Monday, November 21, 2011

Travel Writing About Morocco ~ #33

What do you do if you are a travel writer at a major newspaper and your travel editor decides that you should go and do a story about Marrakech? It's a tough call. Almost everything that can be said about the 'kech has been said.

Of course you have the option of descending into Orientalist cliches - mysterious, exotic, an Aladdin's cave; One Thousand and One Nights - or you go for the glamour and glitz of the beautiful people sunning themselves in luxurious surrounds beside the pool, before heading out for another night of clubbing. Ho hum. Or, you can dig deep and come up with a new angle.

Sadly, the British Daily Mail, published a "City Break" travel feature, which uses the Rolling Stones as the main thrust of their story. What is surprising is that the writer is actually a man with great credentials and a list of books and plays to his name that any writer would be proud of. He was, however, a bit off the mark (or out of touch) with Marrakech.

Philip Norman will be known to many as the author of Shout!: The True Story of the Beatles (1981)and, more importantly for our story, The Stones: The Acclaimed Biography (2002).

He starts the article with the amazing claim that, "the spirit of The Rolling Stones haunts Marrakech". It may do for Philip Norman, but as someone who lives in Morocco and frequently visits Marrakech, I can say, the Stones' ghosts have long gone. The claim is as fatuous as the urban myths that have grown up around Jimi Hendrix and Essaouira (see our story on Essaouira and the Jimi Hendrix myths, here).

Norman's insights into the Stones are fascinating but he lets himself down in this article when he talks about Morocco. "Its three most renowned cities ... are like insalata tricolore: blanca the white, Fez the green and Marrakech the red." Does anyone call Casablanca "blanca"? The local diminutive is "Casa". And "Fez the green"? The symbolic colour of Fez is blue.

Then he says, "It was not only rock stars who fell under the spell of traditional Moroccan art and design. It was also inspirational to the French fashion designer Yves St Laurent, especially the luscious Berber blue." - Philip, that would be "Majorelle Blue", after the painter you rightly mention.

Philip Norman missed out on the joy of staying on one of the beautiful riads that Marrakech is so famous for, instead bunking down at the La Mamounia at £460 (and up) per night. One wonders if it was a junket, although there was no disclosure saying that was the case.

Given Philip Norman's talent as a writer, it seems a pity that he didn't dig deeper.

To read the full story, go here: Gimme shelter: Rolling into Marrakech, the city that completely enchanted the Stones


1 comment:

valpaparazzi said...

I was recently asked to write an article about Marrakech, and the editor was insistent that The Stones and other 'hippy' elements were featured in the story, which, curiously, was supposed to be a business article. I debated heartily that he was trying to paint the wrong image of the city - if anything, Tangiers has more of that sort of history than Marrakech ever had. Eventually we took another angle, which dispensed with the hippy trail idea he'd begun with. But surely there's enough about these places that we don't have to start inventing things that never happened, or at best, had little relevance.