Extract taken from my journal, dated 15th July 2010
So I take up my place at the desk, with coffee, with my ‘grandfather’s pen’. I am reading, simultaneously, a book on the Iran-Iraqi war, travel essays by Edith Wharton published in 1920 and leant to me by Anouck, and a volume of Keats, on which I am beginning to compile notes for my PhD. I feel quite languorous, writing quotes and thoughts and lines of my own verse and knowing that for the immediate years ahead these morning moments and the pages of notes scribbled during these quiet snatched hours will contribute to the most serious and most extended period of literary study and practice that I have ever embarked upon.
In Oxford I was beginning, wearily, to recognize the all too familiar sensation of restlessness that creeps upon me when I have spent too long in one place. I had stopped writing regularly, my thoughts were supine and disjointed and work on my book had dried up again. I had run out of ideas. I was uninspired. I don’t know why I rely so absolutely on the external inspiration of foreign shores, of novelty or at least the ‘feeling’ of exoticism and discovery that seems to create the ‘blank-space’ in my mind needed to start work once more.
Initially and for several days following travel I will write, think, conjure nothing. I will be only eyes and ears. Here in Essaouira, there was the silence of the grain market, the scent of burnt coffee at Patisserie Driss, a wide empty square, fishermen mending their silvery nets. These images, scents and sounds seemed to slip past me as though I were walking through water, barely entering my subconscious. Numb, I could enjoy the lack of responsibility that accompanies being a tourist, a bumbling inarticulate foreigner like any other, walking the streets and these deserted stretches of sand before Diabat.
And then, quite abruptly, I am bored. I want more… reality. I want immersion. The thin surface, the veneer isn’t enough. It isn’t enough… the tourist haunts and gawping at the sights everyone else seems to be gawping at, alongside camera-clutching backpackers and people too afraid to walk off the bottom of the map, the small map of a medina, or area of other historical interest listed in their guidebooks as though if they did, they might be lost forever in the sights and sounds, the reek of the fish market, the clamour, the fog of woodsmoke, as though beyond that spectral sheen of sticky, salty night-mist, is oblivion, the edge of the world, a gaping void. It might saturate them, the everyday reality, and it is as though they can only bear to take on the onslaught of the town in short half hour bursts before returning to the safety of their hotels. No, I don’t want to don a Bob Marley t-shirt and join the commune of hippie settlers. But I don’t want to hide behind a djellaba caftan and pretend to be indigenous either.
This is where the apartment comes in. The apartment and the knowledge that the rent can buy not only anonymity and refuge but an authentic sense of living, for the briefest time, in the residential streets of an Islamic town. Because instantly I leave the luxury of the beautifully restored riad hotel with its four posters and air-conditioning units and lug my bag to the top floor of this shabby, bohemian but nevertheless quite charming house, I begin to feel alive again. There is no concierge, no ‘between seven and ten am’ breakfast hours, no air conditioning unit. But there is the breeze, the Alizee wind at night. There are ‘neighbours’, and a grey tomcat who likes yoghurt.