On May 21st 1977 I was in Chaouen in the Rif mountains of Morocco.
Chaouen was a small country town, an easy place to stay in, with a handful of hotels to satisfy the trickle of tourists passing through. I used it to get used to Morocco at a good pace after the hustlers of Tetouan. I began to know my way around the bazaars, to be recognised by some people. There was a square as a kind of town centre, some restaurants and some fairly traditional cafes in upstairs rooms, where Moroccan men could sit around, sipping mint tea and puffing their soupçis of kif. This evening I sat in the square and recorded:
The last little piece of warmth of the day, the sun only lights up the walls of the Kasbah and the minarets of the mosque opposite me. I can see inside the front door, you go up a flight of stairs or a ramp, then there is a blue and white screen with a chandelier above to keep out the infidels, it's quite an attractive building though the architecture is simple, with an octagonal brick minaret tower, loud-speakers and a Moroccan star hanging at the top. It is evening stroll time, few country people around now, one lady with a child on her back, in white robes and tight veil, vertical striped skirt beneath. Old men in fine djellabahs, sitting and drinking mint tea, one man with white turban and pointed beard beneath round face has a hand gesture for everything he says. Teenage girls in female djellabahs, one appears to be a pregnant bride, with fine brocade, tight veil and heavy kohl.
Chaouen: My picture
Earlier in the day I'd been out of town. As it was a country town there were trails out into the hills. I wrote in my notebook:
Have taken the trail out beyond the spring, gone over the first pass so that I'm now sitting above the first village large enough for a mosque. I'm in the open sun as there's little shade until you're in the village. The air is full of the buzzing of insects, the cicadas, and some crested larks singing. A few voices from the green of the village. The village is spread about a green depression, trees and fields, tin roofs over mud walls, some of them painted white. A Spanish looking building nearer me with red-tiled roof and the stone turreted minaret of the mosque. A child with some sheep passed. Way down below the river valley with the road to Ouezzane and layers of rolling Rif way to the south-east. Behind me the harsher forbidding mountains, grey stone capped with dark green pines, above the wheat fields cut into the stony scrub.
I liked these walks out: following those hard stony trails, a great feeling of age and continuity in the relationship of town and country. Country people trudging in on the trails, forcing ponies or donkeys along the steep paths, ploughing their stony fields with oxen or by hand. Collecting the mint, cutting the wood on the mountain-tops, watching their sheep and goats. Little oases of green, villages among fig-trees and irrigated fields, olive groves. I liked the wildlife, the spring flowers, the lizards, the flycatchers in the orchards. I liked the wall of mountains on one side, with buildings by caves and a huge flock of ravens flying around the ridge.
|Market in Chaouen: My picture|
|Chaouen - 2008, Picture by Belimbing, CC|
|Chaouen in 2007: Picture by Gaby, CC|