Maroc moderne

August 27, 2008 § 2 Comments

From Fez to Marrakech, Morocco – and everything in between.


Bursting at the seams with contradiction, my version of Morocco was a continuous slideshow of chaos and heat. One particularly sweltering evening, Jemaa el fna felt like a panicked nightmare… smoky darkness, tribal drum beats, the hum of a thousand people and piercingly predatory eyes everywhere. Groping hands and that hackle-raising feeling of being watched from every angle with no route for escape. Cobras, wizened magicians, drug pushers, the mob (as in ancient Rome, not the modern one), streetfights – all scattered in the midst of this nocturnal melting pot, eerily lit by gas lamps and naked bulbs. Whole decapitated sheepsheads were hanging in the blanketing heat and the chilling echo of ululating cries floated across the square. It felt like a place of dark secrets and sinister ambition.

I saw a man lose his camera to a bold thief who stepped right up to him, slice the strap around his neck with a pocket knife and his accomplice racing up to swipe it off the ground to disappear into the milling crowd. As you can imagine, I was a little nervous.

The night before, in exactly the same place: Cheery hubs of dancers, acrobats, tourists and locals alike, all wide-eyed with anticipation at the spectacles on show. Food stalls and orange juice wagons calling out their wares in fierce competition, children alternating between sad, puppydog hustler faces and the insuppressible grins of youth and a night full of adventure and possibility ahead. 

I’ve experienced the gentlest and most chivalrous of men here, as well as the sleaziest and most disrespectful… children who saw me as an opportunity to turn an easy buck and others who wanted nothing more than to help a stranger and to show me the beauty of their home. I’ve seen a towering mosque of immense intricacy calling to prayer with a voice of such deep passion and committed devotion, the people flocking in response, respectfully attired and heads lowered in humility… and an open space filled to the perimeter with people rabid with theft, drugs and sexual predation beneath the shadow of the mosque. 

I don’t know whether I’m happy or sad that “modernity” will probably bring about the eventual sanitisation and regulation of such disparity. There’s a magic and mystery here. Black magic, white magic, all jumbled into a coagulation of crumbling ochre walls, soaring palms, henna stained hands and flowing white kaftans upon a myriad of tiled mosaics. 





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§ 2 Responses to Maroc moderne

  • Jon Anderson says:

    Magic and mystery. Yes indeed I know so well what you mean. Development is a two edged sword. As Max Weber famously wrote, “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.”

    I lived in that magic and mystery for 12 years in Santo Domingo, and I watched it slowly drain away. It is still there but for how much longer? As photographers we are drawn to capturing those fleeting moments. Nostalgia doesnt quite define it; it is what portuguese speakers call “saudade.”

  • Ying Ang says:

    Saudade is one of my favourite words, and for good reason, as it turns out 🙂

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