How grateful I was, last week, to be spending a short vacation in Marrakech and Essaouira in Southern Morocco, enjoying the sunshine and the sounds,smells and colors of the souks,riyads and lush gardens. How welcome all this light and beauty was, after the last difficult,grey winter months filled with the loss of a loved one. Immersing myself in the arts and crafts of the Maghribi marketplaces, admiring the splendor of medieval Marrakech and Essaouira – town walls over a thousand years old,white- washed walls,blue and turquoise lattices,tiles and mosaic floors radiating an infinity of patterned color, tinkling fountains in quiet courtyards – I found so much to enjoy, so much to explore,so much to look forward to each morning. With all these sights and all the history surrounding me, it was a small oil painting in the corner of a restaurant near the old city ramparts of Essaouira that fired my imagination most.
The painting depicted a banquet scene of the 1930s, at night,a banquet which was,in fact, held alongside the main gates of old Essaouira back then with all the important notables and persons of standing attending in splendid attire,with burnus and long flowing gowns.The notables – sheiks,merchants,guests – were still feasting,their figures lit by candles,framed by palm trees, behind them, the ramparts, dimly visible;and, turned to us, is the slim figure of a young black servant,wearing a turban and carrying what looks like a tray with refreshments. He seems to be looking our way, as if about to invite us,too, to join the festivity – why are we hesitating? The young servant seems to be moving toward us, as if to say ” There is enough for everyone, come join us, stranger!”
I frequented that restaurant often in order to sit at a table near this painting and continue imagining who the notables in their fine gowns had been, what they were celebrating, and what had become of them.Did their grandchildren still live in Essaouira? And what about that elegantly dressed young servant – what treats would he be carrying on that silver tray? Dates, sweet pastries,oranges, or rahter, tea,coffee or sherbet? I invented dialogues with the servant,how we would have been greeted;and imagined what adventurous lives these finely dressed men must have led in the years following the banquet.Even after leaving Essaouira and flying back to Germany, I find that this old painting,which I have fondly dubbed “The Moorish Banquet”, still speaks to me.
It is the mystery of a great feast which we are allowed to observe, from a distance,as it were; then, upon closer scrutiny,we are intrigued – and delighted? Amazed? – to realize we are being included, that a slim young servant is turning to us to allow us to partake of refreshments.It is up to us to accept, to take the next step, to enter the circle of guests and join in. “The Moorish Banquet” speaks to me as metaphor, urging me to accept Life’s many invitations, invitations to participate and enjoy and belong, invitations I may not have noticing,opportunities I may not yet be fully aware of. The Moorish banquet urges me to accept, to step forward, to seize the moment and to have faith that I am welcome,that I belong.