Traveling in Morocco reminded me of the cliché that Japanese tourists constantly take pictures. That is still true, but the Japanese no longer stand out. Now all tourists are continually photographing with smartphones. But in the old days, the photographers snapped a picture of a person squarely facing the camera in front of some monument or other. Today many people, especially young women, have learned to imitate models when they are to be photographed—a hip jutted to the side, a leg slightly bent and in front of the other, full profiles with the nose aimed up at the trees, and practiced smiles or mysterious faces. Smartphones have not only made nearly everyone into a compulsive photographer; they have also made many into semi-professional posers.


I learned that Morocco is famed for fossils from the novel The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne. In that book, a British couple hurrying in their rented car (or hired car since it is a British book) to a decadent party in the Moroccan desert hosted by a gay couple hit and kill a roadside collector and seller of fossils and subsequently get involved with the dead young man’s father.

 I am glad to say that we did not have this excitement, but we did see that Morocco is an important source for fossils. I learned on the trip that eons ago the Moroccan desert was under the sea and that many, many fossils became embedded in marble when the waters receded. A guide describing the painstaking work necessary to chip a fossil out of the marble said that those in the fossil trade had a saying: “Europeans have a watch, Berbers have time.”


The American writer, composer, and translator Paul Bowles, who wrote The Sheltering Sky and Spider House, both set in Morocco, lived in Tangier for more than a half century. Both he and his wife Jane Bowles might be described as having a fluid sexuality. They entertained many artists in Morocco, some of whom were gay, including Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Aaron Copland. I asked our guide whether in Bowles’s day Morocco was accepting of gays. He said that Tangier was, but not elsewhere. He said that nowhere today were gays accepted in Morocco. Gay sex is outlawed.

On the other hand, we went to the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech. This was created in 1923 by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle and contained his residence. He died in 1962 and the garden and house deteriorated until they were bought by Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé in the 1980s. After the deaths of these two, their ashes were scattered in the garden. A memorial to them and an Yves Saint-Laurent museum were created in the garden. The garden and house are now owned by the French nonprofit Foundation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint-Laurent. The garden and its museums are a major tourist attraction. In this case, the Moroccans seem quite accepting of these gay men, or at least quite happy for their largesse to Marrakech.


Aspects of family law have been modernized in Morocco. The divorce laws, for example, have been reformed. A man can no longer divorce his wife unilaterally. A court proceeding is required to determine such things as child support and custody.

Polygamy is still permitted in Morocco, but the law now requires that a husband get the consent of all wives before he marries another. The guide said that fewer than one percent of marriages are polygamous. My reaction to polygamy has been to wonder why anyone would wish to go through a wife’s menopause multiple times.


The guide says that women, who can vote, have advanced in society and now hold jobs in the police and military and elsewhere that they could not have had twenty years ago. The majority of women I saw in Morocco had their heads covered, but only a few veiled their faces. The guide said, probably correctly, that more Muslim women in Belgium and the Netherlands cover their faces than in Morocco.

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