[Footnote A: The Ghetto in African towns. All the jewellers in Morocco are Jews.]
The houses were humble ones, such as grow up in the cracks of a wealthy quarter, and their inhabitants doubtless small folk, but in the enchanted African twilight the terraces blossomed like gardens, and when the moon rose and the muezzin called from the minaret, the domestic squabbles and the shrill cries from roof to roof became part of a story in Bagdad, overheard a thousand years ago by that arch-detective Haroun-al-Raschid.
It is usual to speak of Fez as very old, and the term seems justified when one remembers that the palace of Bou-Jeloud stands on the site of an Almoravid Kasbah of the eleventh century, that when that Kasbah was erected Fez Elbali had already existed for three hundred years, that El Kairouiyin is the contemporary of Sant’ Ambrogio of Milan, and that the original mosque of Moulay Idriss II was built over his grave in the eighth century.
Fez is, in fact, the oldest city in Morocco without a Phenician or a Roman past, and has preserved more traces than any other of its architectural flowering-time, yet it would be truer to say of it, as of all Moroccan cities, that it has no age, since its seemingly immutable shape is forever crumbling and being renewed on the old lines.
When we rode forth the next day to visit some of the palaces of Eldjid our pink-saddled mules carried us at once out of the bounds of time. How associate anything so precise and Occidental as years or centuries with these visions of frail splendor seen through cypresses and roses? The Cadis in their multiple muslins, who received us in secret doorways and led us by many passages into the sudden wonder of gardens and fountains; the bright-earringed negresses peering down from painted balconies, the pilgrims and clients dozing in the sun against hot walls, the deserted halls with plaster lace-work and gold pendentives in tiled niches; the Venetian chandeliers and tawdry rococo beds, the terraces from which pigeons whirled up in a white cloud while we walked on a carpet of their feathers—were all these the ghosts of vanished state, or the actual setting of the life of some rich merchant with “business connections” in Liverpool and Lyons, or some government official at that very moment speeding to Meknez or Casablanca in his sixty h.p. motor?
We visited old palaces and new, inhabited and abandoned, and over all lay the same fine dust of oblivion, like the silvery mould on an overripe fruit. Overripeness is indeed the characteristic of this rich and stagnant civilization. Buildings, people, customs, seem all about to crumble and fall of their own weight: the present is a perpetually prolonged past. To touch the past with one’s hands is realized only in dreams, and in Morocco the dream-feeling envelopes one at every step. One trembles continually lest the “Person from Porlock” should step in.