I passed the last days of that year of enforced idleness in Paris, commuting between the rue du Chateâu d'Eau and my hotel and the Rudier and Valsuani bronze foundries.
Another motion picture company, The United Artists, was dickering with me. But I figured that I needed some Saharan air in my lungs to get me hepped-up for shooting again, so when the last bronze casting had been shipped to Nice I headed for Marseille. From there I took the boat to Algiers. After a couple of months in the blèd I went to Morocco by way of Oudjda to see some old friends. I knew General Huré, Commander in Chief of the Forces in Morocco, and had met General Catroux, then in command of the Marrakech division (now with the deGaule Free France forces in the Sahara). They gave me passes to Ouarzazat and Telouet in the Atlas Mountains, but no farther. Many of the tribes were in dissidence, that is to say, revolt; and the general staff was taking no responsibilities. But my mind was set on going to Animiter and the lovely valley of Ounilla, and I wanted to visit, anong others, the Kasbahs of the Ait-ben-Haddon and Skoura and Tarudant. Nothing doing, I was told. Only as a great favor, and thanks to a note from Maréchal Lyautey, had I been given permission to enter the zone militaire at all.
But when I got to Marrakech my friend the Pacha, Si-Thami el Glaoui,gave me a letter for his son-in-law, Si-Hamou, Kaid of Telouet, instructing him to put the kasbah at my disposition, mules also, and guides. And to notify the Cheikhs at Animiter, at the Ait-ben-Haddon and at Skoura to expect me.
The sun was shining when we drove out of Marrakech, but I was told it had been raining in the mountains. By the time we had reached 5000 feet we could see the rain ahead, but at 9000 feet we had left it behind. In the Grand Atlas the narrow road of red earth was like melted chocolate. Our wheels skidded alarmingly ,for the driver, a Chleuh mountaineer from these parts, had forgotten his chains. For long stretches at a time the drop on either side was at least a couple of thousand feet. But the driver, being a fatalist, had not acauired the habit of slowing down on the curves. As we took the most dangerous one we had yet encountered he explained that at this point an autobus had left the road two days before. We could see the deep grooves in the earth ahead where it had gone over the precipice. He seemed unable to describe the accident without the use of both hands, so I climbed out on the running-board.
At the post of the Légion Etrangère, twenty kilometers from Telouet, the sergeant warned us to go slow. Another car had slid off the road that morning. We would see the wreckage in a ravine several hundred feet below the next curve in the road, he said.
As a greeting gesture, the Kaid of Telouet had assembled two hundred dancing girls for my entertainment. After we had dined off baked partridge smothered in a heavy aromatic sauce, and couscous garnished with peppers, raisins and the yolks of hardboiled eggs—Algerian style, the slaves lighted a bonfire in the courtyard of the kasbah and the dancers lined up. Some of them were not young, but I noticed a few I would not have minded becoming acquainted with. Of course, as with olives, Mexican pulque or tequila, the taste for this dead-pan, kohl-lined, blue tattooed, ochre—and red-painted, high-bosomed beauty is an acquired one.
When the music started, the dancers locked arms and lined up facing each other in two rows, one on either side of the fire. At first they merely swayed to the rhythm of the tambours, but as the dance progressed the movement became more spirited, one formation dissolved into another, the undulating chains of bodies weaving in and out of the firelight, their exaggerated shadows weaving grotesques on the walls behind them. The dramatic effect was heightened by the clapping of two hundred pairs of hands in unison, by the clash of bracelets and by the piercing notes of a provocative chant, answered by a voice from the other side of the fire....
It was after midnight before we got to bed. Our start for the Valley of Ounilla was scheduled for 4:00 A.M.
As we sighted the towers of Animiter we saw people coming to meet us. We were expected. There was water here, and a belt of green, greener than I have ever seen, was a curious contrast to the barren hills it skirted, and to the red walls and limewashed towers of the kasbahs.
These people were very poor but they shared what food they had with us. We spent the day making photographs at Animiter and the out-lying kasbahs at Ounilla. At supper, while I was trying to figure out what I could give the Cheikh as a souvenir, I saw him looking at my leather thermos case, so I got him to boil some water and fill the thermos bottle. Then I strapped it around him and told him not to let it out of his sight. He took it to bed with him.
We were up at sunrise. I found him supervising the building of a fire to boil water for our tea. I scattered the wood with my foot and asked for the thermos bottle. When hot water came out of it the Cheikh was bewildered. He swore that he had slept with the bottle in his armas, no one could have refilled it without waking him. He asked me if it was bewitched. I said, not exactly, but there was a Djinn in the bottle who kept hot water hot and cold water cold for twentyfour hours. But if anyone dropped the thermos the Djinn would get sore and leave. The Cheikh called a big negro slave. I could tell he was a slave by the ring in his right ear. After a long harangue in Chleuh, the language of the Atlas, the Cheikh draped the thermos case over the negro. Then he pulled out a curved knife and moved it about significantly in front of the fellow's stomach. The Slave of The Thermos understood.
At every kasbah we visited I was asked for news of 'El Badron'. (In Morocco, the Maréchal Lyautey was always known as Le Patron, but there is no p in Arabic). Some of these mountaineers were unaware that he was no longer in Morocco. That their Governor General had left quietly on the S.S. Anfa, without escort, like any ordinary person, his departure the result of political intrigue in France, was beyond their comprehension.
"But he won the big baroud against the Alemanis!" one of them insisted, referring to the World War, evidently regarded as a personal quarrel between Lyautey and the Germans, from which the great Patron had emerged victorious.
The Moors have small regard for Christians, Jews, or any others not of the Islamic faith. They may feign it, but one of their proverbs: Kiss the hand of the monkey who is in power, is a clue to their true sentiments. In this respect Lyautey was a notable exception.
On the way north I stayed over to visit some friends and acquaintances at Meknès. Among the latter, that ill-famed lady, Madame Moulaye Hassène. Bad times had come to her. Her brothel was unclean and smelled of inactive sewers; her girls unsavory. But I stayed long enough to buy beer, and listened patiently while she retold the story of how she saved the lives of a score of French officers and sous-officiers in her house in Fez the night of the massacres. How she dominated the mob of fanatics at her door, while the Frenchmen they had come to kill were caught, literally, with their pants down, is history now. She informed me that Lyautey, following the incident, had intimated that he would recommend her for the order of the Legion d'honneur. She never got it.
It is said that on hearing of Lyautey's recommendation a scandalized functionary protested:
"But, Monsieur le Résident Général, this woman owns a brothel!"
"So do certain members of the order in question, Monsieur," Lyautey is reported to have replied.
"Ah, but, Monsieur le Résident Général," explained the functionary, "the houses are certainly not registered in the owners' names and Moulaye Hassène's is!"
Moulaye Hassène's feelings on the subject were embittered. In her opinion the French—excepting, of course, M. le Maréchal—were a people without honor or gratitude. She demanded if I did not agree with her. Not wishing to become involved in an argument, I replied guardedly that as to honor I was not qualified to judge, not being acquainted with all of them.
Some years later the French conferred on Moulaye Hassène a distinction of another kind in sentencing her to be the first woman to die on a Moroccan guillotine. This occurred after the bones of one of her pensionnaires had been dug from the soil of her backyard, and a couple more of these unfortunates, discovered bricked up in the walls of her house in Meknès, but still alive, had turned state's evidence.
Anong the Moors, Maréchal Lyautey had the reputation of being stern but just. And your Moor has little respect for weak administrators who try to curry his favor. A man in every sense of the word, it is only a man he will obey. He loves medieval pomp and dramatic gestures, and the Maréchal had a flair for both, and generally succeeded in impressing him without resorting to displays of armed force.
On one occasion, during the World War, Lyautey found hinself at Fez without enough troops to hold the city should rumors of impending revolt prove correct. A few miles away, beyond Meknès, sixty thousand dissident tribesmen, reportedly supplied with ammunition by the Germans, were assembled in the sacred valley of Moulay Idriss for the religious fête of El Kebir. After the fête they would march on Meknès and Fez. Reinforcements from Algeria were out of the question, in any case they would arrive too late. The French populations of these cities as well as the garrisons faced massacre.
At the head of thirty picked Spahis, Lyautey himself rode from Meknès to Moulay Idriss. The burnouses and djellabas of the hostile mountaineers covered the hills like a mottled blanket. At the foot of the city, white tents marked with the black stylized cypress of the chiefs, had been pitched. Followed by his Spahis, Lyautey galloped up to them. Before them he reined in his white Arab charger, threw back the folds of his scarlet and white burnouses and tossed his képi on the ground: a challenge.
The chiefs were profoundly impressed. El Badron must have a great army in Morocco or he would never have dared to come to Moulay Idriss with only a formal escort, they reasoned. After a pow-wow among themselves they came forward, one by one, to touch his hand with their lips and lay it on their foreheads: the sign of submission.
When I reached Paris I visited the Maréchal at his hôtel in the rue Bonaparte, bringing him a set of the photographs we had made in the Atlas. He recognized every kasbah. We talked for more than an hour about the people and the country he loved so well.
"When are you going back, Monsieur le Maréchal?" I asked. "They are all waiting for you."
"They won't have long to wait," he said. "I am going back very soon." And then, leaning over toward me, he added: "Les pieds devant—feet first."
He pulled out a drawer in his desk and showed me a design for his tomb. It was like the green tiled tombs of Morocco's Idrissian marabouts. His will was that he be interred in Morocco, within the walls of the Chellha at Rabat, where the Merinidian Sultans are buried.
"These photographs," he said, fingering them as I got up to leave.
"They are yours," I said.
A few months later Lyautey died. He is in Morocco now, his tomb a sanctuary for Moor and Frenchman alike.