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Tag: chaos

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The Warrior on the Roads

Live in Casablanca as I do, and you have to get used to a few things. Most of the time they’re good things, like the way complete strangers greet each other, or the way the young still have respect for the old. But there are things that take a lot of getting used to, none more so than driving from A to B.
     To drive in Casablanca you have to be a warrior.
     Opening the door of your much-dented vehicle and clambering in, you are a knight clambering onto his battle speed. The dents, scratches, gouges and scrapes, are all testimonies of battles endured and won. Every day the traffic gets a little worse, the gridlock a little more ferocious. Much of the time there may be very little movement, but the clamour of the horns and klaxons is like a hundred thousand harbingers of hell.
      And in this cutthroat realm of cacophony there is one place more feared, more tempestuous, and more draining on the adrenal glands, then any other. The infamous Marjane Roundabout. Ask anyone who’s ever driven in Casablanca if they know it, and their face turn ashen with alarm. It’s where six or more streets converge in a frantic, frenetic juggernaut wheel of life and death.
     I can’t tell you how many accidents I’ve seen there. It must be hundreds. Trucks on their sides, precious cargo strewn in a wide arc all around. Motorcyclists lying on the ground, limbs crumpled and contorted. Communal taxis set ablaze by the impact of a multiple pile-up.
     Mastering the Marjane Roundabout, positioning yourself exactly, learning to keep your cool, is a badge of honour. There should be medals awarded for anyone who has survived it, the best of them reserved for those who manage to complete a left turn.
      Morocco is unlike other countries when it comes to the left turn. In most countries, turning left is all about following the gentle arc made by the car in front, executing the manoeuvre neatly and without any fuss. But in Morocco, turning left is all about exercising one’s indomitable sense of individuality.
     No one lines up. To do so would be to make you the laughing stock of the roads. Instead, all the cars planning to turn left, position themselves side-by-side. And, as their passage opens up, honking and clamouring, they nudge forward in fits and starts, until the moment to charge.
      But at the Marjane Roundabout, the sheer pressure of traffic, the tension, and the fear, usually leeds to a stalemate – a knot of choking vehicles that simply can’t move.
      It may sound dire, but there is a plan to strip Casablanca of all this fun. It’s called the Tramway, and its construction in recent months has only ratcheted up the chaos on the roads. My barber was groaning about it last night. Waving a cutthroat razor in his right hand, and gesticulating wildly with his left, he shouted out loud:
      ‘What madness is this?! This damned Tramway. They’re building it from where no one lives to where no one works!’
     Even if the zillion-dollar Tramway did go where people wanted it to, I have a feeling no one would use it anyway. Because Moroccans are true individuals – and that’s what’s so amazing about them. They don’t like to be guided by others, or follow a path prescribed by anyone else.
     I may be the traffic’s worst critic, but I secretly love it as well. After all, every time I clamber into my car and venture out into the grinding slipstream of ferocity, I have no idea of what tumultuous encounters I’m about to hit headlong with my trusty battle steed.

 

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June 15, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Sunday: Beginning and end

Only someone who has tasted loneliness can fully understand the mesmerising joy of crowds. A thousand feet walking in every direction, faces smiling, grinning, scowling, or blank of any expression, bodies of all shapes and sizes, the scent of perfume and perspiration.

After my teenage travels through Africa — especially the vast empty Great Rift in the continent’s east — I took refuge in Japan, and found pleasure in the press of commuters at Ikebukuro Station on a Friday night. It was like a powder keg in those subterranean tunnels, the sound of birdsong blaring through speakers, a psychologist’s solution for keeping crazed minds calm.

There were so many people, a streamlined mass — black briefcases and rubber-soled shoes, striped neckties and poly-wool suits. I used to wade into the middle of the frenzied rush, splay my feet wide and bend my knees to be rooted to the spot, and enjoy the surge of life all around. There was no feeling on earth like it — a sense of invisibility — while being buffeted by humanity.
I have spent almost twenty years searching for the perfect crowd and have been sucked down in them all over the urban world: in Rio de Janeiro and New York, in Lima, London, Calcutta, Cairo and Rome. There’s something almost supernatural about a good crowd: something complex, random, dynamic.
Think of it — our rural ancestors could never have understood the raw energy of ten thousand, or fifty thousand people, all packed into a tight space. I can hear you cursing — ‘Well, lucky them!’ That’s wrong. They missed out. Because there’s something intensely human about a good crowd, an experience which reminds us of who and what we are.
Of course, when you have struggled across Mumbai’s Victiora Terminus at dusk, you know you have found it — the greatest crowd on the planet. For me it was like the moment when a surfer has tracked down the most sublime wave: the perfect swell. There was a sense of silence at the heart, a terror beyond all terrors and, at the same time, satisfaction like nothing I had ever experienced.
Half the world was right there, touching me, brushing past. There were beggars and commuters, dabawallas, salesmen, students, ladies in sweeping saris, fortune-tellers and godmen, eunuchs and pickpockets, and a seething blurred mass of legs and arms, and dark glistening hair, satchels and nylon socks.
But then, the other day, I found myself in Jma al Fna, the vast central square in Marrakech. It’s name translates as ‘the Place of Execution’, and hints that it was once far more than place de touristes. The sun went down and the air was touched by the muezzin’s call. Then, as if arranged by an invisible conductor, hundreds of stall keepers set up their food stands. Each one was illuminated by a hurricane lamp, eerie platinum light radiating out with the smoke and the chaotic sound of feet.
I stood there, right in the middle of the square, smoke racing,  swirling, twisting, mixing with the incandescent light. There were so many people squeezed in that I felt myself overcome by claustrophobia for the first time. I choked, my eyes wide with fear. Forget Mumbai, I thought to myself, this crowd may be smaller, but there’s something ancient about it, something so powerful as to defy description.
You are probably tied down in life, caught in a spider’s web of bills, chores and responsibility. If there was any way you could break free, I’d counsel you to make a beeline for that square. Spend the afternoon under the shade of a nearby cafe. Then, as the sunlight ebbs away, venture out. Wade into the ocean of people, and prepare yourself for the greatest show on earth.
TS