NOTES FROM MOROCCO:
We came down from the mountains fast. Hassan drove the taxi with focus and deliberation, both hands heavy on the wheel. He didn’t slow for school children or blind, cliff-side corners. He played chicken with donkey carts and heavily loaded trucks, and won. The High Atlas were austere and very beautiful. I wanted to linger over the flash-flood gorges cutting deep and rust-red into yellow hillsides, the steep, diagonal bands of uplifted sedimentary rock, the almond orchards blooming fresh pink against rocky fields, and the brilliant green of the terraces, but each time I thought to ask Hassan to slow I hesitated, nervous to disturb his concentration, and the scene was gone.
The villages we flew past were the same and different. This high, all were built in the traditional boxy style: tall earth and stone walls, white-washed windows, flat roofs with dry plant fringes to wick away the rain. And each was entirely of its place, the houses built from the rock and dirt excavated to make their foundations. Villages built on red earth had rammed, red earth walls and flat, red earth roofs, villages on grey-green hillsides were laid with tight-fitted, grey-green slate, yellow hillsides made yellow houses, grey made grey, orange made orange. Once, we passed a village straddling geographic time, and it was striped, pink houses on bottom, yellow on top, just like the sedimentary layers below.
We drove by riverside villages with fields terraced, precariously, directly into the floodplain, and ridgeline villages with fields walled into the steep hills below.
We drove along the top of a fairy-tale gorge that plunged down to our right, deep and deeper to an unseen river. The village sat high on the valley wall, a honeycomb of tan houses against tan rock and a few, tough junipers. Below the village, the grain terraces fell down down down, all the way to the gorge bottom, glowing heart-stopping green, like tiny, emerald scales.
We drove below a rust-red village on a rust-red hill, growing up out of a forest of huge prickly pear, below the deep, blue sky. The combination reminded me, strongly and disorientingly, of the American Southwest.
We drove through villages with empty streets, streets filled with children just out of school, streets blocked by flocks of sheep and goats, unperturbed by the impatient taxi inching too-close behind. We drove through villages with men lounging in doorways, men slumped together on steps, gossiping, men leaning together against sunny walls, the pointed hoods of their djellabas raised against the wind. We drove through games of street football, the boys scattering before Hassan’s horn. We drove past women and girls hauling water, carrying brush, tugging along reluctant children and donkeys, and crouched by cold creeks washing laundry and beating rugs.
We drove till the hills gentled, the fields grew wider and more casually terraced, cinder-block and concrete replaced rammed-earth and stone, and we could see the central plain stretching out into city smog below. We drove out of the mountains, and their harsh and wild beauty. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to turn back. But already the road was straightening and widening, and Hassan was picking up speed.
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