#41 Sidi Ifni -Cracker. Paul Bowles, Moroccan Space Rock and Old English Queens.

Hotel Suerte Loca in Sidi Ifni

08 Sidi Ifni



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So the last i left off the band had broken up in Sweden and we had made our way back to the UK to fly home.

I however had always planned to stay behind in England. My girlfriend Mary (later my first wife) had planned to meet up with me in the UK and then we were gonna spend a little time time traveling around europe. But i had two weeks to kill till she got there. the first thing i did was go and visit my cousin John in london. We methodically explored quite a number of pubs in the the grimy yet colorful area of south london where he lived. John worked nights and i learned to ride the night buses around london. A helpful skill i relied upon many times since. I’ve never understood why one of the biggest cities in the world has a subway system that doesn’t run all night. Also the London tube map has a way of distorting your perception of the spatial relationship between different neighborhoods and boroughs of London. You get a much better sense from the buses. But i digress.

I then headed down to the Isle of Thanet. This is the very tip of land where the south eastern thames estuary meets the english channel. This is where my mother’s people live. At least for the last few generations. I have a large batch of cousins, uncles and aunts in this area. in particular my grandfather lived in a little seaside town of Westgate-On-Sea. We then explored the various pubs of this part of the UK.

By the time mary arrived in London i was ready to get out to of the UK. I had settled on a pretty wacky idea. A trip to Morocco. I was unwittingly taking part in a long rock tradition of visiting this cultural crossroads. Mary didn’t seem totally thrilled by the idea of visiting a predominantly muslim country, only because she had in mind more of a laying on the beach vacation, not a covering up her head, arms and legs vacation. On top of that she had spent time in Mogadishu not cause she was in the 10th mountain division but because her mother and stepfather were very ambiguously associated with the state department, always ending up in interesting places like the Mogadishu, Peshawar and Manilla. Read into that what you will.

On the balcony at Hotel Suerte Loca

But go we did. Ending up in the very unique city of Sidi Ifni.  (To arbabic speakers: I’m aware it’s redundant to say City when Sidi is already in the name.  But we notoriously monolingual americans won’t be able to find it on a map if i just say Ifni.)  We went to Sidi Ifni largely because of the strange description the Lonely Planet guide to morocco.  Since revised,  it used to say something that began this way:

“If Lethargy and Decay can be described as charming…

Hence this line in Sidi Ifni.

we drank wine, slept off hangovers

lethargy decay and forgotten loves

“Through the porthole see an epiphany I will never leave this place alive”

Inspiration for that line was this apartment building designed to resemble a Ship.  Sidi Ifni Morocco.

The second reason we went to Sidi Ifni was because of it’s hybrid culture and lack of pestering “guides”.  Sidi Ifni was part of Spain from 1860 to 1969.  It is a strange updated remix of Spanish and Moorish.  Remember Spain already contains a healthy dose of Moorish culture.  The architecture of the town is this spanish/arbabic/ art decco mix.  It is striking.  Also when we were there, the legal status of many of the mansions in the spanish quarter left them abandoned and boarded up.  That whole quarter which near the hotel suerte loca was largely vacant.  There was also a Spanish Consolate, in this quarter.  It was unlocked the two times we went to visit it, but no one was there.  Totally eery.  Another interesting feature was the grand promenade and staircase that ran down to the beach.  Although the city made an effort to maintain it, it seemed to be always on the verge of crumbling and being overgrown by shrubs and vines.  Finally as the spanish had land routes in and out of the city, the center of the city was a runway.  At the time Mary and I were there the locals used it as a giant pedestrian thruway. Whether it was unusable or simply used so rarely it seemed abandoned was never clear.  The whole town had the feel of Macondo the fictional town in 100 years of Solitude.  Indeed the french couple  that was staying at Hotel Suerte Loca brought it up conversation

“Is Gabriel Garcia Marquez translated into English?”

“You mean this city reminds you of Macondo?”

 


“Vines and Shrubs grew between the steps from the Spanish town to the African sea”

Another character at the Hotel Suerte Loca was an gay englishman of indeterminate age . Everyday he’d sit out on the balcony at 5pm to listen to the BBC worldwide service.  We’d often join him with a bottle of the local sulfite heavy headache inducing wine.  He had been in Morocco for some time.  He had been a composer of some kind.  This strangely mimicked the writer Paul Bowles history.  He makes appearances in both Dr Bernice and Sidi Ifni.

12 Dr. Bernice

Dr Bernice:

“The Soundtrack is played by some aged british queen on BBC radio one”

Sidi Ifni:

 

 

 

 

“We’d awake to the BBC
An old English queen, on the balcony”

There was an air of sadness to this man.  Or perhaps i projected my sadness from the demise of CVB onto him. Alone at the very edge of civilization.  And this time i really mean the edge of civilization.  This isolated coastal enclave hemmed in by the trailing edge of the Atlas mountains.  Only accessible by dirt road through the mountains via Tiznit or Guelmin.  The climate along the coast was like San Diego or Ensenada, but just south of us the Atlantic Ocean meets the sand of the Sahara.  It was as if we were at the end of long skinny peninsula between two seas.  Or with some poetic license between the Sea and the moon.

Between the sea and the moon.  Doing my best sheltering sky pose.

Finally the Hotel Suerte Loca.   This lovely and friendly place was our home.  The family that ran it had two adult sons who took an interest in the fact i was a musician.  They took me out and introduced me to other musicians.  They also had considerable knowledge of the western rock music and introduced me to many Moroccan and Magreb (western arab world) artists.  Most of these artists played traditional or arabic and berber pop music, but a couple of the cassettes i brought home were moroccan “space rock” bands.  Indeed many young moroccans would proudly tell you the influence that their music had on various icons of 60′s and 70′s rock music.  The music to the song Sidi Ifni also references the sound of these moroccan space rock band.  This was a conscious choice to do this rather than reference the traditional music of Morocco.

The phrase “Suerte Loca” means wild luck.  Or crazy luck.  I loved that this hotel was named this.  So i also dropped this phrase into the song The Good Life.

01 The Good Life

 

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Sidi Ifni


[INTRO:]

[Em] [Bm] [A] [Em]
[Em] [Bm] [A] [Em]
[D] [C] [Em]
[D] [C] [Em]We walked [Em] down a long prome-[Bm]-nade
Down a winding [A] stair, wide as boule-[Em]-vards
Vines and shrubs grew between the [Bm] steps
From the Spanish [A] town to the African [Em] sea

We drank [D] wine and toasted to the [C] day
When she was the [Em] Queen, before the long decay
We drank [D] wine, slept off hango-[C]-vers,
Lethargy, de-[Em]-cay, and forgotten loves

[BREAK:]
[Em]

We’d awake to the BBC
An old English queen, on the balcony
Wander round abandoned consulates
An old broken chair on the marble stair

And from the roof see Canary seas
The discarded runway of Sidi Ifni
We drank wine lying on our backs
On the warm tarmac, in a bowl of stars

Well I went down, mostly on my own
‘Til I was alone in that shipwrecked house
Through the porthole sea, an epiphany
I would never leave this place alive

I drink gin with the old ex-pats
We are broken things from a broken past
And it comes near, but just out of grasp
The alchemist words that would bring her back

[ENDING:]
[Em]

16 Responses to “#41 Sidi Ifni -Cracker. Paul Bowles, Moroccan Space Rock and Old English Queens.”

  1. Gosh, I hope this is all leading up to how you and Johnny got together.

  2. littletomato Says:

    Love this post, and the photos. Gorgeous, all of it.

  3. vlvtelvis Says:

    This is my favorite song off my favorite album.

    The last lyric gives me gosebumps. It’s some of your strongest writing ever, IMHO.

  4. bryndubois Says:

    The towering, echo-drenched guitar; the quiet, disillusioned and amazingly evocative lyrics… This is one of my favorite songs ever — thank you so much for posting the story of its inception.

    And the chords too. I’m off to play it a few times now. :)

  5. lynn marie Says:

    well I think it’s pretty unlikely that I would have ever read about sidi ifni if not for this post. enjoyed it.

  6. Sidi = City?! Just like it sounds, not some inscrutable Old Roman Times expression I am too lazy to look up. And like most Americans, I had not clue of a place exsiting with that name. Once again, tanks for the geography and culture. (And this memb er of the VA siaspora awaits the randmoizer’s spiiting forth of James River or something with the cultural geography of Virginia.)

    Alaso interesting to learn what Suerte Loca means, although I may (with Mr. Segel’s approval perhaps?) stick to my old misunderstanding of that line in in Good Life: “Sweaty Loca,” a state of consciousness know well to borderlanders and maybe rock stars.

    • I’ve never understood this lyric until now. I usually parsed it as “feverish daydreams of sweat and ?????” but sometimes I thought I heard “Garcia Lorca.”

  7. Not long after this came out, I went to Morocco. I was curious to try and get to Sidi Ifni, but couldn’t get that far in the time we had. We went to Essaouira, another former coastal enclave (French, this one, I think), nearer to Marrakech. It wasn’t *quite* as run-down as the town your song visioned, but it was still very evocative and ran through my head the whole time I was there. That song definitely depicts the mood accurately.

  8. David–do you remember the names of any of the Moroccan Space Rock bands? It’d be fun to track them down.

    Crossing fingers for the Friday VA Beach show….

    • i found a bunch of the cassettes from morocco but i don’t have a working cassette deck so i don’t know which ones are the space rock and which are traditional. also the titles of some are in arabic. jil jilala is in french so maybe this one?

      • Thanks! Looks like Jil Jilala was a pretty big acoustic folk-revival type group. Interesting that they seemed to use some Turkish and Greek instruments (Cümbüş, bouzouki, etc.). There are some videos online.

      • not one fo the space rock bands. google space rock morocco?

      • Yeah, I was searching for stuff earlier, but had to run out to Belmont Barbeque.

        No luck yet, but it’ll be fun to troll around in my spare time.

  9. Great blog! Thx for taking time to do this. I`m learning lots about my Mexican American culture that wasn`t covered in Sociology of Chicano society in regards to Borderlands and geopolitics. Getting “homesick” for semester I spent in Granada too. The pix make me very nostalgic although I only spent one day in Morocco and didn`t feel safe being it was right after 9/11. And being female made it very uncomfortable! Thx again! I look forward to more…

  10. A friend sent me this posting because he wants to travel to Sidi Ifni this summer. Very interesting place and off the beaten track. My only suggestion is that you should update your link to Paul Bowles from what you have to his official site: http://www.paulbowles.org Best wishes, John

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