The smell of saffron and cumin made it impossible for me not to imagine I was a writer there. A thousand lanterns with flickering lights littered the streets, arched doorways bent around every corner, and winding cobblestone pathways gave way to leather vendors, silversmiths, and carpet hawkers. Dangling flower pots spilled over with color and intricate mosaic tile work—perfect in symmetry and tradition—layered the most surprising of surfaces.
The walled-in city housing secret gardens, scattered souks, and lavish palaces filled my senses and jumpstarted my dormant creativity with fresh fire and fuel. Because surely it wouldn’t be unusual to see a sultan on a flying carpet here. He’d be wrapped in mystery, though as normal as the bejeweled leather slippers with curled up toes that seemed to anchor every local’s wardrobe.
The name Marrakesh is thought to originate from Berber words meaning “Land of God” and I can’t disagree.
After being in Cairo for months, Marrakesh (Marrakech) felt sophisticated and glamorous like Europe. And yet it wasn’t. It was Arabic Africa infused with Portugal, Spain, France, and ancient Berber culture. The cacophony and clash of culture confused me and inspired me and recharged me all at once. My limited “taxi Arabic” (as my friends and I had come to call our choppy attempts at speaking the language in Egypt) was rendered meaningless there. The dialect and pronunciations were so different and I realized that French was more widely spoken as a second language than English. (Blasted high school Spanish classes – why didn’t I take French?)
As foreign as I looked in that setting, it was easy to be anonymous among the throngs of tourists, largely Londoners looking for an exotic weekend away.
At the time my sporadic writing consisted of journals filled with personal lament about failed and hoped for relationships and romance — expected, perhaps, from a young single woman in her mid-twenties. Looking back, my only real regret from that decade is that I wasn’t writing—really writing—capturing what life was like as I stepped far outside of what I knew.
I’ve always wished to be the type of person who can recant stories and details from long ago, and yet I’ve discovered my memory is hazy about all of which was recorded through photographs or written down on paper. Writing solidifies the place of story in my mind, and once written, story is magically burned into my personal archives forever, anchored there with the assurance that—yes—it really did happen that way.
My personal narrative has Moroccan mosaics and Thai silk and Hungarian wine and Ethiopian tapestry woven right through it, and yet so much of what I’ve experienced through my decades of travel has been lost in the past – jotted down in the margins of a tattered Lonely Planet guidebook and passed on to the next adventurer with whom I gave my pieces of story-treasure to. I can’t recall detail. I’ve forgotten names and places and pieces of art that once moved me.
I sometimes want to do it all over again – with a laptop and a blog and a digital camera to make sure nothing is lost. I want to scroll through the archives of my Instagram feed to find slices of salted tea shared in the Himalayas and mopeds revving up hills on tiny Greek islands. I want a hashtaged travelogue to call my own. But I can’t rewind. I can’t relive and pull technology back into the 90’s and into the story I’ve already lived just so I can recall and be reminded of what once was.
And this is part of the reason that I’m committed to writing the second half of my life onto paper and hard drive and into my memory: I don’t want to lose it; I don’t want to forget.
Maybe my small desk and white wall doesn’t spark the creativity that ancient ruins or babushka scarves once did, but I plant myself here anyway – in my chair, feet solidly on the floor, fingers on the keys – and I write about life as it unfolds and as I remember it.
We writers write to create and to prophesy, to teach and share vision, to endorse and entertain, to persuade and illuminate. But we also write to remember. We write to live in a way that connects our past to our future and tie it together in the right now.
We write because life feels more real when we do.
Whether you call yourself a “writer” or not, are you writing the story of your life on actual pages that can be read and recalled by you and your children? Are you giving honor to the story of your life by cementing it in words?
Note: This post is part of a new series called Guidebook, Forgotten where I’ll attempt to write one post from each of the countries I’ve visited (38 so far). I think of it as a mini-memoir travelogue broken into bloggable chunks, and each post will be a snippet of my time there—likely in story form—definitely not an overview or a how-to or a prescriptive list of detailed travel advice. But instead, a slice to spark imagination, remember, and solidify. I’m determined not to make cheap promises in this space, so I’ll simply say I’ll be writing the series as I’m inspired—no timeline, no pressure, and most likely dispersed between posts of very, very different content.