Deep Travel – Reading and Writing Morocco by Erin Byrne
As a writer of travel essays, poetry, fiction and film, it is my goal to move you, my reader, twice: to transport you to a specific place on this earth and to move you emotionally.
This has always captivated me in my own reading, beginning back when I was nine years old and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle transported me to a dark, sinister moor in Devonshire, England and scared me out of my wits. Gabriel García Márquez placed me in South America to suffer the pangs of unrequited love; Hemingway put me in the path of the bull. Victor Hugo, Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Paul Bowles all move me twice, and I emulate their process.
Deep Travel is a term that expresses the way I travel and write. I actively open all of my receptors—sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and my sixth sense of intuition—and connect with people on an intimate level. An awareness of history, politics, culture and traditions helps me to be open to my own “inward journey”:
The passage of the mythological hero may be overground, incidentally; fundamentally it is inward—into the depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost powers revivified.
—Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
I teach Deep Travel writing several times a year with travel journalist Christina Ammon, most often in the past few years at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris, where our process of deep creative re-visioning has unleashed powerful, meaningful stories about topics such as earthquake devastation in New Zealand, a warm connection with a guide in Mali, and an intimate trip inside the ablutions room of a mosque in Casablanca. As we will offer the workshop in Morocco in March, here are some examples of reading and writing that focus on Morocco.
Maybe it was a fit of madness, but on just our second visit to the old Moroccan capital of Fez, my husband and I decided to buy a house there—as one does in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language and have virtually nothing in common with the locals.
—Suzanna Clarke, A House in Fez
Suzanna Clarke takes us along as she and her husband Sandy Mc Cutcheon restore a riad, or courtyard house, in the Fez Medina, the best-preserved medieval walled city in the world. We squeeze between donkeys and displays of lemons in the narrow labyrinth of the souk, or covered market, in search of zellij tiles. We smell freshly sanded cedarwood, and sip a cup of sweet mint tea as we become intimately acquainted with workers, neighbors, and merchants. Through Suzanna and Sandy’s choices, mishaps and achievements we travel deep into the heart of Morocco: a cat’s skull found between walls leads us to learn about spiritual beliefs, uncovering old paint on a door reveals geometric designs that take us back to ancient palaces.
The Spider’s House, written in 1955 by Paul Bowles, is a novel set in Morocco that transports us twice. Bowles’s character, Stenham, has been living in Fez for years, and is fond of saying of Moroccan Muslims, “We haven’t an inkling of the things that motivate them,” while at the same time proving his own wisdom by loudly articulating keen observations and illuminating insights. We see this man (and ourselves) through the eyes of Amar, a young boy who first meets Stenham and his love interest, Lee, inside a café. Amar gathers his own clues about the peculiarities of these “Nazarene tourists”. He assumes Lee is a prostitute because her arms and shoulders are uncovered, and is baffled by the way the man and woman interact.
In the midst of Morocco’s 1954 uprising again the French, their lives become entangled, their fates linked. Amar’s perceptions turn to the patronizing man who so often (and to Amar, oddly) asks the boy for his own opinion. The boy quite simply does not understand anything about Stenham. Amar is the one who knows that the most essential thing we must all do when we encounter people who differ so drastically from ourselves as to create such a gap:
If he wanted to keep alive the spark of respect he felt he had kindled, he must work hard inside himself.
—Paul Bowles, The Spider’s House
This is, in fact, exactly what was required of me the first time I traveled to Morocco.
It was my first visit to a Muslim country. When I arrived in Fez, the crowded, chaotic souk tingled the ends of every receptor in my body. People in hooded djellabas called out in Arabic, “Salaam Aleikum!” My eyes stung, saturated with colors. Sharp, sour, sweet scents slapped my nostrils. My mind reeled and my body both rejoiced and recoiled. I sat at a table sipping sweet, spiced coffee and, flooded with an illogical anxiety, became dizzy and disoriented.
Returning to the flow of the souk felt like rafting class V rapids. Girls in soccer uniforms skipped by swinging their curls, women held up rubbery chickens, dead fish gaped at the sky, kittens with ribs like tiny skeleton fingers yowled and crawled over each other. Fresh rosemary, donkey dung. Up, down. More young men speaking Arabic. Me, an American. Them, anti-American? Bumped, jostled, a whiff of fresh air.
—Fez Rushed In
My own reaction shocked me to the core, for it seemed that a kind of paranoia had slipped past my own common sense and swirled through my system.
My story, Fez Rushed In, is about how I cleared a space inside myself in order to truly experience Fez. I indeed had to dig deep to both relax my body and my mind, to see with new eyes, and to loosen fears that I had not realized existed inside me. It was a rocky, jarring inward journey.
In this way I have written about Machu Picchu pulling me out of myself as it did Pablo Neruda, my experience of a surrealistic childhood memory in Ireland, and a bullfight in Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid that changed the way I dealt with grief.
These are the ways that travel has changed me. I invite you to open your receptors, connect on all cylinders, look within, and travel just as deeply—and write to move your reader twice. In this way, resistances are overcome, long lost powers are revivified, and kindled sparks are kept alive.
Erin Byrne writes travel essays, short stories, poems, and screenplays. Her work has won numerous awards, including 2013 and 2012 Travelers’ Tales Grand Prize silver and bronze Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year, and appears in a wide variety of publications, including Points North Atlanta, World Hum, Travelers’ Tales Best Travel Writing anthologies, Crab Creek Review, and Vestoj, The Journal of Sartorial Matters. Erin is also the writer of The Storykeeper, an award-winning film about occupied Paris, currently being shown at festivals worldwide. She is a guest instructor at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris, where she teaches the workshop “Deep Travel” with writer Christina Ammon. They will offer a Deep Travel Morocco in March 2014. She is co-editor of an anthology of writings from Shakespeare and Company, Vignettes & Postcards, winner of ten international awards. Erin is currently working on Wings From Victory, a collection of her stories about France; the novel The Storykeeper of Paris; and the film Siesta. Details can be found at www.e-byrne.com and www.thestorykeeperthefilm.com.
Read is the spot to share your book recommendations, reviews, lists of absolute favorites, and thoughts on anything reading or writing related in general. Share yours here.
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..
Although Debbie De Louise has been a librarian and avid ..