Peter Mayne: The Alleys of Marrakesh

April 26, 2014

I’ve mentioned earlier how much I have enjoyed the ancient cerise Penguin series Travel & Adventure; I always look out for these in secondhand bookshops, although some now seem to be offered at silly prices. I’m always glad when I come across a new (to me) title, though it doesn’t happen often.

This title took me back to my hippy days of nearly forty years ago, when I spent several happy weeks in Morocco with a friend, though we never made it as far as Marrakesh – Fez and Meknes were the highlights of that trip, along with the remains of the Roman town of Volubilis. Mayne took time out from Western civilisation sixthy years ago and went off to Marrakesh for a year to write and live somewhere different.

His travel journal is very interesting: the French colonists and administrators are absent, and he settles down to live a genuine life among Moroccans, who are initially suspicious, eventually accepting and helpful, and always out to make a bargain and come out of a situation with a profit. They can’t understand the concept of a novel, or that someone would spend time writing one. Mayne lives in a shabby little hotel, rents apartments and houses, hires servants and has adventures, and writes about all of these in an engaging and involved way, very much living in the present and for the present; the occasional Western acquaintance who appears as a tourist cannot understand what on earth he is up to…

You see someone gradually grow into becoming a part of a place, accepting and understanding, questioning and judging sometimes, but always with an open mind, and this is what I particularly liked about the book. In the end his money ran out, he found that he wasn’t succeeding in writing as well as he expected to, and so he left. He moved on, as one does, leaving this part of his life behind. It made me think about how often and easily we can do this, and what it says about us…

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