Medina (Morocco volume 1)

18 August 2014

I write Medina with  a capital letter. It seems only fitting, as it is both principal and personal. When I arrived in Morocco, my first impressions were as faulty as my expectations. For 20 minutes we cruised leisurely past nondescript apartment blocks, neon, and old city walls. For one minute, one might imagine one has mistakenly taken a flight to a bad copy of Brussels. This impressions is quickly dispelled as one reaches the frontier of The Medina.

The road ceases to be a strip of tarmac lined by sidewalks, and devolves into a jumble of brickwork, tiles, and packed dirt. Floors and walls can only be distinguished through their orientation. Roads lead into roads, twist and turn, intersect, go under another road, become a courtyard before turning into another road. But you know this road! You started on this road. You can reach it again if you keep walking forward. The way to move forward, is to keep turning. Unless it’s a dead end, in which case you will turn around and you will find yourself in another street then the one you entered through. This is because The Medina folds back on itself. It’s not a sub-divided space, it’s a collection of places and their relationships. A road might be lined with shops, but some shops are roads. One might be invited to go to the top if this shop for a view of the Medina, and one will be faced with an infinite amount of  ramshackle balconies, drying laundry, antennas and minarets, all stretching towards the horizon. Don’t be fooled. Scientist have measured The Medina to be only one kilometer across. If you would look closely, you would be able to see the back of your own head on another balcony.

One copes. Maps are useless, as it insists on categorizing things as “buildings” and “roads”, which are soft guidelines here. To a lesser extent, so are the locals. One is either enthusiastically and confidently helped, to be led somewhere else, or to a plead for monetary mercy. Or one is is helpfully, but uncertainly told of one or two turns, even by the eldest members. This is probably due to the fact that The Medina is to all effects and purposes infinite in all directions. One might open a tiny door under a bridge, to arrive at an impossibly large and airy courtyard, with a blue sky that where it was night on the other side of the door. The only way to go somewhere in The Medina is to go outside, and learn. Walk for hours, days. Learn how everything connects.

The Medina is not only infinite in all directions, it is also timeless. A man might be smiting a cooking pot by hand, next to the mobile phone vendor. This is not far from the food stall that sells entire sheep heads. That’s where we saw the man on a scooter, leading a perfectly black stallion past the medresse. It is full of children, yet some people look older then time. The Medina has been the capital of an empire multiple times, and has outlived it every time. It has it’s secrets, but they’re hard to uncover.

To be honest, I wanted to leave The Medina, but you don’t leave the Medina. You escape.