Before the Peace Corps, I grew up in the city of Niagara Falls, New York, a small industrial town on the Canadian border. The city sits along the Niagara River where early use of hydroelectric power fueled a chemical industry that sustained the city’s economy through the mid-twentieth century. Today the city’s economy is in a steep decline, a fate shared by many smaller cities in the Rust Belt.
Less a river in the traditional sense than a strait connecting Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, the Niagara receives almost all its water from Lake Erie.
The Great Lakes of the U.S. and Canada contain twenty percent of the world’s fresh water. Only Lake Baikal in Russia has about the same amount.
That’s where similarities end. Lake Baikal is over thirty million years old, far older than virtually any other lake in the world. In geological terms, lakes are here today and then gone in a flash. Baikal is exceptional because it sits in a continental rift zone. The lake is over 5,000 feet deep, and getting deeper. Its age accounts for all the endemic species found in it, including the only freshwater seal in the world. Its remoteness protected its natural setting until Soviet times, and because Baikal is in the middle of Siberia, the lake freezes over completely in the winter.
The Great Lakes are much younger, the result of recent glaciation during the last ice ages, a few tens of thousands of years ago. None are nearly as deep as Lake Baikal, but four of the five are relatively deep, so deep that they do not freeze over during the winter.
Only Lake Erie is so shallow that it exhibits a typical dimictic limnological cycle, where the lake water turns over en masse in the autumn and spring. Erie’s surface freezes solid during cold winters, too.
Yes, if you are intrepid, you can walk from the city of Erie, Pennsylvania, across the lake to the northern Ontario shore, though no one would recommend it. Winds cause the ice to heave and form pressure ridges that obstruct movement. And it would be a long, cold, and dangerous walk, and one strongly discouraged by law enforcement agencies.
Every winter the New York Power Authority, which manages a large hydroelectric plant in Lewiston, New York, just north of Niagara Falls, installs an ice boom across the source of the Niagara River at Lake Erie. Made of massive timbers chained together, the ice boom floats on the lake surface and keeps lake ice from floating into the river where it might clog the intakes to the American and Canadian hydro plants.
Keeping ice from entering the river also helps to prevent ice jams, which sometimes cause serious flooding. In the mid-nineteenth century, an ice jam formed such a solid barrier that Niagara Falls actually went dry for a short time.
Since the boom floats, strong winds can force ice over it, which is part of the design. A few days ago continuous winds from the west blew so much lake ice over the boom and into the river that the ice continued downstream over the falls, through the gorge below the falls, and into Lake Ontario where it collected along the shoreline, which happens to include a part of my backyard. Hence the initial picture. Because of its depth, Lake Ontario never freezes over, but ice does form along the shore during the winter months.
By the end of March this year, the shore ice had disappeared, but a few days ago it suddenly reappeared. It was Lake Erie ice that had made its way downriver into Lake Ontario.
This isn’t rare, and usually happens when the Power Authority removes the ice boom. In this case, it happened with the boom in place. The Power Authority just began yesterday to remove the boom, but the ice remaining on the eastern end of Lake Erie is now minimal. Today most of the shore ice is already gone. Diving ducks, geese, and an occasional loon are stopping for a feed on their journey north.
My younger daughter, Kate, has been visiting, and Kate, my wife, and myself, wanting to get some fresh air, went into the city and walked down some newly created stairs near the Whirlpool Rapids bridge, part of a larger trail-building project in the Niagara Gorge.
The stairs led to a section of the Old Gorge Railway roadbed.
Early spring and winter are the least scenic times to visit the gorge. Fall is my favorite, though I spent many summer days fishing there.
Until the mid-nineteen thirties, a trolley ran from Niagara Falls, through the gorge, to the village of Lewiston. In the railroad’s early days, a similar trolley ran along the Canadian side. The route was scenic, and many tourists included it in their visits to the area. In 1901, President McKinley rode it the day before he was assassinated in Buffalo, New York.
Frequent rock falls and changing transportation technology forced abandonment of the trolley, but the roadbed remains in place for much of the former American route, and today it offers a convenient way to descend to the area below the international bridges where the Whirlpool rapids begin, or even farther, though shale slides make certain passages difficult. The Whirlpool rapids are Class VI, and seldom attempted by kayakers.
Having a unique microclimate, the gorge provides a home to many plants, including very old cedars (Thuya occidentalis), but due to the railroad and urban development, the natural flora has been severely degraded. The Nature Conservancy is in the midst of an ambitious project to restore native vegetation. After mapping invasive species, the Conservancy’s first step is to remove them, primarily Norway maple and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Girdling will kill the trees, removing competitors, and letting light reach through the canopy to the forest floor, where native species can regenerate and compete.
The Niagara Gorge is a small, but unique place, and totally overlooked by most tourists. Let’s hope a new trail system and an emphasis on restoration of the native vegetation will make it even more interesting.
Following the railroad trail out of the gorge rewards the hiker with views of Niagara Falls. Indeed, the former village of Bellevue took its name from the view.
I was recently reading the blog of a PC volunteer now in Morocco, who complained bitterly of the cold. That post certainly brought back memories. El-berd! The cold! It even sounds cold in dialect. The first French resident general, Maréchal Lyautey described Morocco as a cold country with a hot sun, a remark I repeat with misgivings as it has almost become a cliche. Still, I remember Morocco’s winters far more its the summers.
For anyone living away from the Moroccan coast, cold winters forced volunteers to hunker down and cope as best we could. Our living allowance never permitted us to live with the French and the more prosperous Moroccans in the Ville Nouvelle, where there were European houses with central heating.
I lived in Sefrou, about 3,000 feet above sea level. Snow was uncommon. It only fell two of the four years I lived there.
In Chauen, where I lived for two years, I never saw snow except on the mountains, but the altitude of Chauen was only 1,800 feet.
In Tlemcen, Algeria, at the start of the trip across the Sahara, there was a snowfall. Tlemcen is almost the same altitude as Sefrou. It was March, and snowing in Sefrou, too.
The Sefrou snow falls were dramatic, but the snow melted quickly.
If you lived in Ifrane, it would have been really cold, though Ifrane had no Peace Corps then, nor much of anything else.
Like an Indian hill town, Ifrane then consisted of a hotel or two, shuttered houses dating from the Protectorat and a palace of the king.
Today Ifrane has a university, where one of my old friends teaches.
The Morocco X group arrived in January 1968. The sun was shining on that clear, warm day as the 40 agriculture volunteers debarked from the PanAm 707 at Sale. In New York it had been frigid, so the weather in Morocco was a great contrast. Pan American airlines flew to Rabat from its remarkable Eero Saarinen terminal at JFK. That was a great convenience, but the airport in Sale was subject to occasional dense fogs. Today most trans-Atlantic flights land at Nouaceur, a former U.S. SAC base outside of Casablanca. Our flight stopped briefly in the Azores, and, I think, in Lisbon, though I don’t recall leaving the plane there. The Saarinen terminal in NY, despite much architectural acclaim, has been demolished and replaced by a larger structure, and Pan Am is no more.
The Morocco X group had trained in a migrant labor camp in Hemet, California. The original training locale was to have been Taos, New Mexico, but a switch took place sometime before the training started. Hemet was a small agricultural and retirement community in a large inland valley in Riverside County, and the town sat in the shadow of Mt. San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak. Behind these dry, but forested, mountains is Palm Springs and the Mojave Desert.
The weather was summery when we arrived in Hemet in early October, but, by the end of training, had turned colder. The camp rooms were basic and had no heating. The concrete floors were unsealed, and gave up an unpleasant dust. We slept, four to a room, in the sleeping bags that we must have been counseled to bring from home. By late December, there was plenty of snow in the mountains, and we wore coats and jackets both inside and out. The only entertainment was a morning visit by a food truck selling Mexican-American food such as tacos, and a daily volleyball game. The camp food was horrible, and we all looked forward to leaving.
We weren’t in Rabat long before were went to a rural agricultural station near Tiflet, in Zemmour country, for in-country training. There was no heat there, and no hot water. Sometime into the second week, the boiler was turned on so we could all have a hot shower, but the only real warmth came on the occasional sunny day. Then we lay about on blankets, like lizards, hoping to warm as much as we could while the sun still shone.
How much colder it got depended on the altitude of the place where you were going. Through the prism of my Weather Channel app and the Internet, I now have figures. In Morocco, the coldest part of the year is called the el–lyali, and starts in mid-January and goes for a month or so. Watching the temperatures in Sefrou this year, I noticed that the nighttime lows were regularly about 32° F or 0° C. for much of December and January. While I never recall ice forming, one could always see one’s breath, inside as well as outside. I lived in a masonry house, and my room had no outside windows. It made a reasonable refrigerator, but not always a comfortable place to live. If you compare the weather now with Rabat, on the Atlantic coast, on sunny days, the daytime highs are similar, but the nighttime temperatures are 10° F or more cooler in Sefrou.
Having evaluated the situation before we left Tiflet, each and everyone in our group began developing his coping strategies. I had brought long underwear, and it helped. I also acquired an Aladdin kerosene heater. If you’re a cousin from across the ocean, and don’t recognize this American term, kerosene is what you refer to as paraffin in the British Isles.
There were many kerosene heaters for sale in the larger towns, but the Aladdin brand seemed to be the best, burning evenly and producing few fumes and little smell. None of the knockoffs were nearly as good. The trick was getting hold of new wicks. Though they were sold at the U.S Navy base store in Kenitra, we weren’t allowed to shop there, so if you knew someone with PX privileges, and they wanted to break the rules and buy one for you, you were in luck. Otherwise you had to have a wick shipped from the States or find one in Spain.
The Aladdin heater could bring my bedroom up to a tolerable temperature quickly. I used it most evenings, and even, once in a while, let it burn all night long. Though there was no exterior ventilation, the 16-18’ ceilings and huge doorway seemed to provide adequate ventilation.
The door was always ajar as one of the cats would insert his paw and exert enough force to swing it wide, at least wide enough for himself to enter. I always wished he could have learned to shut it, too! The Aladdin heater was also quite portable, and could easily be moved, even while lit. Through its portal, the blue kerosene glow of the wick was quiet comfort, and never disturbed my sleep the times that I slept with it on.
While the kerosene heater did not seem to pose a serious health problem, propane fueled water heaters were another matter altogether. Today in America one might refer to them as on-demand systems. The pilot ignited a gas jet that was triggered by turning on the tap or shower. These were relatively common in apartments in larger cities. They were also commonly found all over Europe. Unfortunately, they came in many different grades and conditions, and their installation required proper venting and checking for gas leaks. Sadly, during the eight years I lived in Morocco, three volunteers died, asphyxiated, in two separate incidents. They were all girls, and, in one of the cases, two shared an apartment and died together. I, myself, was seriously poisoned by carbon monoxide while living in Chauen, but managed to crawl across the street to my French friends’ house, where I received first aid. Luckily, my friend was a doctor, working off his military service as a coopérant.
In the Sefrou house, there was no water heater. Everything was done with cold water or water heated on the kitchen two-burner stove in the large kettles we used for tea water. I had somehow acquired a very large galvanized wash tub for laundry. I could fit in it, though not without a little contortion. Occasionally the other volunteer I lived with, Gaylord Barr, or myself would heat up a lot of water, carry the tub down to our bathroom which had no sit down toilet or even much of a sink, and use it for a bath. Kettles of heated water were also handy for shaving, though I had to forgo that luxury when I was late for work. Peace Corps volunteers refer to Morocco as Posh Corps. The country was developed, and close to Europe. Just the same, depending on where you lived, you could freeze all winter long.
More often than not, we would go to the hammam in our neighborhood, sometimes with Moroccan friends. The hammam was a Turkish style bath, with a changing room and three wet rooms, each progressively hotter. The last room was the hottest. The rooms were dimly lit, and the floors warm. Perhaps there was a hypocaust as in Roman baths.
Larger cities had larger and more elaborate structures, with variations on the design, but you really need to go to the Middle East to see fine bath architecture. Our neighborhood hammam was a simple box, divided in two parts, one for women and one for men.
In the changing room off the entrance, men would strip to their underpants. Nudity for men was an offense to Muslim notions of modesty. On the other hand, women would undress completely, and, perhaps, a bit unnerving to the western women who entered the hammam, were all the prepubescent boys running around. Of course, women either had their own facility or different hours from men. My neighborhood hamman had separate entrances and facilities for men and women. One would grab a wooden bucket, go to the hottest room, which had a basin of hot water, and then, if it was too hot, retreat to the middle room. The hot water had to be diluted, too. The idea was to sweat and clear the pores of dirt, then use soap to wash and fresh water to rinse. Pumice stone and fuller’s earth helped, too. There was always someone there who would rub you down and give you a massage, for which you would pay a few ryals. If you went with friends, they would wash your back. The massages I witnessed were pretty strenuous, and I never had the desire to have one. The hot temperatures and the soap and water seemed to do their job.
The hammam was not like a shower, in and out in minutes. You went for the afternoon or the evening. It was a social event. And while you were there, you were warm! You could stay as long as you wanted, and if you got thirsty, you could go back to the changing room, buy a soda or eat an orange that you brought yourself, and then re-enter for more washing. Friends often sat around and talked. The hammam was a way to get clean, and Islam requires cleanliness as a part of ritual purity, but it was also a nice way of passing a free afternoon or evening. When you finished, you put on fresh clothes, maybe your pajamas if it were evening, threw on your djellaba, and, suffused with warmth, walked home under a cold, starry sky. No matter how cold it was, you felt warm for a few more hours. In my case in Sefrou, home was only a few hundred yards down quiet, shadowy streets, along the city wall, and through the city gate.
Speaking of djellabas, for men, at least, they, too, were a part of the strategy of keeping warm in winter. There really was nothing finer than a good djellaba. Women’s djellabas were cut from different materials, but men’s cool weather djellabas were made of wool. I bought mine in the Sefrou suq.
I actually ordered it, and it was made to measure. It was rough wool and heavy, and I always wanted a black and white one with the fine, geometrical patterns that the Middle Atlas Berbers made in places like Imouzzer des Marmoucha, but, in the end, I never did make an effort to get one.
Mine was serviceable, just the same, and I wore it indoors and out during the cold months. It kept me warm inside, when I could see my breath, and outside it kept me dry for hours in steady rain. The wool fibers would swell as they got wet, and keep the water out, and though the djellaba got heavier and heavier, and eventually damp, I never got wet wearing it.
Convenience was also a virtue of the garment. No one could see what you were wearing under it, so I could go out of my house in pajamas to buy milk and sfinj (doughnuts) for breakfast, without worrying about dressing.
The sfinj were strung on the fronds of dwarf palms, doum (Chamaerops humilis) the only palm native to Europe by the way. In good weather, the hood became an extra pocket to carry small items like eggs, if necessary. When I took it off before going to sleep, I folded it carefully, lest a djinn would enter it at night and cause me harm. No sense taking chances.
On sunny winter days, it was possible to go up to the flat roof or terrace, and catch some sunshine, but that was not sunbathing! Warm clothes were still necessary until the weather warmed in April. The locals would promenade if the weather was warm enough, enjoying the sunshine, exercise, and fresh air. Students often studied as they walked in groups of two or three.
We tried buying a wood fired cook stove for the room used as a kitchen, but the stove never had an adequate draft, and smoked. I also bought a small stove for the guest room on the room, but that room was very cold, and when we eventually abandoned it,
I moved the stove into the courtyard and tried burning charcoal briquets in it. It produced a fair amount of heat, but it proved to be too messy and too much trouble, and it was eventually discarded. A full fire only heated the courtyard.
Occasionally volunteers moved in with others, or their girl friends came over from the States or they met a coopérante, who wanted a roommate. That sometimes proved a fun, but costly, way to stay warm. One English teacher in Sefrou got his live-in girl friend pregnant, leading to all kinds of serious complications.
Determined not to be cold in Chauen, I brought over an electric blanket. You probably have already guessed how that worked out. The power fails in the middle of the night, while you are asleep, and the bed gets colder and colder, and you slowly wake up and finally awake, realize that you are freezing and begin to desperately look for more blankets. Electricity is wonderful as long as you can count on it. You could always count on wool blankets if you had enough of them.
In the end, staying warm depended on long underwear (if only it had been woolens—the Brits know what they are doing there), the faithful Aladdin, the hammam, my djellaba, and plenty of blankets. And, maybe, my attitude. I wasn’t living that much better than my neighbors. I never spent a warm winter in Morocco, but I never took much notice of the cold after the first winter. I was young and Morocco had a lot to offer whatever the temperature inside or out.
Where I live now, this February has been well above normal. The first days of March seem to be shaping up nicely, too. March will not come in like a lion this year. Still, I can hear the words of my late Aunt Mary, repeating what her mother, my maternal grandmother from Abruzzo, always said: “Marzo è pazzo.” March is crazy. We shall see.
The Merinids created one of the dynasties that a contemporary, Ibn Khaldun, was surely writing about in his Muquddimah. As the Almohads lost the confidence of their supporters and allies, the Merinids waited in the wings with fresh energy. By the end of the Almohad dynasty, Al Andalous had been reduced to the Nasirid kingdom of Granada. The Merinids took in the refugees from Spain, but confined their interests mostly to Africa. They made Fes their capital, but left their mark across North Africa.
The Almohads (and the dynasty before them, the Almoravids) were Berbers who came out of the Atlas, full of religious fervor and zeal, to establish themselves as rulers of Morocco and cross the straits to intervene in Spain. The birthplace of the Almohads, whose name derives from the oneness of God, is near Tinmel on the road to Tizi n Test in the High Atlas. Today Tinmel is nothing but a village, but it boasts the ruins of a beautiful mosque from Almohad times.
The Almohads left an indelible architectural imprint on Morocco. They built the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, famous for its minaret, as well as two other massive minarets, modeled after it: the unfinished Tour Hassan in Rabat, and the Giralda Tower in Sevilla, Spain.
All are noted for their proportions and fine decoration as well as their size: each is large enough inside for a ramp that would allow a horse to be ridden to the top. The Giralda, in my opinion, was not improved by the Renaissance bell tower, added to grace the cathedral that replaced the grand mosque.
The Tour Hassan was never finished, nor was the mosque it was supposed to serve, and the latter was further damaged in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Nearly 50 meters high, the Tour Hassan was for many years one of the highest structures in Rabat.
When I first visited it in 1968, there were no barriers on the top, and one could sit, if one dared, with feet dangling over the edge.
Unfortunately a rash of accidents and suicides led to erection of an ugly chain link fence on the top of the minaret. What remains of the mosque is simply marble slabs and ruined pillars. On the south end of the site is a newly constructed tomb for Mohammed V, a beloved ruler of the current dynasty, who led Morocco to independence. I wonder if he might have preferred a simpler tomb.
The Tour Hassan has stunning views of the Casbah of the Ouidayas, the Bou Regreg River, and the city of Sale. A fortified enclosure, built by the Almohads, the Casbah of the Ouidayas dominates the river as it enters the Atlantic.
Its massive entryway is another classic example of Almohad architecture. In March of 1973, I became severely ill in Sefrou, and ended up recuperating in the house of friends who lived in the Ouidayas and spent several weeks there. The Ouidayas has a small medina, and it had great south-facing views that attracted foreign residents. There is also a museum and walled gardens below the residential area.
On the Atlantic side of the Ouidayas is a large cemetery by the ocean.
Paths run down to the jetties that protect the Bou Regreg. People fish from them, and if you walk out to the end of one, you will be rewarded with terrific views of the Atlantic Ocean swells.
South of the Ouidayas, the Almohads created a necropolis with royal tombs, known today as the Chellah, on the slopes of the Bou Regreg’s valley.
The site they chose was a Phoenician trading post, and later Roman site, Sala Colonia.
It had already been mostly abandoned when its Byzantine governor, Count Julian of Ceuta, surrendered to the Arab general, Oqba Ben Nafi in 683. The latter is supposed to have ridden his horse into the Atlantic, calling for God to witness that he had brought Islam to the end of the world. True or not, it is a romantic image as well as one speaking to the pride of Moroccan Muslims.
Today the Chellah is surrounded by the modern city of Rabat. A wall, built by the Merinids, encloses the ruins of the various civilizations that occupied the site, and the Merinids further endowed the Chellah with a mosque and tombs, now also in ruins.
The Chellah is an interesting place to explore. When I was there, there was a pool with eels. Women would come to it and feed them, possibly hoping for success in getting pregnant. Cats often surrounded the pool, begging for food.
Rabat was also the home of Barbary Pirates who are often associated with Sale, Rabat’s sister city across the mouth of the Bou Regreg. Sale was founded by the Almoravids. I lived there for a while in 1973 with a Peace Corps volunteer and a Moroccan friend, Ali, who was attending the University in Rabat. Most people cross the bridge between the cities, but there is an ancient ferry service that perseveres and can save time depending where you live in Sale.
As I write, the wind is howling. The weather forecast for the night is three to six inches of snow and a wind chill of -15 to -30F° (roughly -20 to -30° C). There is shore ice on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie is rapidly freezing over. Temperature is -20° C.
Sitting indoors, the weather outside invites us to reflect on sunnier climes, both here and abroad. I have been thinking about Jbel Toubkal.
As it is the highest mountain in North Africa, and, one of the most easily accessible high mountains on the entire continent, hikers and climbers flock to Jbel Toubkal. A short bus or taxi ride takes one to Imlil, a large village in the valley below the mountain.
Since I first visited Toubkal about 50 years ago, a serious tourism industry has grown up in this area. In my time, other than a stone dormitory building that the Club Alpin Français (CAF) left, there was just a village there, with villagers willing to sell you food, and muleteers offering their services to take you to the CAF huts of Neltner, De Lépiney, and Tachdirt. Today I see that a second hut exists next to the renamed Neltner, that businesses have grown up around Sidi Chamharouch, and that Imlil itself has holiday lets and lodging for tourists.
Bemoaning commercialization would be mean and selfish. There is no begrudging the living that the locals can make off of tourism. Life in the mountains is always difficult, and tourism is a great addition to the local economy.
There is no pretending that Toubkal is remote. In the seventies, a motorcycle group surprised us at Neltner, getting all the way up to the hut with their large bikes. On the other hand, the hut was never crowded in those days, and, once out of the hut, one hardly saw other hikers or climbers in the mountains.
My first visit to Neltner was in the summer of 1969, with other Peace Corps friends. Mules took our baggage up, while we walked, a good way to acclimatize.
We climbed the mountain by the gulley opposite the hut, an easy walk via a steep scree slope.
John Paulas and I had fun taking giant, gliding steps in the scree, and made it down from the summit in no time.
This is the standard walk up route, and not much of a problem for a reasonably fit person in dry weather. There are good views from the summit.
The real dangers on Toubkal are snow, ice, and bad weather. In 1970 an ill-prepared group of embassy people had a bad accident, with a member of the Turkish embassy slipping and sliding a long way down the standard route, and suffering serious injuries. Skiers can face avalanches in the winter, too.
The classic climbing route is up the west ridge, which starts at Tizi Ouanoums. I found it easy, and did it once alone, and, another time, with an Englishman whom I met at Neltner.
I do remember meeting a couple of young French climbers in Imlil on one of my visits, who complained in disappointment that the rock was rotten and that the route was not very challenging. I can understand that. The climbing is straightforward, not very exposed, and the rock could be better. With my limited skills, however, I found it enjoyable, and it is more scenic than the gulley route.
Neltner, at 3,200 meters, also served as a base for other trips: Tadat, Akioud, and hikes to the Lac d’Ifni. Tadat is a rock spur or isolated tower on Tizi n Tadat. Akioud is a ridge between Ouanoukrim and Afella that offers an easy traverse. The Lac d’Ifni is a tarn lake in the Massif of Toubkal, and is said to contain native trout. One simply follows the main valley above the hut over Tizi n Ouanoums, and down to the lake. Of course, if you don’t know where you are going you may have problems. I once stood on Tizi Ouanoums shouting at the top of my lungs to my friends Maya and Dan, who wanted to go to the Lac d’Ifni, but were heading toward Tizi n Ouagane! At least a thousand feet above them, they simply could not hear me, and there were no others on the route to set them straight. They only discovered their mistake when they found no lake at the bottom of the valley! Still they had a great time.
I ended up summiting most of the highest peaks around Neltner, all of which are easy walk ups. If you are thinking about doing it, go when there is snow on the mountains. They are parched and bleak in the summer.
I always wanted to climb Tadat, but never managed to do it, though my friend Jean-Michel Vrinat, and some other French friends with whom I climbed did it. Jean-Michel was a coopérant, who arrived in Morocco with a carload of sporting equipment (fencing foils, shotgun, etc.) which included climbing gear. I did lead this group, with friends Gilles and Sylvie Narbonne on a traverse of Akioud, which I had done by myself before, and I think that they really enjoyed it.
Akioud is an easy walk from the Neltner Hut, and, done from south to north, requires no rappelling. A rope for belaying and security is useful, but not needed for good climbers.
Finally, a trail leads to the third CAF Hut, Tachdirt, near the village and below the pass of the same name. I visited Tachdirt twice. In the spring, there was too much snow, and I think that we spent a couple of cold days in the hut before going back down.
A second time, we thought we could walk the ridges between Tizi n Tachdirt and connect to the trail to Neltner. We totally underestimated our physical condition and the difficulty involved. Having climbed from the pass to the ridge of Jbel Anrhemer, we camped out just below the ridge. I awoke sick the next morning. Climbing along the ridge, I became increasingly dehydrated, and needed water, which necessitated descending to the nearest snow patch (of which there were precious few—this was summer.) We ended up returning to Imlil, then walking the trail to Neltner, arriving in the middle of the night, in my case with the assistance of a mule for the last kilometer. What a day!
Lately I have been reading the posts of Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving in Morocco. It was a pleasure to see that a couple of them have formed chess teams, and recently had a competition.
Chess is a terrific game for kids. It requires little investment in equipment, it is easy to learn, it teaches important life skills, and it probably improves a student’s cognitive abilities. It is a truly international game, and, in fact, FIDE is the third largest sports federation in the world. Chess notation has become an international language. Girls have the same ability as boys.
I took a chess book with me as a volunteer, but, like my Russian language text, I never looked at it much. I don’t think I took a chess set, though I did play in training. I never knew anyone in Sefrou who played. Now I wish I had. Later in my life, I did play café chess for a while in Chauen.
While in the Peace Corps I had some Yugoslav friends, including Peter Kustovitch, who worked in agriculture in Fes, and knew many volunteers. There were also Yugoslav students studying at the Qarawiyin University, as well as a Yugoslav doctor in Boulemane. They all played chess much better than I did, and I could have had fun and improved my game. Peter was from Montenegro, and I hope he did not get caught up in the Balkan Wars of the Nineties.
I played chess in high school, and at other points in my life, and I never lost interest in the game. When I began teaching, I started a chess club at my high school, and continued it for about 20 years. In 2011, the school entered an interscholastic league, managed by Rochester Chess, and began competing with other schools. We always did well, but needed a bit more support, which my former school district, in conjunction with the police athletic league, are now providing.
In my last year of teaching, there were four exchange students, all Muslim. They hailed from Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, and Indonesia. As one might expect, they were a diverse group.
I convinced two of them to join our scholastic chess team. Our first board had graduated, and our best player was our third board from the previous year. I guessed that the Kyrgyz might play well, coming from a former Soviet Republic, and so he could. He made the difference between a good and a mediocre season. And he turned out to be a truly nice person.
Dylan, by the way, was the previous year’s team’s first board, and virtually inhaled pizza!
In the autumn of 1967, I reported for Peace Corps training to a migrant labor camp in Hemet, California. The year had been eventful. I had graduated from college. I had visited Expo 67, the World’s Fair in Montreal. I had worked for two Peace Corps training programs in la Pocatière. I had hiked in the Canadian Rockies. I had witnessed Charles DeGaulle address to a Quebec crowd shouting “Vive le Québec libre.” And I had listened to Foster Hewitt on Hockey Night in Canada as the Toronto Maple Leafs won their fourth Stanley Cup of the decade.
Living along the US-Canadian border for much of my life, I also had an academic interest in Canada. I didn’t play hockey, and, in fact, could barely skate, but I followed the game closely through the Toronto Globe and Mail, for which I had a subscription.
In 1967, there were only six teams in the National Hockey League, though the league was on the verge of expansion. Almost all the players were Canadians.
Tonight Liz and I tuned into the Maple Leaf game. From our home, we can receive it clearly over the air. I had been thinking about writing about the Muslim players in the NHL, and took a screen shot just as Nazem Kadri scored against Philadelphia. Kadri is one of two Muslim players in the NHL. He is a a native of London, Ontario, not too far from here. His father was born in Lebanon and emigrated to Canada where Nazem was born.
If you had suggested to me while I lived in Sefrou that I would be watching Muslim hockey players playing professional hockey, I think I would have been sceptical. When the Leafs won their last Cup, I believe that the entire team was made up of Canadian players. Today, of the twenty-three players on the roster, six are European and five are American , including their franchise player, Auston Matthews, from, of all places, Arizona.
Kadri is an elite player. He scored twice in tonight’s game, and he is one of the reasons the Leafs may finally get another chance at the Stanley Cup in the coming years. He practices his faith, and keeps the Ramadan fast as best he can, not an easy thing for a sports professional.
I don’t expect a Moroccan hockey star soon, but fifty years ago I didn’t expect Muslims in the NHL either.
Depending on your age and life experience, Trout Fishing in America may bring different things to mind. If you are a fisherman and fly enthusiast, it may remind you of the opening of trout season on one of America’s classic streams, such as the Delaware or the Madison.
If you are young, perhaps you will think of the homonymous band that sang children’s songs. My favorite, as a former school library media specialist, was Alien in My Nose, wherein the fate of the world is settled in a school library, saved by a kid killing time.
Then, again, if you happen to be a baby boomer, one of college age in the late nineteen sixties you may recall Richard Brautigan’s short novel.
The sixties were a time of ferment and turbulence. A counter culture arose that is familiar, and shared, at least to some small extent, by almost everyone who was young then.
By 1968 Brautigan’s book had gotten into the hands of Peace Corps volunteers. I read it, because everyone was reading it, or, perhaps, because there may have been nothing else to read at the time, but it did not captivate me. It was not long enough to fill up multiple grand taxi trips from Sefrou to work in Fes and back home. I preferred longer and more ambitious novels such as Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita or classics such as La chartreuse de Parme. Brautigan was mildly amusing, but shallow. Perhaps you had to be high to enjoy him.
Trout fishing in Morocco was a different matter. At the time, I was interested in hiking and climbing, and fishing was secondary. I had some tackle, and fished a bit in the Middle Atlas lakes where European pike ruled, but the real trout fishing was in the central High Atlas. Al Jessup, the local Christian missionary, was by profession a fisher of souls, but Morocco was a difficult stream to poach. He was befriended by a French sports shop owner in Fes, and the two of them went on fishing trips together. He bragged of the ease of catching rainbow trout, of size and quantity in the cold mountain lakes and streams. I am not aware that he ever caught any souls.
The rainbows were stocked, of course, as were largemouth bass, and other sport fishes. Morocco has its own native species of trout, one of which lives in Ifni Lake, in the shadow of Jbel Toubkal, a place frequently visited by hikers. All of Morocco’s trout are probably endangered today. If you are interested in Morocco’s native wildlife, you may enjoy this article on trout.
Before the Romans, Morocco probably had many of the large fauna of Africa: elephants, bears, lions. The North African elephant, was used in warfare by many armies besides those of the Carthaginians. Intensive use of North Africa for farming, and the insatiable demand for animal fights in the arenas of the Roman Empire eventually led to the extinction of most of the large fauna. Wild boar and macaque monkeys are the most serious threats you might encounter in a Moroccan forest today. I once asked a shepherd near Ifrane if he had seen any monkeys. After two years in Morocco, I had not seen one. His reply: “Are you kidding? The little sons of bitches are everywhere!” I finally did see the Barbary macaques, both in the Middle Atlas and in the Rif in the mountains overlooking Chauen. I never encountered a boar, except one my friend Jean-Michel shot and served roasted at the dinner table. Needless to say, Moroccans do not eat boar, but they do hunt them as the animals can be a nuisance. Around the turn of the twentieth century, pig sticking–hunting boar from horseback with pikes–was the dangerous pleasure of the more avid European hunters who lived in Tangier.
Thomas Pellow, an 11-year old English boy captured by Barbary pirates in 1715 and sold as a slave to Moulay Ismael, explains in his memoir, The Adventures of Thomas Pellow Mariner, what to do if one happens to cross a lion on the road:
The lion, on the other hand, shows himself boldly sitting on his breech with a very sour look in the road, about twenty or thirty paces before travellers. In this case, instead of walking on and keeping their eyes off him, they must stand still and stare him full in the face, hollowing at him and abusing him all they can ; and for fear he may not understand English, in the language — if they can — of the country. Upon this hollowing and staring at him, he gets him on his legs, and, severely lashing his loins with his tail, walks from them, roaring after a terrible manner, and sits himself down again in the road, about the distance of a mile or two, when both traveller and lion behave again in the same manner ; and after proving them thus a third time, the lion generally leaves them without interruption.
There is no danger of that today. Traditionally, it is said that the last wild Barbary lion was killed in 1920. Some put the date in the nineteen forties. Sadly, today the Barbary lions are gone except for a few in zoos and manageries such as kept by the kings.
Those caged lions had their uses. El Rogui Bou Hmara led an unsuccessful revolt against the sultan Moulay Abd el-Hafids from 1902 to 1909. When his tribal support disintegrated, El Rogui took refuge in a mosque thinking he had sanctuary. It was bombarded by the sultan’s French supplied artillery, however, and he was captured. Displayed in a cage in Fes, he was tortured and eventually thrown to lions, though it isn’t clear whether they were interested enough to actually eat him!
Extinction is a thought much on my mind these days. I’ve been following Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles in The New Yorker for years, and finally read her book, The Sixth Extinction, this spring.
This post was prompted by an article I read the other day in La Dépêche. I’ve been thinking of a hiking or climbing holiday in the Pyrenees, so I follow what goes on in the region by reading this newspaper published in Toulouse. If you have been following the news, then you know that the Catalans and Spain have many issues that are coming to a head. The Catalans have my sympathy: they suffered years of cultural suppression by Franco’s dictatorship. Yet I find rabid nationalism dangerous, too. The future of mankind, if it is to be happy, will surely entail greater economic and political integration, as well as cooperation and common sacrifice. May the coolest heads prevail and everyone receive what is most important to him.
I noticed an article on the discovery of mercury in some of the high lakes of the Pyrenees. Investigators have come to the conclusion that the mercury arrived in the form of trout fingerlings, that are raised in hatcheries and stocked in the lakes. The trout are fed meal derived from ocean fish that have bioaccumulated mercury. Here is a case where humans unknowingly are transferring toxins between species and environments.
If you’ve read The Sun Also Rises, you know that Hemingway’s idea of heaven was trout fishing in the Pyrenees. He thought Spain had the best fishing in Europe.
O brave new world!
My wife and I just had five tall, old trees cut down. One was dead, one was a nuisance, and three were just a little too close for comfort. We loved those trees, and cutting them down, even if they do provide wood for next winter’s fires, was a heartache.
Now one has a slightly better view of the lake, the gutters will not fill up from beechnuts from the mast, and my wife will have more sunshine in her gardens. But we will miss those trees and the cicadas that sang in them during the long summer twilights.
Where there are no trees
If you travel around the United States, and have the inclination, you can equip yourself with a series of books on roadside geology. I haven’t checked so I don’t know if there is one for every state, but there are many states represented for sure. In the west, where the climate is more arid and the rock strata are not covered, you can often witness the forces that shaped our planet from the comfort of your car.
Morocco, because it has only Mediterranean and desert climates, could benefit from a similar guide. The geology, in all its splendor, spreads out before you, plain to see.
Morocco also tends to lack biological diversity. Add up all the native species of trees and perhaps you may get a couple of dozen, far less than you would find in Western Europe or the Eastern United States.
That said, Morocco still has some great forests, notably the cork oak forests of Mamora and the Cedars of the Middle Atlas, though both are under pressure and threatened by climate change, overgrazing, and charcoal manufacture.
Flock in cedar forest near Ifrane. The forest was populated by boars and monkeys.
When I was visited by three volunteers from Libya, just before the revolution that launched Gaddafi’s career, I took them in the Willys jeep up to the cedar forests southwest of Sefrou. They were impressed by the karst lakes and the dense, tall Atlas cedars. It had been some time since they had even seen a tree.
I can’t help thinking of them when I watch some English period drama that frames the earl, walking with his old dog, past the huge Atlas cedars adorning his estate. I actually tried planting one a few years in my backyard, as I live on the edge of a climate zone that supposedly permits their growth. Unfortunately, after a few good years, it succumbed to a particularly bitter winter. Perhaps I’ll try again, but I will never have ones like the Earl of Grantham or those surrounding the châteaux of France. An old friend was fortunate enough to purchase some hilltop property above Albi, and the French government subsidized its reforestation with thousands of Atlas Cedars!
The rocks in Morocco contain more than a record of the physical forces that have shaped our planet.
From the skeletons of giant dinosaurs to earliest evidence of modern man, Morocco has been a great place for paleontologists and archeologists in recent years, and it is virtually certain that there will be new discoveries that expand our knowledge of the history of the world.
If you drive from Sefrou, through Ahermoumou, to the western slopes of Jbel Bouiblane, look in the stream beds that the road crosses, and, in the Cretaceous rocks, you may find large and beautifully preserved ammonite fossils. The ammonites perished in the last great extinction, when a Manhattan-sized rock struck what is now the Yucatán and left the Chicxulub crater. These long gone creatures, in their beautifully coiled shells, also may remind us that a great extinction is taking place today, caused not by an asteroid, but by ourselves.
Darwin’s Dilemma Solved
Proponents of creationism have recently pushed their point of view by claiming that “Darwin’s dilemma” demonstrates that God had His hand in the “Cambrian explosion.” The argument conflates two somewhat different facts. Darwin found it difficult to reconcile the period of rapid diversification that took place in the early Cambrian, between 541 and roughly 518 million years ago, with the short time in which it took place. Darwin was still operating in a uniformitarian mindset of course. And he knew nothing about modern genetics which helped explain the process of evolution. This has prompted the latest challenge by intelligent design promoters, namely, that diversification could not possibly happen fast enough for all modern animal phyla to develop. God must had intervened.
Now, this explanation has been permanently discredited. A.J. Bateman and a team of scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, have conclusively proven that God was on vacation during the geological time period in question, and simply left everything up to nature. “We got the idea from the Old Testament. Though God is everywhere and all powerful, He may not always be working,” said Bateman in an exclusive interview last Friday. “We knew from Genesis that God rested after creating the world, so we simply searched for vacation rentals over the last 690 million years,” said Bateman’s graduate assistant, Samuel Clemens, who also noted that a day in God’s eyes might be millions of year in ours.
There were many stories about the first Morocco Peace Corps programs that we heard as we trained and served. I met a couple of volunteers from an early program in Hanover, NH. I worked at the reserve desk of the library with the wife. One day they needed a babysitter, so I was pressed into service. It was in their house that I saw my first picture of one of the monumental city gates of Meknes. I really knew nothing about Morocco yet, although the following year I was to develop a good friendship with a Moroccan student who lived in the room immediately across the hall from mine.
Strangely the only thing I remember was an offhand comment by the husband that there were no beautiful Moroccan women, which I doubted at the time, and found to be utterly untrue after living in Morocco. The wife, however, did share with me the discrimination that she suffered as a child growing up in Colorado. That was my first insight into the discrimination that Hispanics faced in my own country. It was 1966, I think, and it was a wake-up for me.
Other than that, the older volunteers I knew were either training or country staff, or those still living in Morocco when I arrived (VII or VIII.) They all had stories, and, of course, every volunteer has them. It is unfortunate that there is not something like NPR’s Story Corps to capture them for posterity.
Some of the first programs were apparently disastrous. Morocco had only been an independent country since 1956, and Moroccans tended to be suspicious of foreigners. Also suspicious were the numerous French still working in the government or living in Morocco. France has its own volunteer service, called la Coopération, an alternative to military service for some, and was not terribly interested in having the Peace Corps on what it thought of as its turf. The French government was led by Charles de Gaulle, who distrusted the anglophone world, in general. Peace Corps TEFL teachers could be seen as yet another attack on la francophonie.
Moroccan bureaucrats were perplexed about what to do with these young Americans and probably about the programs that came with them. Foreign aid is a tough business, and my experience with USAID was that many of its projects were questionable and many AID people collected high salaries for doing very little. This may be a jaundiced view, but it still feels right today.
There were stories about the early programs that were difficult to believe. Volunteers from a failed program, hanging out in Rabat, racing their blue Willys jeeps up and down Avenue Mohammed V in Rabat, waving winners with a checkered flag. Volunteers grabbing policemen’s hats and running into the USIS building, where they stood behind the Marine guard, and taunted the policemen.
Two stories were more interesting. The first is true, and the second sounds true, but I did not witness it first hand.
In the early days, a doctor was assigned to the Peace Corps office in Rabat, to take care of the volunteers. Given that one had to be young and healthy to get into the Peace Corps, the Peace Corps doctors had plenty of time on their hands. By Morocco XII, the role of the doctor was replaced by a nurse. I knew the last doctor, who became a good friend, and developed an affection for the first nurse, an older woman, retired from the military, whose gruffness often obscured her kindness and generosity.
One early doctor was a would-be poet and avid surfer, reputed to be difficult to get in touch with on short notice. A volunteer serving in Nador became seriously ill and could not reach Rabat. She had met a Jewish doctor in Oujda at some point, and called him in desperation. He told her not to worry, just go to the airport and wait. Within an hour or so he arrived in his private plane, and whisked her back to Oujda, where she recuperated in his clinic until she regained her health. I don’t think he ever charged for his services.
The second story took place in Fes. It reminds me a bit of stories from the Thousand and One Nights, where the fifth Abbasid caliph, Haroun er-Rachid often wandered the streets of Baghdad in disguise, hoping to discover what his subjects really thought. This was during the Golden Age Of Islam, when Baghdad was a great center of thought and learning.
One day the local police circulated throughout Fes rounding up volunteers. They knocked on apartments, went to volunteers’ work places, and even found volunteers in cafes. Needless to say, this was at first a cause of consternation, but the police made it clear that there was no law problem, but rather that they were delivering invitations to an official dinner, thrown by the local government for David Rockefeller, the banker. Rockefeller had a lifelong interest in Morocco, and was a friend of the King. Tired of official receptions and eager to know more about the work of the Peace Corps, which he admired, he had asked that some volunteers be invited so that he could meet and talk with them.
So the police found as many as they could and that night they dined with some high ranking officials and Rockefeller. At the dinner, Rockefeller told a story about meeting Hassan II a few days earlier. As is customary, Rockefeller brought a gift, a very fine telescopic sight for a hunting rifle. The King accepted it with thanks, and told Rockefeller that he had a little something for him. He led Rockefeller through a palace doorway into a room piled high with fine Moroccan rugs. They continued through another door into a room filled with fine pottery, and then into a third room stuffed with brass trays and kettles. Rockefeller commented at the dinner that he went away embarrassed by the King’s largesse.
It reminds me of a refrain from Georges Brassens’s song, Marinette: “Avec ma p’tit’ chanson, j’avais l’air d’un con…”.
David Rockefeller had a long history with Morocco, and played a key role in some important diplomacy when the Shah of Iran was forced into exile. One of Rockefeller’s Moroccan pleasures was visiting Fes and shopping there.
Perhaps someone out there will confirm or correct the details of this story.
Here’s a bit on Fes that I picked off the Internet. It is an anti-Mason, anti-Shriner piece, but it also defames Muslims and Islam. If one knows anything about the history of Fes and Morocco, one knows that it is a fabrication.
Fes was founded in the 8th century and populated with Andalusian emigrants and local Berbers in the 9th. Given the sizes of cities at the time, it is unlikely that the population was very large. Not much is known about the early history of Fes, but there is no mention of any significant Christian population, let alone 50,000! Perhaps there is no historical mention of Christians at all!
Moreover, throughout Moroccan history there have never been any huge slaughters of Christians. Jews have suffered over the centuries, but usually in localized events, when the sultan did not have the power to protect them.
It is extremely unlikely that a Muslim ruler would slaughter mass numbers of “People of the Book” since one’s subjects are the wealth and strength behind a ruler.
In any case, the following episode, found on the Internet, is a manufactured, falsehood.
Now, if one wishes documentation about the Christian slaughter of innocent people, history is rift with them. No invention or imagination is required, nor need one go all the way to distant and ancient parts of the world.
Christians should remember that one of the commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
The Disgusting Blood Red Shriner (Mason) Fez And Oath To The Pagan Allah:
The Masonic Shriners wear a red hat known as a Fez named after a town in Morocco, where in 980 AD, 50,000 Christians, including women and children, were brutally murdered by the Muslims. As the streets ran red with the Christians’ blood from the massacre, the Muslims dipped their hats in that blood as a testimony to Allah. The red Fez symbolizes the slaughter of Christians in that town. The Masons still wear the red Fez adorned with the Islamic crescent symbol. Among the oaths of the Masonic Shriner organization is one that says, “…and may Allah the God of Arab, Muslim, and Mohammedan, the God of our fathers support me to the entire fulfillment of the same. Amen, Amen, Amen.”
The fez derives its name from the place where it first was manufactured commercially, the city of Fez, in Morocco. Some say, the red color is to memorialize the color of blood, and the Muslim victories over Christians. The City of Fez formerly had a monopoly on the manufacture of the fez headdress because it controlled the juice of the berry used to color the fezzes. The color red may represent the blood of innocent victims, like Christians and Jews who Islam plans on subjugation.
I haven’t annotated this quote, but anyone can find it easily. If one wants a good book on the real history of Fes, try Roger LeTourneau’s Fes in the Age of the Merinides. The University of Oklahoma Press used to sell an excellent translation of the French language original.
Blood does run in the streets of Moroccan cities once a year. On Aid el-Kbir, every family that can afford it will slaughter a sheep to celebrate the sacrifice of Abraham.
When I think back to my Peace Corps experiences, recollections are sometimes of brief or momentary things. The abandoned and deserted city streets at the end of the days of Ramadan, for example, when people sat around the table at home anxiously waiting for the canon or siren to sound the end of the fast so that they might pick up their hrira (Ramadan soup) or cigarettes, whichever mattered more.
The road from Casa to Marrakech is long and straight, and crosses some of Morocco’s most productive agricultural land. I traveled it from Rabat many times on the way to Toubkal massif, south of Marrakesh, where I went hiking or climbing. On a hot summer day, the stubble fields exuded heat, and little dust devils would cross the road from time to time. It you hit one, the car would shudder. I always worried that my French friends’ little cars, traveling at 120 kilometers an hour, would spin out of control.
Often, it was more convenient to travel at night. It was far cooler and there was less traffic on the road. But more than once, there were explosions of the mice and frog populations. I can understand the former: after the harvest, there was plenty of grain for every hungry mouse, and since the mice gave birth every 21 days, it didn’t take long for the fields to be crawling with mice. You might not notice them from a speeding car, at night, except that so many tried to cross the road and were run over. The highway was literally wet from the blood and squashed bodies of thousands of dead mice. We never stopped to look at them so I can’t say what species they were, but I did see the reflections of their eyes as they scurried back and forth across the highway, uncertain as to which way to turn.
I witnessed the mouse massacres several times, but on one occasion, it was frogs that littered the road with their bodies and coated it with their blood. I think they were frogs, though they might have been toads. The numbers, like those of the mice, were astronomical, and the wet road in the middle of a rainless summer was all the more astounding.
Eventually one would drive out of the slaughter zones, but it always reminded me of the plagues of the Bible. I never witnessed a desert locust flock, but I suppose that, if I had, I could add them to the list. Southern Morocco has long been plagued by them.
Tonight Ken Burns’ documentary series, Vietnam, premiered, and I watched the first episode. Vietnam was the defining issue of my generation and the next. As I was entering college, the U.S. was quietly engaging in Vietnam. I knew virtually nothing about Southeast Asia. I was an international relations major with a deep interest in Canada, particularly French Canada. This was the sixties. With the end of the Duplessis government, what was known in Quebec as the Quiet Revolution had just begun. My only real knowledge of Southeast Asia came from the freshman geography class, imparted by my professor, Robert Huke, and he spent more time disparaging Wengener’s drifting continents, soon to become legitimate geological theory via plate tectonics, than he spent on Vietnam. My knowledge of Vietnam was through the popular press. As has become evident over the years, much was happening outside the eyes and ears of the press, and much of what was reported was ignored or denied by the government and military.
In 1964, a buddy and I decided we would hitchhike to Alaska, where we would work for the summer. We began in New Hampshire, heading north through Montreal. The goal was to follow the newly completed TransCanada Highway as far west as we could. Outside of Ottawa, while we waited along the highway with a sign with Vancouver written on it, a group of Carleton College students stopped. They weren’t going anywhere, but they gave us the telephone number of one of their friends, and advised us to look him up in Vancouver.
After a few days of good luck, we actually arrived there. With no place to stay, we called the number we had received in Ottawa. George wasn’t home yet, but his parents offered to put us up and we stayed with them for the better part of a week. During this time, they fed us, took us around town, and acted pretty much like surrogate parents. George’s’ mother even washed our clothes. They were as kind as could be. They were also the first communists either of us had ever met. The father was willing to admit Stalin had made mistakes, but the mother was not. Among the periodicals they received was a Canadian communist publication that carried news from Vietnam. They urged us not to believe everything that we read about Vietnam. We were still teenagers, and neither of us knew the history of Vietnam, nor exactly why we were engaged there. Our global view was the Cold War.
A year and a few months later, I found myself studying French in southern France, and began reading an account by French journalist, Jean Lacouture, of the Vietnamese conflict, Vietnam, entre deux paix. This work which had just appeared, convinced me that you could only understand Vietnam through the prism of intense nationalism, and suggested that American policy might not work at all. The French military experience had been a disaster.
Returning to the States in 1966, I found that opposition to the war increased as had our government’s involvement. The Selective Service was a burning issue. It ensured a steady feed of manpower from the baby boom generation, but the inductions included many who opposed the war or were confused about it. In each category were young men ready to serve, though some were more reluctant than others. Still others opposed the war strongly, some refusing to serve and seeking conscientious objector status, others considering exile in Canada. Anxiety about the draft plagued young men graduating from high school and college. Draft boards followed very different policies across America. Some were hard-nosed, others granted deferments for practically anything. Influence and favoritism were a big problem. If your family was rich and had connections, deferments came easier. In 1966, a returned PCV from Texas told me that his board told him as he returned to college and would soon graduate, that he had done his peace service, and when he graduated he would have to do his war service. No law school for him.
I applied to the Peace Corps before I graduated. I had a good Moroccan friend who occupied the room across from me in Cutter Hall, and another student who, having grown up in a missionary family in Beirut, had developed a deep interest in the Arab world. The latter, by the way, strongly opposed the war, and when drafted, ended up doing clerical work in Alaska, despite his knowledge of French, which might have served the military’s interest in Vietnam.
I did not feel ready for graduate school, and thought that the Peace Corps would permit me to learn and serve. My hope was that I would have a deferment for my Peace Corps service, and be able to put off the draft for a couple of years. I asked the Peace Corps for assignment to Morocco. Of course, I was offered Senegal instead! I turned down the assignment, and asked again for Morocco. Fortunately, Dartmouth had a Peace Corps training office, and a site at a collège catholique in Ste. Anne de la Pocatière, Québec. I was fortunate to work with two West African Peace Corps training programs in that summer of 1967, and ate the best institutional food of my life. What a beautiful spot it was, and what a contrast to the migrant labor camp in Hemet, California, where Morocco X was trained.
Peace Corps finally did give me an assignment in Morocco, and, to my great surprise and delight, found that one of my closest friends at Dartmouth, who lived down the hall in my dorm, also was invited to the Morocco X program! We celebrated and killed a bit of time until our training program began by hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
In Morocco, the faraway war always hung over us. It was understood very differently by different strata of Moroccan society. Younger, more educated Moroccans mostly saw it as a post-colonial, Cold War episode in a remote part of the world. With past colonial experience, they tended to side with the Vietnamese. Others, like my maid’s husband, Ali, had actually fought in Vietnam, part of the French excursionary forces. These non-French soldiers were mercenaries, and once France withdrew from Vietnam were happy to be home in one piece.
For most, Vietnam was just a remote, faraway place. The Middle East dominated the thoughts of more educated Moroccans, and there was widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and a deep antipathy to Israel, which, by 1968, was occupying the West Bank and Gaza. The media played on the issue, and the Moroccan government gave lip service to the Palestinian cause without doing much. The position of Moroccan Jews became even more precarious. There was a lot of hostility toward Jews, though Moroccan Jews often maintained long-lasting and close personal relationships with Muslims, in and out of the government.
Late in my service a draft lottery was instituted. I drew number 333, and the issue of serving in Vietnam disappeared. I would not enlist, and, leaving the Peace Corps, entered graduate school to study anthropology.
A couple of days ago, I stopped at DiCamillo’s, a local Italian-American bakery. Recently my wife and I have been in the habit of buying freshly made Italian-style bread. This is not a new habit, but periodically we go off white bread since most nutritionists consider it unhealthy. At the moment, it’s taste over health.
There are not many bread choices locally. In twenty-first century America, most people buy Wonder Bread style bread. It keeps well, it is sliced, and it makes reasonable toast and sandwiches. But traditional Italian bread, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior is so much better.
DiCamillo’s business began in Niagara Falls in the early twentieth century, and continues there to this day. My grandparents lived across the street from the original bakery on 20th Street, and, through the Fulgenzis, I am connected by webs of affinity and kinship. Not so well connected, however, that I get my bread free.
Last Wednesday I was on my way to an appointment with my dentist, and stopped at the Linwood Avenue bakery to buy bread. I was pressed for time, and the clerk was indulging another patron who went on and on about taking the bakery’s products to her sister in Pittsburgh. When my turn finally came, I asked, as I always do, for a large, unsliced loaf. The clerk selected the bread from a stack of four, carefully taking the furthest from the front. I wondered about that, and noticed as I left the bakery that the crust was surprisingly hard for freshly baked bread. Later at home, my wife and I agreed that the bread wasn’t as fresh as it usually is. On my next trip to DiCamillo’s, the same clerk was there and I told her that the bread she had sold me had not been fresh. This did not go over well with her. “Our bread is always fresh,” she replied with indignation. I asked when bread was made, and was told whenever it was needed. And there I left things as far as the clerk was concerned. However, I had purchased the bread at about 10:30 in the morning, so the bread had probably been made the previous night to have a crust so hard. Were the loaves that she didn’t give me fresher? I hope not. A good bakery (and honest business) doesn’t push old goods at a premium price.
Now why make such a fuss over bread? The answer is that it is a staple of life, and in many places regarded almost religiously. Once some of my secular French friends told me how happy they would be to finally cross the border and leave Spain, where the bread was “infecte,” and finally enjoy a French loaf!
In Morocco, one could find well-made French bread in the large cities, as well as loaves and baguettes that looked French, but weren’t quite there. On the other hand, many Moroccan families made their own bread in the local communal oven (el ferran). In Sefrou, Gaylord Barr and I shared a maid, Khadija Demnati, who cleaned, washed clothes, shopped, and, of course, made bread every day of the week. There was a large bag of flour in the room that served as the kitchen, and the daily routine involved Khadija making bread, taking it to the ferran, and returning with it still warm and aromatic. I think she also made bread for her family, with our flour, but we did not begrudge her that.
As a result, there was fresh bread most of the time. Normal meals were tajines, eaten out of a common plate, with the bread being used to pick up the juices and small pieces. Not surprisingly, Moroccan bread is just right for that. I did not live a rich life in those days, but it was privileged. I had a couple of hundred dollars a month as an allowance, and it went a long way. What a luxury to eat freshly made bread on a daily basis!
Bread has its special status, too, but I leave commentary on that to my Muslim readers. It was considered a shame to throw away good food. If one found a piece of bread in the street, the proper thing to do was to lift it off the ground, and put it in the crook of a tree, or on a wall, so if someone less fortunate happened by, they might find it. I can remember doing it myself once.
Here is a rather unconventional use of stale Moroccan bread soaked in condensed milk: cat and tortoise food!
In the spring of 1969 or perhaps it was the summer of 1968, I had gone to the Sefrou post office to buy stamps, pick up a box of developed Kodachrome slides, or possibly to get the postal money order that represented my Peace Corps living allowance for the month. It was a warm, sunny morning, and the Ville Nouvelle was quiet. Sefrou was much smaller then, and most everyday life took place away from the new town. I don’t have any pictures of any real traffic in the Ville Nouvelle from any time from 1968 to 1971 except during the Cherry Festival.
Outside the front door of the busta (post office) squatted this skinny, redheaded kid, clearly an American. He had a big goofy smile, and kept eye contact, which made me search my memory. Did I know him? Was he one of the village idiots? No, he was dressed casually as an American.
I don’t know whether he engaged me or I engaged him. It might have been me, just out of the curiosity of seeing a foreigner hanging around. Sefrou didn’t get many tourists, and most of the French were old bureaucrats getting ready to retire to France or young coopérants doing alternate service in the former colonies. Other than that there were a couple of Peace Corps volunteers, and an American missionary, Al Jessup. And there was this American professor that one of the Jewish merchants in the Ville Nouvelle talked about, but whom I had not yet met. No one in any of those categories would be found squatting under a post office portico, trying to strike up a conversation.
The kid was Paul Rabinow. He had come to Sefrou to work on his graduate thesis. His thesis advisor was professor Clifford Geertz.
A few days ago I received a copy of Clifford Geertz in Morocco, and it prompted these recollections.
I had met Paul in Pau, France where we were both studying French, but our contact there was minimal. He hung out with a crowd I didn’t know, and lived in a dormitory at the lycée serving the program. I had a room in town, offered by an elderly and very kind widow who let rooms in the summer, and I had a girlfriend with whom to spend time. The summer program at Pau was in 1965. Now Paul had arrived to do his doctoral research in the area around Sefrou, and was hanging out while getting his bearings.
I don’t think Cliff Geertz was there at that moment. I never met him in Morocco, though I am pretty sure I saw him or Hildred driving their kids to school in Fes in a Peugeot 404 station wagon (or maybe a VW), when I worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, so I think there was some overlap. Once I was living inside the wall on Seti Messaouda, my life was pretty much centered on the medina and the newer areas south and east of my house. My maid used the oven near the main mosque, I used the hammam in Seti Messaouda. For some reason, I seem to recall that Rabinow briefly had an apartment in Derb el Mitr, that later got rented to a Peace Corps TEFL teacher. On a little square, it was noisy and hot, with music blaring late.
I never mixed with the French coopérants, nor the few remaining French, and spent little time in the Ville Nouvelle. The French were there for shorter stays, had little interest in learning Arabic, and I had no daily contact with them. Strangely, later, living in Chauen, I did meet and socialize with a crowd of coopérants, but in Sefrou I was in the Peace Corps, and the Peace Corps experience for many of us PCVs was to try to get to know our hosts, not foreigners.
I never saw Paul very much after that, though I am sure I had him over for dinner. He had been in Paris for the riots of May 1968, and he was still excited from that experience. Paul struck me as an almost stereotypical contemporary. Morocco was groovy. I wondered at the time if he would enjoy being in such a small place. In any case, he had research to do, so whether he enjoyed it himself was irrelevant.
Paul seemed to be a bit paranoid about his Jewish background. I think it was certainly unwarranted, as his American citizenship gave him his real public identity, and what did it matter for him, anyway? As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was thought of by some Moroccans as a spy, since the whole idea of the Peace Corps was foreign, even if la Coopération was understood vaguely though through post-colonial eyes. My name, David, labeled me as a Jew, since there were few Daouds in Morocco who weren’t Jewish, though in fact I wasn’t Jewish. In retrospect, it has surprised me how Jewish the Geertz crowd was, though they appeared pretty secular to me, but Sefrou was beginning to get more attention from Jewish researchers because of the old mellah, pretty much deserted by the time I arrived there in 1968.
My contact with Moroccan Jews in Sefrou was pretty limited to my Arab friends talking about mahya, andmy limited commerce with the merchants in the Ville Nouvelle. After moving to the medina, Miloud Soussi became my primary grocer in addition to the butcher, Moulay Ahmed, and the grocers and vegetable sellers around me. The only interesting experience that ever involved a Jew in Sefrou, took place one day when I was hitching home from work in Fes. I usually took a bus or a grand taxi to and from Fes, though I had a jeep most of the time I was there. If one missed the last bus, at the corner where the route to Sefrou entered Fes, you either hitched or stayed in Fes. The taxis and buses stopped after dark.
A car stopped, driven by a young guy, and the first thing he did was to show me a picture of his brother or cousin in the Israeli army. I’m not sure why he did that, nor what he expected as a response. I did not know him. I suppose he was just proud, and it was something he could share with an American without embarrassment. In general, most of the people I knew in Morocco wanted a better life, and the easiest, a word I wouldn’t use myself, road to it was emigration. And in the course of the years, many of the people I knew actually left for France for better opportunities. If you were a Jew, you were leaving a place where religious slights and prejudices were a fact of life, and if you were a Muslim, you were entering a new place filled with slights and prejudices that had disappeared at home, but were amplified in Europe.
In 1969 or 1970, I was passing through Paris, and I made a point of speaking dialectical Arabic to every waiter on the Left Bank. All were amazed and flattered that a foreigner would speak to them in their mother tongue! But economic opportunity was at the base of emigration as far as I could see, and Moroccan Jews weren’t going to Israel, so much as to France and Canada. Morocco was a tough place to scratch out a living, and even Israel, with strong prejudices against sefardim and with a contant threat of war, was a better bet than Morocco.
In the course, of my stay in Sefrou, I saw the Geertz researchers come and go, and wondered what they would come away with. I also watched the people who lived around me all go to France.
I was surprised at what happened to Tom Dichter. I didn’t not know Tom or his wife well. In February 1971 I was preparing to leave on a trip through Algeria, and across the Sahara. I had no idea of the drama playing out in the Ville Nouvelle. Sorry, Tom.
On this national election eve, I have been thinking about another presidential election 48 years ago. It was my first chance to vote for a U.S. president.
In Morocco with the Peace Corps, in the fall of 1968, Gaylord Barr and I had moved into a medina house, owned by a cloth merchant Moulay Abderrahman. He had a shop in Sefrou’s small kissariya.
Gaylord had been living in one of Mr. Andersen’s properties, high up the hill at the upper limit of the Ville Nouvelle, past the church, which still held services for a few French families. Andersen was an elderly Danish ex-patriot, with a twin brother in Fes. The little house was charming, but it had tadpoles in the drinking water and was a hell of a walk to the CT (centre detravaux) where Gaylord worked, and a worse one on the way back home. There were no stores or anything else nearby.
I had been living in a very basic house, built for the chicken co-op in the Habouna quarter, in the garden of an elementary school.
There was not much privacy there, and the house was cramped. When I returned from my summer vacation to Spain and France, I found Gay in my house watching the cat, and he suggested sharing a medina place. It sounded great to me, and somehow he found one quickly, just inside one of the city gates.
Living in the medina had a charm for us. It was authentic, and traditional. Of course, the medina was slowly turning into a slum, but we didn’t really notice that. We liked the shopkeepers and neighbors. It was far more interesting than living in the Ville Nouvelle.
The house had several rooms, a convenient location, and great views of Bouiblane to the southwest and the flocks of the kestrels which nested in the city wall next to the house.
There were shops all around, and it was an easy walk to the Bab Mkam where the grandstaxis loaded passengers for the trip to Fes.
The election of 1968 looked bad for the Democratic Party. Johnson had decided not to run in the face of the growing unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, and the nation was on edge. Hubert Humphrey, good man that he was, wore the war, his president’s war, like an albatross around his neck. Nixon was offering a secret plan to end the war, and crack down on drugs and civil unrest. Of course, despite Nixon’s victory and his secret plan, the war continued on for six more years. We got Richard Holbrooke as country director soon after, a refugee from the Democratic Party wreckage. His major interest was Vietnam and editing Foreign Policy Magazine.
Our generation wasn’t fond of Nixon, and feared the worst. Living abroad, we had to vote by absentee ballot. I don’t remember mine, but Gay’s Washington State ballot featured some guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and running on a platform consisting of a recipe for clam chowder!
It must have been cold. November was never a warm month in Sefrou. We had bought an old wood-burning cook stove in Fes and installed it in the room adjacent to the city wall, which served as a kitchen, though it had no running water. The stove’s flue didn’t draw well. Maybe the chimney should have extended up and over the height of the wall. In any case, the wood fire smoked upon the room, and the street below as well. I think the neighbors were happy we hardly used it. Eventually it went to Jan and Ruth, PCVs who moved into the Hajja’s next door in 1970.
Karin Carter, a former PCV was staying with us, though I might be confusing things. I remember her playing the guitar, and singing folk songs, but it could have been a different night. We had some lycée students over who had been friends of PCV Carolis Deal, who worked the co-op before I arrived. I only remember Aboudi, I think, because of his red hair and friendly personality, asking if one song was in Hebrew. It was, and I’m sure the students wondered if we were Jews, but to make a long story short, Karin, a fourth-generation Californian, admired Steinbeck so much that she modeled her college career on his and studied the Bible. There is a tape of her singing and if it is playable and, if I can ever find a reel-to-reel player, I will digitize it and add it to this recollection. Shortwave reception was poor in the kitchen. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the thick city wall. In any case, there wasn’t any doubt about the results. The election was a disappointment, but life went on. The biggest change was that Peace Corps began supplying us with Time Magazine rather than the NYT News of the Week in Review, which we had been receiving. And eventually there was a lottery for the draft. I won a very high number. But for many others, the war continued on.
The roof of the Sefrou house was a great place in good weather. There were always animals: Aid sheep, turkeys, doves, and you could have tea or just get some air. There was a room there that we set up for guests, but it was cold despite the addition of a wood-burning stove for occasional use. We eventually abandoned it and used it as a place for the doves, which were in constant danger from one of the the cats. Later I set up a wood structure roofed with bamboo, which gave relief from the sun, but not necessarily from the flies.
The roof had a terrific view to the southeast, where the eastern end of the Middle Atlas Mountains was represented by Jbel Bouiblane, snow covered for half the year.
Kestrel hawks lived in the holes in the city wall on the other side of the house, where there was an abandoned garden. In the twilight they would turn acrobatic circles in the fading sun, before diving into their nest holes.
One summer evening, with guests at the house, we watched a major lightning storm over Taza, to the east. With every flash, the mountains south of Taza suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and then were gone. The storm was so far off we couldn’t hear the thunder. Over Sefrou there was no storm.
In the sixties, only well-off Moroccan families had TV sets, and broadcast hours and programming were limited. No Peace Corps volunteer whom I knew had a TV. Most listened to the radio. The choice of stations was limited, and depended on where you lived. In the northeast one could get Spain, Algeria, and, where or when reception was good, France. Moroccan radio, in literary Arabic, was too difficult to follow. Before the Internet, shortwave was the only choice.
While going to college, just before Peace Corps, I began to listen to the BBC World Service. I think it was because I had bought an old, wooden console style radio and record player at a garage sale where I was helping out someone with whom I worked at the reserve desk at Baker Library. I was living in a basement dorm room, and, to improve reception, strung a long wire antenna out my window. At the time, I was interested in Canada, and I also listened to the CBC and, once my French was good enough, Radio-Canada.
When I was selected for Peace Corps training, I bought the best shortwave radio I could afford. Shortwave radios were expensive in those days, and the one I purchased, a GE multi-band, wasn’t great at all, but it worked. In Morocco, I hardly used any bands but the shortwave ones. The best English language programming was on the BBC World Service. It broadcast 24 hours a day, and it kept Greenwich Mean Time, which was the time Morocco used. I could generally tune in on one band or another and get decent reception.
In those days, the signature tune for the World Service, played before the news, was Lillibullero, and it was played in more than one arrangement over the time period I listened to BBC. I really had no idea of the origin of the tune. Recently, I searched for more information, and found that the tune dates from 17th-century revolutionary England, and was also played by the Orangemen as a regimental tune, a history that must have given a pause to the Irish who listened to the World Service. For me, Lillibullero meant that the BBC World Service was about to broadcast the news, and the World Service had the best, least biased news. Assassinations and riots were shaking America, there were troubles in Northern Ireland, Rhodesia broke away from Great Britain, and the U.S., in the midst of the Cold War, was mired in Vietnam. Far from the U.S., I depended on Alistair Cooke’s weekly Letter from America to help me understand events such as Kent State, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and, often, comfort my fears that the world was going to hell in a basket.
I also listened to a variety of other BBC programming: quiz shows, pop music, comedy, and short fiction from around the world, just to name a few of the categories. It was entertainment, but also an education. There wasn’t much else. I had a record player, inherited from former volunteers, and an eclectic collection of music: Simon and Garfunkel, some later Beatles, Bob Dylan, the musical Hair, Amal Hayati (Oum Kathoum), Judy Collins, and some 45s of current popular songs. Most of it was collected by Gaylord, who actually attended an Oum Kalthoum concert at the Theatre Mohammed V in Rabat along with a number of other volunteers from our group. I wish I had gone.
The BBC remained the mainstay of my entertainment as well as a major source of the news. Even today I have a great deal of affection for the BBC, which epitomized independence and integrity. If you’ve ever listened to the World Service, you know the signature, but for those of you who have never heard it, you can listen to it at this YouTube link (Lillibullero).
If you don’t recognize the name, Oum Kalthoum, she was the grande dame of Arabic music, an Egyptian whose life was the subject of perpetual interest to her followers, and whose voice made her admirers cry. Amal Hayati is over an hour long, and you may just wish to hear a few minutes from an old TV broadcast to get an idea (Amal Hayati) from this YouTube link.
Rabat was about three and a half hours from Fes and Sefrou. It was the capital, and the Peace Corps office and U.S. embassy were there, so volunteers went there often. Rabat was also a pleasant place, urban, but not huge like Casablanca. It was fun. There were theaters, restaurants, big bookstores, historic sites, and, besides the volunteers and staff who lived in Rabat, there were always other volunteers passing through, and sometimes other friends, Moroccan and American. In 1968, there were direct flights to the U.S. from the airport in Salé, too, so most new Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Rabat.
CTM buses were plentiful, running virtually every hour on the hour, and cheap, and, because the windows opened, they did not have that awful, stale odor that buses in the States had. The train took longer and was more expensive. Volunteers made the trip all the time for Peace Corps business, or en route to destinations south and west. I drove the road many times in my Peace Corps jeep. And I even hitched a ride once or twice.
About halfway to Rabat was the town of Khemisset. For Morocco X volunteers, it has a special significance. We were housed nearby at Tiflet for a couple of weeks, while we waited to be picked up and taken to the CTs (centres de travaux), basically agricultural extension stations, where we were to be stationed. It was January, and cold. The Tiflet center was in the country, and there was nowhere to go. There was jubilation when, after a week or so, the showers were finally turned on.
But the true significance of Khemisset, for me anyway, was its location, not as the chef lieu for the Zemmour tribe, nor as a temporary step on the way to my assignment, but as a great food stop, known for kifta and brochettes, on the way between Rabat and Fes.
A line of stalls with charcoal grills served sandwiches. Seasoned with cumin and hot pepper, and filling a section of a round Moroccan bread, the skewered meat was terrific (though, it should go without saying, never as good as what I had in people’s homes.) Still, when one is on the road, a good truck stop is a special pleasure. I always stopped at the same shop, and bought food from the same guys, often enough that they recognized me, probably as the tall foreigner who spoke broken Arabic.
Leaving Fes for Rabat, the road descended through a hilly, terraced landscape.
After Khemisset, it crossed the Mamora forest, the largest cork oak forest in the world, and, from that point, the road was straight and flat where it crossed the Gharb. Today the Mamora Forest is under siege. At the limit of conditions where cork oaks can grow, overgrazing threatens the forest, from what I have read, and it remains to be seen whether efforts by the government will be enough to preserve it. Other cork oak forests, such as that near Chauen, where I spent some happy times mushroom hunting with my friend Gilles Narbonne and his family, are doing better.
In the summer, the coast announced itself with humidity. It is always a strange sensation to leave a dry hot area and to find oneself suddenly in a humid, coastal climate. I had this experience at Bandar Abbas in Iran and Dakar in Senegal, but it was a regular part of living in the interior of Morocco. And mild as the coastal climate was, I always preferred the hotter, drier weather of the interior.
I had a lot of experiences on the road from Fes to Rabat. Once I had to wait for a bus, so I spent the afternoon with a friend, lost track of time, and carelessly missed the bus. Unfortunately, I had already checked my unlocked suitcase, which contained, among other things, my passport. Since I was destined for a medical evacuation flight from Keneitra to the U.S. Air Force base at Torrejón, outside Madrid, I figured I was in real trouble. I decided to see if I could beat the bus to Rabat by hitchhiking. I got a ride right away, by a young guy whom I assumed was French. I explained who I was in my best French, and the driver introduced himself in excellent French, and after a few minutes of conversation it became clear that he was an American, and, not only that, but a graduate of the same college as myself, but a year later. There’s more to the story, including a visit to the so-called secret military base in the Gharb at Sidi Yahia, but the gist of it is that we beat the bus and I was able to get my bag down from the roof rack before the bus pulled out for Casablanca.
Another time, Dick Moench, an anthropology professor at Binghamton University was driving me to Rabat. I had been in Sefrou for the weekend (at the time I was staying in Rabat or Salé), and had fallen seriously ill. We kept putting off getting gas for the little Renault 4 Dick had, and ran out of gas before reaching Khemisset. It was raining and cold. I think it was January or February and poor Dick had to hitchhike in the rain to get a bidon of gas.
Back in Rabat, I was fortunate to be taken in by Diane and Jerry Ponasik, who had a house in the Casbah of the Oudaïya, and I stayed there a couple of weeks until I regained my health.
And finally there was a time when Gaylord Barr and myself were riding the bus into Rabat, and he had needed a toilet so badly he asked the driver to stop. He signaled the bus to go on, and so it did, leaving Gaylord frantically looking for trees to hide behind! He easily got a ride in to Rabat a bit later. Moroccans were always great about giving foreigners lifts.
Ali Azeriah pointed out that Al Magrib Al Arabi no longer exists. That’s a small change. Add many small changes together and perhaps a place no longer is the same. From the census, we know that great changes have taken place in Sefrou. When I left in 1971, it had an official population of under 30,000, and was part of Fes Province. It was not a tourist venue, except for the Cherry Festival, which was primarily a local celebration. Was the Cherry Festival an artifact of French occupation, or dreamt up by the Moroccan Government?
The first time I attended was in 1968, and is the only time I really remember the festival. I know that I was there for other ones, but the memories are less clear.
Other PCVs came and stayed for some of them.
Actually, when I think of Sefrou, I think of the delicious strawberries that were grown in the irrigated gardens very close to the built-up area.
I imagine much of that is gone now. That’s often the case with explosive urban growth. Next to Los Angles is Orange County, California, and it was named for the orange plantations that used to be there. Most of those orange groves are gone forever, a victim of urban sprawl. Florida now produces most of America’s oranges.
One tends to assume things are still the same after 40 or 50 years. How foolish! Sometimes progress, or what passes for it, sweeps away the old, sometimes it is just time passing. We are all on the Boulevard du temps qui passe, the title of a Brassens song. I noticed that the Gouraud cedar is no more. I remember visiting it several times. Since it was several hundred years old, it certainly had a good run, but that doesn’t make me feel much better. I like the belief that those old cedars, some from before the time of the Prophet, may the peace of God be upon him, still stand.
I worry about Morocco. I have always worried about Morocco. I loved it the way it was, but I have always known the ecosystem was fragile, and that population growth would eventually stress it, just the way California has been stressed by development. That was something I learned in Peace Corps training in Hemet, California. Scarce water, rainfall irregular, thin, shallow soils, and beautiful forests disappearing through logging and charcoal production were a reality 50 years ago as they are now. California has just got a little relief from its long drought, but it isn’t clear where things will go there as climate change is added to the existing climate variables.
But I don’t want to sound like Edmund Burke, who regretted the decimation of the French aristocracy during the French Revolution, but not so much the common people. Thomas Paine rightly reproached him for “Pitying the plumage, while forgetting the dying bird.” And thank you, Arthur Wilson, for using that quote in one of your history of political theory courses at college. I will never forget it!
The people I knew when I lived in Morocco were poor or lower middle class, and I knew people who died for lack of medical care and a great many who worked honestly to make just enough to get by. So please don’t accuse me of pitying the cedars and forgetting the people. The people took me in and took care of me. The cedars sheltered monkeys and boars.
In the sixties, Sefrou had one movie theater, the Maghrib el Arabi, but it was great! On a hot summer night, the roof would retract, slowly and almost silently, and the cool evening air would pour in from a sky full of stars. I went to the movies whenever I could. I loved films, and, frankly, how many things could you do in a small provincial city where almost everyone went home to their families at night, tired from a day’s hard work? Not that the theater was an entirely respectable place. Now, whenever I watch the Italian movie, Cinema Paradiso, I’m always reminded of Sefrou, its movie theater, and the people I knew.
In those days the choice of films was mostly between Bollywood musicals and spaghetti westerns. Occasionally there was an Egyptian feature, beyond the comprehension of someone already struggling with Moroccan dialect, and, sometimes, a recent American movie, and sometimes a classic. I remember watching High Noon, which for me was iconic and for my colleague puzzling, and, In the Heat of the Night, a contemporary drama about the civil rights struggle in the American South. The big cities had a much better choice of films. I saw Space Odyssey 2001 in the Theatre Mohammed V, not long after the film opened in the U.S. Needless to say, the Western movies were always dubbed in French.
But that was Rabat. In Sefrou, I still remember hearing, through the front windows of the house, the sounds of young men walking home through the empty street at night, a darkened medina street lit by an occasional street light, whistling the theme music from A Fist Full of Dollars (https://youtu.be/9uFlE1cO8Fc), and knowing they enjoyed it, but also wondering what they made of it. It was certainly more a part of their America than mine.
The CBS Evening News ended tonight with a feature on the harvest of argan nuts. Argan oil has become an exotic ingredient in soaps and cosmetics in the United States. I remember it as something the people of the Souss used in their cooking, and the goats in trees, which I have seen touristing in Morocco, just reminded me how unfamiliar and strange the Souss was to me, whereas any old picture of Sefrou feels familiar and comfortable as home.
Every student of French, from my generation at least, probably remembers “Nos ancêtres étaient les Gaulois,” the beginning text of a French history primer. Across the Francophonie, generations of young Africans and Asians must have puzzled over the history they were learning and wondered about its relevance.
When I left Morocco, the migration to Europe was important, and growing, and, possibly, changing from one of single male migrants, who sent back remittances to their families, to one of true emigrants who were taking their families and intending to settle down. If I am not mistaken, Moroccan migration to France dates from World War I, when a shortage of labour produced a temporary opportunity in the war industries.
Temporary migration of young men, for purely economic reasons, is a worldwide phenomenon, of course. In Morocco itself, the Swasa were well known for it (as were the Mzabis in Algeria and the Djerbis in Tunisia, also groups known for running small grocery shops.) Moving one’s family to France, however, is a different matter, and the calculus of considerations is more involved and deeper. Would one expect better treatment by the French after moving from a former colony to the métropole? Some migrants may be naive, but most know that their future may be difficult.
Many of my former neighbors did move to France, and I have since wondered often how they fared there. The younger, single migrants had a tough time, I am sure. I can remember, back in 1971, having a café au lait on a thoroughfare of the Left Bank, and, recognizing the waiter as a maghrebi, began conversing in Arabic with him. An Algerian, he was surprised and delighted to meet an American who spoke Arabic, and willingly suffered my poor command of Moroccan dialect to have a real conversation with me.
Just a few days ago, there was a short piece on NPR, which argued that part of the problem with the radicalization of disaffected Muslim youth in France can be partly attributed to the fact that these young men, born in France, could not identify with traditional French culture. French history has pretty much been a history of France till the Republic, with no role for Arabs, and containing little with which they could identify. Une histoire des autres, for sure. Furthermore, radio and TV do not often portray Frenchmen of Arab descent in high status roles such as doctors or scientists.
This makes me think of the sixties and seventies in America. At the time I served in the Peace Corps, African Americans were still fighting for rights that had been finally enshrined in law, but were not yet accepted by many white Americans. Part of the civil rights struggle involved building African American history and identity. At the time I thought some of the effort was forced and naive, but, after years of Black History months, black Americans and whites, too, have succeeded in creating a common history, ratified by popular textbooks. Perhaps “succeeded” is too strong a word, but back in the sixties I was a young, white, and ignorant of most things black, I knew more about La révolution tranquille in Québec than civil rights in Selma, Alabama. Slowly, but surely, African American history has developed and merged with mainstream American history. Today, American TV regularly portrays African Americans in positions of power, trust, and authority as does the American movie industry.
Culture usually includes a common, shared history, and those French, who are children of Arab migrants in France (or Arab migrants elsewhere in Europe), need to have a sense of their own place in their country’s history as well as society today. Lacking connections leads to alienation. The colonial history of France and the history of migrants is not a pretty one, but many North Africans served in France’s armies and contributed to France in other ways. In the U.S, with a history of slavery, the KKK, Jim Crow laws, and the violence and continued discrimination against Blacks that continues today, history has been rewritten. France has at least been largely free from the American kind of racism, where color bias is so strong that it has been compared to caste.
Efforts by academics in the U.S. to forge a world history are ongoing, and though plagued by the usual problems of the social sciences, they have been met with some success. European History, as taught in high schools and colleges, and sometimes presented as Western Civilization, used to be referred to derisively as “the history of old, dead white men.” World History advocates have challenged that perspective head on, including women’s gender roles and regional histories that eschew the North Atlantic perspective. The French speaking world, too, may need to work to create broader, more inclusive histories, and the effort should not be assumed to be a uniquely French one. Perhaps it is time for the French, and all of Francophonie, to revisit history, and find a place for the new generations who will repopulate Europe.