Across the Dividing Sea
A sailor cruising in the Mediterranean leaves the European comfort zone to make a voyage to Morocco. A feature from our August 2008 issue
That night, I opened Hutt's new book, A Minor Indiscretion. On its cover, ominously, was the image of a barren jail cell, with a glimpse of a sailboat visible far off through its small window.
In 1998, while in this marina during a research trip for his cruising guide, Hutt and his crew were jailed after police found one of the members with a backpack of Bibles, apparently brought to give away. When the crew signed a confession they couldn't read that had them planning an overthrow of the Muslim nation, Hutt faced a jail term, a fine equivalent to US$500,000, and the loss of his yacht.
It's a harrowing tale of events apparently set in motion by a corrupt official who wanted Hutt's boat and complicated by a legal system with different rules of evidence. If Hutt hadn't concealed a cellphone with which to call his wife and hadn't known the King's chief of staff, he might still be rotting in a dank cell, in the company of bleeding political prisoners whose cries he described in detail.
Needless to say, it gave me the willies. I began to see secret police in every casual passerby. Hutt, a British citizen who holds a doctorate, speaks Arabic, and has adopted a Moroccan girl but who now admits a "deep mistrust of the Moroccan government," said later that my suspicions were warranted.
"The police and military," he e-mailed to me, "know everything that's going on and go out of their way to protect foreigners and their interest."
So security was double-edged, just as it had become at home in the United States. Paranoid, I retrieved and burned postcards that I'd handed to a storeowner to mail to friends in the United States because of a quip I'd included about Easter with Allah.
I caught a ride to Tétouan, an ancient city 30 miles away and a wild mix of whitewashed walls from the 15th century sprouting satellite dishes.
Stepping into a darkened den, I found myself amid scores of men in robes and sandals who were talking, sipping strong coffee, snoozing, smoking hookahs, and playing games with a loud clacking of pieces. A few dozen of them had lined up their chairs theater-style facing a corner and sat mesmerized before a television playing Lara Craft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. She was, at that moment, exploding a ghoul with a gun the size of a watermelon.
Every face in the place represented a civilization. I was dying to take photographs, but whenever I raised my camera, Moroccans, especially women, turned away. Later, when I hired a guide, he negotiated several shots for me.
Tétouan's old section, its medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a warren of alleys and arches, elaborate doors, and market stalls dating to the 8th century. I could've spent days exploring the souk, or market, which overflows with spices, vegetables, chickens both dead and alive, tin pots, women's shoes, and fresh kesra, Morocco's ubiquitous round loaves of bread. Its culture and architecture is Andalusian, forged by Jews and Muslims driven from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella, and Tétouan has been called "Little Jerusalem" and "Daughter of Granada." According to the U.S. State Department, Morocco's population of 31.4 million is 99.9 percent Muslim, with 4,000 Jews and 1,000 Christians.