The Metaphor of Marrakesh: Scribes and the Marketplace.
Have you ever been to Marrakesh? If you have you will remember the Djemma el Fna. If not I will give you as much as I can of its unadorned…? Beauty? No. Its inescapability, its centrality, its help to orientation, but mainly its knotting of all the alleyways, the radiating and narrow derbs that empty into it. Somehow this spreading, dusty— not-even-square —with mini siroccos licking at sandaled feet, and snakes curled in baskets until the evening makes dancing profitable, seems the canvas on which to paint my theme.
I have surveyed the marketplace for books, and where my stall might be pitched. I have watched the comings and goings and the light that settles at different points of the day. I am still deliberating. I see no place vacant.
Bear with me. You must meander a moment to take my point.
In the early part of the day Djemma is a dusty concourse of occasional crossings, hopeful orange juice sellers with fruit in pyramids, and their modicum of shade under a roof. In the evening it is a blaze of lights, and the chilli and turmeric aromas of a hundred food specialists and slipping between them the cut-purses, smooth talking conmen, and simple opportunists. It is the only place to really eat, well, affordably, convivially, commonly, transparently. But no wine. That is important; regrettably, no wine.
Up the darker alley of the souks are the producers, the small merchants in leather (tooled) metal (perforated) spices ( ground and piled) silk (sumptuous) dyes (reeking) home remedies (debateable) and every stall contains a story, and every dark eyed child an appeal. Here there is shadow, couriers, mint tea, donkey carts and time to work, and to talk.
Here it is that goods are fashioned, by trades that have their roots in families, areas and locations elsewhere and clustered together like the spice merchants in the Rahba Kedina. Here people know their onions and the onions of their neighbours, and whether they are up to standard or greedily over-priced.
So it is now with us, the new book makers. All specialists…in ourselves. With families by trade, historical fiction, romantic distraction, tasty snack stories, quick guide make-a-million props, or the hard covered authority of the University Presses over there in the shade of a loggia.
In the privacy of our homes and our heads we imagine we craft for that hungry humanity who will buy our books. We call ourselves writers or after being blooded on our first ‘hunt’ the tribute of ‘author’. Suddenly we all wish to speak and tell stories.
We venture into that sunlit square with trepidation. Over by the main artery are the calèches, the horse drawn carriages that will quaintly deliver our work for an all-in-one fee, no questions but money asked. They will bring us back bound and lumbered and none the wiser.
At the entrance to this marketplace are the tinkers to our trade, those that will sell us ways to sell, edit what needs editing, smooth out the linen of our pages, design covers that will declare us better, brighter, more knowing, and stratagems to pile higher in conspicuous places, and be quicker off the mark. There may be empty promises and we will lose, or genuinely crisp services for the more discerning: services to literature.
The more assured, (and monied) take their places in the shade around the perimeter, where the knowledgeable will peruse their specialities, the Thames and Hudsons, the Faber and Faber, the Folio Societies and further still the certain aged Antiquarians whose tooled leather and cloth will always be in short supply and patience comes with the territory and a puffing pipe.
For nearly two years I have explored this world I never knew before, and cannot judge now.
So where will I pitch my stall? Neither tinker to the trade, nor identified by any mark of comradeship. The Mind Body Spirit find no remedies for the ills of the world in me, the Crime I speak of was communal and over too long to twist a plot or perpetrator, the Romance is there but competes as a pauper with the most illustrious. The Science Fiction is yet to come but seeded below ground and needing long incubation. If it ever sprouts I shall be long gone.
I have but a single idea. To watch this frenzied strife from an awning by a fountain and sell ideas and offer free words wrapped around thoughts and observations. Of no tangible or practical value whatsoever. I shall play puppeteer and try to amuse the idle. A lower muezzin call to reflect on why we are all ‘at it’.
The first idea is simply this. Are we new ‘book makers’ perhaps the servants of our books? Is it for them we lose our children too early, make acquaintances with cancer, dream of possibilities we will never attain, or turn our disappointment to satire, our hopes to fantasy? Invent people for good company? The reclamation of our lives is twisted into books and of life are these not momentarily self-important books the debris or distraction, the records and flash portraits? Is this agora itself pushing us to cease and perhaps find a chorus in which to simply sing for our supper?
Tomorrow it will be different, our vision already changed by being spoken yesterday, already.
If so, we are only the scribes, and choose our stories only in the ways of telling what we only half understand. Logos itself is free of ink. If we fail to find readers is not the wind listening? Should we not now listen too?