Updated May 12, 2010
The Ties of Foreign Lands
Yes, digital culture can consume us. I’ve admitted my Blackberry addiction and taken the positive step of housing it, face down, in a drawer most nights. Yes, yes … the drawer is next to my bed, but it’s shut tightly.
Ultimately, though, I find technology liberating. Since I first wrote this journal on Nov. 11, 2007, my memories of Marrakesh are close at hand.
We have many readers and fans from the Middle East.
I’m fascinated by the ways in which technology and digital culture also bind us, creating human ties between total strangers. Are these ties real? Lasting? Emotionally satisfying?
In a strange way, I think so. We extend ourselves and perhaps take risks for each other. A warm digital hello from a talented stranger in foreign lands means as much a nod from a local store owner. Shall we have tea together?
Into the Heart of Darkness
We are connected with each other. Just today I received a query about the wellbeing of Lubna Hussein, and I will respond to another stranger who is writing about Lubna. Every time I see my Facebook friends from the Middle East, I relive the profound sensations of my unique dining experience at Le Yacout and the sum of my days in Marrakesh.
Rarely does eating become an evening of gorgeous, exotic beauty and intense psychological reflection — and such a contrast to the hustle of our daytime Marrakesh moments.
Time drives me to skip over the daytime details.
My sixth sense about appropriate behavior caused me to present myself to the concierge at La Mamounia, with the offer of changing into a zippered, Henri Bendel pareo skirt, for more coverage.
He recommended head to toe styling and complimented me for asking his opinion.
The ankle length skirt was a big hit with the local ladies, covered in their equally colorful djellabas. ‘D’ told me they enjoyed a street corner confab about the print, pointing approvingly. It’s also possible they they were mocking me, but I doubt it.
Always the Adventurer
Years ago, another of the five most incredible nights of my life prepared me for this one in Marrakesh. An unplanned journey with a stranger I didn’t like, caused me grave concern for my safety, before unfolding into a spectacular finale in the hills of Chiang Mail, Thailand.
Thoughts of that night swept into my mind when the driver from La Mamounia took us to the edge of the Old Medina, where a young Arab man waited to take us through the maze of narrow streets, to Le Yacout.
The transformation of the Old Medina from day to night was eerie.
Hours earlier, these twisted passages were teeming with sights and sounds. We ambled along in our mule cart, passing countless stalls, overflowing with 70s-style bohemian artifacts, prompting a flood of references to America’s Marrakesh Express days.
Now the passages were shuttered and strangely silent.
Saying goodbye to our driver, my guy and I walked hastily into this Marrakesh evening, as an unusual night sky cloaked the streets of the Medina.
I say ‘unusual’ because it was dark and light at the same time, if that’s possible. The walls were drained of color and I don’t recall sweet scents or sounds of delight. As we followed our young guide deeper into the desolate, labyrinthine maze, I realized that I had no street signs to read, no shop windows to remember, no clues to assist an unscheduled exit.
There were no people to help me, just my partner, our guide and me, walking soundlessly into darkening uncertainty.
My heart tightened a bit not for fear of him or where he was taking us, but over losing control of our situation. We had no cell phone, no Blackberry. I couldn’t text a friend in Egypt saying “help”. I always said if I had one call to make in a life-threatening situation, it would be the concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.
Instead, I reminded myself of the extraordinary night I had in Thailand which was far more unnerving than this moment.
Fearing the Unknown
I did not express these thoughts to my lover. We did not speak at all, as if talking about our concerns might bring them to life.
Instead I focused on the young man in front of me, carrying a lantern to light our path. We did not share a language or a culture, no traditions, no family, no history.
Our only means of communication was our eyes, and he would have to hold the light high to see mine.
My Trust in a Young Arab Stranger
My hands, typically animated to articulate my point, were useless.
There was nothing for my French-manicured finger to point to: no landmarks, no visual cues, nothing before me or behind me, except the sameness of the narrow, soundless, monotonous streets.
I experienced a sensation then that I’ve not known since. I needed this person.
I was completely in the care of this young man, totally in his power. This stranger, this Arab youngster — not a foreigner, because I was in his country — was my only way out of this maze, my only ally against becoming hopelessly lost for hours, surely until sunrise and perhaps long after … at least until La Mamounia organized a search party.
Considering my situation, I realized that I had two choices: one was fear and the other trust. A woman who thinks she can do anything, I knew I could not turn and walk out of the maze without his help.
I chose trust, and not because it would be embarassing and idiotic to turn back. Battling back fear, I changed my focus, wondering how such a vibrant city could lock up its spirit in a few hours.
How did such sensual people spend their nights in such drabness and monotony? There was absolutely nothing to look at. And how did anyone know where they were going, no matter how many years they walked these winding passages?
I was wrong about almost everything. The books I had read failed to prepare me for the moment of arriving at Le Yacout.
Arriving at Le Yacout
Our young guide stopped in front of a nondescript building, one just as drab as any other building along our route. Turning to us, he nodded without speaking, lifted the glowing light and mounted the steps.
Nothing prepared me for what happened next.
The big door opened, inviting me in, a vestibule out of ugliness and into the most beautiful, exquisite, sensual night I’ve ever known.
The atmosphere in Le Yacout shattered my conscious mind, as I walked — not through the door — but into the sensory totality of the experience.
I was spellbound, so jolted out of the mundane, that the visual allure of this place touched me, not as a caress, but as a slap across my face. The ferocity of the change left me stunned and confused by the fine line between beauty and ugliness. Without warning, I moved from fear to rapture in seconds.
I am out of words in a digital medium that demands brevity. Yes, I intend to finish this exquisite story in the coming days, trying to convey to you in words what only photos and, better yet, being there reporting first hand can give you.
Closing my eyes now, I can feel the Marrakesh night, like a new, unexpected lover, air running its fingers over my face, grasping my bare shoulders tightly, with the promise of devouring me in profound, sensual intimacy.
But I get ahead of myself as usual. Contrary what you read, Blackberry lovers don’t lose all sensations about la dolce vita.
I cannot rush this seduction. It is too exquisite.
To be continued soon, perhaps from. I leave you now to get ready for Jet Blue, 6:35 am Monday to Burbank. Anne