Knowing Francesco always woke up early, the following morning Radouan called him at nine, apologized for not showing up at his party and said he would like to bring around an interesting girl to meet him.
‘Where were you lass night? Francesco growled softly’
‘Busy with her... with this girl.’
‘Who is she?’
‘She’s twenty four so I guess she’s a woman, she’s fantastic.’
‘Mi amico, you have introduced me to so many fantastic women... you are too kind.’
‘This one is different...’
‘I’m sure she is, they always are.’
‘No… believe me, in my life for the first time I’m really in love. She’s a top model on a shoot here for Vogue. But she’s different. I want you to see her... maybe she will inspire you as she has inspired me... you will want to create a film around her I’m sure.’
‘Oh that... well, it would depend on what’s in it for me personally.’
‘A new star.’
‘Thass not what I mean.’
‘If you mean you will make it with her, forget it,” Radouan laughed, ‘this one I won’t share. I forbid you to try anything with her. Swear now or I won’t let you see her.’
‘Calma regazzo, I swear! I haven’t even seen her yet... but yes I’d like to. I know your taste...’
‘Why not have lunch with us then, we’ll meet you at the hotel bar.’
‘Nonsense,’ Francesco drawled, ‘you must come to me.’
A few hours later after a pleasant stroll through the scented garden behind the Mamounia Hotel, Radouan and Delphine found the great Francesco Monte alone at his villa having a smoke with his bodyguard Tawfig. Tawfig eyed Delphine solemnly and excused himself.
Radouan introduced Delphine to Francesco who said he hoped he wasn’t interrupting her day and she made it clear to him she had to be ready for her last shoot an hour before sunset - whenever that was.
Soon two men in livery brought food and wine. The scent of jasmine and tuberoses mingled with that of hashish as Francesco lit a pipe and passed it to Delphine. ‘Radouan, he likes to drink,’ Francesco grinned, ‘he won’t smoke hashish or kif.’
‘I prefer hashish myself,’ Delphine replied, ‘People who drink all the time are difficult to live with, Radouan should learn to smoke.’
‘Are you crazy? I don’t even smoke cigarettes. You should learn to take Majoun.’
‘What is Majoun?’
‘A pate made with honey, almonds, kif, hashish and other herbs and spices... only to be made by a woman you trust.’
‘But there is a problem,’ Francesco explained. ‘Because Majoun it works so slowly you think iss not working at all and iss so delicious you eat more and more, and suddenly it takes you... carries you away... or you feel like a stone... or you want to dance madly… dance and dance… I don’t like. It lasts too long and you never know whass in it... what these women put in it.’
Radouan grumbled: ‘Hashish inhibits the production of sperm, lessens desire.’
‘Now it’s you who are crazy.’ Delphine said. ‘Hashish heightens desire and sensuality… but it mustn't be overdone.’
Francesco handed her the pipe again: ‘Oh, of course... we wouldn’t want you to over do anything, my dear, even if you wanted to. I’m sure you find time to think about it though… I mean about over doing things?’
‘But of course, doesn’t every one?’ She stared at him indifferently.
‘Sei molto onesto.’ Francesco lapsed into his native tongue.
‘Most of the time I am,’ Delphine replied, ‘but often it is better to protect people from the truth, especially when it is too complicated to think about.’
Francesco’s dark eyebrows shot up, ‘Ah! Not only are you very beautiful,’ he smiled, ‘you are wise.’
Delphine glanced at Radouan, ‘If I were wise I would leave Marrakech soon; my shoot is over today.’
Radouan panicked. ‘What are you sayin’? You can’t leave. You’re a Marrakchi now!’
Delphine wagged her finger at him. ‘And you’re a very dangerous man.’
‘She means you might not be good for her career, she might fall helplessly in love with you.’ Francesco grinned.
‘I hope so.’
‘But what would that mean for her career? You’d be a very jealous lover, I’m sure, and wouldn’t let her travel... wouldn’t let her see other people.’
‘I’m already jealous but I would always respect her, believe me she’s the boss.’
‘Oh really,’ Francesco smiled coyly.
Radouan snorted. ‘If I had thought to restrict her I would never have introduced her to you... El Kors.’
‘Arabi for Shark,’ Radouan nodded, ‘by El Kors we usually mean The Thief.’
‘As they say in Hollywood that’s show biz,' Francesco snickered, 'but seriously, we directors we are more Octopus than Shark… we like to sit in dark places and wait... like here in Marrakech!’
‘Marrakech is not dark!’ Radouan said defiantly.
‘Francesco laughed: ‘The sun is always shining but inside it is very dark and you know it… which is why I love it.’
‘Really, we don’t like this show biz thing,’ Radouan pontificated. ‘We are suspicious of images... we believe they are powerful maji.’
‘Why are you always checking yourself out in mirrors then?’ Delphine quipped, ‘you do it all the time.’
‘It’s a habit from the past. In my father’s house there were no mirrors except one very small one for shaving... images, even reflections, were considered blasphemous and dangerous. For many years I wasn’t sure what I looked like... had to check myself out in other people’s mirrors... believe me even now I’m not so sure.’
‘If you are so suspicious of images,’ Delphine said, ‘why do I see these satellite dishes everywhere?’
‘We watch the sports, news and the sex channels. You must remember we have another side that you don’t see ... moujnun.’
‘First majoun, now moujnun. What are we talking about?’
‘Demented my dear... louche!’ Francesco smirked.
‘You mean the men watch porn after the women and children are safely in bed.’ Delphine said.
‘No, make porn,’ Francesco laughed.
Radouan gazed incredulously at the two of them. ‘Of course, what do you think? We wouldn’t want them to see it. Women and children must be kept pure. In their hearts men are still beasts; some are lions, some are horses, others camels, donkeys, dogs and pigs. Women must be protected from our animal instincts… They have the real power, the power to reproduce and multiply. This real power must be protected.' Why do armies always rape the women of their defeated enemies’ women? Power, Kaid N’ssa, TINA POWER. Female power is strong but it is raw and undisciplined. Unless she is supervised and protected she will bring on F’tna, Chaos! The desire of women perpetuates our race... Men, they think they are controlling things but they cannot.’
‘Oh give me a break,’ Delphine said scornfully. ‘If women have any real power here why aren’t they more educated? Why can’t they inherit as much as their brothers or their sons? Why can a husband take his wife’s property - what about all the prostitutes? If women had any real power they wouldn’t be prostitutes.’
‘Ha!’ Radouan purred. ‘Female power doesn't have anything to do with education, some of the most powerful women in Marrakech are prostitutes… many were poor country girls when they started out. We blame their families, we don’t blame them. Even so, normally here in Morocco, the girls, les k’hab, are not generally mistreated except by freaks like Francesco.’
‘He iss lying, do not listen to him,’ Francesco chuckled.
Radouan guffawed, ‘We must protect them from persons like him, and give them work.... yes, much work! Without our hot blooded nature, what would become of them? Destitution! Today in Morocco there are three women for every man. It is our duty as men to keep them satisfied; otherwise they will become angry and turn the world upside down. What do you think?’
Francesco stared at him: ‘She thinks you are a male chauvinist pig...’
Delphine smiled menacingly.
‘Don’t put words in her mouth!’ Radouan complained, and thought either Delphine was a better actress than he’d imagined or she was falling for Francesco’s line; found himself suppressing the urge to grab Delphine’s long golden hair, and drag her out of Francesco’s villa, through the hotel lobby and right out the front door. Scandal! He knew he could carry it off, but he would lose her and Toni would find out. He had to swallow his pride and sit there listening to the great director’s talk, his endless jokes which he had heard too many times.
‘We women can determine our own destinies and we can be very disciplined.’ Delphine observed. ‘In France we’ve been doing it since the Revolution. We don’t need men to tell us... here, it seems to me, women are just objects like pots and pans to be bought and sold by husbands and fathers. It’s very depressing.’
‘You don't understand Morocco or Islam or you wouldn’t say that,’ Radouan complained. ‘You haven’t been here long enough. If you had you wouldn’t say these foolish things. You will see. You think women are prisoners here, but really it is us men who are the prisoners.’
‘You aren’t locked up in rooms and houses,’ she scolded him.
‘No. We’re out on the fucking streets! It’s us who have to deal with the world outside. Women have the PRIVACY - of the house, the roofs... and they have their maji. Really, we are all prisoners, both men and women...God’s prisoners… Life is God’s joke.’
Delphine stared at hum sullenly ‘That’s why I’m an atheist,’ she replied, ‘I don’t want to be anyone's prisoner.’
Despite his hypocrisy she found herself increasingly charmed by Radouan; by his street smarts, his faux earnestness and his classic profile with its slightly up-turned nose suggesting something saturnine - the flared nostrils when he got excited.
‘If I stay, will you promise to look after me and not try to boss me around?’ she said with a sly smile.
‘Of course, absolutely, you can count on it. I will be your lover and your bodyguard ...I will wait on you hand and foot... drink champagne from your slippers.’
Francesco was amused and shook his finger. ‘Don’t believe him, my dear, non ascoltarlo... don’t believe a word he ever says... he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’
‘No, no,’ Radouan protested, ‘a sheep in wolf’s clothing!’
They all laughed.
‘But really, my dear,’ Francesco wagged his finger at Delphine, ‘you must not leave Marrakech too soon... iss like good wine, the longer you stay the better it gets ...everything interesting is deeply hidden, takes time to discover.’ He waved his hand in the air. ‘Marrakech is a feast for connoisseurs and you will be an adornment to that feast... I guarantee it. I would like to see what you look like on film or tape. Cameras do such strange things: ugly persons become unforgettable, beautiful ones often fade away... but you are certainly not ugly, nor are you a clone of a clone - these days that iss very rare. Radouan thinks you could be a star, but first we have to see what the cameras will tell us. Over in Ouarzazate we could do some tests. I understand they have production facilities there now… maybe you and Radouan could do a love scene... first a fight, then love.’
Delphine glanced at Radouan, then at Francesco: ‘I don’t do love scenes,’ she said pointedly. ‘I think I should go back to Paris... I have many things to attend to.’
‘Believe me,’ Radouan said earnestly, ‘I could never make love to you in front of a camera. I couldn’t. I hate them!’
Francesco grinned: ‘Now you’re lying again, amico mio
‘It’s not me who is lyin’ and you know it!’ Radouan replied earnestly and turned to Delphine. ‘I have to tell you Francesco here, he is a professional voyeur... that’s why he’s a great director, but he’s dangerous. It doesn’t have to be a love scene.’
‘Where is this place you’re talking about?’ Delphine asked, ‘Wahssa… whatever?’
‘Ouarzazate.’ Radouan grinned. ‘It’s across the Atlas Mountains towards the Sahara... a dull place… but it’s become a film making center because of the light and also the desert locations. If you need a desert or mountains for your film, they have them. You can also fly direct to Paris from there... flights every day.’
‘How would we get there?’
‘We could take a car but it’s a long drive over the mountains... I’m sure Francesco will fly us there.’
‘He will?’ Francesco gazed dourly at Radouan.
‘Yes, why not?’
‘Because for some reason you have to fly to Casablanca to get the plane to Ouarzazate... It would be easier to drive and it's a fantastic trip.’
‘You can hire a helicopter here... I’m sure the hotel would know...’
Francesco narrowed his eyes and pouted irritably, ‘You want me to spend money.’
‘Yes, of course, what do you think?’ Radouan laughed. ‘You have to spend money... You have a beautiful intelligent young woman here who is going to have seven pages in all the Vogue magazines in the world and you want her to drive on that dangerous road in some car that will probably break down? You’re crazy! Seeing all that space she’ll get sick. Sometimes I get sick.’
Francesco rolled his eyes, ‘Flying helicopters in those mountains is more dangerous… one gets sick in helicopters too.’
‘Well, it’s up to you,’ Radouan said dismissively, getting up to leave. ‘Jus’ let us know when you want to go. But it will have to be at the end of the week. Day after tomorrow is the feast of Aid Kabir. Things will not function for the next five days. Nobody will work, just eat, pray, and enjoy.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006