I have an affinity for the medieval world that I am only slowly discovering, and now I wonder if I should engage the services of a therapist to deal with it, as I’m afraid it could become a problem.
I first discovered the affinity, or attraction, on a visit to Varanasi, India, last year, and now I rediscovered it on a visit to Morocco, from which my wife and I just returned — in case you wondered where I was the last couple of weeks. (To view photos, click HERE)
I was wandering the labyrinthine lanes first of Marrakech, then of Fez, and finally of Chefchaouen, getting more entranced all the time.
I refer to the ancient part of each city — the Medina — not to the French- or Spanish-built nouvelle ville that surrounds it, which is attractive enough, as recently built cities go, but is not to be compared to the narrow lanes twisting between thousand-year-old stone-and-mud buildings, peopled by characters out of the Thousand and One Nights that you see in the Medina.
I refer to men in pointy-hooded gowns, looking like the devil’s own disciples; women in a variety of veils and head coverings that prove fashion will have its way despite all obstacles; donkeys and mules burdened with everything from propane tanks to hides fresh from the slaughterhouse.
What a sight, what a spectacle. They hate to have their picture taken, these ancient-minded people, so I was handicapped in my role as traveling photographer, but I did what I could under the circumstances, which alas included rain at least half the days I was there. I will post the modest results on our Web site as soon as I can.
My immediate problem is how to readjust to wide open streets; houses with front and back yards; dogs riding in cars; women brazenly going bare-headed; and all the rest of our wonderful American culture.
After a week in Fez, lost as I was geographically, I felt at home. I thought, let me put on one of those pointed-hooded chalabas and a pair a yellow slippers, let me clasp my hands behind my back and shuffle thoughtfully down this 4-foot-wide lane, dodging donkey droppings, and I’ll be contented forever.
Everyday I’ll meet my friends at the corner tea house, where we’ll nurse glasses of mint tea and watch the latest soccer game on television — the medieval world being not entirely ancient — and I’ll be happy.
Let my wife wear a tent for a dress and let her hang a curtain over her face with just a slit to see through or sometimes not even a slit, and we’ll make the handsomest couple this town has seen.
But right there that was the end of my fantasy. My wife said dodging donkey droppings for a few days is well enough, but she would have no part of medieval dress. She said if I expected her to breathe through a curtain, I could jolly well think again.
Well, then, I said, how about Varanasi? Hindu women don’t wear veils; they wear colorful feminine saris. But alas I forgot about the Varanasi cow flops, which are more formidable obstacles than donkey droppings, so that was the end of that idea too.
She did agree with me that Morocco has the sweetest, most delicious orange juice in the known world, available at any street stall, but she didn’t think that was adequate reason to change our whole way of life. And she flatly ruled out living in a mud-and-stone village in the High Atlas Mountains where we got a cheery welcome when we visited on a day trip out of Marrakech.
We don’t even speak Berber, she reminded me. How would we get along? I couldn’t argue with her on that score, but that village still rises up in my dreams.