Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Video: “Portrait of an Intersection”, Fes

June 16, 2010

The following sequence was shot in the medina of Fes, Morocco, over a period of 74 minutes. The camera was set up on a tripod in a locked position, pointed directly at the cross section of a “T’ intersection. By choosing a simple background and a location off of the main streets in the medina, my goal was to capture the essence of the people inside the medina and strip away the market atmosphere.


More peacework, and some slaughter

May 18, 2010

In Virginia Quarterly Review, Chris writes about his post-Fes travels, back to the West Bank and to Nablus, among the Samaritans.

Building in Fez

May 5, 2010

Building in Fez

At the beginning of the evening we passed through the parking lot and saw the ambulance and a fire truck, men dressed in the heavy uniforms of disaster, and we wondered collectively and out loud what was going on, smelled for smoke, caught nothing but the usual in the air, dust and animal (cat spray, piles of dead wool rotting beyond the cars), garbage, rain too—it had rained sporadically through the afternoon. Damp dust, no fire. We kept going, according to the schedule, which has been hard to keep, cat-herding to a clock is even harder, all these people and tours and meetings, visits here and there in a labyrinth designed against speedy conclusions. Builders and citizens of old Fez: did you have a deadline in mind? In what century did that deadline fall? Dead line: I think of all long threads of string being used, sort of plumb lines in vertical, by the (suspiciously) young men who are (seem to be) planning the rebuilding of the medina’s interior walls.

Through which we wandered up, up, up, past the babouche slippers and the small pretty drums hanging from wires, (further back in the rectangle of the shop, look at all the instruments hanging on the walls!) through the eternal gate created by black chickens standing on their crates, then meat, represented charismatically by a camel head whose mouth is stuffed with parsley, or an enormous bouquet of sheeps’heads too. Or was the meat before the chicken?–I thought of Eddin and his love for the roast bird–then we were walking between stalls of dates and great loops of dried figs tied on greasy wool string (I ate figs every day for a week after everyone left . . .) and heaps of apricots and raisins, then vegetables, apples and orange-juice stalls, the usual, though the eggplant and the courgettes looked small, tired, more than ready to be eaten.

We were talking—we are always talking, a group of writers giddy with thoughts and opinions, (except for Ognon; he is mostly quiet, w/ lightning strikes of humour) trying to find a place to put the newness in our heads and then get it all out and be interesting as we do it, not cliched, but also not too pushy, or too eager, while also being ourselves, but without offending anyone (at least too much), though Dina admirably offended several people at lunch. “What is the point of all these designs, all this decoration?” She talked about the suspicious ease of consuming the town of Fez, feeding on the experience of it. Our consumption is tourism—though some of us resist being called tourists. Dina is cynical about the doubleness even of basic exchange when one cannot speak the language “So when you get your piece of bread you feel you have communicated something important.” To which, part of me responded, haven’t you? One starts at the beginning, and the beginning of every culture is breakfast.

Anyway, I don’t think Dina was talking so much about distrusting Islam or Muslims (Mabrouck countered her doubts about the smiling Sufi man by saying that there are many happy and smiling Muslims in many different Muslim countries ….) She was talking about the unknowable nature of this particular place and its layers, the great swirl of patterns that do not settle, cannot settle for us because we are too shaken up, too unsettled ourselves, and because there is no time. Time, the nature of time, the need for time, the perpetual Western lack of it. But when you are alive, time is all you really have. Why do we believe so passionately in the shortage of it?

To return to Dina’s bewilderment: what’s wrong with the great swirl? Why would we understand something that is so foreign and strange to us? Isn’t it lovely that we cannot understand?

She said, with a tightness in her voice (frustration? embarrassment at being outed among enthusiasts and more innocent Westerners?) “What is behind all these beautiful designs? Something else, something we cannot know”. This observation is clearly right; it contains a more profound question, as well as a basic truth. The post Soviet/post Central Asian nomadic perspective was something I had not considered. See how we carry all of our baggage this far? Will I ever learn to travel light? (But there were nomads here, and they are still here; they influenced the place and its traditions, its rhythms, held the balance between civilized decadence and the nobility and strength borne of living in the desert, the hills, away from the structure of towns and cities. Imagine that—people of old thought that Fez was structured! Ha!) Most of the kelims we see hanging on the walls were made by nomadic or semi-nomadic Berbers and much of the jewellery is Bedouin. Or made in China??)

It had not occurred to me that tile work and patterns and hammered silver and bronze might be disturbing. For me it is inlaid, textured, visual delight. But Dina’s comments incited another kind of a pleasure, the pleasure the open-hearted get from a good cold splash of cynicism. It’s appropriately bracing to be reminded not to be such a pushover. The Moroccan writer Laila Lalaimi’s journalism had a similar effect on me when I was reading pieces from her website.

Talking, talking, as talkers we were still sorting it out even as we walked, half-dazzled by the almost-familiar path through the medina now, dazzled but half-blind, too, not paying any particular attention except to enjoy the swimming newness of it, the jangle, the immediate injection of human energy one gets in a public market, which is why I’ve never liked travelling in groups, even with one other person, because though travelling with others gentles the solitude and confusion of a new place, it also blunts one’s senses to the experience. not paying any particular attention . . . You become more attuned to the people you are with than the place you are in. You cannot escape them; you became attached to them, to the insights, the voices, the jokes, even to the little power plays and grinding points and the ego’s need to assert itself.

Yet I’ve liked it; it hasn’t mattered to me, this time, because everyone has been vital, engaged in a larger and enjoyable conversation. And I am less accustomed, now, to solitude, and to the patient openness necessary to get to know strangers from other cultures. It is a kind of charm, too, or openness to being charmed that goes both ways. The face like a child’s face; Eddin talking about wonder. To feel wonder you need to submit, to be taken over by what you see. Invaded, really. To know another place deeply you have to be vulnerable to it. Hardly the right disposition for buying a carpet (I believe I paid about $100 too much for the one I bought; tant pis.)

We walked and talked through the evening noise, the medina at dinner, people still buying and selling but without pressure, the big business of the day was done, you could see the release in the men’s faces, the way some of them had a chance now to chat with each other or sit down on their stools and smoke or lean over the rows of vegetables, figs, almonds, trays of olives and meet your eyes and say La bas? (How are you?) easily, nothing invested in it. The walk through the medina leads us into the left turn that opens onto the little square and the great gate, Bab Boujloud. Up, down, around, past, through, we run the whole gamut of prepositions just getting from one place to another.

The evening walk turns into a rich dinner in a richly decorated interior, not the interiors that we are let into (as though penetrating the great secret) but the interiors that have been made for us, restored for us, rebuilt for us, rich foreigners. We have not seen the cramped, modest spaces that the great majority of people live in here, a family to a room, two small rooms, no running water or no hot water. (And have you noticed that the authorities have kicked most of the handicapped beggars outside the old medina’s walls? The blind eyes, the twisted legs, hungry old men sitting outside the Bab Boujloud, the woman in her wheelchair. To spare us, the tourists, I imagine.) We do not see the third world but an exotic version of our own, albeit one filled with men: men dancing and singing, men serving, men guiding, men on their donkeys and their tractors, men behind the counters, everywhere the presence of the male, his access, his comparative ease in this universe beyond the walls of the house, the man and his power. Old habit, learned twenty five years ago in a small Asian village, where they didn’t want me to wear shorts, or show my bare arms, and though I hated this rule, their modesty, it was easier to acquiesce, as it is now: long sleeves, loose clothing, a jacket despite the heat, a false though also sincere chasteness in the gaze.

Would you go so far as a headscarf? If I found myself out at night, absolutely. Being around all these women in djellabas, I have begun to feel forever underdressed, underlayered, oddly . . . skinny. If you are a woman here, it is better here to have bulk, solidity, an extra ten or twenty pounds. In every non-western, non-western-developed culture, to be thin is to be closer to weakness, death, vulnerable to the menace of illness or famine. And who cares about the heat, one must be covered . . .

Always the layers, and no easy peeling away, the thin translucent pieces stick together: the tourist trade and the rebuilding of interiors supplies work to hundreds, thousands of people—how many hours of labour does it take to restore an entire riad? A year’s worth, or two years (given the pace at which things work around here; it’s got to be at least as bad as building in Greece, more coffees, more cigarettes, more tradespeople who don’t show up, more washers and faucets that cannot be found, more plumbing and electricity puzzles, more people who don’t actually know what they are doing. So: three years, four, more. Which means employment, revitalization, men supporting their families, sons learning the trade from their fathers. The foreigners drive up the prices and take over/gentrify the medina, hmm. Yes, but the alternative is the medina crumbling into the ground. There is one restoration organization in the town that renovates, for free or at a great discount, the houses of the inhabitants already here; but they cannot fix all the houses. The medina is crumbling; how many buttressed walls there are, throughout the minor passageways. And the medina’s image, to Fassis, crumbled long ago. When we went to the hammam, one of the women said that everyone’s dream is to leave the medina; to leave the maze of narrow streets and buy a house in the spacious Ville Nouvelle. But we know ourselves, don’t we? The rich and spoiled of the world (c’est nous) are the most adept at romanticizing poverty and cramped quarters.

Dinner begins, dinner is delicious. A few of us go back to another beautiful interior, another gorgeous and sumptuous riad, to be served wine by an exhausted boy who wants only to go to sleep. Goodnight, we say, eventually, and we are tired ourselves. What are we supposed to take away from this time, with each other, in these places far from home that we are trying to know, somehow, or even simply to see. To see, just to see: this is a significant accomplishment in itself. To be imprinted with images, pure moments of place. I like Ognen and Yaka’s ease with it all, their good spirits and the small culture they have between them, shared language and lots of alcohol and flashes of humour. Wasn’t it reassuring, honestly, to hear Ognen’s open acknowledgement that the places we light down in so quickly cannot be known? “You are what I will write about, the people in this group are what I am learning now.” Tomorrow there will be the real goodbyes, we will all be leaving soon, the visit to Fes is almost over. (Though I am not leaving Fes, I will be leaving this, this collective thinking and talking process.)

Sarah and I walk back through Ain eZleiten, the parking lot, tired, a little sad—a day of goodbyes tomorrow, and an end to this intense beginning of a friendship begun in Jerusalem. (Where I did not see the Wailing Wall at all, but instead braced myself against another wall a couple streets away from it and struggled to puke up/to not puke up a bellyfull of rotten almonds. On hearing this sad tale, Yaka grinned and hit the mark with his question, “Were you weeping, wailing, praying?” I was praying, in that leaning-on-a-wall-with-churning-stomach-burning-face-trembling hand sort of way.)

Sarah and I step down the steps into Ain eZleiten and I brace myself for the men, the watching sometimes mildly taunting men. I think protectively of Sarah’s slenderness (those thin sharp shoulderblades in a brief hug) and I wonder how much much worse the men will be when I am alone. But the men don’t seem to see us. These hours later, the firetruck is still in the parking lot. Something serious has happened because the men are not in the least interested in us, two foreign women out walking at night. We pad through the gravel and dust to where a very large ambulance is turning around. Aizlin from our place, Noujoum Riad, is watching the tight maneuver. Anyone seeking to cross this part of the lot has to wait, and we wait, with Aizlin. Men are standing around, but concern immobilizes their faces. Aizlin whispers, “A house fell down in the medina. Two people die, no, three. Mama and two enfants.” That might explain (or it might not) why the ambulances aren’t going very fast. They’ve finally got out the bodies and loaded them up, but there’s no need to hurry now.

Sarah and I are stunned by this news, stunned to silence on this, our last night in this beautiful strange world. We stand gaping at the ambulance as the driver executes, bit by bit, the tight turn, the front and back of the ambulance almost knocking up against cars on either side. When it is safe to get past, we walk on, with Aizlin behind us, shuffling, looking over his shoulder, simultaneously shepherding us forward and hanging back. The faces at the entrance to the medina are grim, none of the usual sparky expressions and laughing conversations going on now. A house fallen down, people have died, two children, their mother. Aitzlin tells us that the police had visited the house two times, to tell the people they had to come out, it was dangerous, but the family refused to leave and the landlord didn’t go anything, never fixed anything at all, “This is Maroc people,” said Aizlin, “this is how they are.”

In the morning the story changes; the woman was resuscusitated, the earth cleared from her nose, both children alive, one w/ a broken leg, the other with a gashed head. But alive, alive. Ils vivent encore. This is the story we want to hear; the story that the inhabitants of the medina want to hear too. In the afternoon, everyone in our entourage leaves for Casablanca, except for me, and they leave with the happy ending intact, a story of disaster and survival. I ask a few people where the house is, if I can see it. But no one knows where it is; they will enquire. Or they know where it is but it is “too deep in the medina” to visit. Or “you will see nothing from the outside,” an answer I receive on every level. “You will see nothing from the outside.” “You will see nothing from the outside.” Yes, I have always believed that myself.

Later that week—exactly a week later, a week of one thousand and one stories, the night before I am to leave on my own for Casa—I have dinner at Fatima’s home, with a group of familially intertwined women. That is one of the stories, but during the dinner they tell another one: the teenage girls tell us that the mother in the fallen house did die; she was heavily pregnant with her fifth child. How do the girls know her? One of them used to go to her house for tutoring after school; they used to live close to the family in the medina, but then they moved to this apartment building. And two children didn’t die when the house fell down: all four children died, from toddler to teenager, plus the unborn baby. The father of the household has gone crazy with grief and guilt and fury. The only thing the girls were not sure of is whether he really was in the mental hospital or not.

Sinful pleasure

May 4, 2010

There are cookbooks that will never see a kitchen, and cooks who never saw a cookbook. So was the case at Ville Maroc, when a group of writers with different ethnic backgrounds and “overactive imaginations”, gathered around a table on the patio eagerly waiting for a late lunch. After some time, someone took a peek in the kitchen and noticed that the cook had just started cutting vegetables.

“Moroccan cuisine is one of the most sensual in the world,” said the guide. That may be true, but nobody warned us it is the slowest to make. In Morocco everything takes more time… to talk, to prepare food, even their Internet. We were famished when Zeiba asked us, “What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?”

“The best meal I’ve ever had? It’s called a gastrorgasm,” said Harry. He gets credit for inventing a new word to add to my English vocabulary. No matter where people come from, they love to talk about food since it’s the focus of their day, and often the focus of their culture. It didn’t take long for our group to start talking about the sumptuous Italian bread dough, Hindu soup, Turkish Baklava, et cetera. We were so hungry that these orgasmic dishes almost sounded better then the real thing. The guide’s story was interesting, but like our meal, it was slow to develop.

“Moroccan women can spend a whole week preparing one dinner,” said the guide. This didn’t sound promising. “It’s a diverse cuisine with many influences, so a single meal can consist of as many as fifty courses. It took my grandmother a day to make Bstilla, a crisp pastry filled with chicken and bread. Then she would make lamb Kebabs, a series of salads, followed by Tajine (meat and olives in a stew). Then came the Couscous and Batinjaan- an eggplant salad, accompanied with fruit and honey. The meal would be capped with a hot cup of mint tea.”

When he finished his story, we felt like exhausted lovers ourselves. And then the real lunch came. The meal was a simplified version of what the guide had described about Moroccan cuisine. I don’t know if it was the best meal in my life, but this was certainly the most memorable conversation about food I’ve ever had.

Photos of our Memorable Meal!

May 4, 2010

Check out some photos from our amazing Moroccan chef ‘s in action. Click on the image below to view the gallery.

Menu of our Memorable Meal

May 3, 2010

Rouleaux au Riz & aux amandes


Tomates, concombres à la marocaine

Carottes à la canelle & l’eau de fleur d’oranger

Courgettes de Salé au vinaigre de Fes

Choux aux oranges


Agneau aux pruneaux et au sesame


Nevrines (?) d’oranges & de fraises

Thés/ Cafés / Gateaux

Here is the menu of the lunch Natasa, Gary, Josh, and I helped to cook under the very sweet supervision of Raja.

Lamb Tagine for 22 served only one hour late! Hoping Gary will add the recipe and  Josh will add some pictures. I am left wondering why the canisters of spices there, ginger for example, smelled both more subtle and more complex than the powdered ginger we buy in the US? And does anyone (Mabrouck — a little research project for you)  know what a nevrine is? Or if that’s not right, what the word is for those wonderful fruit desserts in glasses?

Casablanca: between tradition and modernity

May 1, 2010

This national road near the Atlantic Ocean divides Casablanca into two parts. West of the road, you find the city’s wealthy districts. East, its poor ones. The encounter between the donkey and a car fixes the paradoxical beauty of Casablanca, where people from different social classes and eras meet at this border.

 Casablanca : entre tradition et modernité

Cette route nationale près de l’océan Atlantique trace une frontière invisible entre les quartiers ouest plutôt riches et les quartiers est plus populaires. La rencontre d’un âne et d’une voiture fige la beauté paradoxale de Casablanca où convergent les populations, les classes sociales et les époques.

Casablanca: jumping into the unknown


Dozens of kids diving into the Atlantic Ocean near Hassan II mosque. A moment of recklessness and pure joy.

Casablanca : saut vers l’inconnue

Une dizaine de gamins plongeant dans l’océan Atlantique près de la mosquée Hassan II. Moments d’insouciance et de joie pure.

Editing by Jennifer Zoble

“In Western countries, you have the clock. We have the time” (Arabic proverb)

May 1, 2010

6 p.m., Saturday 24 April. I’m walking along the tiny streets of the Medina, in Fes. One hour left before a collective talk, I have time for a haircut. From among the many barbershops along the streets, I choose one at random.

–          How much for a haircut?

–          Well, 20 or 30 dirhams?

–          You mean, 20 or 30 dirhams?

–          I don’t know, which do you prefer?

–          I guess the cheaper would be better.

–          OK, please come and sit down.

The vague barber is around 25 years old. His clients are young, with trendy, tecktonik hairstyles that contrast with the traditional Medina. Perched on a shelf, a TV shows a Spanish soccer match between Zaragoza and Madrid. All the eyes, including those of the barber, are focused upwards. When the ball approaches the goal, no noise, no breath, no haircut.

–          When do you think you will be starting with my hair? I ask.

–          Five minutes.

Five minutes later, the barber is still cutting the hair of the previous client—that is when he is not watching TV. But the match is interesting, the seats are comfortable, why should I complain? Another client brings me a mint tea ordered by the barber. Embarrassed, at first I refuse. I argue that I should be considered a client like the others. I’m told that I will offend my host if I don’t accept the gift. This discussion takes another five minutes.

The barber and I begin to chat. He knows Toulouse, the so-called « pink city » of France. His name is Ali and he’s proud to be a lifelong resident of Fes. With lazy scissors dangling over the head of his client, he describes the places I should visit. He makes one cut per minute. The word “productivity” would be lost on him. He talks about the mint tea. How is it? Do I like it? My Western habits surge and I ask when he will be finished. “Oh, five minutes,” he replies.

Now, he is shaving his client. In Fes, a barbershop is a real barbershop, hair and beard included. It is also a café for sports when goaaaal, Real Madrid leads 1-0. All the clients stand, Ali the maniac of the scissors ceases to be a barber for, well, five minutes. Those five minutes lead to another five minutes which lead to another five minutes which lead finally to half an hour and now it’s up to me.

–          Please, could you make it fast? I have a meeting soon.

–          Don’t worry, it will take only five minutes.

I have a curious feeling of deja vu. I suggest that Ali use clippers. I’m half bald, no need for scissors. He agrees and begins to clip away but after well, five minutes, he’s clutching again his dear scissors.

–          It’s OK for me, you made it perfect.

–          Give me another five minutes.

Ali is over-cautious. He seems to cut my hairs one by one, and I suspect that sometimes he cuts only air. I’m resolving to ask no more of him when a client enters the shop. They speak Arabic. Saved by the bell?

–          Too late, he is my last client.

I don’t believe it! He refuses a real client with real hair for me! What about business? I tell him I’m finished, I’m already late, but he insists. Not done yet. Goal for Zaragoza, 1-1. Five more minutes lost. Ali is for Real Madrid, so he cuts now with less enthusiasm. I believe it’s the perfect moment for my escape.

–          I have to go right now.

–          Give me five minutes please.

The roles seem reversed, it looks like I’m doing him a favor. After nearly an hour, I finally have my new haircut. Ali adds some pomade, delicately shapes my sideburns, shows me the results with his mirror, asks me ten times if I’m happy, takes up his scissors for a final retouch, On no give me five minutes for a very ultimate retouch following the ultimate retouch. I finally stand and pay him 50 dirhams. He gives me 30 dirhams in change.

–          Keep it all.

–          No. We said 20 dirhams, it must be 20 dirhams.

–          Stop that, I have to go.

–          Just give me five minutes, I owe you the change. Or maybe you want me to shave your beard in five minutes.

Damn it! We finally agree on 30 dirhams. I’m late for the talk, but when I arrive everyone admires my new haircut. I give you all the credit, Ali.

I will meet Ali again in the Medina on the last Tuesday before our departure for Casablanca. He insists on inviting me for a five-minute drink.

Editing by Jennifer Zoble 



« En Occident, vous avez l’heure. Nous avons le temps » (proverbe arabe)

Samedi, 18h, dans la médina de Fès écrasée par la chaleur. Les venelles remplies de passants étouffent l’atmosphère de la plus belle ville du plus beau pays du monde (à peu près). Pour être en harmonie (à peu près) avec tant de beauté, je décide de me faire couper les cheveux. J’ai tout mon temps avant une discussion collective prévue dans une heure. Beaucoup de salons de coiffure au mètre carré, j’ai l’embarras du choix. Ma décision est entre les mains du hasard.

–          Bonjour, combien pour une coupe ?

–          (Silence) 20 ou 30 dirhams.

–          Vous voulez dire 20 ou 30 dirhams ?

–          Comme vous voulez.

–          Disons que je préfère toujours l’option la moins onéreuse.

–          Alors va pour 20 dirhams.

Le coiffeur approximatif a environ 25 ans. Sa clientèle se compose de jeunes au look très occidental. Le style tecktonik a franchi la Méditerranée et tranche avec l’aspect médiéval de la médina. Perchée sur une étagère, un téléviseur diffuse les images du match de Liga opposant Saragosse au Real Madrid. Tous les regards, y compris ceux du coiffeur, convergent vers le haut. A chaque action, plus un bruit, plus une respiration. Plus de lames de ciseaux qui s’entrechoquent.

–          Quand pensez-vous commencer ma coupe ? Je demande.

–          Dans cinq minutes.

Cinq minutes plus tard, le coiffeur suspend toujours ses ciseaux au-dessus de la tête du client quand il ne regarde pas la télé. Le match est intéressant, les sièges sont confortables, que demande le peuple ? Un garçon dépêché par le coiffeur m’apporte du thé à la menthe. Embarrassé, je refuse, arguant que je suis un homme parmi les autres. Mon refus serait une offense, précise mon très diligent hôte lors d’un débat contradictoire de cinq minutes.

Nous bavardons. Il connaît Toulouse, « la ville rose » dit-il avec un accent à couper au couteau. Il s’appelle Ali, habite à Fès depuis toujours. Sans que je ne lui demande quoi que ce soit, il me décrit les lieux incontournables de la médina. Ses ciseaux sont de plus en plus fainéants. Un cheveu par minute, les subtilités capitalistes de la productivité semblent lui être  étrangères. Au contraire, il s’appesantit sur le thé à la menthe. L’ai-je aimé ? Mes mauvaises habitudes occidentales me rattrapent quand je m’enquiers du temps d’attente. « Oh cinq minutes » répond-il avec le même air dégagé tandis qu’il rase son client. Ici, les coiffeurs sont aussi barbiers, coupe et rasage inclus. Ce sont aussi des tenanciers de café des sports quand buuuut, le Real Madrid ouvre la marque. Les clients se lèvent et Ali le maniaque des ciseaux démissionne de son travail pour, tiens, cinq minutes qui se transforment en cinq autres minutes qui deviennent cinq autres minutes qui s’étirent en cinq autres minutes qui, finalement, métastasent en une demi-heure avant mon tour.

–          S’il vous plaît, pourriez-vous vous dépêcher ? J’ai un rendez-vous.

–          Pas de problème, ça prendra cinq minutes.

J’ai la nette impression d’avoir déjà entendu cette rengaine. Je lui suggère d’utiliser la tondeuse à cheveux. Je suis à moitié chauve, pas besoin de pinailler. Il dégaine la machine mais après, tiens, cinq minutes, il revient à ses très chers ciseaux.

–          OK, c’est parfait pour moi.

–          Donnez-moi encore cinq minutes.

Ali est hyper-précautionneux. Il semble couper mes cheveux un par un et je le soupçonne parfois de chercher à scinder les molécules de l’air ambiant. Je n’ose plus lui demander d’accélérer quand un client entre. Sauvé par le gong ?

–          Trop tard khouya, c’est mon dernier client.

Je n’arrive pas à y croire ! Il refuse un vrai client avec de vrais cheveux en dépit de toute logique. J’insiste sur mon retard mais il s’entête. But pour Saragosse qui égalise. Cinq nouvelles minutes perdues. Ali, supporter du Real, manie les ciseaux avec encore moins d’entrain. Le moment idéal pour tenter une échappée.

–          Je dois y aller sans tarder.

–          Cinq minutes s’il vous plaît.

Les rôles sont inversés. Maintenant, c’est moi qui semble lui rendre service. En un peu moins d’une heure, j’ai enfin ma nouvelle coupe de cheveux. Ali est passé par la case gomina (un litre), rasage de mes pattes (délicatement), miroir pour me montrer que pas un poil ne dépassait (environ dix fois), s’est échiné en une dernière ultime retouche précédant l’ultime retouche en me demandant chaque fois si j’étais satisfait. Oui mon gars, tellement que je lui laisse 50 dirhams.

–          Gardez la monnaie.

–          Non, on avait dit 20 dirhams.

–          J’insiste. Je dois vraiment y aller.

–          Je peux vous raser en cinq minutes.

Bordel ! On transige finalement à 30 dirhams la coupe. En retard pour la discussion, je reçois les félicitations unanimes de mes comparses. Dédicace à toi Ali, tu es meilleur que Fabio Salsa (et bien moins cher).

Je rencontrerai Ali à la médina le mardi précédant mon départ pour Casablanca. Il insistera pour qu’on prenne un verre, juste cinq minutes.

Simple Life

May 1, 2010

The one-hour jaunt to the Sufi village is turning into a two-hour journey. Ibrahim Tijani, our host, came on time, but we didn’t. Once we’re on the road, Ibrahim stops in a grocery store, where people flood him with greetings. Who is Ibrahim? He is the son of the sheik of one of the biggest Sufi Tariqa in the world. A humble VIP, always smiling and concerned about our welfare. We’re about to buy water when the grocer protests. It is free for us. We’re with Ibrahim, you know.

The final two kilometers to the Sufi village are hilly and rocky, to the dismay of our minivan and its clutch. Once we’ve arrived, the driver worries, unsure that we’ll make it back to Fes. Ibrahim, however, is characteristically cool, and we grow cooler in his presence. But our delays have left us with little time. Ibrahim laughs, a child-like smile on his face. “You must have lunch here, otherwise people won’t let you leave.” He is 30 but looks 10 years younger.

Everybody in the village welcomes him, kisses him, touches him. It’s his first visit in several years, and the inhabitants have missed him. He is joined by his Russian wife and their two children. A beautiful family. We climb again—this time on foot—to reach a tree where Ibrahim used to nap when he was a boy. I like listening to him because we make the same mistakes in English. He studied in France for four years and struggles with prepositions. He tells us about Sufi rituals, his personal history. He adds plenty of anecdotes, including one about an American family that converted to Sufism and settled near the village. They wear Stetsons. Sufism is universal.

Sitting under a tree, we survey the landscape. Ibrahim no longer wears his glasses in the village. “I see better surrounded by fresh air,” he explains. Women set a little table near us and bring our lunch. Fried eggs, olives, olive oil, honey, bread. That’s all. We devour the meal with our mouths, and the beauty of the mountainside with our eyes. During my week in Morocco, I ate couscous, tagines, and elaborate meals in elegant hotels. None of it was as delicious as this. Ibrahim tells us that the first principle in Sufism is unity with nature: we are everything, and everything is us. I believe him.

Editing by Jennifer Zoble



Ça soufi

La balade d’une heure jusqu’au village soufi  s’étire en une expédition de deux heures. Ibrahim Tijani, notre hôte, était à l’heure mais nous non. Nous devenons encore plus orientaux que les Orientaux. Les retards s’accumulent. Sur la route, Ibrahim s’arrête chez un épicier, puis des grappes de personnes curieuses le happent. Qui est Ibrahim ? Le fils du cheikh d’une des plus grandes Tariqa soufies du monde. Un VIP humble, souriant et sans cesse soucieux du bien-être d’autrui. Nous voulons acheter de l’eau à l’épicier qui proteste. C’est gratuit pour nous, on est avec Ibrahim.

Les deux derniers kilomètres jusqu’au village sont pentus et rocailleux. Pas du goût de l’embrayage à l’agonie et du mini-van hurlant au supplice. À l’arrivée, le chauffeur est inquiet. L’attelage brinquebalant ne tiendra peut-être pas jusqu’à Fès. Le calme d’Ibrahim déteint cependant sur nous tous. Nous restons zen. Nous n’avons pas beaucoup de temps pour la visite à cause des retards à répétition. « Vous devez tout de même déjeuner sinon les gens d’ici ne vous laisseront pas partir », sourit ibrahim d’un air enfantin. À 30 ans, il en paraît dix de moins.

Dès qu’il a posé le pied par terre, tout le village l’accueille, l’embrasse, le touche. Il n’est pas revenu depuis deux ans. Sa femme russe et ses deux enfants sont avec lui, figeant le portrait craché d’une famille modèle. Nous escaladons – à pied cette fois – jusqu’à un arbre à l’ombre duquel Ibrahim avait l’habitude de faire la sieste gamin. J’aime me bercer de sa voix, il commet le même genre de fautes d’anglais que moi. Il a étudié en France pendant quatre ans et comme un Français, il lutte avec les prépositions d’outre-Atlantique. Je l’apprécie de plus en plus. Il nous détaille les rituels soufis, son histoire personnelle. Des anecdotes émaillent sa conversation colorée, comme celle de cette famille américaine convertie au soufisme installée près du village. Il précise qu’ils portent le Stetson. Le soufisme est décidément universel.

Accroupis sous les feuillages, nous surplombons le magnifique paysage alentour. Noua allons déjeuner avec nos bouches et dévorer la beauté de la nature avec nos yeux. Ibrahim ne porte plus ses lunettes au village. « Je vois mieux, je suis en meilleure santé entouré de l’air frais de ma montagne »,  explique-t-il. Des femmes dressent la table et apportent en kit notre déjeuner. Œufs sur le plat, olive, huile d’olive, miel, pain. C’est tout. Pendant mon séjour au Maroc, je me suis régalé de couscous (beaucoup), de tagines (quelques-uns) et de moult délicieux repas sophistiqués servis dans nos hôtels luxueux. Aucun ne rivalise avec celui-ci, pris à même le sol et sans couverts. Ibrahim nous avait appris que les premiers principes du soufisme étaient l’amour et l’identification à la nature : nous sommes tout et tout est en nous. Pendant ce moment de communion et de partage simple, je le crois.

Sufi leader Ibrahim Tijani by JAKA BABNIK

May 1, 2010

Ibrahim is a leading local Sufi, head of the International division of the Tijani Tariqa/Tijaniyyah, a sufi order founded by his great grandfather Ahmed Al-Tijani, who died in 1815, and whose shrine is one of the most visited in Fes.