international set, everything about her said style, glamor, money. I may have looked similar to her superficially, but when it came to “compare the pair” I was hand-spun cottage kitty to her palace panther. She murmured that she would love to get to know me and asked me to come to her house later tonight as she was having a soiree, as she put it, pressing a card with the address into my hand and squeezing it, radiating a genuine friendly warmth and irresistible charm. “There will be many people there, so bring friends if you like, and instruments if you like to play music.” And as quickly as she’d blown in she was up and off in a haze of sandalwood. I looked at the card. It said: “The Pleasure Palace”.

This was a large riad in the grand palace style. Latticed screens of intricate inlay divided the rooms with the patterns repeated on the high-domed ceilings.  A gentle warm breeze lifted the thirty-foot high white silk curtains away from the arched door leading on to an intimate balcony, beyond which a palatial garden of palms and jacarandas and a gurgling fountain could be glimpsed, enclosed by an ornamental wall. Delighted to be in such opulent surroundings we gathered in among about thirty or so other hippy travelers, reclining on cushions on a floor covered in beautiful carpets around some large brass inlaid bowls of kif, into which we all dipped our s’bubsi’s. Needless to say everyone became very stoned.  We played our flutes and drums and others joined in, clapping, dancing, and having a high old time, as they say. 

But I began to get very paranoid.  I began looking closely at my companions.  Argentinean twins.  A Negro dwarf.  And next to me, to my greatest stress of all, a man who was stick thin, about eight feet tall and albino.  I felt I had landed in Freak City.  It was a trial.

You are one of us, we are all one” said the dwarf, handing me a cup of mint tea. But the probably well-intended smile turned into a sinister mask, behind which was an alien from the spaceship waiting to load me up so I would become a lab-rat, a human genetic experiment for breeding stock for a deep space asteroid mining camp. The effect of the drug had taken hold.  I freaked out. 

Of course, being “cool” I didn’t show it.  After all we were all “freaks”, it was the common argot of hippiedom, a positive affirmation of being a “head”, the confirmation that we had transcended “straight” and become one of the chosen.  But inside all my values were being challenged.  The reality of the word for those who had to live it in real-time all their lives struck home.  I was no freak in that sense.  How did I cope with the weirdos, the societal rejects, the ones who weren’t of the perfect mold?

I found myself locked onto the albino who seemed to be sucking my life-force, like some demonic Frankenstein.  The trap of politeness, I couldn’t get away, fascinated by this creature of a kind I had never encountered before.  I had to accept him if my values were to stand the test.  He fawned on me, telling me how it was to be him, a reject, unwanted.  He told me he was from New York and was never going back because he was treated so badly there. 

“Everyone hates me, help me.”  he sobbed, laying his unfortunate enormous skull head on my lap, trying to wrap himself around me like a demented octopus the long white skeletal limbs clutching at me, the octopoidal elongated hands seeming to encircle my waist three times around. From an initial revulsion my inner freak-out turned around and I located my inner sanctum. I was love.  Empathic.  Unconditional.  Healing.  Giving.  My whole being went out to him in this warm rush, letting my love flow, one being to another.  I held him, noting Tom, alarmed, intensely interested in our little scene, across the circle.  I signaled to him it was all right and just held this unfortunate man, rocking him to and fro like a baby.
Eventually he sat up and apologized and I told him I had no idea what it could be like to be him, that no one can take away the suffering of another, and that he had to find his own salvation, to find the Love within, his own source, but that if my physical cuddles could help, then I would give him my love on that level.   I suppose, as well as my own test, it was the test of the Doctrines of Tom.  Seeing if this Universal Love, coming from within, would actually work to transform misery in the world at large. And the test of whether my own recent illumination could rescue this sad creature from his pit and elevate him to the higher plane I sought to maintain.

Breaking the spell  I jumped up and started playing my flute and dancing, moving fast, twirling and whirling among the too cool, unsettling everyone as I passed, dipping and leaping, possessed with all the craziness of a houri. Others joined me, dancing, clapping, singing, as we put a lunatic overlay on a rhumba snaking all thru the riad and out into the garden, scattering the peacocks, splashed by the fountains, hilarious and out of it, ecstatic.

Later, outside, walking back under a moonless sky with the universe above sparkling, I looked up at Sirius, the Dog Star, wondering if there was some weird thing happening on another level, coming from that star. I was so stoned that my mind was fantasizing a channeling beam coming from some core of intelligence, of which Atlantis had been the earthly manifestation and which was now occupying my body in order to bring the understanding of the Greater Truth to a planet devoured by barbarism.  Bia saw me fixed on it and said something, I forget what, but I replied that I would get to that star and she said “Good luck, you’ll need it”, in a voice that seemed rejective to me, but I clung to her as we went back to the pensione, my world was upside down and I felt shattered, drained, adrift.  I was bleeding again. 

Marrakesh became a familiar place to me.  I met Luca, a vivacious old friend from Sydney, who had also been in London, working in Biba’s and among the antique markets.  She was there buying silks and carpets and exotic finery to take back to trade.  She had acid.  Luca, her guy Phillipe, Tom and I took the trip, my first.  Osley acid.  Little blue pills.  Pure LSD.  Nothing like the nonsense speed stuff the kids quaff back like Smarties these days. We took off into the mazes of the Marrakesh soukh, everything weird and wonderful. Color jumped at me from everywhere.  

Wandering the soukh
courtesy Joel, Flickr

 My senses sought and were saturated with the intensity of the colors I began experiencing.  And music.  I soon lost the others and went into a world of my own, resonating on music and color.   I wandered in an ecstasy of delight among the fascinations of the markets, looking at light changes through the filmy gauzes of beautiful colored scarves, reveling in exotic embroidered fabrics;  exploring the dye markets, saturating myself in the sumptuous piles of the strong reds, saffron and oranges, blues and greens; sorbing indescribably subtle tones of the high piled spices, fruits, vegetables.  I sat for ages just watching the metal beater punching out old cans and making beautiful filigree lamps, while his little four-year old son learned by his side.

 I returned via the sun-striped lanes to the Jemaa el Fna and found myself dancing to an imperative drum with a troupe of fierce white-clad, maraca-brandishing negroid dancers.  A cute French guy, who seemed very fey too, latched onto me after the drum diminished and introduced me to the art of eating snails.  Being a vegetarian it took quite an effort to overcome the initial revulsion, but I forced myself and convinced myself they were quite a valid food.

Wandering back into the soukh towards home base a squatting blond woman with a negro child looked up at me, offering me beaded necklets.  I sat with her, watching her skill as she wove beads onto nylon fishing line, the little boy passing her the bottles of the different colors.  Two red, one yellow, three red, two yellow, two blue, two red. The numbers of the pattern moved in my mind’s matrix, the intelligence stirring in my acid stimulated synapses.

I found myself weaving patterns and pictures in my mind’s eye.  2r3y2r4y2r2b2r.   A carpet, a tapestry, a crochet pattern, a planet.   Design.  The way we approach a chaotic jumble of disparate objects and find similarity, then we assemble like things together and produce a pattern by taking 2r3y2r4y2r2b2r and changing the next subset to  2b1y4r1y3r2b , then sequencing them until a picture of regularity emerges, pleasing to the eye, meaningful or simply decorative.  I thought of the Muslim religion and the patterns they used.  No other forms than plants and geometry permitted.  How it held them in a vice of limited expression. When the whole cosmos was the Divine Creation, by any reasoning of a Creator of It All, why limit the expression of it to the geometry and geometrically expressed botany?  To them it is a coda, the visual translation of an inner fixed universe. 

I saw how freedom of expression, so fundamental to the vitality of a culture, had been mine by birth right in the culture I was born and raised in.  I felt so thankful to be a free woman, not born to slavery and repression as these people were, to me, then.  But I wasn’t judging.  Was I more free, less of a slave?  There was no right or wrong here.  No “me better than them”.  It is all life process evolving on the planet and the reasons they lived in this system were far beyond any simple analyses on my part. 

I wandered further into the sun-striped lanes and found a bead-seller.   

 The skeins of vibrant strong colors were irresistible.  Cobalt, chrome, scarlet, orange, turquoise, black, white, viridian.  I bought a good selection and made my way back to our room in the riad.  As I sat weaving the colorful patterns into the Hopi Indian God’s Eyes, my own meditation coda,  the mullah mounted the next door minaret and I was saturated with the wailing Allah, Allah,  Akbar,  the Maghreb evening call to prayer .  Through the arched  Mashrabiya window with its filigree arabesques the sunset colors infused the distant snows on the High Atlas with apricot pink of the approaching sunset.  The half-moon and Venus sending messages to the faithful as they turned towards Mecca.  Mind myths and reality.

Later, lying back on Luca’s roof garden couches, dreaming as the dome above turned from violet blue to a star-filled indigo African night sky above the silvery Atlas Mountains, I again felt that inner call, that indefinable destination that had “Atlantis” on the cover, but which promised to be so much more. No longer a gentle whispering murmur, it was firming to an unsettling need, an itch I had to scratch…soon. It was time to be moving on, on to what, I did not know, except I knew It was calling me in. It was time to find Atlantis....or....not.

Marrakesh rooftop Atlas Mountains view
Next: Blog #12 Kastellorizo

Friday, October 25, 2013

Book 1:10 Marrakesh 1

Marrakesh, City of my Dream

Like so many travellers before me, and since, I was immediately seduced by my first view of the ancient city as the bus ground its' way down the dusty road out of the stony hills into a wide flat valley oasis; the embedded red-walled city overtopped by the vast expanse of unexpected date palms with the solitary emergent giant finger of the Kutubia minaret pointing skywards high above them, the snow-covered Atlas forming the grand backdrop to it all.  This was more like it!  I felt a rush of affinity with the place, almost a déjà vu, not quite a homecoming, but a sense of having arrived on the threshold of some old familiar dream of another  world, ancient, beckoning, ripe with memories promising  wonder and delight. A gladdening warmth radiated from deep within and I became one huge smile.

We spilled out of the bus outside a huge ancient arched red stone gate, eyes popping & all-a ’fizz. “We’re here, we’re here!” I was beyond excited. Every expectation was met and reinforced as, with shoulders touching we held hands and almost dancing, passed through the massive arch into the Medina. Weaving light-footed through the flow of robed & hooded people with their laden donkeys and the odd camel, we negotiated a maze of narrow lanes, canyons of red mud walls plugged with closed iron-clad doors, behind which overtopping tall palms suggested gardens within.  Finally we emerged out onto an enormous open area - the Jemaa el Fna, The Assembly of Fools, the quaintly named main square of the city. Being still morning the full circus, the dancers, the water bearers, the snake charmers, all the crazy daily extravaganza that brings people from all over the world to witness its’ offerings, was in not yet progress.  Small clumps of people of many diverse cultures were setting up stalls and a few singers and orators were attracting curious tourists.

Verandah cafes overlooking morning activity on part of the J'ma el F'Na - recent view.
We spied a rooftop cafe overlooking the square. Seemed the obvious place to take it all in and relax after the trip.  It was still morning and there were empty tables, but my instant take on it was that it was “The Scene”. Mostly foreigners.  A few obvious tourists with cameras, some gap-year student kids, a few Beautiful People and hippy traveller types. Only Moroccans were the waiters.

Amongst other travellers I was, at first, delighted to find Minna, a crazy young Danish woman I had met on Formentera, someone I’d had good times exploring and lazing on the beaches with back then, before my life got shredded.  She was sitting at a table with some very spaced-out Rasta heads, all so “cool” man.  We put our baskets and wraps down at a nearby empty table and prepared to join in a happy reunion, but the news she had completely ruined my euphoric mood and turned my smiles to a mask of frozen horror. 

She had just been in jail in Rabat, she told me.  They had stripped her, raped her, beaten her, sprayed her with a fire hose through the bars of a tiny cell until she lost consciousness and she had been chained to the wall of a windowless cell in a loony bin for a month.

I didn’t understand all she had to tell me as my mind had frozen and I had no experience of this side of life & could not process what she was saying. This was compounded partly because her English was muddled with travellers’ road argot, and she was not in a very coherent state because apart from everything else she a badly swollen jaw as she’d lost several teeth from the beatings.  She had also, not surprisingly, miscarried.

I was sickened, horrified, and became very protective of her.  What had she done to deserve that, I asked. She said she’d been caught buying dope.  I had no idea that there were penalties like that and instantly leapt back in my mind to the Rif trip and saw the danger we had been in.  She was destitute, as usual, so I bought her food and she took us to the rooms she was crashing in with several other Euro hippies who were also junkies.  I didn’t like the atmosphere, especially as the junkies seemed to spend all their time moaning, or cooking up dubious substances on spoons over candles.  They offered to let us sleep on the floor on the floor, but it was not the way I wanted my Marrakesh experience to be. But we left our gear there and went with them to visit the King’s Gardens, not, as I naively thought, to appreciate the architecture and botanise amongst the exotic plants. 

Ripe Opium poppy capsule

Instead Minna harvested ripe opium poppy capsules. 

My comments about it being risky & probably forbidden were met with the “chill, be cool man”, the raised eyebrow of opprobrium, with its’ inherent threat of “uncool is not one of us”. Lesson 6 in the School of Cool is to stay silent or be square. Back in the rooms I watched as they split the pods and extracted the white goo, processing it via the spoon cooking rituals. I began to understand.  They gave me some to smoke and it reacted very badly on me.  For hours I had a revolting pink headache.  I also felt very drained.  It was the last time I touched opium.

Looking around at the comatose junkies, cocooned in blankets on the floor like blind white rats, I was overcome with revulsion. I was not judging, just reacting. Whatever was driving their need to do this to themselves I could not know. But I knew this was not my scene. Not my version of “cool”, in fact very “uncool” to me. This was no celebration of the joy of life. So I left that house, telling Tom, all locked in to preaching Universal Love to the Unreachable, that all this was not for me. If he shared my views we could re-connect at the rooftop café later, but I needed to be alone for now. 

Wandering into the back streets of Marrakesh alone, I shed all the negative vibes like a dog shaking off fleas, recovering my spirit and energy. 
Wandering alone thru the mazes of  Marrakesh lanes
 I was looking for a place that answered my dreams of the Marrakesh lifestyle.  I had no intention of staying anywhere near those junkies. Not one word any of them had said showed they were on my path and did not want any of their influences in my life. They represented so much of what I was rejecting in what I saw as civilisation’s decline.  I might have been somewhat grief-crazed, but my deeper sanity guided me to better choices than hanging around that pathetic scene. I could almost hear the sirens in my head howling “Alert! Danger!” The further away I got from the house, the more I felt the revulsion deepening at the same time experiencing a flowering relief at breaking free from that prison.  I would not be returning there.  My way was to clean clear blue sky and water where I could dance in the sun and by moonlight. In Tom I felt I’d found a man who shared this inner clarity, but was I right? This would test his resolve. I’d given him the choice to join me, or not. I realised he had a zealot’s instinct to preach to the unenlightened. He felt it was his work, his calling.  I was being called in another way and felt it so close now, my own Xanadu.
Back alley mazes, what lies behind faceless doors?
Behind the J'ma el F'Na the back alleys were a maze of red mud-walled canyons. Blank walls with anonymous iron-clad doors. 

I could not find any way of exploring beyond – no way of finding a room presented itself. Tired now, I decided to try another approach. Word of mouth. Perhaps other travellers could help.

Eventually I made my way back to the rooftop cafe overlooking the square and s discussing accommodation with some lively mellow Danish people who lived in a cheap little pensione which sounded much more like my kind of scene than Minna’s.  At least it would do for a few nights until we got our bearings.

One of the Danes was a woman called Bia who had a Brazilian mother who had followed her Viking man to Russia where they lived in Kamkatchka before taking the family back to the family estate in Aarhus, Jutland.   Bia had been born in Kamkatchka and shared a birthday with me, (which I, in my crazed state, took to be some sort of good omen) and I became enmeshed in the extraordinary maze of her cosmopolitan life story.  We liked each other so well that she decided she’d show me the bijou riad where they were living and said there was a room free.  It sounded exactly what I wanted. 
To my intense relief Tom soon floated up, robes flowing, drums bouncing and sat with his arms around me, kissing my hair, nuzzling my ears. “You are right, babe, so right. Not our scene” I was relieved. Yes, we were on track again. I knew I was falling in love and felt a great surge of contentment.  We set off back into the lane maze with Bia and her friends to check out the riad. It wasn’t far from the Square, next to an active little mosque.   It was the usual anonymous iron-hinged door in the wall, but to my delight opened onto a tiny shady Sahn courtyard, open to the sky above, over-looked by an upper balcony supported by tiled columns which provided a sheltered arched colonnade beneath. 
Typical riad with central fountain, tiles & colonnade.

The floor and surrounding blue walls were set with Moorish tiles as was the central miniature fountain, ancient but still eccentrically spitting and bubbling.  A small palm and several fruiting cumquats in  Ali Baba pots were set back in corners and niches. The whole ambience was like stepping into another world, a gently welcoming cool relief from the Medina beyond. Instant peace.

At the back of the colonnade downstairs rooms gave onto the courtyard - a washroom/kitchen and two side rooms and I could see behind the upstairs balcony there were more promising doors. I took one look at an upstairs blue-painted room with a view out over the rooftops to the square, the city walls and the distant snow-covered Atlas and rented it immediately. It seemed ridiculously cheap compared to prices in Tangiers. 

The main feature that sold me was its’ Moucharabiya, a tiny projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wood latticework set with stained glass. Otherwise it was bare and rudimentary, a low platform bed-base with no mattress, a tiny table and two rush woven wooden chairs. A few pegs on a board on the wall. 

No comparison to that highly luxurious Tangiers rooftop pavilion, but I could see that with a few personal touches I could make it our own cosy retreat. I still had enough money to be able to live reasonably comfortably, if I was frugal. I had already put traveller’s cheques aside for the donkey trek.

I transformed the bare cell with a few basic buys from the soukh. 
It didn’t take much - a new cheap mattress, a beautiful hand-woven bedcover, a few exquisite diaphanous embroidered hangings, a filigree brass lantern as a light-shade and a small Moroccan carpet.    

At night candles made magic and by day when I lay on the bed a little carved mirror reflected the Moucharabiya view of the ever-changing light on the snow-capped mountains of the high Atlas on the horizon.

However the idyll was flawed. Several times a day the peace was jolted by the amplified roar of the adhān call to prayer being broadcast from the little next door mosque’s minaret at the same level as our window. Boom! Boom! Shake the room!  At first I felt shocked, violated, needing to cover my ears, roll in a ball and disappear. No wonder the rent was so cheap! I wanted to flee instantly, to find another place. But I was too exhausted after all the effort to settle in after such a long day since we left that desert palace, way back in the dawn. As the days passed it became less of a foe and I even found myself quite enjoying it anyway.

The years of being married to an architect had given me an intense appreciation for the form inherent in buildings as well as city & town layouts. The textures, the patterns and the landscaped gardens. The squares, lanes, boulevards. In Marrakech everywhere I went I found myself in a wonderland, a feast of the senses.  From opulence to simplicity, from formal well-maintained palaces to decaying mud-walled hovels, my eyes took in scenes, objects, people and I was filled with awe, an appreciation on a level I hadn't experienced so far in my travels. Greece was one thing, Venice, Florence, Paris, the Alps, and so many other outstanding places,  had all given me huge input in their individual ways. But this place astounded me. Every day, every minute, I found something new to fascinate my delighted mind. And then there was the food.

Our little room became a haven.  I had started opening up creatively. Drawing, writing poetry, playing music on the flute and drums.  Dancing, yoga and making love a lot. Making God’s Eyes which Tom sold in the marketplace next day. I found a couple of basic French and Arabic grammars and started improving my bad high-school French and puzzling over Arabic.  Arabic calligraphy intrigued me and I spent hours copying its' flowing style, using the Chinese Shūfǎ and Japanese Sumi-e brush and ink techniques   I had learned way back when I was an Art student in Sydney. The walls of the room soon blossomed with our art. With the help of one of the waiters at the rooftop cafe I wrestled with the pronunciation of some simple Arabic words and phrases.

Arabic calligraphy intrigued me
 When we weren’t out exploring the city and its’ surrounds, sometimes linking up with other travellers to eat or share jaunts with,  we were content to stay in the room, smoking a s’bubsi pipe or two, passing quietly creative hours in these ways. The pain of my grief blurred.  Inside something wonderful was opening like a flower to the first rays of the rising sun. We were in Love….with Morocco, with Marrakech and each other. 

Sunrise over Marrakesh