The International Writers Magazine: Imsoune is a remote fishing village and,
in recent times, a surfing spot halfway down Morocco's west coast.
A Dead Paradise
In the early morning its bay yawns into gigantic consciousness, swallowing, in dawn's semi-sentinence, a large gulp of the Atlantic ocean. Through the afternoon it lounges, lazy in the sun, until the evening, awoken to the day, it heads out knowingly to its horizon. Along its beach, which lines this vast sweep, are many craggy partitions and clandestine bends: places of intimacy that seem to contradict the desert-like expanse of the greater landscape. It is a natural harbour too, inundated with small blue fishing boats. These vessels appear like ornamental additions placed strategically for the onlooker's gaze. The whole setting has a choreographed feel.
Standing aghast of all this , a group of crooked hills, whose slopes, stubbled with tufts of vegetation, seemed to lean and lurch into the bay. In the fierce light of afternoon they look like haggard and dissatisfied alcoholics clamouring for their bedrock bar, forever out of reach. At dusk, when the darkness is kinder to their imperfections, these rocky figures seem more akin to a theatre audience; the geological applause to this geographical play.
As a town it is ugly . Scattered across the cliff are half thought of houses and "sort of" shops. Conspicuous by their careless placement and in their I'll-advised architecture, they cultivate a layer of ugliness ignorant of itself, as if a sack of rubbish had found its way to paradise and decided it fitted in nicely. And there is plenty of rubbish, too. Crushed coke cans and plastic bags act shamelessly like flowers ,and hardened shit, dumped without scruple by the local animals, masquerade as million year old pebbles.
||As a place it has an unequivocal strangeness. Indeed, I have never felt so uneasy with my presence anywhere. Initially, I thought that it was something of my doing, some inhibition, unconsciously formed, which was prohibiting me from being seduced by the place; as if I were broadcasting some implacable beat of atonality to the regular rhythm of the locals. I felt conspicuous, socially cumbersome- an alien. Yet as I sit here writing this, newly delivered from its awkward embrace, I have reconsidered my, then, anxieties.
Perhaps, a full two weeks later, cynicism has had time to defend my insecurities, but I can't help but think that there was something uniquely peculiar about it, and that it wasn't just an inability on my part to appreciate something foreign. For Imsouane seemed to exist in a perpetual uncertainty with itself; of how it should be in light of what it had. Indeed, its main misfortune was, and I suppose will forever be, that it should have a higher purpose and a countenance much more noble than that which the present has brazenly dumped upon it.
It seemed to deserve a stronger ambience and a more welcoming type of people. Yet, to say that Imsouane was a place blighted by its people would be false; innately they are probably no different from the rest of us. It was more the pervasive haze of lethargy, an immobilising boredom, which resides with, and in, them that made the town so disconcerting.
I experienced this almost immediately when, on the second morning of my visit, I took a stroll through the town centre - if you call it that, so small and dishevelled is the place. On every street the people gathered in clumps and in bored looking spaces, as if monotony has postured them prosaically in their seats. Men (and there were only men, women remained at home with the children) seemed to have perfected the act of idleness - even the workers when they were not working, which was most of the time, sit professionally in the shade. Loungers them all, they are almost nonexistent in their movements. And if they ever did embark upon an amble, for that is all it would have been, they would tilt forward, on the precipice of their own height, and overbalance into motion; it is always gravity that got them moving, not their volition. I had the feeling watching them that they didn't trust the idea of intended activity, that they had lost the ability to premeditate somehow, so that their only option was entrust themselves to the whim of happenstance.
Initially, I found this torpidity harmless, at times I was even relaxed by it. For superficially it might appear like the type of romantic disregard and relinquishment of responsibility that we all secretly desire, but are too scared to realise. However, the longer I spent there the more I understood that this idyllic insouciance was little more than a facade. Lurking beneath this deep inattention to life is something more aggressive, violent even. There is a very obvious angst. It is ingrained into them, almost as if they have practiced thoroughly the feeling of agitation. I remember watching a local fisherman gut a barrel of fish by the harbour one morning. I could see the sinews of his neck pop and throb, as he went about his aggressive task. Each of his knife strokes smouldered with a displaced rage. I thought later that the fish might have been proxy for a more socially consequential act - for a foe perhaps. It appeared that the lethargy of this place, the daily routine of very little, had over time incubated something more pestilential inside of them. That without plans to distract them, they have had time to contemplate the utter emptiness of life they were living; a barren thought process that had lead only to ill feeling. As after paradise there is no greater place, beauty becomes the norm, and so all that's left, the only thing interesting, is the destruction of that place. It was as if their home, which had once afforded them with the blissful indifference they had sought many years back, was now taunting them into egregious action.
Alcohol was a brief respite: "When it gets dark here, we must find something to drink, not tea, the hard stuff". This was said to me on a wander towards the local bar in the pitch black. The man's name was Momo, a local surf instructor. He is a spindly man, much like a two legged spider, except that he had none of the acceleration a spider has, because he seemed to be constantly walking through treacle. I remember him saying that he wanted to show us the way to the pub. In reality he needed to go to the pub to indulge in his nightly course of amnesia. For him, and the rest of the town, or more accurately the rest of the non-devout Muslims, alcohol is a chance to evade the night. For the night in Imsouane is, in essence, the reality of the day, for with both there is nothing to do or see; there is a symmetry in their emptiness. Indeed, all the night was, was a reminder of the emptiness of the day.Yet, for me the night was more frank, less secretive, because unlike the day it did not build a facade of beauty or busy inaction around itself.
On reflection perhaps these feelings were made particularly strong by the fact that the group I was travelling were themselves insular. Myself a lead instigator in this, we kept ourselves to ourselves, refusing, albeit with politeness, the offers to enter into the local way of not doing things. Such a denial was most likely, at first, a concealed snobbery on our parts, but later this self imposed alienation became more benevolent. I think we felt we had nothing to say to them, nothing of nourishment that we could give, and so nothing of interest that we might receive in return. In truth it made sense for us to stay away. Naturally, the reasoning of this decision was not helped by the other foreigners who took to Imsouane's way of life with great zeal. They seemed to dissolve into the lethargy, and became like the locals steaming... simmering in their resentment.
On one particular morning when we made our way down to the local cafe for breakfast our unpopularity reached its peak. Having denied an invitation to a party the night before, our arrival to the town centre was stared at, not acknowledged, the annoyance of the rejected surfers hidden, but emphasised in the prolonged yawns - remnants of the night before. Not a word was said to us in the café, even the host of the party, on arrival our life long friend, now disregarded us with an active indifference. During these moments people always seemed on the verge of themselves, like they wanted to say something but wouldn't, perhaps couldn't. I wasn't sure that if - like their hesitancy towards movement- they are apprehensive about their affinity to much more violent deeds. I say this because during that breakfast we all felt as if we were in an implacable and inscrutable vice that was being constantly, but languidly, tightened by the collective hand of the town.
|But, in a bizarre way, their disagreement with us never had us scared, nor ever left us feeling unsafe. It may sound ridiculous to say after all I have just written, but there exists this impenetrable barrier to their animosity; even though it was there you always knew that the threats would never be carried out. Their violence is only ever palpable in its implicitly, a perpetual swelling of potential only. They have become completely transparent to themselves, so that when they look to find the agency to enact their brooding, they can never locate it; lethargy and regimented boredom have withered it into the ether. The same reasons that have encouraged their dissatisfaction are also denying them.
But, in a bizarre way, their disagreement with us never had us scared, nor ever left us feeling unsafe. It may sound ridiculous to say after all I have just written, but there exists this impenetrable barrier to their animosity; even though it was there you always knew that the threats would never be carried out. Their violence is only ever palpable in its implicitly, a perpetual swelling of potential only. They have become completely transparent to themselves, so that when they look to find the agency to enact their brooding, they can never locate it; lethargy and regimented boredom have withered it into the ether. The same reasons that have encouraged their dissatisfaction are also denying them.
Rather comically, absurdly even, the most intriguing and sensical thing there is the demeanour of the local animals. Not capable of introspection they seem to be boring themselves to death. On the beach and in the barely functioning coffee shops,they cough and splutter out their mangy minutes, looking not for ways to survive, but for a quiet corner to pass into a permanent sleep. There is a rational defiance in them: I saw a man cut up a plate of fish for a dog, but the dog, bent and brittle, refused it with dispassion. In another instance I saw a dog dig a hole for over thirty a minutes in which he, or she, then sat in as if waiting to be buried. They seem annoyed at their at existence there, exasperated by its futility and so determined to take action to end it.
I can't say that Imsouane is a bad place, or a place I dislike, because I don't know what it is. It is not a place representative of Moroccan culture, nor really of any culture at all. Unlike most places I have been to I didn't feel economically significant or culturally incongruous, the difference here was that I was out of time, of a different musical genre, in a place that seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep. Not a bad place, but one nevertheless blighted by its own beauty. For with paradise as a template, as something banal, it was inevitable any human addition would detract from it. And so what has occurred, what makes this place strange, is that over a large span of inactive time the locals seem to have cultivated a jealousy of their own home.
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