Book Review Travel

Ul-Essaouira-sses: James Joyce and Morocco’s Atlantic Coast


Desperately needing some cooler weather and a low pressure environment in which to cold turkey from the anti-depressants I’d been guilt-tripped into giving up (all fine SO FAR), I headed westward from Marrakech to Essaouira, a coastal resort town.

Spoken of simultaneously as a sleepy fishing village, a Moroccan middle class beach destination, a booze-soaked fantasy playground and a laid back low stress rest stop, in reality it combined elements from all of these in such a way to provide a place where one could enjoy many things a little, yet nothing really a lot.

The medina, to start with, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but rather than being a confusing medieval sprawl, it is actually a purpose-built, pre-planned, boulevard-containing cheat of an Old Town designed by a French Military Architect in the late eighteenth century. However, the Atlantic breeze that blows through its wide streets is a nice change from the dry static heat of central Morocco. Its wide streets, though, instead of being empty and relaxing, are absolutely FULL of tourists (both domestic and international), as well as the various inhabitants of what turned out to actually be rather a large town. And as for being “laid back”, I think that translated as “very easy to buy hash there”. Which is true for everywhere in Morocco. And as for liquor, though wine was on sale in a few restaurants, the local beer was as expensive as in the other cities I have visited here, and Essaouira’s one “happening” bar was an absolute nightmare of an international 90s-Ibizan throwback without the benefit of MDMA and/or speed.

The streets are filled with the obligatory feral cats, yet here they are fat and healthy, in part thanks to the town’s still active fishing industry, in part to the glut of tourists. Most people I met there were spending their time smoking, a few were kite or surf boarding a little up the coast, I, however, chose to spend my weekend in Essaouira reading the first two thirds of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ll reserve full judgement until I’ve read the rest, but as of now I find it hard to believe that the experience of reading Ulysses is much different from the experience of being hit repeatedly round the head with a copy of it. It is difficult, it is dense, it reads like poetry but looks like prose… Although I have experienced moments of beauty, moments of accurate psychological exploration and the best masturbation scene I’ve read since Dirty Havana Trilogy (which comes highly recommended), I’ve (so far) found the whole project over laboured, often dry, rarely moving and as guilty of gross, arrogant elitism as anything I’ve ever read. Reminds me a lot of Tristram Shandy, but without the good jokes. Joyce is witty, Joyce is very creative and very knowledgeable, but I’m yet to be convinced that the concentration and attention required to read his”masterpiece” is worth it.

So, Essaouira: not peaceful, not booze-soaked, but a refreshing, cool town where, for perhaps the first time in Morocco, I felt safe walking about on my own. Not as beautiful as Chefchaouen, but perhaps easier to spend more time there. (Sober.) My personal highlight of Morocco is still Fes, which is the opposite of everyone else I’ve spoken with. So don’t necessarily take what I say seriously.


2 comments on “Ul-Essaouira-sses: James Joyce and Morocco’s Atlantic Coast

  1. Pingback: The Other Name by Jon Fosse (Septology I-II) – Triumph Of The Now

  2. Pingback: Winter Journey by Eva Figes – Triumph Of The Now

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