Dans les années 1960, aucun chemin asphalté ne menait au pied du mont Bouiblane. Aujourd’hui il en existe peut-être un, au moins un tronçon, et il est possible que les pentes aient été aménagées pour le ski. Je crois que les Français y faisaient du ski au temps du protectorat. En 1968, que l’on venait de Sefrou ou de Taza, on y arrivait par des pistes de montagne. Des ruisseaux envahissaient les pistes, des éboulis les bloquaient et, durant les mois de froid, la neige les rendait glissantes, augmentant le danger de déraper et de dévaler des pentes bien abruptes.
Bouiblane est visible à partir de Sefrou. Je pouvais le voir de ma terrasse. C’était mon Kanchenjunga et Sefrou peut-être mon Darjeeling. Non pas la présence menaçante du Kanchenjunga des sœurs du Narcisse noir¸ mais une présence constante et rassurante. La montagne interpellait, et c’était impossible de résister à la tentation de la voir de près. À partir d’un belvédère à Ahermoumou, on avait une belle vue, mais au prix d’un tour en voiture.
Monter l’escaler jusqu’à la terrasse de ma maison était pas mal plus facile. Au crépuscule des belles journées d’hiver, les pentes du Bouiblane rosissaient peu à peu pendant que les crécerelles vivant dans les murailles de la ville faisaient quelques autres acrobaties avant de regagner leurs trous pour la nuit.
Et nous voilà partis, Gaylord Barr et moi, un certain week-end d’hiver. On m’avait prêté l’une des jeeps Willys dont disposait le Corps de la Paix.
À proprement parler, je ne devais pas l’utiliser pour le tourisme, et en général je me soumettais de bon gré à cette contrainte. Pour faire la navette entre Sefrou et mon emploi au ministère de l’Agriculture à Fès, par exemple, je prenais des bus et des taxis. La jeep aurait facilité ces déplacements, mais la plupart du temps je lisais et profitais du temps de la navette. Après coup, cependant, je regrette de ne pas l’avoir utilisée plus pour visiter mon coin du Maroc. Je n’ai jamais été à Erfoud ou à Merzouga pour voir les dunes, mais j’en ai vu pas mal en traversant le Sahara algérien après avoir quitté le Corps de la paix.
Nous sommes partis, Gaylord et moi, sans itinéraire précis. Je crois que nous savions qu’il se trouvait une station forestière ou un vieux chalet de ski à Taffert; c’était sans doute mentionné dans le Guide Bleu. De toute manière, nous avions apporté de la nourriture et des sacs de couchage et tout allait assez bien jusqu’aux 15 ou 20 derniers kilomètres où nous avons commencé à trouver de la neige sur la route. La jeep avait des pneus hors route qui n’allaient pas très bien dans la neige. Au tournant d’une longue courbe, la jeep a commencé à déraper et à glisser vers le bord du chemin où une pente abrupte nous attendait. Heureusement j’ai pu reprendre la maîtrise de la voiture et à partir de là nous avons ralenti de beaucoup. Nous avons commencé à nous demander comment on allait rentrer chez nous s’il neigeait toute la nuit. Nous n’avions pas de prévision de la météo, mais les cieux étaient clairs et, geste insensé, nous avons continué notre chemin. Certes, on aurait été bien gênés de rester pris là.
Peu de temps après l’incident routier, le chemin est devenu moins accidenté et suivait la crête de la montagne. Nous avons accueilli un monsieur du coin que nous avons amené jusqu’à Taffert où, après nous avoir remerciés, a enrobé ses pieds et ses sandales de guenilles pour ensuite se diriger en haut de la montagne vers le col à l’extrémité ouest du Bouiblane que l’on appelle Tizi Bouzabel. Un chemin de terre le traverse et je m’imagine qu’une fois le col franchi, il a trouvé moins de neige et un chemin plus facile. Le soleil se couchait, le temps se refroidissait, nous lui avons souhaité bonne chance et il n’a pas perdu de temps, franchissant le col avant le coucher du soleil.
Il y avait un gardien à Taffert, mais le bâtiment, quoique solide, était dilapidé et il n’y avait pas de feu pour tempérer le froid. D’après moi, le bâtiment ne servait pas souvent à l’époque. Je ne me souviens pas d’électricité, non plus. Après le souper, donc, nous nous sommes endormis dans nos sacs de couchage.
Le lendemain matin le ciel était gris et couvert et la montagne, couverte de neige, paraissait quelque peu menaçante. Les conditions de la route nous préoccupaient toujours, de sorte que nous sommes partis de bonne heure pour rentrer chez nous. Le trajet s’est fait sans problème, mais nous avons conduit prudemment.
Le prochain voyage était avec Louden et sa femme, Ginny et leur chien, Pigpen. Nous avons à peine dépassé Ahermoumou. La piste était boueuse et enneigée et les ruisseaux débordaient les chaussées, ce qui nous obligeait à passer à gué. Face à des chutes de neige plus importantes, nous avons abandonné la partie. Pigpen a bien aimé le voyage, un changement de rythme par rapport à sa cour à Rabat.
Ce voyage a ouvert la voie pour le suivant. Don Brown, à l’époque un administrateur, et ancien volontaire du Corps de la Paix à Oujda, avait toujours voulu escalader le Bouiblane qu’il avait déjà vu à maintes reprises dans ses voyages à Oujda. Cette fois, nous avions une jeep plus récente. Le groupe était constitué de quatre personnes : Louden, un volontaire, John Paulas, Gaylord et moi. C’était le printemps et nous sommes partis de très bonne heure.
Aucun problème à nous rendre à Taffert, à part quelques éboulements.
Je ne me souviens pas si nous avons commencé immédiatement nos randonnées. Je crois que Don, Louden et John voulaient se rendre au sommet de Moussa ou Salah. Pour une raison ou une autre, Gaylord et moi avons décidé qu’une randonnée plus courte serait plus logique. A mon avis, nous soupçonnions qu’il n’y avait pas assez de temps. Nous avons donc escaladé la petite cime à la gauche du Tizi Bouzabel. Notre effort nous a valu de très belles vues.
Les autres ont découvert à la dure que la crête de Bouiblane constituait une montée aussi longue que pénible qui ne les rendait qu’au col entre Bouiblane et Moussa ou Salah. De là ils pouvaient voir clairement que le sommet de Moussa ou Salah était plus haut, mais il se faisait très tard et ils étaient fatigués. Ils ont donc rebroussé chemin, penauds. Le lendemain, comme le temps était brumeux à Taffert, nous sommes rentrés par la piste de Sefrou.
La table était donc mise pour deux autres tentatives par Louden et John, les deux par la piste de Taza. Si Louden lit ce blogue, il en précisera peut-être les détails, mais je crois que l’un des deux m’a dit qu’ils ont fait cette montée au clair de lune. Ce n’est qu’une escalade d’environ trois ou quatre heures de sorte qu’ils auraient peut-être vu un lever de soleil, ce qui aurait été génial. C’est toujours formidable de se trouver sur une grosse montagne au lever ou au coucher du soleil. Dans les Alpes, c’est souvent l’objectif afin de se trouver en bas à l’abri des rochers que la chaleur du soleil d’après-midi fait débouler à partir des champs de neige. Si vous entendez le son que ces projectiles font, vous ne l’oublierez jamais.
Les gens du Maine attendent le premier lever de soleil des 48 États contigus à partir du Mont Cadillac, ou, plus rarement, du Mont Katahdin. J’ai eu le bonheur de voir un coucher de soleil à partir du Toubkal, mais au prix d’une descente à travers une brume froide et humide.
J’ai également vu un coucher de soleil en descendant la crête ouest de l’Angour, et un autre du sommet du Tichoukt. L’un des mes couchers de soleil préférés a été du sommet du Midi de Bigorre qui m’a permis une très très longue randonnée au clair de lune à une station de ski dans la Mongie. Heureusement pour mon compagnon et moi, la nuit était chaude et la réceptionniste était surprise que nous soyons arrivés à la station de ski presque déserte sans voiture! Nous avions essayé de faire de l’auto-stop, mais peu de voitures traversaient le Col du Tournalet cette nuit-là et personne ne s’intéressait à embarquer des auto-stoppeurs dans l’obscurité.
En mai 1970, j’ai enfin eu l’occasion d’escalader Moussa ou Salah lorsqu’un groupe de personnel et de volontaires ont pris deux jeeps pour y aller du côté de Taza.
La promenade en voiture à la base de la montagne a souvent offert de belles vues.
Après avoir campé la nuit, nous nous sommes mis à escalader le lendemain matin. Les vues du sommet de Moussa et Sala n’avaient rien de spécial, Sur le sommet nous avons aperçu un cairn. S’agit-il du site d’inhumation d’un saint local?
Je crois que John Paulas et des stagiaires du Corps de la Paix ont plus tard escaladé le djebel Bou Naceur, visible à partir du sommet de Moussa ou Salah, sans doute en été. Comme il n’y a pas beaucoup d’eau dans les montagnes marocaines en été, cette ascension a dû s’avérer longue, chaude et sèche.
My wife and I have been watching a six-part biopic about Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay, were the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, known to the Nepalese as Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the World. Over the years, I became aware of Hillary’s charitable activities in Nepal, but never learned much about the man. The film paints a multidimensional portrait of an interesting individual.
Early in the film, young Hillary discovers climbing, and steals a library book about the Shipton expedition to Nanda Devi. I had never read it, though I had it on the shelf. I pulled it and began reading.
My edition, which incorporates an account of a later expedition by Tillman, has an introduction by the late American climber, Charles Houston, who accompanied Tillman in 1936 on the first successful expedition to summit.
Back in the nineteen thirties, approaches to remote mountains were sometimes difficult. Nana Devi was particularly well guarded by a ring of peaks that surrounds the base, and encloses a unique area that is known as the Sanctuary, protected today as a national park. I was struck by Houston’s description:
It was Kipling country…the stage for the Great Game, played for a century by Russians and British for control of India. We believed that Kim had sat on the rim of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
From Introduction, Nanda Devi, Exploration and Ascent.
Houston, late in life, became the first Country Director for the Peace Corps programs in India.
2018 has been a banner year for toads. There are always toads on our property, but this year I have seen far more than any other year. There must have been especially good conditions when the toads bred, the tadpoles hatched, or the tiny toads crept out of the water, or, perhaps, all three. Toads bring to mind Shakespeare and Orwell. In ninth or tenth grade we read As You Like It, and we were forced to commit to memory the Duke Senior’s speech:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
As You Like It Act 2, scene 1, 12–17
The toad has no magical stone, of course, whatever its reputation in Renaissance England, but exile to Arden Forest brought the peace and tranquility that permitted the duke to appreciate nature. I still am able to recite this speech from memory, and other bits of poetry and prose forced on me by the pedagogy of the era. I have no complaints about this, because my appreciation of the selections has grown over the years.
The toad also appears in one of my favorite of all books, The Wind in the Willows, in the form of the self-indulgent, headstrong, and irrepressible Mr. Toad. In this quintessentially English child’s story, written by a Scot, Kenneth Grahame. Mr. Toad provides both excitement and comic relief, as his excesses draw him and his friends into constant danger. Unlike many others who fit this description, Toad is kindhearted, and by no means a bad egg.
Orwell in his essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad, chose to recognize the toad as the herald of springtime, though here in America we are more likely to hear spring’s arrival in the songs of the tiny frogs, we call spring peepers.
In the summer between ninth and tenth grades, I was fortunate to attend a summer session at Andover. English and math were the subjects I studied, and my English teacher was a young guy named Kraft. Trying to improve our writing, Mr. Kraft introduced us to Orwell through his essay, Politics and the English Language. In those days, everyone with a political point of view read it, except perhaps, for totalitarians. Orwell decried the muddle that careless usage creates, and the obfuscation of meaning in political language in particular. Ever since reading this essay, in which Orwell suggests some common sense rules for clear writing, I have strongly recommended it to adults and students alike.
The essay is a cautionary note, and I think that in present day America, everyone ought to give it a read. Political debate today uses words and expressions that are charged with passion, but otherwise almost meaningless. I leave it to the reader to pick his or her own favorites. There is no dearth.
When I was a young teenager, before I went off to prep school, I attended a junior high school. American educators have fiddled about with various schemes for the schooling of younger teens and middle schools, grades six through eight, were popular for a long time, but in my day, where I lived, the junior high had grades seven through ten, though shortly after I left, the tenth graders were moved to the high school across the street. The baby boom generation was at hand, and soon students were literally hanging out the windows as the school district tried to juggle them into the rapidly shrinking available spaces.
Language studies began in eight grade, when students were given four 10-week courses in Latin, German, Spanish, and French. The idea was that students could use a smattering of each to decide which they would like to pursue as they continued their studies. Those going to college usually took three or four years of a language. A year or so after I went away, Russian was added as an alternative, but only at the high school. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, and a knowledge of Russian was considered desirable. Today, by way of contrast, the same school district sadly only offers one language, Spanish. Administrators find this convenient for a number of reasons, some not related to education at all, and that is just the way it is.
I elected to study Spanish in ninth grade, probably because I thought it was closest to Italian, which is part of my family heritage. In retrospect, Latin might have helped more with Italian than Spanish, but since I still have not studied Italian, I have no way to say for certain. At the prep school I attended, students with three years of Latin could take a one-year Italian course.
Italian would have been a great offering, as there were many Italian immigrants in my home town, but New York State did not encourage Italian studies. Latin was seen as a basis for scientific studies, as was German, whereas French and Spanish were world languages. Latin also had some interest for Catholics since the Mass was still in Latin. Second and third generation kids of Italian immigrants would have probably taken Italian and profited greatly by connecting to their relatives as well as the culture and history of Europe. The option just wasn’t there, so I thought Spanish was a good second choice.
My ninth grade Spanish teacher was Mrs. Supkowski. Then, as now, few students had the benefit of a language teacher with native fluency, but I was the exception. Mrs. Supkowski’s first name was Agapita, she was of Spanish descent, and she was fiercely proud of Spain and the Spanish-speaking world.
At the time, Hispanic culture was integrated into the language curriculum much as was the teaching of the language itself: rote learning. More active methods were just beginning to appear. Culture was taught as facts that one needed to know to succeed on the statewide tests. Luckily, I had a teacher who infused those facts with a dose of pride and passion.
The Arab heritage of Spain was part of the mix. How could it not be? The Spanish language and culture was influenced for centuries by Arab rule. A high percentage of Spanish words, some 4,000 words or 8% of the vocabulary in a standard Spanish dictionary derive from Arabic.
The United States was not invading Arab lands in those days, and Arabic was not high on the learning agenda, though it gained steam as the Cold War continued. I had little idea who the Arabs were. Apart from my Lebanese and Syrian neighbors, with whose children I played, I had never met an Arab. Local Arabs were mostly Christian, too, which made them seem less foreign, I suppose.
In Spanish class, we learned about the Alhambra. We all knew The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, at least via Walt Disney, and the story of Rip Van Winkle, but Tales of the Alhambra was something new, romantic and magical. Its author, Washington Irving, is one of the earliest American writers, the first to earn his income from writing, and popular in England. He was also a New York writer. Though his literary reputation has debentures somewhat dismissed by time, Tales is still worth reading, and can be downloaded from various sources. Take care to get an unabridged version. Washington Irving was, among other things, an American diplomat in Spain. He traveled to Granada and actually lived in the Alhambra, in his time a derelict ruin.
We learned about El Cid, presented as a national and religious hero, and a movie version of his life, with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren appeared about that time. A truly terrible movie, El Cid was presented as a romantic spectacle. Today the internet movie databases seem to rate it highly, but, even in my callous youth, I thought that the Arabs were caricatures and the movie had little historical basis. It might have been worse. It might have been turned into a musical. Perhaps that’s in the works. In the meanwhile, I’d recommend reading the medieval romance or Corneille’s play, though both distort history.
We learned that The Reconquista was glorious and led to the discovery of America, the riches of which funded El Siglo de Oro. There was little said about the expulsion of the Jews and Arabs and the Inquisition, nor the enslavement of aboriginal peoples. We learned the factoids that the educators wanted us to learn. If I have learned anything in my life, it has been that received wisdom about history should be met with skepticism. Indeed, it was Washington Irving, in his biography of Columbus, who propagated the idea that Europeans thought that the earth was flat!
Aside from the above, in our Spanish class we may have learned about the Mezquita and the Giralda, but they were just answers to multiple choice questions.
Now in the last decades, there has been a growing tendency on the part of some to see the world as a conflict between western Christian civilization, and eastern Islamic fundamentalism. Some of this is simply a cheap way to justify nasty wars fought for other reasons. Some of this is simple pandering to the American religious right . Some of it is sensationalism. A lot of it is intellectual laziness. Some of it is prejudice. But, certainly, all of it is hogwash.
In Spain, the Reconquista has been a subject of romanticism, religion, nationalism, and imperialism, appropriated by whatever interest could use it. In the Arab world, the history of Spain is another nakba ( النكبة), a disaster, a place where the crusaders won, and a golden age was ended. For the Spanish, it has been the reaffirmation of their Catholic heritage. For the Jews, just another tragedy with which they have had to deal. Today some people in northern Morocco cities such as Fes and Tetuan claim to have still the ancient keys to their ancestors’ homes in Spain, Al-Andalus. Clearly, history has given the event many facets.
I have just finished reading a book by a scholar, who encourages us to look a bit more deeply into the complexity of this history. In his book, Kingdoms of Faith, Brian Catlos, a professor at the University of Colorado, argues that the history of Spain should be viewed closely through the prism of the complex society that lived there, and the multiple, sometimes conflicting, motivations of those who ruled the region. No paradise for dhimmis, no battlefield for fundamentalists, no saintly or nationalist cradle for the Spanish, the political dynamics of medieval Spain were influenced by complex interactions between groups motivated by a multitude of interests, some local, some remote, some religious, and many secular.
In the modern world of nation states, we often ascribe anachronistic points of view to those who lived in the age of kingdoms and empires, forgetting how recent the notion of the nation state is. Furthermore, some writers talk about intellectual concepts such as civilization, as if they have a concrete reality. The fact is that many armies have gone to war, but not one civilization. Rome was a republic, and, later, a military dictatorship that ruled an empire, but Roman civilization did not conquer Gaul. Caesar’s armies did. Once conquered, Gaul slowly adapted many Roman technologies and ideas, but it was not conquered by them, except, perhaps, in the figurative sense.
Anthropologists and historians have a difficult time even defining a civilization, agreeing only that a civilization must have most of the several attributes, but not necessarily all, that help define the concept. A written language is one of the defining attributes of a civilization, but the Incas, who ruled a huge empire, had no written language. Was there an Inca civilization? The Incas had public works, monumental architecture, organized religion, a bureaucracy, cities, and so on.
Interestingly, there was an article on the impact of African migrants trying to get into Ceuta the other day. Ceuta is one of two enclaves on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, and, as Spanish territory, an easy way to get to the Spanish mainland. It is dear to my heart as I went there often.
Morocco claims Ceuta and Melilla, the other enclave, as part of Morocco. The Spanish response is pertinent: Spain claims that there never was any Morocco in the past so the claims were never Moroccan. The idea here is that Morocco was not a nation state until the twentieth century. Before then, it was a territory loosely ruled by a series of dynasties.
I don’t wish to argue with anyone about either Moroccan or Spanish sovereignty. During my time in Morocco, near the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Gibraltar, a British colony, faced a land and sea blockade by Spain. Britain had taken it by warfare, a couple of hundred years earlier, and Spain wanted it back. Gibraltar’s population, of course, has no desire to be part of Franco’s Spain. Ironically, today the status of Gibraltar is threatened by Brexit.
The name Morocco (Maroc, Marruecos) is of European origin, deriving from Marrakesh, a city founded in the Middle Ages, in the midst of the battles for Spain. The Arabic name (المملكة المغربية) is translated as the Kingdom of Morocco, though it reads literally as the kingdom of the West. Under the French protectorate, the postage and currency referred to the Cherifian Empire. In Arabic it is also called the Farthest West (el Maghreb el Aqsa) to distinguish it from the other parts of the areas of northwest Africa also part of the Maghreb. Today Morocco is a modern nation state. A thousand years ago it was not. Nor was Spain. We should not look back with modern preconceptions.
Al-Andalus, Arab Spain, was organized in several, similar and overlapping ways, as were the Christian areas of Iberia. The societies that comprised the territories were complex and fluid, dependent on many factors.
In a sense, the situation was a bit like the rule of Crusader states in the 11th century Middle East. Religion may have given an impetus to the Crusaders, but once in the Middle East, they carved out kingdoms and fiefdoms, and settled in as best they could, often adopting eastern customs. The Arabs did the same in Spain, but their stay was far longer and more successful, and their imprint on society consequently much greater.
The Song of the Cid, like the Song of Roland, is a medieval romance, not a history. The Cid (the word comes from the Arabic word for lord) is represented as a crusader fighting for Catholicism and Spain. In fact, he was a soldier of fortune, who fought for whoever paid him, and for what he could obtain for himself. He was not a chivalrous paragon of virtue. Indeed, he wasn’t much different from the many Arab rulers for whom he fought.
Catlos describes Al-Andalus, from its origins till its fall, as a region of political entities and actors motivated by far more than religion. I think this is a needed corrective. He writes well, with as much detail as he can, and paints an interesting picture of Al-Andalus, a place at the intersection of many cultures, contested for centuries, not just by Christians and Muslims, but by Muslims and Muslims, with alliances that often crossed religious, and, sectarian, boundaries. Sometimes he is repetitious. He uses current and popular vocabulary, which I sometimes found attractive and others times jarring. He does not glorify violence. Combat was a way of settling disputes, and cruelty was acceptable for both whoever had power or wanted it. The Muslim and Jewish cultural achievements are indisputable, and he gives them their proper place
Voici en version française mon billet sur le nomadisme, grâce à l’aide de mon vieil ami, Jim Erickson, traducteur professionnel et ancien volontaire.
Dernièrement dans son blogue The Other Side of the Mountains, Bravo a donné des comptes rendus de trois livres portant sur les nomades, livres qu’il trouvait stimulants et d’intérêt général. Le nomadisme semble être un mode de vie en voie d’extinction, ce qui, aux yeux des romantiques, est fort regrettable. Je soupçonne que les nomades d’aujourd’hui, à l’instar des chasseurs et des cueilleurs, ont été repoussés vers des milieux plus extrêmes, ce qui a occasionné un changement de leur mode de vie et pas nécessairement pour le mieux. Au Sahara, certains groupes se sont joints à des mouvements de résistance comme le Polisario, ainsi qu’aux insurrections fondamentalistes.
Mon expérience du nomadisme consiste en mes randonnées dans le Moyen Atlas, des excursions dans d’autres régions du Maroc et un voyage en camion à travers le Sahara (ce qui méritera plus tard un billet à part). J’ai rencontré des nomades, bu du thé avec eux dans leurs tentes et le long de chemins en Algérie et parlé avec eux dans les forêts de cèdre du Maroc. Je ne prétends pas avoir une expertise spéciale en la matière et mes observations sont superficielles. Mais je peux affirmer que le nomadisme a joué un rôle essentiel dans l’histoire du Maroc.
Avant l’époque contemporaine, le Maroc était divisé en deux parties : lebled el-makhzen et le bled es-siba, autrement dit les terres du gouvernement sous le contrôle du sultan, et les terres d’insolence, celles au-delà du contrôle du sultan. Les lignes de démarcation dépendaient de la force relative du gouvernement et des tribus. Quand le sultan était fort, les tribus évitaient le conflit avec le gouvernement. Quand les tribus étaient fortes, le gouvernement se trouvait confiné aux capitales traditionnelles, soit Fès, Marrakech et Meknès, mais même ces villes n’étaient pas toujours sécuritaires. Les murailles autour des villes marocaines étaient fonctionnelles jusqu’à ce que le protectorat français ait sécurisé le pays au début du vingtième siècle. Les canons étaient rares et difficiles à déplacer sur des pistes en terre, de sorte que les villes fortifiées pouvaient fermer leurs portes et résister un certain temps.
Les sultans marocains déplaçaient leurs cours d’une capitale à l’autre, menaçant et punissant les tribus qui n’avaient pas payé leurs tributs. À cet égard, ils étaient très semblables aux rois français de la Renaissance qui voyageaient constamment à travers leurs territoires. À Chambord, François I avait fait construire à l’intérieur d’un domaine de chasse immense un palais de 490 pièces dans la vallée du Loire, mais il n’y est resté que trois fois de son vivant. Avant l’époque des armées permanentes, il fallait faire sentir sa présence partout et en tout temps.
Les membres de tribus qui défiaient l’autorité du sultan n’étaient pas tous des nomades. Jusqu’aux premières décennies du XXe siècle, des tribus du Djala et du Rif ont menacé Fès et les Glaoui contrôlaient pratiquement Marrakech jusqu’à l’indépendance marocaine en 1956.
Mais les tribus nomades posaient une menace plus sérieuse. Très mobiles, elles pouvaient frapper rapidement et en force. Pour le sultan qui comptait sur une petite armée, elles constituaient une difficile cible mouvante.
Dans le Moyen Atlas, de grandes tribus comme les Beni M’guild et les Beni M’tir pratiquaient une transhumance analogue à celle des éleveurs des régions montagneuses de l’Europe et du Moyen Orient.
Les tribus passaient l’hiver dans les basses terres libres de neige, où les pluies saisonnières fournissaient de l’herbe fraîche pour leurs troupeaux. À l’été, elles amenaient leurs troupeaux aux forêts de cèdre des hauts plateaux où l’air était frais, où il y avait des lacs pour abreuver leurs animaux et où la verdure durait jusqu’à la fin de l’été. Dans certains cas, elles descendaient aussi dans le bassin de la Moulouya entre les montagnes du Haut et du Moyen Atlas.
Dans les basses terres au pied des montagnes, les tribus nomades imposaient leur autorité sur les villes et les villages où elles passaient du temps en hiver et où elles pouvaient se réapprovisionner en aliments de base, schéma bien connu chez les nomades.
Sur la frontière sud du désert, les nomades touaregs asservissaient habituellement les villages et les oasis appartenaient dans les faits aux grandes tribus nomades.
La puissance des tribus s’est imposée lorsque le sultan était faible. Le Maroc illustre bien les rouages de la théorie d’Ibn Khaldoun sur l’ascension et la chute des dynasties arabes. Au Maroc, des insurrections de tribus ont donné naissance aux dynasties almoravide, almohade, mérinide, ainsi qu’à l’actuelle dynastie alaouite. À mesure que le pouvoir central chancelait face aux défis, la force des tribus se consolidait au point de pouvoir le renverser et créer une nouvelle dynastie. Dans le cas du Maroc, les dynasties était principalement berbères, mais après plusieurs générations de vie urbaine, les dirigeants berbères se faisaient assimiler et arabiser, semblable à ce qui est arrivé aux dirigeants mongols en Chine. Les dynasties perdaient graduellement leur légitimité, leur pouvoir s’érodait, et elles devenaient la proie de nouveaux groupes de nomades qui à leur tour formaient leurs propres dynasties. Dans son ouvrage El-Muqaddima, Ibn Khaldoun décrit le cycle dynastique et s’en sert pour expliquer l’histoire et y donner un sens.
Nous associons le nomadisme au désert, mais la plus grande partie du Maroc traditionnel n’était pas du désert. Ce n’est qu’en quittant les hauts plateaux limitrophes des flancs sud du Haut Atlas que l’on trouvait sur une grande échelle les nomades qui se servaient du chameau. Les nomades du Moyen Atlas étaient plutôt des cavaliers, ce qui les rendait d’autant plus redoutables.
Aujourd’hui les plaines des basses terres sont consacrées à l’agriculture, souvent à l’échelle industrielle. Les forêts montagneuses servent toujours à un pâturage intensif et les troupeaux montent et descendent toujours les pentes selon la saison, mais c’est le gouvernement central qui détient le pouvoir. Les villages sont sous le contrôle des autorités civiles et les forêts sous celui des agents forestiers du gouvernement.
Dans le sud de l’Algérie et dans le nord du Niger, des groupes fondamentalistes font la guerre et le cargo du camionnage transsaharien est principalement celui d’êtres humains, des migrants qui essaient de fuir la guerre et la pauvreté. Que d’eau a coulé sous les ponts depuis 50 ans!
Helping my wife clean out the attic the other day, I came across some boxes of color slides that I had forgotten to store with the rest of my photographic souvenirs. They were on GAF film, a product made by a corporation that has long since gone out of business, and one, that even in its day, was of dubious quality. Kodak and Fuji dominated the market with far superior products and services. I thank my early interest in photography for steering me to Kodachrome. Very slow, the ISO of Kodachrome ranged from 25 to 50, and, even with a super fast lens, available light photography was difficult. But, oh, the color! Not everyone liked it, but I thought it did a fantastic job with both scenery and people. And how it has lasted!
Of course, almost no one shoots slide film these days. My daughter, a professional photographer, hasn’t shot it in ages. On my desk I have an ancient undeveloped roll which I will never have developed. In a drawer is a friend’s Olympus OM-1, the last of the many 35mm cameras that I have used. And while making prints with a slide could be a complicated and laborious process, digital photography allows even an amateur a range of effects that one could only obtain with difficulty in the film age.
I do have thousands of slides and negatives, however, and I am working my way through the digitization of all that seem to me important. When my mother died, I inherited more old black and white negatives, too.
My mother’s negatives are often of family friends and relatives whom I never knew or can no longer recognize. I keep them in hope that other family members will be able to identify the people in the photos, but with my aunts and uncles all gone, there fewer and fewer people to help. It is obvious that I should have taken family history more seriously, and I regret that I did not, because I think it would have been enjoyable to work at it with my Uncle Al and Aunt Mary, who both passed away recently.
Today I am going through old slides of Morocco, and wondering why I took them, what they represent, and, sometimes, where they are! The batch that I am looking at now have labels, which are sometimes cryptic, but still a help. A pile of rocks becomes one of the towers to be climbed on the west ridge of Jbel Toubkal. Nevertheless, many of my slides have no labels. As I put together a blog post on a hitchhiking trip across the Sahara Desert to West Africa, I find myself wondering just where I was. Today, with GPS and digital clocks, one can geocode the photo for an exact location and have the exact time of day that it was taken. I relied on memory for what was then an unforgettable journey, but the memory is failing.
I have to resort to memory, which grows faultier as the years go by. Sometimes my packrat nature helps. A few days ago I found a postcard from an Algerian whom I met crossing the desert. The trip through Algerian oases across the desert to Niger and the West African coast was wonderful, exotic, yet close enough to Morocco in the Algerian segment that I felt at home for half the way. I went back to that trove yesterday and found an old letter from a Moroccan friend, penned as I was leaving the country in 1971.
I also collected postcards from many places. I found a package of cards, purchased in Iran, that help me identify views or places in that country. I studied Iranian history and culture, but that was long ago. Maybe I can put together a post on a long and interesting trip that I made there. Still, there are limits to what one can recall. I have many slides from out-of-the-way places in Morocco which I can only identify by region, and a number with people whose names now escape me.
My GAF slides today look faded and blurry, which is unfortunate, since some were taken in situations that were unusual. Looking for monkeys in the mountains around Chauen, Morocco, and mushroom hunting in the cork oak forests surrounding that city, and a pilgrimage to the top of Jbel Alam, with the family of a Moroccan student of mine who went to venerate Moulay Abdesslam Ben Mechich are just the three examples that come to mind immediately.
I mushroom hunted with French friends. Moroccans do not eat mushrooms, but collecting and eating them is typically French. The newspapers in France always announce the mushroom season; la Dépêche, in Toulouse, recently predicted that it would be a great season this year. When we got back to town with our cèpes and oranges, my friend Giles’s mother, who was visiting, sautéed them in butter. I have never eaten better mushrooms.
Memory is not trustworthy and it is often tempered by time. Georges Brassens, my favorite song writer in French or English, entitled an ironic song Le temps passé, reminding us in a humorous way that time, more than healing wounds, also makes us see the past through rose-colored glasses. I think I agree with Brassens that we should see the scars and feel the pain, even after many years. When Father Time sidles up, to use a Brassensian image, one should take care.
The slides help refresh my memory. As anyone following my blog knows, they are the scaffold that I build my posts around. The fact that I haven’t published much lately is due, in part, to the fact that I haven’t been digitizing. But slides and photos and old postcards are not the only way my memory has been refreshed.
A couple of days ago, I had a true and emotional experience. An old Moroccan friend from Peace Corps days called me from Tangiers. It was his letter I came across yesterday. About to speak to a group of young people about the Peace Corps, he was looking for personal experiences with culture shock and insights about the nature of volunteers at the time I served, that is, the 1960s.
In college, when I was contemplating Peace Corps service, there was a returned volunteer in my dorm who had served in an Andean village, I think. I asked him if he had experienced culture shock. He was from eastern Montana, a place with counties as big as countries and populations as small as American high schools. “Heck, no,” he replied, “I had culture shock when I had to go to a high school in North Dakota, because there was no school in my county. I had never seen football played, and didn’t even know which way to run. There just weren’t enough kids around in my part of Montana to field a team!”
I don’t remember much culture shock myself, but looking back I am sometimes shocked at how insensitive I was at times. True, I was young, but that is an excuse with which I will not defend myself. Reflection is far more valuable for youth than the elderly.
Talking with someone with whom you haven’t spoken in almost 50 years is a strange experience. Ali sounded the same despite the passage of years, I saw him the way my slides depict him, as a young lycée student, exploring the world, and struggling to make his way in it. Today, he is a university professor and accomplished at what he does. I am retired, waiting for God, so to speak.
Reminiscing was wonderful. The time I spent in Morocco was special, and today I have few people with whom to share it, mostly the old Peace Corps friends with whom I have kept contact, albeit sporadically, over the years, and, a few blog followers who have grown up abroad or traveled extensively.
In the 1960s days, I was fresh out of college and not much older than Ali. We both were looking at a world which we were soon to enter more seriously, and wondering what to make of it. We were also still children of sorts, he attending the new lycée and thinking about his future, myself, wrapped in a snug cocoon provided by the Peace Corps, trying to decide what to do next.
Today some volunteers refer to service in Morocco as the “posh corps.” The country has a well developed transportation and communications infrastructure, uses French as a second language, and is only a few time zones removed from the United States. Volunteers are free to travel to Europe and the United States. If many Moroccans are still poor and some regions neglected by the government, there is also a growing middle class, and tourism has expanded, so foreigners are more prevalent than ever. Yes, Morocco is not Bangladesh nor some central Asian remnant of the former Soviet Union nor Sierra Leone. But “posh?”
Comfortable for some seems more appropriate. My first day in Morocco, after a long plane flight via the Azores and Lisbon, was warm and sunny. We landed at the Salé airport, then used for international flights. From the airport it was just a short drive into Rabat, and to our temporary lodging at the Grand Hotel, opposite the Peace Corps office on rue Van Vollenhoven, a street name changed to zenqat Moulay Rachid before I left Morocco. Morocco was still decolonizing itself. The new town, built in the 1920s and 1930s in art nouveau style, resembled architecture I’d seen in the south of France. The store fronts and displays were very French. The eateries were French. Père Louis still had a little desk or stand where the owner would stand during meals, just like many restaurants in France. I felt totally at home there.
I remember how one volunteer, John, was confronted by a staff member who had served in Afghanistan, who asked him if he considered his service in Morocco as being all one big vacation, replied sarcastically, “Yes, and a great, wonderful vacation, at that!” The truth was that he served as best he could at a time that Peace Corps programming left a lot to be desired. And Morocco was not Afghanistan, the Peace Corps experience through which she saw the developing world. We all see the world through an optic defined by our experience, though the view widens as we age.
In my day, volunteers could not travel to Europe or return home unless we enlisted for a second tour of service. Algeria was officially off limits and air travel to the rest of Africa was beyond the average volunteer’s budget. Some volunteers were posted to tiny spots. I always admired the women who went to foyers féminins, rural home economics and extension centers. They showed tremendous resourcefulness, putting up with difficult conditions in very tiny and sometimes remote places.
Sometimes volunteers created their own problems. In Oujda, two volunteers who shared a house arrived at a point where they drew a line down the courtyard, dividing it into exclusive territories, where the other was not welcome, and would not speak to each other for weeks. Later, both worked in staff positions for the Peace Corps, and developed a strong friendship.
Sometimes sickness, though rare, would intervene dramatically. A volunteer in Nador, seriously ill and unable to contact the Peace Corps doctor, a surfer and a poet, with healthy charges about whom he did not worry overly, had to rely on a Jewish doctor in Oujda for medical assistance. She called him, he told her to meet him at the airport in an hour, and personally flew her back to his clinic, where it took her a couple of weeks to recover.
Travel to Spain was allowed, because of its Arab past, but, though I visited every major Moorish site to which I could easily travel in Spain, I still think that the ban on Europe and the restriction to Spain was silly. You could have easily argued that Morocco’s recent past was French, so visits to France should have been permitted. Modern Morocco has been created by the French. In any case, volunteers, especially ones with wealthy parents, ignored it and were never punished.
Peace Corps had good intentions. It really wanted volunteers to get to know Morocco better, but most had plenty of opportunity to travel, with good transportation and volunteer friends spread around the country, and most felt they needed a break when they had a long summer vacation.
Algeria was considered a hostile state. Morocco had just fought a war with Algeria along the southeastern border. The U.S. government probably feared dealing with Algeria if American nationals got into trouble there. In fact, in western Algeria, the dialect was very similar to Moroccan Arabic, and communication is not difficult. Cities like Tlemcen were tied to Moroccan history as former parts of Moroccan empires.
The Algerians I met when I finally traveled there treated me just as Moroccans did: with curiosity, courtesy, and hospitality. In the struggle for independence, America had not supported France. There were no hard feelings there with the Algerians. Strained government relations were mainly a result of the division of the world into hostile blocs, and the expression of Cold War ideologies. My Algerian acquaintances had Red Army records in their collection— because of trade with the Soviet Union—of which they openly made fun. The Russians were not cool. James Brown and the Beatles were cool.
Many of us laughed about the “super vols,” highly performing volunteers that Peace Corps staff occasionally touted, painting them out as examples of what we should be. We considered some of them phonies. Most of us did as well as we could given the conditions. Some jobs were easier than others. Being a TEFLer was a relative piece of cake compared to others. Peace Corps knew how to train and monitor teachers, Moroccan lycées had administrative structures into which a teacher could be placed and Moroccan students, avid for knowledge and eager to learn, were generally a pleasure to teach and took to Americans, who were far less formal and far more friendly than the French.
Other volunteers were given jobs that didn’t exist. When you are placed in a rigid, government administration, just how do you create a job when there are few expectations for you and little support? Occasionally, volunteers solved the problem, but many more gave up. Indeed, some of our Moroccan colleagues had also given up, content to receive a regular paycheck, and sit most of the day and read the paper and smoke.
As the first decade evolved, Peace Corps programming focussed on more professional areas: architects, veterinarians, foresters, and so forth. What this did was insure that the volunteer did have some kind of employment related to his training. In fact, some architects did little more than design homes for officials.
I remember a staff person who administered an architects program. One of the volunteers had complained that he was being pestered to design water towers in some kind of historical disguise. The staff person, took the train to Fes to see him. As he rode along through the plains of the Gharb, he sketched every water tower he saw along the way. All were, of course, functional designs, with no local color, but form following function. Why waste time on a water tower with all of Morocco’s needs?
But the programs were popular with universities back in the States, and Peace Corps developed institutional relationships with some that were beneficial to individuals and institutions, if not necessarily to the Peace Corps and Morocco.
Everything was smaller and simpler than it is today. Maybe that is why it is so easy to look back and enjoy those days. Volunteers lived privileged lives as foreigners, but were not wealthy. Those of us who lived at higher elevations were never warm in the winter. We did not band together as much as the French coopérants did, who were there in much larger numbers, and who very often had cars. Nor did we socialize with other expatriates very much.
Unlike the French, we were not purveyors of a superior culture, a culture respected by wealthy, educated Moroccans, so we did not look down on the locals, though educated Moroccans may have looked down on those of us who did not speak French well. We sometimes made fun of Moroccan ways, but not in the nasty manner that the American military did. We did not call Moroccan’s “Mo’s” or any other derogatory term. Moroccans, no matter how humble, were the bearers of an exotic culture and a proud religion. For most of us, ordinary Moroccans were a subject of fascination and we admired them for their hard work, faith, and fortitude. We wanted to make them happy, and help them if we could.
Some of us were self-imposed exiles from a war we felt unwise and unjust. Draft boards were breathing down our necks. Peace Corps offered a temporary respite or last chance. Even some of our administrators were exiles. Richard Holbrook, tied to Democratic patrons like Dean Rusk and Clark Clifford, tried to wait Nixon out. He succeeded, too. Never much interested in Morocco, as far as I could ever see, he later was appointed an Under Secretary of State for Asian Affairs by President Carter. I thought him self-centered and shallow. One ambition of his, he confided to me, was to have driven every paved road in Morocco. He redeemed himself in my eyes by brokering an end to the Balkans wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, then died, tragically, in a road accident.
The problem for us volunteers was how to fit in. None of us arrived a Muslim, though one or two converted, so we were excluded from religious life, one of the poles around which Moroccan life revolved. We were foreigners, and Moroccans, once administered by the French and Spanish, dealt with foreigners in the ways to which they were accustomed. They categorized us according to their particular world views. Teachers fit in perfectly. Others were doing training, stages in French. We were Christians or Jews. We were spies. We were tourists. If we were women, maybe marriage material, more likely a potential conquest. Volunteers had little control over how they were perceived, though where and how they lived had a bearing. Some lived sober lives, some lived out fantasies. Some were outrageous. But through work and neighborhood life, many volunteers developed friendships that outlasted their service. Some returned to Morocco to see co-workers after their service. And some did marry Moroccans.
I knew Ali as a lycée student in Sefrou while in the Peace Corps. In 1973 I went back to Morocco with a university sponsored foreign living experience. The students in the program lived in a run-down tourist facility in Salé, and they loved it. The professor with them stayed in a modest hotel in Rabat. I found a Peace Corps volunteer living in Salé who had some extra room so, in order to save money, I moved in paying a share of the rent. Ali was sharing a tiny, dark place in Rabat with other students, so I asked him if he wanted to move in, too, and he got to live in a big, uncluttered apartment until I moved out that the summer. I remember the volunteer’s name, but not what he did. His pastime seemed to be picking up foreign tourists, traveling on the cheap, and offering accommodation in hope of sexual favors. I thought that scandalous myself.
I did not hear from Ali again for many years until I received a call out of the blue. He was living in Binghamton, attending the State University of New York, where he was pursuing a graduate degree in Comparative Literature. His call was a surprise, and, his voice a bit different. He had studied in Manchester, England, and its northern accent overlaid his truly American one, learned from his lycée professor from Yakima, Washington. I agreed that I would meet him soon in Binghamton, where I was trying to jumpstart my Ph.D. Studies.
It was at a difficult time in my life, and I never followed through. He didn’t call again that I recall, and a few years later I heard from his old Peace Corps teacher, then living in Seattle, that I had hurt him deeply. I am more sorry than ever today. It was unforgivable, but I cannot undo it. So when we talked again, 20 years later, I was nervous. As it turned out, it was just two very old friends, remembering shared parts of their youth, lived 50 years ago. Much has changed, but not everything.
I hope that everyone reading this blog can see all the attached photos with their captions. I have not been optimizing my media, and I apologize to you if photos load slowly or perhaps not at all. Please let me know if you have experienced any difficulty.