Politics & Policy

Marrakech Journal, Part VI

Okay, sports fans, this is the last installment, and it will not be long — there are congressional elections to think about, I know. Here are the links to the previous parts of this journal: I, II, III, IV, V.

I see a BBC team, getting ready for a debate to be televised far and wide. The subject of the debate: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oh, merely that? The team is trying to frame the Atlas Mountains in the background, and frame them just right. I feel I have had a peek into Deaverism — as I will always know this art. (For the young, this word comes from Michael Deaver, the Reagan aide who was the keeper and, to some extent, the shaper of Reagan’s image.)

‐The Atlas Mountains are renowned for their beauty, their mystery, and all that. Is it true? Yes, it’s true, but where aren’t mountains beautiful and mysterious and all that? I think we especially appreciate mountains in the desert. The contrast is striking: mountains rising from that flat, barren plain. Mountains and a desert go together like a horse and carriage.

‐“Striking contrast” is a cliché, isn’t it? Like “arrant pedantry,” “fatal flaw,” “grievous error,” “voracious reader,” “avid fisherman,” and “succulent lamb.” (All of you Marrakechers know that I discussed “succulent lamb” earlier.)

‐I will remind you of the nickname of Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 2: “Mysterious Mountain.”

‐Walking out and about in Marrakech — the finer, remoter parts of Marrakech — I notice that people like to live behind high walls, and high hedges. I suppose it’s the same everywhere. It seems especially so here.

‐The birds chirp as though they feel lucky to be living in Morocco — and, in many ways, they are. Oddly, I don’t see them: don’t see those birds. They sing with joy, and they sing at length. But I don’t see a one.

‐At the conference, there is much talk of Iraq and the environment, and what we around the world can do about the environment in Iraq: meaning, the physical environment. I remark to a man who shares my views: “You know the best thing we did for Iraq’s environment? Overthrow Saddam Hussein.” He nods and says, in effect, “Word” (meaning, “Damn right”). Saddam Hussein was a grotesque despoiler of the environment — the destroyer of the marshlands, for example. But he was so many other and worse things . . .

‐I tell an Arab intellectual that, a few nights before, I was seated at a dinner with a government minister from Jordan. “Which one?” he asks. I say, “Well, I can’t remember his name. And there were two of them: two Jordanian ministers. Both were young.” The intellectual says, “Yes, everyone around King Abdullah is young, because the king is young himself. It tends to be that way: Leaders surround themselves with people roughly the same age as they are.”

I think of the new government in Britain.

‐I meet a New Yorker, who long has been a consultant both in politics and in business. He knew WFB — William F. Buckley Jr. (for those who may be new to National Review and National Review Online) — a little. Has the most glowing things to say about him. And says how much he misses Firing Line, on which Bill was both dazzling and supreme.

Why do I bother mentioning this ordinary stuff? Well, I thought I would, because this man is a big-time Democrat.

‐In a hotel lobby, I hear the song “Desperado.” I hear it in an instrumental version, though it is not a Muzak-y one. And I realize, for the first time, what a beautiful song it is. I think not having the usual singing helped. Is that a terrible thing to say?

‐As in other kingdoms — certainly in the Middle East — a picture of the king is everywhere. Everywhere. And it is the same picture. It had better be a good picture, right? Say you’re Mohammed VI, and your picture is going to be everywhere. Say you don’t like the initial shot. You think you can get a do-over?

I have just had my passport renewed, and don’t like the picture — don’t think I can look at it for the next ten years. Wonder if I can have a do-over. It is good to be king, which I ain’t.

‐In a hidden part of Marrakech — hidden from tourists — is a vast junkyard, or flea market. A great municipal garage sale. The poor are there, selling stuff, and other poor are there, buying stuff. The place is dangerous at night: with riff-raff ruling. It is daytime now, and the market boasts a wide and throbbing array of humanity: young and old, male and female, fat and thin, healthy and less so. Also, there is every shade under the sun, or most of them. The sights, noises, and smells leave an impression on you. We have also observed an interesting expression of capitalism.

I’m told that city authorities don’t want you to see this place. I’m glad I have.

‐And I’m glad to have sampled an extraordinary fruit: the Moroccan cactus, known to the French as “figue de Barbarie,” the Barbary fig. Juicy, refreshing, tasty — get one if you can.

‐On the other side of the tracks — very much on that other side — I encounter one of the foulest smells I have ever come across. And, bear in mind, I have lived in dorms in both high school and college. Leatherworking, tanning. I’m told that, during the hottest months, this smell is unbearable. It’s relatively cool now — and barely bearable.

‐No matter how often I come to the Arab world, I can’t get used to the sight of young toughs on the street, holding hands and having their arms around one another as they walk. That which is culturally jarring, is culturally jarring.

‐I learn an interesting Berber expression — it describes how you smile when you don’t really mean it. When you’re not happy inside. In this area, people eat sheep’s heads. And when that head is in the fire, all you see is the teeth, eventually. The sheep appears to be smiling. But he’s not happy.

‐Speaking of sheep, I see a shepherd, with his flock. This is not a young shepherd, like David; a wizened one. He does not have a crook. Rather, he has something pointy and severe — looking more like a gardening tool, with which to pierce the earth. Ouch. Those sheep better stay in line.

‐Buying rugs is a nerve-wracking experience for foreigners: You don’t know what the price should be; you fear to be ripped off. Of course, the rug-sellers are good at it: They do it every day. You do it once in a blue moon. Same with buying a car: The salesmen do it every day, professionally; you do it a few times in your life (presumably). Who has the advantage?

The important thing is that both the buyer and the seller be happy. Someone once described capitalism — I believe I have this right — as a “thank you, thank you culture.” Both parties say thank you. The seller says thank you as the buyer hands over the money; the buyer says thank you as the seller hands over the good. Everyone’s happy.

‐I began Part V of this journal as follows: “This will be the penultimate installment — or second-to-the-last, if you like things less Latin. Monday’s will be the last: moving this journal into double digits (for Monday’s installment will be Part VI).” Readers wrote to say, “Jay, what are you smokin’? ‘II’ has double digits; ‘III’ has three; ‘X’ has one; etc.” I wasn’t smoking anything: It must have been the sheep’s head talking. Sometimes, you get a hold of bad sheep’s head and just say crazy things.


‐A Moroccan with a young family asks me, “What do you think I can do to get ahead? What do you think I can do to better myself?” He is a man of many talents, considerable intellect, and solid character. This, I know. But his society offers too few opportunities. His question is a heartbreaking one. Given the right environment, he would soar. He doesn’t need anything but freedom — not one damn thing. Just freedom. And there is scarcely a more precious commodity.

I’m telling you nothing you don’t know, simply affirming. And I reflect once more: We are such whiners and ingrates, we Americans. (Should I speak for myself? Maybe.)

‐On my way back home, I pass through the Marrakech and Casablanca airports. This involves four security checks, four luggage screenings: one in Marrakech, three in Casablanca. I am groped like a girl at a fraternity party. The luggage screening seems pretty lackadaisical, however. After the second one in Casablanca, a fellow American remarks, “Maybe they figure three half-assed screenings equals one rigorous one.” But then comes that fourth screening: It is an inspection — an inspection of carry-on luggage — by hand. Officers go through every item, rigorously. (By the way, they don’t use gloves, as TSA workers do at home.) The process — the entire process, at both airports — is exhausting and annoying. But, in this age, we should be grateful for overkill. (Pardon the word “kill.”)

Did I say this was going to be a short installment — a short finale? It wasn’t so short. Sorry about that. Thanks for joining me for this Moroccan experience. And Happy Election.



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