'Summer In The City State - Ceuta To Tangier Through Fortress Europe' was released in April of this year. Since its publication, there has been ample time for me to take stock of reactions to the book. Rightly, the off-kilter non-traditional structure of the book has been acknowledged; and I hope has been a refreshing break for readers from the traditional travel narrative setup. In fact, in the initial stages, the book was never approached from a travel writing perspective; and I can’t write to fit neatly-drawn genre categories to begin with. The book was more of an attempt to give a quick glimpse into the borders of Fortress Europe, namely via Ceuta to Tangier’s international crossing point, from the perspective of a (white European privileged?) person who happened to the be holding the right type of passport.
But I have also heard readers misinterpret some encounters I had within the book. Meeting refugees has never been a negative or ‘danger’-point for me; the ‘dangerous refugee’ is in reality a ‘fiction’. Although I probably (wrongly) assumed most others recognised steroetype. Meeting refugees, people seeking safety, is more a negative reflection of our societies apathy for the welfare of others. I think my anger at seeing refugee families spread across Ceuta and around the alleys of Tangier more than highlighted what a twisted restrictive setup international borders have become. Despite the dark situations quiet evident in the shadows of the book, Ceuta is an intriguing place to visit and has a striking beauty. Tangier has an exciting on-edge spirit all unto itself. It remains one of my favourite cities.
Contradictions, Negatives, and Positives is a mix that makes for some of the best experiences. I hope ‘Summer In The City State’ gives a flavour of this. You can decide for yourself and grab a free Kindle copy over the next few days at the link below. Or just pick up a paperback of the book if you, like me, prefer the medium of old-skool reading.
~ Eamonn, December 2016.
**Get your Year-End Free Kindle offer of 'Summer In The City State' from 21st December for a limited number of days**
Check out your preview of 'Summer In The City State' below and download now.
Well I have to admit, things have been slow on the writing front as of late.
But that does not mean there is nothing interesting happening over the last while either!
Yes I continue to prowl around a newer manuscript; which is taking shape slowly. And yes, travel is still on the cards.
In fact, I am just back from Medellin in Colombia after a brief stopover to see friends in Panama - a fantastic experience for a few weeks in the oven that is Colombia and Panama. I will have more to come on that trip when the dust settles.
But moving onto some 'news' and a prevalent interest I am rooted in at the moment - which brings me back into the music again (first time since Rimbaud Records days) - Clonline Radio.
Clonline Radio is an innovative and progressive online radio project based in Clonakilty, West Cork, Ireland. The station is broadcasting daily and is the fruit of a hardworking team of individuals.
I am producing a bi-weekly show called 'The Rockers Guide', usually playing music from the fringe - both heavy and light, but always abstract and independent.
You can listen to 'The Rockers Guide' on Clonlineradio.com every second week. Hear previous episodes of the Rockers Guide in the podcast section of Clonlineradio.com now.
A few months ago I spoke with writer Joe Ambrose about 'Writing Tangier' which was broadcast on Clonakilty's Clonline Radio when in its infancy.
We talk about counter-culture living, Iggy Pop, the Beat Generation, life in a vibrant Tangier and writing books.
We also played the music of Iggy Pop, Islamic Diggers, Nass Marrakech and Nass El Ghiwan.
It is a perfect mix of outlaw sounds and hedonistic stories, and is well worth listening to for an insight into the interzone (Tangier) that has informed both of our writing work. 'Writing Tangier: Joe Ambrose and Eamonn Sheehy in conversation'
You can buy Joe's most recent book ‘Tangier Tsunami’ via Amazon.
‘Summer In The City State: Ceuta To Tangier Through Fortress Europe’ by Eamonn Sheehy is available here.
More news on travel and writing soon - over and out, Eamonn.
IN CHEFCHAOUEN, the air is warm and dry. Clear blue skies peer down on the days I spend wandering this high-walled town in Morocco's Rif Mountains. Drinking mint tea and smoking Kif, I watch the evening sun slowly drop as the town becomes sleepy. Feeds of succulent Lamb Tagine home-cooked in cute hotpots followed by more Kif. Time moves on a different level here; there is no European living against the clock. Chefchaouen is the blue city of the Rif. Small stone homes are huddled along whitewashed alleyways, all painted in calming shades; Azure, Maya and Powder blue.
I stand on the hotel balcony at the end of the night, looking out over the mountain range. It is a plateau of silence, only broken by jangling bells as mountain goats scramble along slopes that hug the north side of town. In the darkness to the east lies the town of Ketema. A no-go zone with Hashish markets and a lawless reputation, it's one of Europe's main sedative sources. I imagine armed wholesalers cruising in SUVs, buying hash in bulk to feed the demand on the streets of Europe. But ancient Chefchaouen captivates. This is the real world. I fall back into my bed and the sound of the night reverberates in my head while I fade to sleep.
The bus pulls into the depot and the few of us waiting pile on up the steps. The driver takes my ticket money and I take a seat. We slowly leave Chefchaouen on our way to the pulsating city of Tangier on Morocco’s north-western corner. From the slowness of rural Morocco to an African urban hybrid, Tangier is a pressure cooker. Here is the merger of those trying to survive, trying to profit, and trying to escape. So many people with cross-section motives fill its winding alleyways.
The bus labours downhill towards the tail end of town, where we stop to pick up a much larger crowd. Two Policemen holding rifles quickly board the bus. They scan the interior and usher everyone down to the last few rows. The bus driver reassures us that all is okay. Then a chain line of prisoners board one after another, and fill every seat on the bus. The hot afternoon sun washes in through the windows. The chained - all men - are joined by a few women, who I presume are either wives or mothers. They carry food and bottled water in plastic bags. A policeman takes station up front and we start again, driving down the Rif Mountains, through the valley and towards Tetouan on route to Tangier.
One prisoner sits slumped in defeat. It's like the atmosphere has been suddenly ripped from the sky above. It came out of nowhere. There is no sun, only a sullen, heavy grey hanging over his head. Thoughts on how to deal with the oncoming sentence have overthrown him, and a mild panic sets in. A piece of bread touches his lips and he looks slowly down to the hand of his wife. She hides half crouched in the aisle, trying to stay out of the Guard's view while feeding her shackled husband some food.
We reach Tetouan a few hours later. Some prisoners who had fallen asleep are now waking to nudges. Faces are fixed to glass while the bus reverses in-between two tall concrete pillars, further into what I now assume is a prison yard. Looking out the front window, I can see locals stopped across the street. They stand looking at the bus and its chained up cargo as we roll back to a standstill.
The prison enclosure contrasts dramatically with the blue Moroccan vista above its towering walls. In the yard, armed men create a partition from the street, and a channel to the prison. The shackled column is herded from the bus into the building. A guard stands between us and those departing, while the wives stay seated - watching their loved ones slip away. The chained men look back, worried. The yard leads to an endless rotation of days and nights, all between walls that get narrower over time. The bus starts up again, and the prison doors close behind us.
Sample chapter from ‘Summer In The City State’ by Eamonn Sheehy © 2016.
Sunrise in the Sahara - From Marrakech, to the Saharan Oasis, and the desert towns of South-Eastern Morocco [Video & Photography]
iSome while back I promised to post a short video of sunrise from the Sahara desert. Well, here it is. I travelled to the Sahara in late November, with a photographer friend of mine, when the temperatures had cooled. We set off from Marrakech on an early morning bus, that for thirteen straight hours took us into the furthest south-east of Morocco. The journey takes you through the rapidly changing landscape of the Atlas Mountains; scaling heights along windy half-finished roads, and through small mud and stone villages and farming hamlets.
Then we descend into the Hollywood of North Africa - Quarzazate. We were now off the mountain, and the landscape gradually became more barren and rocky-red. This city is the largest in the Moroccan Sahara and its name means 'without noise' in Berber language. It is the home of Atlas Studios, where such films as 'Cleopatra, 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Babel' were filmed. The landscape fits in with the sweeping and the cinematic. And the town itself seemed interesting from the view we got from the bus window.
We continued on into the desert and things definitely felt like they were heating up. The bus began to shed its occupants along the way and we saw more Kasbahs and ancient looking Ksars (Red mud and stone castles) as we drove east. This part of the journey is nothing short of fascinating. The small towns and litany of desert villages surrounded by high crumbling red walls seem to latch onto the roadway for miles ahead, while its vast surrounding landscapes present endless, unforgiving flatlands of red stone and hot sand.
This is the Dades Gorge, and as we enter Boumalne Dades, a magnificent looking Berber town with endless Ksars on approach, you can feel the history around you. A thin mist of the past shows old tribes of the Sahara and trading caravans stopping here as they make the journey across the desert from Niger, Mali, and Algeria. It is a region unlike any in Northern Morocco; and as unique and authentic a place as any adventure traveller could wish for.
Entering the large town of Tinghir further on and we are truly entering Oasis territory. ⵜⵉⵏⵖⵉⵔ as it is written in the Tamazight or Amazigh script; which you will see dotted all across this region, an area dominated by Berber tribes. As a text, it looks vibrant and beautiful. Tinghir is a large town near the Todra Gorge. It is a prime settlement in the Tinghir Oasis where palms and cacti run for approximately 30 kilometres before more desert opens up into the serious Ergs of the Sahara.
The bus continued on to more fascinating towns as we near toward Merzouga. Errachidia, Erfoud and Risanni are as off the beaten track as you can get. These towns are vita for the little communities sprinkled across the region as centres for schooling and commerce. Erfoud is even said to be similar to the landscape and geology of Mars. An odd fact I was surprised to hear about, as the town being host to a Mars Research project in 2013 when the Austrian Space Forum, in conjunction with other space research organisations, conducted experiments in the area. But this region is far from hi-tech. For the traveller it is more like a step back in time (if coming from a westernised background) and a step forward into a new culture and place.
Rissani sits on the edge of the desert dunes and in the spectacular Ziz Valley. It really made me want to get off the bus straight away and explore. The town itself is more of a mix of Arab and Berber communities and is definitely an Oasis town that transports you to another world in the most romantic and escapist of ways.
Next, we arrived at our destination, Merzouga. Here we had our Bed and Breakfast host pick us up to take is even further into the desert, with a short drive to the village of Khamlia. This small and laid back village is a unique place, a Gnawa village who's population (Gnawa and Berber) originate from slaves brought through here in Caravans across desert from West and Central Africa. It sits just kilometres from the Algerian border and amid the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Music is the heartbeat of this little town. And as we sat listening to local musicians and wandering the dunes by day time, at night we drank Berber Whiskey (tea) and ate home cooked Tagine courtesy of our hosts in Dar El Khamlia where we stayed.
The Sahara by evening is fantastic. Our guide led us out from Dar El Khamlia into the vast dunes. The hot sun was falling low in the sky and when we reached our camp it was near dark. Food was served as the dunes surrounded us endlessly for miles while we all drifted off to sleep. In the morning everything lays still in gold tinted shadows and the silence is primal. The sunrise came quick. Looking toward Algeria at 6.10am, its stunningly bright halo peeked up over the horizon; blasting the shadowy dunes with a glimmering red.
Now for some retrospective insights. I would definitely recommend stopping off along this route, as some of these places look intriguing and have an obvious richness in culture. To keep me company during the quiet times, in the late pre-sleeping hours of Agadir, Marrakech and the Sahara, I had a copy of Paul Bowles 'The Sheltering Sky' to immerse myself in.
While 'The Sheltering Sky' tells the story of travel, dark adventure and the limits of the human spirit, it actually depicts a journey into the Algerian Sahara, but is still successful in getting you in the mood for Ksars and Kasbahs across Morocco's Saharan towns; not to mention its epic capturing of the immense atmosphere in the desert dunes.
A beautiful hardback edition of this book has now been issued with other writings by Paul Bowles. And it includes 'Their Heads Are Green', a book I acquired while traveling in Tangier many years back. This book is really worth getting hold of before you embark on a trip into Southern Morocco, as it tells how Paul Bowles set out along the same flank of territory; except to the villages west of Quarzazate where he recorded local musicians. Click on each Bowles book for more on these literary works:
This trip was also a breather and small reward to myself for having finished my first book. The little nonfiction novella 'Summer In The City State - Ceuta To Tangier Through Fortress Europe' is a social documentary narrative of a trip I made from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta through the borders of Fortress Europe, and into the Rif Mountains cities of Northern Morocco. I got the proof copy literally hours before this trip to Morocco. And it was a relief to see it through and to be done with the rewriting and editing of its words. In the end it was a bit like mixing concrete on a hot day :) - a grinding push to get to the end of the job. But Ceuta, Tetouen, Chefchaouan, and Tangier are fantastic places to travel with plenty of stories and characters. This book is something I had to get out into the wild. Hopefully in the next blog post we can explore some of the literary milestones connected with the history of its main obsession - Tangier.
You can read about my trip from Ceuta to Tangier, and meet some of the characters I met, by clicking the book cover below:
Wales Arts Review recently took a deeper look at my book 'Summer In The City State', and wrote an explorative article with an insight that both delighted and surprised me. Wales Arts Review has long been at the forefront of exploring progressive and challenging literature, music and art in the UK and beyond. Here is an excerpt from the piece, which was written by award-winning New York-based writer Susan Maiermoul:
"The Morocco via Spain tourist itinerary of Sheehy’s new book, Summer in the City State, signals political tension we’re not meant to overlook in his subtitle “Ceuta to Tangier Through Fortress Europe.” Accordingly, we encounter Frontex in paragraph one enjambed by a travel agent checklist of sunbathing locations, positioning our departure by ferry to Northern Africa amid surveillance and patrols in stark contrast to “pasty white tourists” and “the good life.”
The writer’s treatment of this juxtaposition threatens to teeter into unabating contempt. Though I have never taken a beach vacation, I feel myself begin to distance from the swift and easy formulation of who is good and who is bad as the colonist and the consumer merge at the fortifications of the Pillars of Hercules. It’s at this moment of what must be for him a sore temptation to damning screed that Sheehy does a beautiful thing, a thing of literate discipline: having raised his energy, he contains it. He walks his body away from his loathing of the postcard beach and takes himself physically as close as he can get to the edge of the edge of Europe in North Africa. The spaces of narrator, protagonist, author, and reader, collapse and reconfigure as Sheehy gazes with some local men toward the sea.
'A little walk on from the café along a dusty road and I round a subtle bend where the frontier comes into full view. The vista is strikingly beautiful and rugged. But then the fence creeps into view – high shining metal cutting coarsely down through the foliage. The reinforced unnatural border runs from the rocky mountain top down into the sea. It is strange to see the fence cut the landscape deep down the middle. It has a tall lookout tower in the middle where the road finishes. At the other side of the fence sits the Moroccan village of Belyounech.'" excerpt from 'Summer In The City State'
Link to the full article at the Wales Arts Review here.
Here is a new recording from my last trip to Morocco - this time Marrakech's Square Of The Dead (Jemaa El Fna). A live music jam from one of the many music circles that take over the square after sundown.
Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech's main square is a lively place at the best of times, but it really comes into its own at night. A wander across this centuries old theatre of human spectacle in the twilight hours can be chaotic and exhilarating. Hot food stalls, Snake Charmers, Street boxing, Scammers, Traders and (for me the best of all) ecstatic live music.
On any given night you can pick from a variety of styles, all Moroccan - and drift in and out between dizzying guitar jams and whirling call and response chorus's. This 5 minute recording is from one of my favourite musical circles who played the square over the few nights I was in Marrakech.
They remind me of Nass Marrakech - but I am not aware of this groups name.
If you have been to Jemaa El Fna, please comment below to tell us what you experienced!
While my forthcoming book 'Summer In The City State' has been a labour of text - writing and rewriting, correcting and revising - the images I framed on the trip itself are fully formed, suspended in their own right and clear.
Anyone who writes can attest to the struggles of conveyance. It comes in stages. First you are happy to get words down, and mould them into some sort of clear, engaging
form. You work on different scenes and try to transpose the excitement living in your imagination onto the white space before you. The seasons change, summer into winter, and you keep pushing on with the process. Then comes the feeling of breakthrough as the end nears. And with it, the warm self-affirming feeling of achievement. It's cosy for a while.
The second stage eventually turns up on the scene. The clouds move in, the sky darkens and you are entrenched in some weeks and months of word-thrashing, cliché culling and sentence decapitation. It is violent and disorientating. You start to tire, the focus becomes poor. SELF DOUBT. Coffee binges. Anxiety.
One way out was to stand back and look. Assess your writing and more importantly the path you want your nonfiction to take. When it comes to writing, for me its the gloss I like to strip down. For nonfiction, memoir, culture, immersive journalism - call it what you want - the story happens and you tell it. This is where the culling and thrashing comes in. I cut out the fat. 'No filler all killer' as the punks say. Eventually the calm returned and some sense of, albeit shorter, form was achieved.
The images - a series of photography captured from the initial stages of the journey, aboard a ferry across the Mediterranean to Ceuta, through the cities of the Rif Mountains and on the streets of Tangier - had solidified into their own micro-story. I sifted through some three hundred plus pictures. The location of Ceuta and Tangier. The natural environment. The people and places photographed did the work for me.
And once I ignored 'the fear', the hesitation of combining a written narrative with a photographic form - I began to see it all 'worked'. The book now in its complete form, is not a 'travel' book in the traditional sense (despite possibly falling into this category in your online bookstore). It is a capture of my perspective against a backdrop of tumultuous times for many living on the border regions of North Africa and Southern Europe. It is a test of my own perceptions and levels of acceptance. It is a study of social tension and escape.
Here are some of the images from 'Summer In The City State'.
Paperback will see the light of day on 8th April 2016. But you are free to contact me about getting an advance paperback edition, or just order now:
A few winters back I took a last minute flight to Riga and spent a few weeks exploring the snow-filled villages and towns of Latvia and Estonia. Outside of experiencing a 'real' winter, with its fresh minus temperatures, frozen lakes and snowy landscapes going on forever, the sheer solitude and peace of this region stuck with me since.
Tartu is Estonia's second city and it is tucked away nicely on the south-eastern corner of the country. Very different to it's sister-city Tallinn up north, this is a place less explored by the foreign traveller, and more sophisticated in it's identity. It is - to my mind - first and foremost, a university city. The streets have a youthful, organised character. Toome Hill, the slope-perched park that runs down to a beautifully quaint town centre, is layered with snow. The square is an ice rink. The 'Kissing Students' of Tartu stand in a timeless embrace; legs kicked back for love. Oscar Wilde sits outside a pub for a chat with Eduard Vilde. A replica of this statue also sits in a street in Galway city; sealing a literary link between Ireland and Estonia through these two giants of European literature.
At the bus station, lines run from Tartu out to the 'Old Believer' towns on the banks of Lake Peipsi. It is a relatively short journey to Kallaste. I decided to stay overnight at a guesthouse, commonly used at this time of year by fishermen. The village is practically crumbling under the weight of snow. Fishermen take snow mobiles out onto a frozen Lake Peipsi for ice-fishing. They carry giant cork-screw like instruments on little trailers, to drill through thick slabs of ice.
I shuffled down quiet streets towards the village café and a white cold fog hovers, gradually giving way to more snowfall. The café is homely and cosy. Outside the door I kick the snow from my boots and walk in to get fed. Russian conversations bounce around the room. This 'Old Believer' village grew from a schism in the Russian Orthodox faith in the 1700's, when members of the religious minority fled here to escape persecution. While Tartu strikes me as leaning toward a Scandinavian mentality, Kallaste reminds me of Russian villages in central Siberia - self preserving, proud and friendly, but elderly.
The snow gets heavy again; now well on its way to being a blizzard. Walking on to the local store I pass a statue remembering World War II victims. Behind it a vast frozen Lake Peipsi shines. From Kallaste, looking east across the 150 kilometres of ice, Russia and the town of Gdov sits on the other side.
Pensioners pass on sleighs at a junction ahead of me. Some of their Zimmer-frame-sleighs are parked up outside the store. It is pension day in Kallaste.
Those of you who have been to Marrakech will no doubt have revelled in the dark excitments of Jemaa El Fnaa - the Square Of The Dead. My recent trip to Morocco, where I took a long haul trip across the Southern flank of this jaw droppingly large country, meant a first for me in Marrakech. And in Jemaa, I managed to come across some excellent traditional music. I got some of the live sets on camera, initially for the sound (I love listening back to soundscapes of different cities I have visited), but the video is interested, albeit shaky.
Now, I absolutely hate sideways videos - but I got a bit confused in the dark and chaos of a late night Jemaa El Fnaa. I had just been rumbled by the snake charmers of the Square, who fleeched me and a travel friend of ten euro, so I was still a bit unerved and disorientated. Nevertheless, what we ended up witnessing (I have been informed) were the remaining members of a classic Moroccan band called Nass El Ghiwane.
The music is utterly fantastic. Nass El Ghiwane are the same band from the Ahmed El Maanouni 1981 film 'Transes', which was restored and released on the Criterion Collection by Martin Scorsese a few years back. As you can see from the start of the 'Transes' video, the mania surrounding this band in their heyday reached something of a frenzy, and quiet unseen in modern day terms.
I have another sample of an equally fantastic band of musicians I recorded in Jemaa El Fnaa on this recent November trip which I will post in the next blog update. Meanwhile enjoy, and please comment with any recommended places to visit for my next trip to Marrakech!
I have admired the work of Susan MaierMoul since I read her Sean O’Faolain Prize story Pleasure in early 2015. Since then, I have followed her website project, New York, with an eager fascination.
Here is what New York is all about - a statement from the website itself:
There are five narrative containers for looking at this website project, New York, created in the form of, and in-progress as, a blog. Each of the provided wayfindings is woven from my reading and my camera walking in the city. They are non linear, non parallel, polyphonic, and outside given categories of direction or progression. The paths and posts are offered in shifting levels of analysis, which might be read as a sense of hope, a sense of humor, as well as a sense of urgency. The project comes out of my interest in field notes and working notes as notes toward rather than notes about. The modularity and accumulation allow the form to be inconsistent, textured, curious and, I hope, an open interface of thinking and looking around that will invite people who have connected to various posts to go off and read more of the works and writers cited.
Susan MaierMouls most recent work, a multi-layered photo essay called Fountain, is a fresh and engaging piece. Published in the winter issue of The Lonely Crowd journal (print copies can be ordered here), Fountain is an immersive experience of mixed narrative forms; photography, resonant quotation, habitat, human rights, history.
We rarely get to speak to each other so deeply about our art, and the works we spend so much time focusing on. Therefore it was a great pleasure to have such an involved discussion with Susan about her work Fountain and my own work Summer In The City State.
You can read the full discussion here on the The Lonely Crowd website.
Eamonn Sheehy - travel writing with a focus on people and culture.