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the voices of marrakesh

In 1952 Elias Canetti, best known for his novel 'Auto-da-Fé' and his study 'Crowds and Power', visited Marrakesh with a British film company. (Would be interesting to know which film this was, but haven't been able to find out.) His travel sketches and stories, collected in 'The Voices of Marrakesh', vividly evoke the bewildering sights and sounds of the city. What's more, they evoke the traveler's giddiness of deliberately (or in the case of Marrakesh: unavoidably) getting lost in an unknown city.

To quote just one example, Canetti's spot-on description of the age-old ritual of negotiating in the souks:

It is desirable that the toing and froing of negotiations should last a miniature, incident-packed eternity. The merchant is delighted at the time you take over your purchase. Arguments aimed at making the other give ground should be far-fetched, involved, emphatic, and stimulating. You can be dignified or eloquent, but you will do best to be both. Dignity is employed by both parties to show that they do not attach too much importance to either sale or purchase. Eloquence serves to soften the opponent's resolution. Some arguments merely arouse scorn; others cut to the quick. You must try everything before you surrender. But even when the time has come to surrender it must happen, suddenly and unexpectedly so that your opponent is thrown into confusion and for a moment lets you see into his heart. Some disarm you with arrogance, others with charm. Every trick is admissible, any slackening of attention inconceivable.

morocco: marrakesh

The old medina of Marrakesh stretches the concept of a city to its very limit with a labyrinthine density of alleyways and souks , donkeys and scooters, veiled women and hagglers. Not surprisingly, the French colonizers opted to lay ou… Read the full post »

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