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At all times and for everybody the Souiri magic has been at work. Some may grow weary of it others not. Newcomers on arrival yield to it. A town with a thousand spells.
Everyone recounts a childhood spent here, or a short stay, or a whole life… With its oceanic mildness, its post card scenery, its romantic History and its rich cultural life it is difficult not to succumb to the charm of the ancient Mogador. For some, sea and wind are integral parts of the “representation or image” of the town that ,even more than its architecture, are the basis of very basic rituals and ceremonials making the visitor feel at home even after a long absence. Life on the beach and on the promenade along it are for the tourist the very image of Essaouira, with the well wrapped up women enjoying alone the tranquility of early morning, the football players of the afternoon, the couples in love in the evening and always these packs of dogs free as birds that, unaware that they are, in this magnificent scenery of the port walls, the assiduous actors in a show that one never gets tired of.
Essaouira can be the seagulls playing with the wind in the blue sky, the barges with their turned up nose, the silvery shine of the unloaded fish, the comings and goings of men, the harmony between the sea and their gestures outlined in the arched adjusted wood, the lines of foam on the rampart or the ocean coming to die on the green rocks.
1940-1950 - “Near Mogador, in front of the town, near the ramparts and the harbour, there is an island: the island of the falcons. It is not really a town, it is a rock smashed, eroded or stroked by the sea depending on its mood and on the weather.
An old Phoenician prison gaol, an island of the end of the world, it is just there at the door of Essaouira the Magnificent whose inhabitants, wherever they are, transport the image in their head and heart. A town with a soul, with a flame still burning in the heart of the people of Mogador.
The cabinetmakers’ street, the jewellers’ street, the Kakon cinema, the soft melt-in-the mouth pink liquorice “cocos” from Ouazana, Messoda the cook, the eating houses near the harbour: all are monuments of memory. The cakes from Driss for all occasions: unexpected visits, quiet weddings, Bar Mitzvah of poor people. Omnipresent discreet ladies with their green hats who very seriously and regularly used to have ‘their five o’clock tea’ as they said at four o’clock in the afternoon!
The frozen sea in spite of the constant beautiful weather. The beach hut with its owner, fat Woisnard, a legendary character with his BMW motorbike dodging in and out of the way of carriages. The club where we used to spend hours in between card games, trying to solve the world’s problems, anticipating our life, planning a wedding or plotting a departure. The Café de France, the only café in the town and of course the beach with its sand dunes and long walks ending inevitably by the ruins of the Portuguese fort.
A pirate’s harbour where the small craft looked like the galleons of days gone by, loaded with silver fish dancing in their nets like a treasure brought back, splendid images reflected in the eyes of the fishermen from Mogador. Its inhabitants? People with a particular look, with different ways, with a special way of speech belonging to them, a kind of nobility and dignity, a detachment existing nowhere else but there, in these people of Mogador. The passing of Englishmen in the last century certainly played a part in that as these people pepper their conversations in Arabic with a few words nicely borrowed from this language which gives them even more charm. On my way to Oualidia I had insisted to visit this town I did not know but that everybody spoke highly of the particular character and the unique beauty.
It is here that for the first time I heard of the falcon island. A colony of Eleonora’s falcons occupied this piece of rock: beautiful birds of prey and remarkably numerous for this endangered species. The wind blowing practically all the time through the argan and the olive trees’ leaves tells strange stories: why, for example did the falcons decide to leave the island for good after living there for centuries? Was it fear? Was it a fear of fear? Was it due to the stormy winds carrying smells of sea salt and of grilled fish coming from a row of stalls and sold by merchants in the maze of little streets around the harbour?
These winds making everyone crazy! No one knows; all I can say is that they just left for good as if they vaguely and unconsciously felt that their destiny was somewhere else from now on, beneath more clement skies, less turbulent, less hazardous. Then they took their flight, a large and majestic flight, with powerful and desperate shrieks piercing the clear sky. Little by little, one after the other, they left not to come back. But where would they find again such poetry coming from this white town with touches of blue like the sea, such a warm atmosphere, such peace?
Some children played there, indifferent to the passing of time. For one dirham, the local money, they could eat a sardine, an onion, a chilly, some bread. Sometimes, for nearly nothing, they bought some cakes at Driss’ made with seagulls’ eggs: they were mad about these cakes. Then, for hours they went to watch the falcons. Apart from a few specimens the island inevitably lost its inhabitants. Only seagulls and gulls stayed behind and they still idly follow the boats coming back from the open sea. That was the end of the Eleonora’s falcons on the rock of Mogador. The few that stayed hanging on to their dream, attached to their memories, seemingly aware of their vulnerability, are waiting for I don’t know what kind of messiah to show them the way. In the meantime, the rock, like the town are deserted. So is the way for some communities that shrink away trying hard to survive, in spite of History ,trying to blend as much as possible with their environment but who end up leaving like these beautiful noble falcons on the rock of the island of Mogador left, are still leaving against their will. Only an old solitary, stooping and sad falcon, its vague gaze fixed on the horizon is waiting less and less hopefully for its children to come back. “
Bob Oré Abitbol-dating around 1940
Extract from the Gazette of Dafina
TODAY’S IMPRESSIONS - !!!!!
“What does Essaouira mean for me? It is a bit like asking a Breton if he likes boats and the sea …I grew up with the sea, first going fishing then working on oil tankers….For me, Essaouira is a copy pasted of this harbour of Douarnenez that I knew in the fifties and sixties with its port activities and human scenes…I am hurrying to copy these on my watercolour sheets while there is still time…
What a joy to come back and breathe the oceanic air after beautiful walks in the back country with eyes filled of pictures, ears full of sand and my folder crammed with sketches and watercolours…Essaouira? It is easy to make friends, the Souiri are so very friendly: a bit like the Bretons no?”
Artist, painter, watercolour painter
“The Scala facing the Atlantic: this is the place. When I don’t feel well I sit on a cannon and watch the sea. When I feel better, I go back to work. From my shop I can only see the narrow street; there is no horizon. Every time I have a problem I go there. One can feel in oneself the strength of the people who were before us: I feel powerful; I feel that I can defend my town. You can get charged with a positive energy coming from the ocean and from the height of the ramparts. I look at the wide expanses, at the open sea. In winter too, with the sunset I come and warm up. For me the best day I can spend in Essaouira is when I meet people from all over the world. This is Essaouira: it is like space, it is wide open. And it is also a place where people who already know one another from other countries meet here, by pure chance.”
Confectioner in side Mohamed ben Abdallah street