Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Marrakech

Etc Etc Amen. Part Two of a review of a novel by Howard Male

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 3 2015.

Part One can be found here:

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/etc-etc-amen-part-one-of-a-review/

 

 

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Howard Male has written on music for the Independent, Songlines, The Word and other publications and on the arts in general for theartsdesk.com. He is also a musician. Etc Etc Amen is his first novel.

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Part Two

“Let go of your belief – it’s more trouble than it’s worth! Many have  died fighting over the small print from the undeniably ambiguous texts of their holy books. Belief is an End not a Beginning. Making a choice with regards to a theological position is patently absurd. Because…We. Know. Nothing.”

 

Male’s novel deals with rock god Zachary Bekele who founds a non-religion called KUU (The Knowing Unknowable Universe). The bible of this non-faith is The KUU Hypothesis.

KUU Theology

KUU stands for the Knowing Unknowing Universe. Male says: “I wanted to see if it was possible to devise a theology which went completely against the troubling grain of all that had gone before it, yet made perfect if eccentric sense as an alternative.” “Knowing” suggests something that demonstrates intelligence as well as something beyond our comprehension. “Unknowable” means we have to be content with unresolved guesses because all religion is guesswork. “Universe” symbolises what we find impossible to understand. The more knowledge we acquire the more fragile and contingent we feel. “The Gratuitous just keeps on raining down”.

KUU-ism is a middle way between theism and atheism; an escape from the “tribal binary prison”. Even our greatest thinkers only seem to pose either/or questions or definitive statements. Everything is reduced to the taking of sides while the truths remain ambivalent and overlooked. “Sitting on the fence might actually give us the best view”.

The Tripod built in Marrakech symbolises this third way. It is a middle way between the belief in an interventionist or non-interventionist deity. The KUU is semi-interventionist, and recognises `Cosmic Nudges’ – KUU-incidences (what Carl Jung called Synchronicities). KUU offers a welcome to refugees from any faith or even “agonised agnostics” and atheists. Bekele describes himself as “part evangelical agnostic and part woolly-minded fantasist”. He also says he is, “just a born-again questioner with a novel interpretation of the facts”.

KUU asserts that science is just as likely to be made up of bizarre hypotheses as ancient religion was made of bizarre gods. Scientists have not “made a dent on some of the central mysteries of mind, soul or creation”. KUU is not a personifying name of an entity that explains everything. “Why should we suddenly have all the answers now any more than we did two hundred or even two thousand years ago?”

Religions have dumb rules. The bible gives equal weight to sartorial and dietary advice and serious misdemeanours.  KUU Ground Rules are not Commandments. There are Eleven KUU Non-Commandments (or Gentle Suggestions), concerned with the individual’s well-being, sense of self and relationship with the possibility of a spiritual realm. Here are a few from the eleven: “You can laugh. You can doubt. Meditate on the Mystery of Music. Embrace and delight in the hello of the Cosmic Nudge. Forget about love, Empathy and respect are the real deal. Respect is rarely blind, stupid, jealous or crazy because it requires prior thought and has to be earned.

The central idea is that a connection can be cultivated between The Knowing Unknowable Universe and the receptive “entertainer of the possibility on Earth”. You may be enlightened if you entertain the possibility that unexplainable events such as coincidences are Cosmic Nudges. “It is part of our hardwiring that the unexplained is not worthy of our attention…the fact that you have never witnessed a serious car crash does not mean that car crashes don’t exist…the one form of unusual occurrence that we don’t feel self-conscious about discussing is coincidence…what if coincidences are the subtlest form of supernatural  phenomena?” “The Cosmic Nudge is the light of infinity glimpsed through a tiny rent in the opaque curtain of everydayness”. We are neither favoured nor persecuted by a higher being. Cosmic Nudges do not reward or punish, they just gently tease, they are playful not frightening.

“Here are some suggestions on how to live a more fulfilling life while also getting the occasional glimpse that there could be to that life than meets the eye. Let those glimpses enrich your daily existence but don’t let them go to your head. Be aware and creative, pursue wisdom knowing it can’t be attained, and find someone to love and have a good time with”.

“Get up off your knees! Don’t pray. Dance!” When you lose yourself in dance you lose your ego.

Optimistic doubt: “instead of living in constant disappointment at not receiving what you think is rightfully yours , you live for the moment and so experience pleasant surprise when good fortune comes your way. Life is the now. “

In spite of this sensible approach, the KUU’s followers decide to interpret KUU doctrine in a way that redefines the KUU as a supernatural entity.

Influences and comparisons

While I was reading the book, a number of possible influences came to my mind. I was not suggesting plagiarism but was intrigued enough to ask the author. I was reminded of Vonnegut’s Church Of God The Utterly Indifferent, and of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood in which Hazel Motes grows up struggling with doubts regarding salvation and original sin. Hazel’s war experience turns him into an atheist and he preaches a gospel of antireligion through his Church of No Christ. I wondered if there might be echoes of The Dice Man by Luke Rinehart.

 

The film Privilege starring Paul Jones (a rock star playing a rock star) directed by Peter Watkins and written by Johnny Speight dealt with a music idol who develops messianic powers.

 

 

Male has not seen the film. He admits to being influenced  by “in some sense every decent writer who has ever made me forget I was reading a work of fiction while I’ve been reading their work” However, he has not read Wise Blood and only vaguely recalls The Dice Man.

KUU seemed to have a bit of Buddhism in it, with the absence of a supreme being and prescriptive commandments and the notion of a “middle” way. All faiths except KUU are focused on blinkered certainty. “All moral codes stem from a paradoxical blend of selfishness and altruism…KUUism is about responsibility, rather than the handing over of that responsibility to a higher order, be it human or supernatural”.  I noted that Zachary’s band was called The Now. Male told me: “Buddhism, oddly enough, I only began investigating with any genuine curiosity after I’d finished writing the novel, as my sister – who has been a halfway house Buddhist for about eight years – saw a lot of Buddhism in KUUism.  The new novel Serious Fun explicitly shows this influence in that it centres on a character who has recently taken up mindful meditation.”

Male told me: “KUUism had – as its two starting points – the number of unlikely remarkable coincidences that were happening to me as I considered the idea of the cosmic nudge, and the self-appointed task of devising a religion (non-religion) that was the opposite of the existing religions yet morally and (to a degree) rationally sound.”

 

Reception

Male has written much rock journalism and continues to write expertly on what has come to be known as “World Music”. He brings his own personal inside knowledge of the rock world to the writing of this novel.  He was encouraged by supportive comments from respected music journalists like Charlie Gillett, Robin Denselow, Mick Brown, David Quantick  and Nick Coleman. Coleman described the novel as “an art-school rock-theological satirical thriller.” The book  received glowing praise from Tony Visconti, an American record producer  who has had a long association with David Bowie. Visconti said: “It’s a wonderful book! I am even more awestruck the second time around. Very few novelists get it right when they use Rock as the context for a novel. Howard Male got it right. One of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade’. Whitbread prize-winning novelist Patrick Neate thought it was “something really special”.

Howard Male tells me that he has completed a sequel called Serious Fun  and has started work on the third novel of the trilogy. He is now working on a screenplay of Etc Etc Amen. Etc Etc Amen is available on Kindle.

 

 

 http://www.nation.lk/edition/insight/item/40333-howard-male%E2%80%99s-novel-etc-etc-amen.html

Marrakech

Marrakesh1

This is an extended version of an article published in the February 2014 issue of Echelon.

The Almoravids under Abu Bakr founded Marrakech sometime around 1060 and it later became the most important of Morocco’s four imperial cities. His cousin Yusuf ibn Tashfin, with the help of Christian and Negro mercenaries ousted him. Yusuf conquered Northern Morocco and by the time of his death in 1106, he had conquered most of the Spanish Muslim principalities. This opened up Marrakech and Morocco to the civilised world of the Mediterranean. Physicians, philosophers and poets from the whole Islamic world visited the city. After a period of decline, in the early 16th century, Marrakech regained its pre-eminence under wealthy Saadian sultans and again became the capital of the kingdom. The French ruled Morocco from 1912 to 1956.

Some say the city’s name from murra kish, meaning “pass by quickly”—a warning about highway robbers. The “Red City” of Marrakech is a magical place, combining old world mystery and French elegance. Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat, and lies near the foothills of the snow capped Atlas Mountains and a few hours away from the Sahara Desert. The city has two distinct parts: the Medina, the historical city, with its intertwining narrow passageways and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle.

Getting There and Staying There

If you are flying from the US, Canada, Asia, you may have to change planes in Casablanca for a 45 min flight to Marrakech. Plenty of low cost companies now fly from Europe to Marrakech. Ménara International Airport in Marrakech is 3 km southwest of the city centre receives several European flights as well as flights from Casablanca and some of the Arab world nations.

mamounia

Marrakech has over 400 hotels. The Mamounia, the “grand dame of Marrakech hotels”, is a 231-room five-star hotel in the Art Deco-Moroccan fusion style, built in 1925.  The hotel has hosted Winston Churchill, Prince Charles and Mick Jagger (not at the same time). Other hotels include Eden Andalou Hotel, Hotel Marrakech, Sofitel Marrakech, Royal Mirage Hotel, Piscina del Hotel, and Palmeraie Golf Palace. There are innumerable modestly priced riad hotels (riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard) listed on Trip Advisor. Customers describe most as clean and quiet.

The Best Food in the World?

traditional-food-stall

Lemon, orange, and olive groves surround Marrakech and influence the cuisine. Food is rich and heavily spiced but not hot. Ras el hanout is a kind of garam masala, a blend of spices including ash berries, chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric. I enjoyed a rabbit tajine. Tajines are slow-cooked with steam in a clay pot with chicken, lamb, beef or fish, adding fruits, olives and preserved lemon, vegetables and spices, including cumin, peppers, saffron, and turmeric.

tagine

Shrimp, chicken and lemon-filled briouats are another traditional specialty of Marrakech. Rice or couscous is cooked with saffron, raisins, spices, and almonds. I also enjoyed a pigeon pastilla, a filo-wrapped pie stuffed with meat that has been prepared with almonds, cinnamon, spices and sugar.

pastilla

Harira soup includes lamb with a blend of chickpeas, lentils, and tomato paste, seasoned with coriander, spices and parsley.

harira

Green tea with mint is served with sugar from a curved teapot spout into small glasses.

mint tea

I was lucky enough to stay with a local family in the medina and enjoy home cooking – traditional specialities like low-roasted lamb cooked in a hammam, roasted aubergine and white bean soup. Villa Flore is an art deco, black-and-white riad right in the heart of the souks, which provides aromatic, lamb and duck, presented by stylishly suited waiters. At Haj Boujemaa, the adventurous can try sheep’s testicles. At Dar Moha, Morocco’s foremost celebrity chef,  Mohamed Fedal presents quail in a flaky warqa pastry nest, foie-gras and melon ‘couscous’ with thyme honey.

Music – Africa Meets Spain

Jelly Roll Morton said jazz should have a Spanish tinge. Berber music is influenced by Andalusian classical music with oud accompaniment. Gnaoua (people of Sub-Saharan African origin) music is loud and funky with a sound reminiscent of the Blues. It is performed on handmade castanets, ribabs (three-stringed banjos) and deffs (handheld drums) and can take the audience into a trance. Performers take to the outdoors and entertain tourists on the main square and the streets, especially at night.

A Masterpiece of a City

Marrakech contains an impressive number of masterpieces of architecture and art, ramparts and monumental gates, Koutoubia Mosque, Saâdian tombs, ruins of the Badiâ Palace, Bahia Palace, Ménara water feature and pavilion.

Koutoubia_

The Jemaa el-Fnaa square was once used for public beheadings. The name roughly means “the assembly of malefactors”. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.  The square attracts dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here – wild dishevelled snake charmers, dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, acrobats, magicians, musicians, monkey trainers, storytellers, dentists, and pickpockets still ply their trade here.

square

Jemaa el-Fnaa square

The Saadian Tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum and contains corpses of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs. Outside the building are a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.

saadian-tombs

The Medina holds the tombs of the seven patron saints of Morocco, which are visited every year by pilgrims during the weeklong ziara pilgrimage. According to tradition, it is believed that these saints are only sleeping and will awaken one day to resume their good deeds. A pilgrimage to the tombs offers a cheaper  alternative to the hajj to Mecca.

marrakech-medina

Traditional Meets Modern and Becomes Modern

Marrakech has the largest traditional Berber market (souk) in Morocco, selling wares ranging from traditional Berber carpets and shawls made of sabra (cactus silk) to modern consumer electronics. Wooden items are generally made of cedar but orange wood is used for making ladles known as harira. Thuya craft products are made of caramel coloured conifer wood indigenous to Morocco. Metalwork made in Marrakech includes brass lamps, iron lanterns, candleholders made from recycled sardine tins, and engraved brass teapots and tea trays used in the traditional serving of tea. You can find designer clothes in Nouvelle Ville and jewellery in the mellah, the old Jewish quarter.

Getting around the City and Getting away to the Mountains

Marrakech is walkable and the Medina is closed to cars. I would advise leaving driving to taxi drivers. Petit Taxis charge Dh5 to Dh15 by day for trips within Marrakech, and slightly more at night. As in Colombo, you need to check that the meter is on. Grand Taxis are Mercedes, which take up to six people to out-of-town destinations. Red double-decker buses of Marrakech-Tour do a circuit of major landmarks and allow you to get on and off where you please. Public buses leave for the Nouvelle Ville from Place Foucault and cost Dh3. Calèches are the horse-drawn green carriages you will see at Place Foucault next to the Djemaa el-Fna.

If you wish to join Crosby, Stills and Nash on the Marrakech Express, Marrakech railway station connects the city to Casablanca, Tangiers, Rabat  and Fez. The main road network within and around Marrakech is well paved. The major highway connecting Marrakech with Casablanca is the A7A. A new road connects Marrakech to the seaside resort of Agadir, 233 km to the west. I found Agadir pleasant but it became more touristy on subsequent visits.

The Ouarzazate area is a noted filmmaking location. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia were shot here, as was part of the TV series Game of Thrones. The fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many excursions through the valley of the Draa River into the Sahara start from Ouarzazate. Some companies specialise in Kasbah tours.

Kasbah

kasbah2

Check online for many companies offering guided treks in the high Atlas. I trekked in the Jebel Sahro region with Exodus Expeditions. These mountains, though running parallel to the main Atlas range, are very definitely part of the great Sahara Desert. It was strenuous but unforgettable camping under the stars. It was also very cold at night – my water bottle froze. Even during the day, waterfalls were frozen to the mountain. atlas1

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One night we camped at Bou Gaffer.

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This was the site of a bloody battle in 1934 between the Berbers and the French. There is a desecrated grave of an Unknown Soldier. Old munitions littered the site and I found a wine bottle dated 1932.

ordnance

unknown soldier

The trek took us through dramatic plateaux, deep gorges, pinnacles, ruined forts and sandcastle Kasbahs and introduced us to the warm hospitality of the Berber people.

Bou 1

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Berbers at play1

Berbers at play2

Berbers at play3

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