I was having a chat with my friend Cris one Ramadan evening about the state of travel writing and how it’s just not the same as it was back in the days. Perhaps it’s because travel is so accessible with budget airlines and with social media posts it has lost some mystique. Perhaps it’s because so much is written for SEO purposes or best-seller lists. Or because travel sections are shrinking. Or, maybe, I just don’t have the answer.
I was delighted to receive a copy of A Morocco Anthology, Travel Writing through the Centuries. Editor Martin Rose has pulled together some of the finest travel writing about Morocco by the likes of Wyndham Lewis, Edith Wharton, Ali Bey al-Abbassi to describe the kingdom’s imperial cities of Fes, Marrakech, Meknès, and Rabat with stops along coastal Essaouira and Tangier.
For anyone who’s travelled to Marrakech, and in particular wandered through the Kasbah where the storks nest on minarets and fly overhead, The Mythology of Storks as written by Ali Bey al-Abbassi in 1816 is certainly intriguing:
They believe that storks are men from some distant islands, who at certain seasons of the year take the shape of birds to come here; that they return again at a certain time to their country, where they resume their human form till the next season. For this reason it would be considered a crime to kill one of these birds (A Morocco Anthology, Rose, 44).
And in the same year, Ali Bey al-Abbassi in The Gardens of Chellah says, “I have found no where in Europe any gardens which have afforded me so much delight as those of Rabat” (A Morocco Anthology, Rose, 118). I mean, if that doesn’t give readers a desire to travel to the Chellah ruins!
For those with a love of storytelling on the famous Jemaa el Fna, Robert Cunninghame Graham writes in 1898 of reaching the Koutoubia Mosque from the outskirts of Marrakech, “At last we came out on an open space under the tower of the Kutubieh, in which square a sort of market was in progress, and a ring of interested spectators sat, crouched and stood, intent upon a story-tellers’ tale. I sat a moment listening on my horse, and heard enough to learn the story was after the style of the Arabian Nights, but quite unbowdlerized and suitable for Oriental taste.” (A Morocco Anthology, Rose, 62) Well, if you’re not left wondering what tales that storyteller was recalling….
The book is captivating. Not a long read, but one that transports you through the finest cities of Morocco using the finest words to describe the history, the architecture, the landscapes and life at the times of writing. Grab a copy of A Morocco Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries on Amazon or your favourite independent bookshop.