Page taken from my journal, dated 17th July 2010, Essaouira, Morocco
Imagine a beach so desolate it is as though no one ever walked there. Now try to see it as though you were looking from the vast and crumbling walls of an ancient city. It is not the kasbah that I want you to think of, behind the walls; simply know that the walls are there. It is beyond them that I want to look.
In the afternoons I come here, each day climbing out on the rocks when the tide is out and around the corner of the city onto a wide beach. Sometimes there are a few fishermen who sit up under the wall, leaning against it and drinking, throwing the empty bottles onto the rocks where they smash into hundreds of pieces of green glass. If you imagine looking back at the beach from out at sea, the fishermen are high, tucked under the wall in the right hand corner of your vision. The wall is vast, as I have said, and above it rise the ruins of stone buildings, like Zanzibar, or rather, like the ghosts of ruined buildings, for that is how they seem to me from the rocks.
It takes me close to an hour, climbing and clambering and slipping over the rocks before I can go no further and the rocky islands plunge into a ferocious sea, sucking downward and rising again, shooting spray high into the misty golden light of the afternoon. But it isn’t the sea or even the beach that I have come here for, wide and uninterrupted as it is but for piles of broken tiles blown over the seawall. It is the rocks themselves. For what can I say of their shapes? They stretch for some distance out from the beach and along it, not jagged exactly but sculpted, as though they had been carved or chiselled to leave chasms in the surface of the rock. I cannot say why I am so enchanted by their pitted landscape, I can only say that there is something melancholy about them, scarred as they are, as though their surface were the face of a handsome young man who had been severely disfigured by burns leaving skin once smooth and flush clinging to the contours of cheek and nose bones, quite useless and ugly now. The rocks are repellent in that same way, pockled and tortured, nothing to the perfectly picturesque avenues and squares of the ancient town, even the ordered chaos of the crumbling Mellah, poignant because it is so soon to be demolished entirely.
So no-one seems to come here. Except the packs of dogs who sleep in the shade of their shadow during the afternoon when the sun is fierce and the wind picks up and scatters sand into every doorway and pitch of every roof in the city. I am thinking of bones, as I tread the rocks. The bleached collection of bones on my father’s veranda and fireplace in Kenya. I remember that every time I would arrive from England he would show me the newest additions – skulls and jawbones, collarbones and teeth, quite prehistoric in their dimensions. He always insisted on their beauty, the feeling of them as you turn them over in your hands.
At high tide the rocks are submerged by seawater and now, at low tide, the pools glitter with coarse and sharp granules of salt left when the water has evaporated. On the smoother plateaus someone has carved illegible symbols into the surface perhaps untold centuries ago. And I wonder, as I walk inland over the upright crags and sidelong hulks of stone, whether mektoub, it was written, that I would walk here and feel so alone.