My Morocco Moment of Ambedo
Most of my chatter these past few months has been to talk about the travel world pre-Covid19. From reminiscing about the “old days“, to sharing discoveries just before lockdowns swept in that now take on different meanings with our new reality, or simple yearning to get back out there and explore.
This period of staying in place which forces us to examine in hindsight, has produced sensations that I had previously ignored. It has exposed a restlessness that I’ve not properly acknowledged before. But also, when the music stops and your movement is limited, an opportunity is there to focus your powers of observation.
The writer John Koenig in his excellent blog, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, describes a sensation he calls ambedo – “an almost melancholic trance in which you become absorbed in vivid sensory details…briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake.” While the tone is rather sorrowful, he sums the sentiment up beautifully here.
My moment of ambedo came recently while we were staying with family at a beach cottage just outside Rabat. Over the course of about a week, the beach went from crowded to deserted, part of the Moroccan government’s efforts to contain the community spread of Covid-19. Rather than fidget for not being able to get in the water, I took up some reading, and began to relax more, contenting myself with not having a schedule. The Italians sum this up perfectly with the expression, il dolce di far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing.
I found myself losing track of time, and seeing things I had never noticed on previous visits. The local fishermen of the town (Skhirate), were still allowed to launch their boats out to sea, and while the nearby fish market had closed, the gendarmes would give them a few hours in the morning to sell their catch to the locals right off the boat. I noticed that from the vantage point of the cottage it was possible to witness both the sunrise and the sunset. Watching how the light changed, reflected off the rocky shore as clouds formed, billowed, and evaporated overhead. Seeing the tides ebb and flow. The more still I was, the more attention I paid to the deserted beach, the more I realized how much there was to observe, the more I realized what I’ve been missing for so much of my working and personal life.
While I wish that via this medium we could also share scents and sounds, I decided to devote time to document with my camera handy, some everyday scenes all of which I could witness without my leaving the balcony. It was anything but mundane.
I’m reminded of the Washington Subway Experiment that asks, faced with beauty, do we make time for it? If we don’t notice a world-class violinist in a busy subway playing one of the most beautiful classical pieces ever written, what other details in our daily lives are we missing?
If there’s a lesson I’m taking from the pandemic, it’s that maybe in our frenzy to get on planes, rack up a list of countries visited, and check off items from our bucket list, we are missing things of value right in front of us. When we do finally go back out there into the greater world, taking time to slow down, see less, and allowing for greater observation to take place, is going to lead to better travel.
Sebastian writes this as Morocco’s borders have begun to re-open, but also case numbers are still on the rise. Stay home, stay safe, and look around you. He’ll be here when Morocco’s ready for travel again.