Marabout Muse

Credit this marabout photo to JeanClaudeLatombe. latombe@cs.stanford.edu.

In my novel, Tangier Gardens, CJ completed his term abroad design study by assembling a series of short stories documenting his unusual Moroccan landscape interactions. He learned about marabouts from at least three different sources. Trying to understand marabouts began CJ’s downward spiral. This is how he describes his learning experience. This is not a fantasy. It was CJ’s real life in Tangier.

For CJ the landscape had always been his muse…until he settled in to Tangier and the north west African landscape. The shape shifting began when he first learned about marabouts. It wasn’t marabout shape shifting, it was landscape shape shifting. Where was CJ’s landscape muse?

But according to Wikipedia, marabout definition is a bit short of the breadth I learned in my over  two years living in northern Morocco. Wikipedia says:

Marabout means “saint” in the Berber languages, and refers to Sufi Muslim teachers who head a lodge or school called a zāwiya, associated with a specific school or tradition, called a ṭarīqah “way, path”. A marabout may also refer to a tomb (Arabic: قُبّة qubba “dome”) of a venerated saint, and such places have become holy centers and places of pious reflection. 

But what I learned is that each marabout has its own story that changes over time. Let’s let CJ recall his first marabout story.

It was almost the end of July when I visited again. I was preparing to go to Casablanca for the Darija Stage–a one-week intensive course on local Arabic language basics–primarily for Peace Corps volunteers, but Erik had kindly given me a place. Looking for a basic Darija book, I stopped into the Piliers Culturels bookstore to talk with Mme Zsófia. While there, I talked more about my landscape design study. She took an interest in my landscape architecture focus and invited me to sit and talk with her in the bookstore back room.

The room was small, no window, and books stacked higgledy-piggledy from floor to ceiling everywhere. There were two chairs and she offered me one and excused herself for a moment. I was quietly looking around when I heard some rustling behind a couple book stacks. 

“Hello?” I said.

“Hallo, qui est-ce,” replied an older woman’s voice in a heavy Eastern European accent.

“Parlez-vous Anglais?” I asked.

She wormed her way through the stacks to see who she was speaking with. The heavy set 70ish woman with stringy grey hair looked like she had been 24 hours straight researching her way through this jumble of books. 

She asked me in English who I was and I repeated all about landscape architecture and my university design study. 

“Landscape architecture? Not many around here. What brings you to this store?”

“Looking for books on language and local culture.”

“Local culture? What do you want to know?”

“Why is the mood of the medina so intense and why are the youths on the street so aggressive?”

“You do get right to the core of it with that question. First you should know that my name is Olga and I am a longtime Tangerine friend, of Mme Zsófia. We arrived here in the early 50s and have been part of local culture since.”

I told her my name was Christopher Janus.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said. Then she sat down and carried on. She talked about how the two of them shared times in the 50s at Merkala Beach Café, with fascinating stories of keef, drink and rough life, with names like Lachen and Idir.

I liked hearing her perspectives on Tangier. She talked about the International Zone and relationships with strict Muslims. 

She said, “The Zone had a reputation for diversity of culture and religion, which concerned the pious Moroccan population who saw it as ‘a plague zone as much infested with cockroaches as infested, nay, infected by infidels’. But it has its own ways to ‘clean’ itself.” 

“What do you mean by ‘clean’ itself?” I was perplexed.

She began, “It is difficult to define…the cleansing…some people like to call it a superstition…some like to call it a curse. It is both and more. Here you can find it as a disease, bad dream and misfortune in daily life. It is a storm cloud, it is a bad taste and it is a burdensome possession. All are here. You can’t control it. I can’t control it. We can’t control it. Maybe you can say it is like bad weather or an earthquake or hurricane. But for some it lasts their entire life, every day and every night.” 

I hesitated before asking, “It sounds like you are talking about the evileye or something?” She said nothing. 

Then, after taking a sip of tea, Mme Olga said, “Let me tell you a cleansing story.”

She paused, before beginning, “There was a guy in the early 1960s–lots of guys trying to get attention of Paul Bowles. This guy was American. Not like you. He was very big, bolshie and beautiful. Emphasis on the bolshie. This guy had hubris. There wasn’t a pretty girl or pretty boy that he didn’t think was his. You could see it in his eyes. He was around for a couple weeks and we could all see what was going on. The Magreb does not tolerate such a fool running loose.

“He had a thing against camels–always talking about camel jockeys. One day, he was after a beautiful, but tender, brother and sister–orphans–for his own pleasure as was his normal way. These young kids lived on a farm just past the edge of town, toward Cap Malabata. They kept camels for tourist rides. The bolshie American followed them home, planning to have his way with them. They, offering shelter to the kaffir, invited him in. 

“But his attitude gave him away when he, making sex eyes at both of them, demanded a drink. Well, they gave him a drink and he fell into a stupor. That area had an unusual marabout, an absolute rock pile of a shelter, filled with scorpions and the boy and girl tied him down and left him there for days. 

“Somehow he managed to free himself and was last seen being led around by a donkey and offering donkey rides for tourists. His sexual fantasy became satisfied only with the donkeys. Everybody thought he had met his due. But there was more. 

“He had a couple American relatives who came looking for him, cousins or something. Just like him. They also fell under the donkey spell; and as the story goes all three Americans were given “shelter” by a Pasha from the Levant, never to be seen again.”

I listened to it all, then said, “This story sounds a lot like stories I heard from a strange West African guy…” 

Mme Olga interrupted, “Not a story! This happened. I knew the neighbors. They told me.”

“Is this about human enviousness or evileye?” I asked.

Mme Zsófia returned to the room, listened, said nothing, looking like she did not want any part of this conversation. 

Mme Olga said, “Ok, my friend, there is and there isn’t. We are on the African continent–a landscape of hidden power. That is life here.”

We heard a customer enter the store. Mme Zsófia excused herself and left the back room to serve the new customer.

Then Olga and I sat quietly alone, saying nothing. I thought, she said “that is life here”. I’ve heard something like this before at David’s in the Kasbah. What is this “evileye” stuff? Misfortune? Bad karma? Or the influence of the devil himself? Everybody was oh so cautious when speaking of it. Could it explain all my misfortunes to this point? Could it explain the dream I had when Sidi Hamete pulled “something” out of my ear? Will I have this evileye cloud around me for the rest of my study time here? Study? I still didn’t have my study going yet!

My anxiety was raising my pulse. Sweat was forming on my forehead.

***

Interested in more of CJ’s landscape experiences in Morocco? Visit my Tangier Gardens Amazon book page.

Join my mailing list and keep up with CJ’s unusual landscape adventures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the next story, Yenbo Palms, here.

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Aicha Qandicha

In my novel, Tangier Gardens, CJ completed his term abroad design study by assembling a series of short stories documenting his unusual Moroccan landscape interactions. This is one of his stories. This is not a fantasy. It was CJ’s real life in Tangier.

Wikipedia describes Aicha Qandicha as a female mythological figure in northern Moroccan folklore.

But this wasn’t exactly describing CJ’s experience. Here’s how he told it.

Part One: We all have one

After I had the cast put on my ankle, I was immobile. My design study had gotten lost in the fog. I was desperate. I needed help. That’s when the Goblet stories began their reveal.

I learned some very unexpected things about myself in Tangier. The most intriguing occurred in October when I engaged in a disciplined chocolate and absinthe meditational cleansing. The cleansing was gentle. It revealed itself through subtle changes, internal realizations.

One morning before sunrise, I had finished the chocolate and absinthe treatment and was sitting quietly in my rooftop terrace garden when I found myself engaged in the strangest bit of internal conversation. A voice spoke to me. That voice spoke from a strange part of my head, near the inner ear or thereabouts.

It said, “Hello, my name is Goblet. I am your chalice keeper. I can help you.”

I needed help.

That was the beginning of a friendship—a kind of crystal ball friendship. I don’t know how else to describe my relationship with Goblet—sometimes there, sometimes not there. I could never be sure. But it was all built around my sense of hearing. Goblet explained the background.

Goblet told me, “There was a time when there was no such thing as white noise. Hearing always has had many configurable adjustment bands that could consciously, subconsciously, voluntarily, or involuntarily filter for hearing improvement. Then, as time passed, as environments morphed adjustment mechanisms failed. White noise and all iterative variations made hearing via air outright painful.”

Goblet continued, “For certain important messages, in order to hear them without extreme and torturous pain, it became necessary to go underwater to hear. Then finally today, resulting from the hard filters, we have so many sounds that are not understandable. It is for our safety that our ears now have a hard fixed filter that limits the sound waves we can hear. The ears’ capacity is only 15% of its total capability.”

Goblet’s historical perspective intrigued me.

Goblet added more, “That hard filter is not the only ear filter. Each of us also has a secondary filter, an intelligent, discretionary filter that is known generically as a chalice keeper. A chalice keeper is an angel—a personality with a duty to protect and to clarify that which appears unknowable in life. Chalice keepers are sexless. They pass on knowledge untainted by human vices.”

Goblet paused, weighing my comprehension, then continued, “You may wonder what is the chalice? It is the low-level network of control that regulates passage and transformations via the sensitive, multi-dimensional connection gates, the ports, the portals between sound waves, the hardware of the ear itself and the neuron transfer of sound via the nervous system in the brain. That control also includes the essential connections to the pineal glad and to the seat of intelligence in the heart itself.”

Back in the US, my world normally was a din. But while in Tangier that din expanded into a multi-layer aggressive—a confusing labyrinth.

While I was asleep, Goblet moved quickly and directly to solve what was troubling me. Goblet always found the way. Goblet found the intended destination by keen hearing.

Every time I went to sleep, Goblet could detach himself from me. Goblet could travel to the places it could never travel with me because in hours of consciousness I functioned as a restraint, as Goblet’s governor. My world fit into the constraints of time and space, while Goblet was free of those constraints. I walk through the world in 85% ignorance of what is around me. Goblet witnesses everything and is there in particular to assist me, should I choose to listen in times of stress and danger.

Chalice keepers are why most of us have magic in our ears. Goblet is why there was magic in my ears. Our ears bring us magic. They suspend time; they suspend place. They control the ports, the portals of connection to all worlds, real or imagined. For me, Goblet was active and motivated because, as a designer, I was an explorer. Chalice keepers are especially keen to help explorers. Goblet helped me. Goblet was my pass to the .

Here is how I came to understand it. Human’s gross sense organs are all severely filtered. The sense organs are limited so that the confusion of continuously multiple inputs does not overwhelm the need to act. If the human sense organs are overwhelmed, the human may become paralyzed—a sort of analysis paralysis where too many new inputs are occurring too frequently to allow for intelligent discrimination.

Goblet filters these inputs for me. Goblet hears everything as it is. Then when I am under stress, uncertain, anxious, Goblet feeds, via sounds direct to the ear, or dreams, or thoughts or ideas, the data to facilitate my discriminating and decision making. Goblet does not decide. In essence, Goblet is like a data base. Goblet filters, then feeds data to me. Then I assess those data and, via free will, decide on my own course.

Goblet is not all knowing. Goblet goes out to gather information. When I am sleeping, Goblet does this. Goblet has limits to travel. Goblet must find and arrange material conveyances while problem solving for me. For transportation, Goblet communicates most regularly with dragonflies and storks. In the scheme of things, they have a duty to facilitate the required travel of chalice-keepers. They and the chalice keepers share knowledge and information without the constraints of time or space or language as we know it.

I was obviously under duress. My attempts to come to grips with the culture of Morocco, the street scene of Tangier, while simultaneously trying to reconfigure my design study caused me ceaseless stress. My goal had not changed. I still wanted to graduate and get on with my life in the professional world of landscape architecture. But my filters were clogged. Noise had weakened me. I had become a rebel without a clue.

Goblet definitely had work to do.

Part Two: In the bled Magrebi

Sometimes all needed was Goblet helping recall what I had slept through in history or geography classes—or books or stories that I had read.

Stork, known locally among his friends as Cico, pronounced seeco, knew he was on call; but he was comfortable sleeping in his nest on the top of an old column in Tangier’s La Montagne neighbourhood. He was on his winter vacation. He liked Morocco, quiet, drowsy kind of place—mild winters—early springs.

Cico was in a languorous daze. Pleasant, he was… then he heard his name being called… he thought, “It’s one of those chalice keepers… they are generally nice… but they have a knack of interrupting my sleep.”

Goblet was eager to get advantage of a large stork—traveling with a stork was almost like traveling first class on a commercial airline—large seats, lots of room, but better. Always a smooth flight; and thus easy to absorb information.

Cico responded, “Hello, who’s this and what’s this—a ride where?”

“My name is Goblet; and with your help I need to get out and into the countryside.”

“Countryside? I can get you there. Hop on. The countryside is pleasant at night.”

Goblet liked Cico’s helpful attitude and asked, “What’s it like here? Do you find it difficult? I was with Aeshna, the dragonfly recently, and we had a horrible intrusion by young humans.”

“No, it’s not bad down here—it’s like a winter vacation. But you can’t ever be sure about human youth. Most chalice keepers down here stay home. Most all the humans are content with their mosques and their mountains—but up north in Europe it’s different. Always dissatisfied, those Europeans—always seeking discoveries, answers. So it is hard work up there. Truth is most of the storks head south.”

Goblet preferred the storks—nice smooth rides—and soft smooth personalities. Not like the dragonflies—but oh, those dragonflies were colourful, beautiful, and riding them was exciting, fast…

“What are you looking for?”

“My master needs to get the aura of the countryside and its importance to humans here.”

“I can help; but first, can you tell me something about humans?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Why is it that humans have such a hard time understanding the good and the bad at the same time? Why do they think that death is bad? Why do they not understand that life begets food for other life and that death is inevitable? I thought you chalice keepers were to help them with these big picture items?”

Goblet, noting the old tendency among storks toward verbosity, had to push gently to get a word in edge-wise. “Humans have this thing called hope and they must nourish it otherwise they have a tendency toward self destruction. Especially when lots of them congregate, they make swirling, massive interventions on the landscape.”

“Ok, we will sort out your master. Everyone counts—one by one. In the countryside, we should visit marabouts. They are filled with human historic endeavour to discover something better in this region.”

“Marabouts—in the countryside—tell me more.”

“The marabouts in the countryside, anywhere, can shelter both good and bad djinns—or either one, or the other… you never knew if no one told you or you had never visited—and over time they change. The bad ones mislead like a rascally boy, just happy to make a fool out of you. The good ones can part the cacophonic curtain of life, granting a visitor temporary peace or provide useful direction for the visitor’s life. Sometimes the same djinn can do either, depending on the attitude, the aura of the visitor.”

“Here’s one. This marabout has a mix of Christian, Moslem and Animist roots. Even so, Christians are not allowed, though some sneak in when no one is watching. This saint bestows barak, good luck on visitors who leave their fluss, their money, and promise to become in this world servants, instead of takers.”

Goblet looked about—looked ok on the inside—Goblet had brought my thoughts and set them on a ledge inside. Goblet and Cico sat still without talking—just listening, just feeling. Then Goblet felt a chill. Both simultaneously noted the creek just outside and downhill from the Marabout window.

Cico said, “There are all different djinns—friendly djinns, nice but dim djinns, confusing djinns, threatening djinns, and djinns ready to cause bodily harm—but a creek next to this Marabout…”

Goblet and Cico looked at each other–they both knew what that meant. Aicha Qandicha— powerful djinn in this part of Africa.

Cico said, “She is always about the sources of water–she can smell the men who are strong, who are saving themselves, who know restraint, austerity…”

Aicha Qandicha could smell that masculine strength from the thoughts, my thoughts which Goblet had set down at the Marabout.

Cico continued, “She attaches herself to strong men. She craves the challenge of undermining them. She knows how to distract men with her beauty and then confuse them.”

Goblet snatched up tightly my thoughts and motioned to Cico. They sped as quickly as they could, away from the creek, up high in the air, away from the humidity that marked the area of the Marabout and the creek, hoping to disconnect from any trail my thoughts may have left behind.

Goblet hoped that Aicha Qandicha would not follow my thoughts back to Tangier. Goblet knew that the last thing I, already redlining with uncertainty—the last thing I needed were attentions from Aicha Qandicha.

***

Read more about Moroccan landscape at my Tangier Gardens Amazon book page.

Portals?

Not everyone sees portals in the landscape. Tangier Gardens is the self-told story of an American, Christopher Janus. His friends called him CJ. He was a university student, who discovered portals during his term abroad design study in Morocco.

Is The Strait a portal?

How did he discover portals? Plant portals in gardens, in the landscape? Tangier Gardens is CJ’s journey of discovery.

It all began when he crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. And it continued as he journeyed around northern Morocco. But it wasn’t until after months in Tangier, CJ would uncover the mysteries of Tangier Gardens. Get into his story.

In a limited time Spring Joy offer on Amazon, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 March 2022, the Tangier Gardens eBook, normally $3.99 is FREE. Buy it on the first day of spring! Grab Spring Joy while you can

If you would like to be kept up to date about discounts on CJ’s portal adventures in the Middle East and North Africa as he becomes an expatriate landscape architect, sign up here on CJ’s mailing list.

Liver problems?

Hepatica nobilis–portals?

Hepatica pushing up through last year’s beech leaves at 600meters above sea level in the forests just above Interlaken, Switzerland.

Still not sure about portals? Neither was CJ.

My favorite graffiti

This is green in real life, IRL.

…no political correctness…

…no social justice…

…no politics whatsoever.

This green graffiti is stone disrupted by plants.

My favorite. Tell me it isn’t beautiful.

Find yourself some.

Making your own path

…and when the path disappears?

Becoming a landscape architect is like walking an unknown path in a strange forest.

You know someone has walked it before, so you have some confidence. Then the path disappears. You have to make your own path and you don’t really know where you are going.

You must decide—forge ahead or go back.

Universities try to prepare you with programs, such as term abroad plus help through internships and mentoring… but in the end you must confront the unknown and make your own path.

That is what Christopher Janus, CJ, does in Tangier Gardens. He finds himself in unknown circumstances surrounded by botanists, horticulturists all in a fog of foreign culture. He has to define landscape, landscape architecture, gardens and his own career path. It is a path into the unknown.

If you would like to learn more about Tangier Gardens, click here.

Favorite Fog

Fog or cloud? This morning, this is what I saw. You might say–fog what’s the big deal.

You might say that if you have never lived among steep mountains in a climate blessed with humidity and precipitation.

Let me get on with it.

On the ground it may as well be fog. Can’t see blue sky or sun. Can only see 50 meters in front of me. Definitely fog. 

Or is it?

I live at 600meters above sea level in that fog.

But from a camera 1300meters above sea level, I am seeing that my ground level fog looks distinctly like cloud cover. A sea of clouds like all of us have seen while flying at 30,000 to 40,000 feet.

For me the question of fog or clouds is one of the pleasant riddles of life. Hope you have found it the same.

In the afternoon the clouds began drifting away or put another way, down river, downstream on the Aare River.

Olives and lemons

Liking the markets full of fresh fruits and veg? Morocco is the place. But is that the whole story? In Tangier Gardens, CJ finds out the rest of the story. More about Tangier Gardens –>here–>learn more.

Olives of infinite variety and preserved lemons to die for. That is Morocco.

A 31Dec2021 Surprise

Don’t we all need a pleasant surprise? I was given one that I’d like to share with anyone who derives pleasure from the landscape.

Watching the sky in mountainous landscapes in my neighborhood, I am always struggling with clouds or fog. At what point does fog become a cloud? And do clouds ever become fog?

How can I even ask these questions? 

Because in steep mountainous terrain along a river valley whose source, not far away, is in the above tree line, high mountain pass glaciers, I regularly see the life cycle of clouds–the speed of cloud formation and dissolution. 

And that for me is excitement. 

Why? Because the speed of cloud is slower than human patience of vision. 

How often can we look at a cloud long enough to see its swirling edges grow or decline–and then until the cloud disappears or generates from nothing to a huge presence.

Today, 31Dec2021, I had an unexpected present handed to me by the local mountain landscape. 

I saw for the very first time–what I could for certainty define–ground fog. It began last night at sunset. Then in the middle of the night it grew while I slept. By morning, we were enveloped in it. It wasn’t deep but it was thick. 

In the clear sky sunshine, I took a walk to explore how the ground fog moved (more of a slow-motion slither, an exhale, a flow) around the valley floor. 

There is something special about seeing in real life, real time, the life cycle of clouds and in this case ground fog. 

I go through the whole gaia thing and the science of temp/moisture/wind. But in the end, I am convinced there is some thing alive in this life cycle. Are the mountains breathing in and out? I don’t know. My weak speculation is ignorant at best. But I feel what I feel. All I can do is write about what goes on in the landscape. It is all around each and every one of us. And it is mysterious…arcane.