PsychoGeography #17: Last night I dreamed I went to Marrakesh again

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The Independent Online

Zooming Moulay had to have been a mistake. Granted, he was taking liberties, but it's one thing to zoom in your backyard, quite another to zoom cross-culturally. And what a culture to cross: Morocco, with its mystical secret fraternities, its a priori belief in the efficacy of practical magic, and its civilization founded on successive waves of fanatical puritans emerging from the arid turbulence of the Sahara to stop everyone dancing. No, if you're going to zoom anyone abroad do it somewhere like Bavaria, or Belgium.

Zooming Moulay had to have been a mistake. Granted, he was taking liberties, but it's one thing to zoom in your backyard, quite another to zoom cross-culturally. And what a culture to cross: Morocco, with its mystical secret fraternities, its a priori belief in the efficacy of practical magic, and its civilization founded on successive waves of fanatical puritans emerging from the arid turbulence of the Sahara to stop everyone dancing. No, if you're going to zoom anyone abroad do it somewhere like Bavaria, or Belgium.

It's not even as if I didn't know what I was up against. I'd been in Marrakesh enough times to understand that you're more or less under an obligation to employ a guide. The very least you can do if you're going to take a cheap holiday in someone else's misery is alleviate it just a little.

It may have been that Moulay disliked my set-aside scheme for him. I made it clear that I didn't require his guiding skills at all, but was content to give him a per diem just to keep the other flapping djellabas off my back. That and a little shopping, for majoun (marijuana mixed with dates and honey) and Spanish Fly (actually dried beetles of the genus Lytta vesicatoria). I thought I was letting him off lightly, but he kept insisting on guiding me through the tortuous passageways of the old town, press-ganging me into this mosque or that tannery, in order to make his kickbacks from other operators too.

Eventually I found myself in the ridiculous situation of trying to dodge my own guide. I'd duck out of the hotel, leap in the car, swirl into the Jemaa el Fna in a cloud of dust and take up my position in the Cosmos Café, looking out over the sun-beaten square at the snake charmers, the steaming food stalls, and the wild Berber men hawking their wares. But inevitably Moulay would surface at my elbow within seconds of my arrival, as if telepathically informed of my presence. This attribute alone should've warned me against zooming him.

Ah Moulay, with his fake Dolce & Gabbana shades and his queasy grin, I thought I knew him then, understood his straightforward rapaciousness, but I was a prize chump. It was the second batch of majoun that decided me. The first was forgivably small, but the second was titchy. I and my companion had necked the lot, crunched all the cantharides, and still felt no more aroused that a couple of pensioners eating potted shrimps at Prestatyn. When I challenged Moulay about this he was much aggrieved: "It is too strong for you Westerners to eat more majoun ... I am protecting you." Protecting me my foot. I insisted that he meet me at the hotel the following morning, for once I had somewhere I wanted him to guide me.

If he looked shifty and dog-eared in the early morning, I probably looked a good deal worse. We drove to a café where I rolled the last of the Sputnik hashish I'd bought in Tangier into a joint the size of a baby's forearm. Over mint tea I made sure that he smoked as much of it as I, and by the time we left his eyes were two red deltas of blood vessels. Back in the car I told him our destination: "I want to go to the old Jewish Quarter." "Yes, yes," he acceded, "I will take you there." My foot rammed the accelerator to the floor, and we shot away as if on an extempore leg of the Paris to Dakar Rally. As I hurled the car this way and that, Moulay could barely raise a hand to indicate the way.

In the Jewish Quarter I demanded a Jew. "Why? Why do you want to speak to these people?" He was already half-zoomed. "Because I'm a Jew myself Moulay - I want to speak with my people. This city used to have a big Jewish community - I want to know what happened." To his credit Moulay found me a Jew, and a Jewish dentist to boot. We sat in his dusty surgery under a diorama of garish posters. He spoke in Arabic and Moulay interpreted: he was an elderly man, most of the Jews had left Morocco, they'd gone to Israel like one of his sons, or to the States like one of his other sons. His wife was dead. The seconds ticked away in the wounded mouth of the surgery: the Jews of Marrakesh had been extracted.

Back in the street Moulay seemed fully zoomed, and I left him standing there. We didn't see him for the last few days we spent in Marrakesh, but I've seen him since, oh yes indeed. Whenever I feel uneasy or out of my depth in a foreign country, Moulay is always on hand to offer me his services. He appears in my dreams, his sunglasses opaque, his smile queasy, a relentless reminder of the truth that you should never zoom a Moroccan.

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