Monday, March 05, 2012

Fez - Through the Eyes of Edith Wharton

There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces, and towers sliding over the plain's edge in a rush dammed here and there by barriers of cypress and ilex, but growing more precipitous as the ravine of the Fez narrows downward with the fall of the river. It is as though some powerful enchanter, after decreeing that the city should be hurled into the depths, had been moved by its beauty, and with a wave of his wand held it suspended above destruction.

At first the eye takes in only this impression of a great city over a green abyss; then the complex scene begins to define itself. All around are the outer lines of ramparts, walls beyond walls, their crenellations climbing the heights, their angle fortresses dominating the precipices. Almost on a level with us lies the upper city, the aristocratic Fez Eldjid of painted palaces and gardens; then, as the houses close in and descend more abruptly, terraces, minarets, domes, and long reed-thatched roofs of the bazaars, all gather around the green-tiled tomb of Moulay Idriss, and the tower of the Almohad mosque of El Kairouiyin, which adjoin each other in the depths of Fez, and form its central sanctuary.

Fez el Bali from the ramparts

These are the words of Edith Wharton who published one of the first travel books about Morocco. The book In Morocco, has now become available free of charge to anyone who cares to download it or read it on line. It is part of the enormous The Project Gutenberg EBook project.

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitise and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of November 2011, Project Gutenberg claimed over 38,000 items in its collection.

Edith Wharton (born January 24, 1862 New York City, New York - died August 11, 1937 aged 75) was an American novelist and a committed supporter of French imperialism, describing herself as a "rabid imperialist", and the war solidified her political conservatism.

After World War I, she travelled to Morocco as the guest of the resident general, Gen. Hubert Lyautey and wrote the book In Morocco, about her experiences. Wharton's writing on her Moroccan travels is full of praise for the French administration and for Lyautey and his wife in particular. The book was first published in 1920.

Her novel,The Age of Innocence, (1920) won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature, making Wharton the first woman to win the award.

Fez—the Nejarine fountain

Leaving Fez

But here we are in an open space looking down one of the descents to El Attarine. A misty radiance washes the tall houses, the garden-walls, the archways; even the moonlight does not whiten Fez, but only turns its gray to tarnished silver. Overhead in a tower window a single light twinkles: women's voices rise and fall on the roofs. In a rich man's doorway slaves are sleeping, huddled on the tiles. A cock crows from somebody's dunghill; a skeleton dog prowls by for garbage.

Everywhere is the loud rush or the low crooning of water, and over every wall comes the scent of jasmine and rose. Far off, from the red purgatory between the walls, sounds the savage thrum-thrum of a negro orgy; here all is peace and perfume. A minaret springs up between the roof like a palm, and from its balcony the little white figure bends over and drops a blessing on all the loveliness and all the squalor.

You will find the various ebook versions of In Morocco here: Edith Wharton's In Morocco


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was delighted by the pictures in the book.
It shows a Morocco that has always fascinated me.
I don't think I can share the views of this lady. She is a racist. Period.
But the pictures in the book make it really worthwhile.
Thanks for sharing.