Username:

Password:

Fargot Password? / Help

Tag: Risk

10

The Way of Things to Come

I was recently asked for an interview, ‘Can you comment on the future of technology, and the way it’s effecting the book business?’

My response:

We live in a fascinating time. Technology is changing our lives, and will continue to do so more and more. That’s a certainty. And, elements of culture that we have known and appreciated over centuries will change, or even disappear. That’s the story of human culture.

I think it’s GREAT that the world of books is going through a radical change. The book business has been very restricted for too long: controlled by too few people in publishing firms. For the first time it’s easily possible for anyone to publish a book — either as a Print on Demand (e.g. using Lulu), and/or as an eBook. People can write blogs as well, which I think are a fantastic way of communicating thoughts and ideas.

And, eBooks are going to take a larger and larger share of the market. I think eBooks are a very good way to get people reading. And they make work accessible, instantly.

That can only be a good thing.

I have been extremely critical in recent months about the low quality of production of paperbacks and even in standard hardback books — and I think the typical low quality pulp paperbacks will be replaced by eBooks in coming years.

And, thank god for that.

I chose to publish TIMBUCTOO myself because I hated the idea of a publisher reducing it to just another pathetic junk paperback format. I believe in beautiful books, as objects of inspiration and beauty in their own right… and I am certain that we will be left with high quality books and with eBooks. The paperbacks with smeary type, which fall to pieces in your hands, will be resigned to the dustbin of culture — where they belong.

It’s true that a lot of authors are panicking because they think they will be out of work — fearing the end of books. I think that’s nonsense because authors are storytellers and human society needs storytellers — whether it is to develop material for a video game or for a movie, or a novel. These are exciting times, and are times to be embraced — not feared.

1

Morocco's Pirate Realm

Relocate from a cramped East End flat to a haunted mansion, in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown, and you can’t help but slip into the Moroccan Twilight Zone. It’s a world conjured straight from a child’s imagination – a realm of Jinn and exorcists, of dazzling colours, exotic foods, and unending possibility.

During our several years here, we have descended down through the interleaving layers of Moroccan society to its very bedrock. In that time I have become preoccupied with the Morocco that tourists rarely glimpse, the one that lies just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered by anyone ready to receive it.

            Every day Europe’s budget airlines ferry tourists back and forth, depositing them at the gates of a few key Moroccan cities – Marrakech, Agadir and Fès. Yet, the rest of the kingdom is left largely alone. So, stray a little off the beaten track, and the rewards can be immediate and quite extraordinary. And, as often happens in Morocco, the greatest treasures are where you expect them least of all.

I was reminded of this recently when my daughter, Ariane, came home and begged me to help with her pirate project. She’s obsessed with Johnny Depp, and imagines all pirates to be bumbling caricatures, rather than the ruthless killers of today’s African Horn.

Googling ‘Morocco Pirates’, she began a treasure trail which led right from our own door.

An hour’s drive up the coast from Casablanca is the capital, Rabat. It’s rather staid – orderly traffic, clipped hedges, and droves of diplomats. Across from it, nestled up on the windswept Atlantic shore is the small town of Salé. Most Rabatis like to stick their noses up at their down-at-heel neighbour. They regard it as sordid, squalid, a complete waste of time. I had bought in to the whole Salé-bashing syndrome, and found myself snarling at the mere mention of the name.

But Ariane insisted I’d got it all wrong.

She told a tale of a pirate realm worthy of Jack Sparrow himself, one where Robinson Crusoe had been taken as a slave. For eight centuries, she said, Salé had been a world centre of looting, pillaging, and of white slavery. The frenzied debauchery had reached its height in the 1600s, under the greatest marauder in the Barbary history, the infamous Jan Janszoon.

A Dutch freebooter, and former Christian slave himself, Janszoon made himself overlord of a pirate republic based at Salé. He waylaid many hundreds of ships across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, possibly extending as far as Iceland and the Americas. In true pirate tradition, he sired countless children. His descendents are said to embrace a Who’s Who of celebrity, including the Marquis of Blandford, Humphrey Bogart, and Jackie O.

Intrigued by this curious fragment of international pirate trivia, I bundled Ariane into the car and sped north.

Soon we spied the skyline of Rabat, all proud and stately as a capital city should be. Across the estuary, the syrupy yellow light of late afternoon gave a glow to the ancient walls of what was once the pirate realm – the Republic of Salé.

Even from a distance there was something bleak and piratic about it.

Gnarled volcanic rocks, breakers, wine-dark sea, and walls right out of Treasure Island. Approaching from along the coast, we found ourselves at an immense and ancient burial ground – tens of thousands of graves packed tight together, the head-stones lost in each other’s shadows.

Unable to resist, we strolled slowly between the graves, the chill Atlantic wind ripping in our ears. Ariane said she could imagine the pirates sleeping there, cuddled up with their secrets and their treasure maps.

In the middle of the graveyard a fisherman was crouching with a long slim rod, and an empty paint can filled with fish heads. He was surrounded by cats. When I asked him about pirates he narrowed his eyes, nodded once, and pointed to a low fortress at the edge of the cemetery.

We went over to it.

Crafted from honey-yellow stone, the Sqala, as it’s known in Arabic, was built into the crenellated sea wall, rusted iron cannons still trained on the horizon. A policeman was standing outside. He had a weather-worn face, watery eyes, and a big toothy grin. Ariane asked him about pirates. Before we knew it, we’d been ushered inside.

He led the way through a cool stone passage and out onto a rounded terrace, bathed in blinding yellow light. There was something magical about it, as if it was so real that it was fake, like a Hollywood set. The cannons there were bronze, lizard-green with verdigris, each one bearing a different crest.

‘They were obviously captured by pirates,’ said Ariane knowledgeably. ‘If they weren’t, the crests would all be the same.’

 Staring out to where the water joined the sky, the policeman suddenly recited a poem about unrequited love. He said there was no better place in all the world to compose poetry than right there, and that poetry was his true love.

I asked if he’d ever heard of Jan Janszoon. He cocked his face to the ground beneath his feet.

‘The dungeon,’ he said grimly.

We went down jagged steps, along a vaulted corridor bored out from the stone, lit by shafts of natural light. Home to nests of stray cats, it was damp and smelled of death. The officer showed us a truly miserable cell which looked as though it had been quite recently used. His grin subsiding, he explained that the last prisoner had been forgotten, and had starved to death.

‘Was it the famous corsair, Jan Janszoon?’ I asked.

The policeman shook his head.

‘For him, you must go to the old city,’ he said.

After sweet mint tea, and yet more poetry, we escaped with directions scribbled in Arabic, directions to the home of Jan Janszoon lost in the maze of the old city.

After six years in Morocco, I am no stranger to walled medinas, and have traipsed through dozens of them – often searching for a cryptic address. In that time I’ve learned to be thick-skinned when approached by hustlers laden with tourist wares.

Slipping through the Bab Malka Gate, we prepared ourselves for the usual onslaught of salesmen and mendicants. But it didn’t come. Instead, the silence was so pronounced that we could hear the children playing marbles in the labyrinth of lanes. Without waiting for us to ask, one of them led the way to the great mosque.

Built in the glorious twelfth century Almohad style, its one of the greatest treasures in the kingdom, and one of the least known. The boy said there were seven doors, one for each day of the week.

Twisting and turning our way down the whitewashed lanes, we found a time-capsule of Moroccan life from a century ago. There were vegetables piled high on carts, and chunks of fresh mutton laid out on fragrant beds of mint; tailors busily sewing kaftans, mattress-makers and carpenters, brocade-sellers, and dyers hanging skeins of wool in the sun. And, rather than any tourists or tourist kitsch, there were local people out shopping, bargaining for underpants and melons, pumpkins, wedding robes, and socks.

When Ariane showed the scribbled directions to the marble-playing boy, he led us to a spacious square, the Souq el Gazelle, the Wool Market. It was packed with people buying and selling used clothes and brightly-coloured wool. The boy said it was where slaves had once been sold, having been dragged ashore from captured ships.

Nudging a thumb to the directions, I asked about the home of Jan Janszoon.

The boy beckoned us to follow him.

Winding our way through the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter, the air pungent with kebab smoke and baking macaroons, we reached the crumbling façade of a building. Once plastered, the dressed stone was exposed, ravaged by the elements. A fig tree had taken hold and was growing out from the side, and the studded wooden door was falling to bits. The boy glanced at the scribbled directions and gave a thumb’s up.

Ariane and I stood there in awe. We were on hallowed ground after all – at the home of the greatest pirate in Barbary history, the progenitor of Jackie O no less.

As the muezzin called the prayer, his voice singing out over the tiled rooftops of old Salé, I whispered thanks to Jan Janszoon and to his band of marauding corsairs. Through a special conjury of Moroccan magic, the Dutch-born freebooter had lured us through a keyhole into his own pirate realm, the Moroccan Twilight Zone, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.


8
April 13, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Eat Glass

You will need:  one banana, one clear lightbulb


Before your has audience has assembled, eat the banana. Then when the audience is ready, show them the lightbulb, which must be clear glass. The opaque variety contains mercury which is poisonous. Tell the crowd that you are about to eat the lightbulb because you are superhuman. Then, with as much theatrical flair as you can muster, place the lightbulb on a handkerchief and crush it under your foot. When you have done this take a large piece of glass, preferably from the side or the top of the lightbulb, and put it on your tongue. Slowly begin to chew using your molars. Once the glass has been crushed well, you can swallow it. There should be no harm because the glass powder will be embedded in the banana which will be waiting to the glass in your stomach.

NB Godmen’s a miracle such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.



TS
2
April 12, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Dip Your Arm in Boiling Oil

You will need: One big pot, lime juice, vegetable oil


Pour the vegetable oil into the pot and pour in the lime juice as well.Put the pot on a fire in front of the audience, and announce to them that you are going to plunge your arm into boiling oil. As the oil heats up the citric acid in the lime juice boils off long before the oil is itself hot enough to boil. As the lime juice sits at the bottom of the pot, it boils up through the oil, giving the illusion that it is the oil that’s boiling. While the oil is still cool enough to do so, immerse your arm into it, while exclaiming to the crowd how incredible it is that you can defy the heat.

NB Godmen’s  miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except a trainee Godmen.



TS
1
April 11, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Eat Fire

 You will need: a cube of camphor

 

Take the cube of camphor and hold between the thumb and index finger of the left hand, and light it with a match. While the camphor is burning, you can place it on your palm and it will burn without hurting you. Once the audience has seen the fire, and been amazed by it, gently place it on your tongue while keeping your mouth sufficiently open so that the fire can be seen. It is a good idea to do this trick in a darkened room or at night. Once the camphor has become too hot, you can blow out the fire by breathing out, ie extinguishing it with carbon dioxide in the breath. Do not swallow the camphor.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.

 

 

TS

5
April 10, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

And Now For Something VERY Different

A little over ten years ago, I published a book entitled SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. It was a book that I was never intending to write, detailing a strange and rather reckless time learning the kind of conjuring that’s done on a daily basis across India by ‘Godmen’. I was taken on by an Indian magician called Hakim Feroze whom, sadly, is no longer alive. The routine as his pupil at times bordered on the wildly sadistic, but was one of those periods of initiation which, in hindsight, were illuminated with a kind of magical light. Over the next few days I’m going to detail some of the more bizarre illusions that are performed by Godmen… many of them based on a form of chemical magical that was originally pioneered by Harry Houdini no less. The nanny states of the West gradually curbed the availability of the chemicals needed for these illusions. But in India, I am delighted to report, they are alive and well.





TS