Riad in Marrakesh
© Tim Möller-Kaya

Angels in Marrakesh


I once had a desk in Marrakesh. It stood in the courtyard of a riad, a traditional Moroccan inn. Two trees – one bearing lemons, one bearing oranges – provided shade, and a fountain burbled in the center of the patio. The water music and the chirruping of the birds, my lodgers among the foliage, were the soundtrack to my sentences. I only ever wrote one at a time. Then I would stand up and and stroll around the fountain and among the trees. The courtyard was quite large and I was in no hurry. When I got back to my desk, I almost always had a further sentence in my head. I called this “decelerated writing” and considered it very healthy.

If I decelerated too far, I would fetch myself a real energy boost in the alleys of the bazaar and on ­Jamaa el Fna, the great marketplace of street artists, tooth pullers, prize boxers, tellers of fortune and fairy tales in the medina, which gets pretty loud and lively as evening approaches. The best place to enjoy it without making direct contact with snakes and cheeky monkeys is the terrace of Café Glacier. ­Leonard Cohen knew this, as did Jimi Hendrix and all the authors of the Beat Generation. Honking horns, pounding drums and the astonished braying of a donkey would soon fill my gray cells with color as I sipped my “whisky marocain” (slang for mint tea), while back at the riad, my desk lighting was being prepared: 70 candles, the absolute truth. Everywhere in the courtyard, on the ground, on the fountain, in the trees, on the second-floor balustrade, and also, of course, on my desk, small flames flickered merrily. Not only because it’s a beautiful sight, but because – as my grandmother explained to me when I was a child – angels are drawn to candlelight.

Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.