I woke up this morning trying to explain what it is that I love about Morocco. Last night I told a friend that I am happy here but couldn’t say exactly why. I fell asleep thinking about it and even in my dreams, it was so hard to coalesce the dense sensations of this country into words. Slowly waking, I found myself describing it as one of those amusement park kiosks where they make wax molds of your hand. I feel like I’m being dipped in hot wax, I thought, still half-asleep, coated in a hard hot shell which slowly peels away.
I came home from the souk last night—spice mix, hats and slippers in hand—feeling overwhelmed and spent. “I feel like a towel,” I wrote in my journal, “that needs to be wrung out,” and then imagined the river of saffron and cumin that would pour out, the sounds of metal hammers banging wrought-iron into lamps, hundreds of hands beckoning into stalls of leather, pottery, a man holding a blade between his toes while he whittles wood with both hands. Emerging into the open air with relief, the hot wind gathers clouds in the darkening sky and the call to prayer begins. Lights blink on and steam rises from the tagines and grills, squares of white cloth stretched over each stall, surrounded by long counters and benches.
This is an experience that my mind cannot make sense of. I can’t tell you why I like it here because it’s impossible to comprehend this magnitude of sensual stimulation. Wooden doors carved with hundreds of tiny stars and moons. Motorcycles that race through the maze of clay-baked alleyways. It’s something that I feel in my body, like the deep relaxing of interior muscles that comes from a sauna or sex.
In situations such as this, I’ve found that it’s best not to try too hard to think it all through. So it’s fitting that the language of dreams would be the closest I can come to telling you what it feels like to be here. Poetry, too, might work:
The way of love is not
a subtle argument.
The door there
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.
That was written by Rumi, a poet I’ve never been attracted to, despite seeing translations everywhere—on Barnes & Noble bookshelves and inside greeting cards. But here, in the context of a Muslim country, the architecture and flavors and climate similar to the Persia that Rumi wrote from, the intensity of devotional poetry makes sense.
His words fall into the same spaces forced open by turquoise doors built into stretches of salmon-clay walls, bougainvillea blossoms floating in mud puddles, bottles of orange water. I find myself considering, What does it mean to be devastated by a place? To absorb it, welcome it into my whole body? Through every pore and all five senses. To engage with it so fully that I sometimes forget where my home is or what plans I may have for the future, or the afternoon.
This is not a subtle conversation, as Rumi says, but an invitation to fall and take flight.
We walk towards the market. One door opens in a clay wall and and an inner sanctum is revealed, a whole new maze of perpendicular alleys, a neighborhood. Kids playing with their buddies, a tangle of arms and legs and giggles. Marrakech is a city of boxes within boxes. At the center each family has a private space, a kitchen, a tiled fountain. It would take lifetimes, I think, to fully open it.
This is what I mean when I say that I love it here. It has devestated me.