We found lodgings in the midst of the massive Skoura oasis, some 30km east of Ouarzazate, where we took a suite of rooms in the Kasbah Ben Moro, a mud-walled fortified 18th century dwelling surrounded by date palms that spread to the distant horizon.
We walked among the palm groves, where clean alleys were bordered by hand-patted mud walls, and narrow ditches channeled trickles of water through an orderly world inhabited by birds.
Each evening we climbed an irregular spiral of steps to the roof above our rooms, and watched as the snow on the High Atlas peaks turned from white to rose, like candlelight on the shoulders of a woman.
We were the only guests that winter week. None of the other tables had been set in the dimly lit room where we took our dinners. I picked up our table and moved it right next to the open fireplace, where I could reach out an arm to prod sputtering logs back to life.
I sipped a glass of Moroccan wine in silence, until an enormous ceramic dish appeared with a conical lid: the ubiquitous tajine, Morocco’s slow cooking pot. The cuisine is a blend of sweet and savoury, with tender chicken falling off the bone, surrounded by dried prunes and apricots, piled on top of vegetables that were soaked in their juices.
When dinner was done, we returned to our rooms, where I made a point of listening to ‘Rock The Casbah’ in a casbah before gathering kindling to banish the winter chill.
When the dried wood finally caught and the olive branches sputtered to life, I took a blanket to the couch and read Paul Bowles by the fire.
It’s impossible to discuss Morocco without mentioning the work of this American writer who lived in the country for most of his life. Bowles moved to Tangier in 1947, traveled widely and wrote The Sheltering Sky, a novel about one estranged couple’s stumbling quest to burn away the past in the desert sands.
His was a fictional world filled with pimps and prostitues, French officers in remote garrison towns, and of travelers who come to grief through their ignorance of the dangers that surround them.
Bowles knew from experience that the desert teaches by taking away.
Photos ©Tomoko Goto, 2019