Intimate Morocco

Ludovic Duchadeau Texier’s name is not recorded in Moroccan photography. No photos of him can be found on the internet. Still, his pictures are the most moving among the many recently browsed photo albums of Morocco.

He publishes his pictures not in an album, but in a public exhibition, in the very heart of Marrakech’s old town, on a plank surrounding the location of a demolished house, whose original decoration announces that a skateboard court is being built behind it. On this he has put up the twenty pictures representing the work of twenty years from 1999 to 2019, one for each year.

The photos were apparently taken in a single family. It is nice to see the kids growing up, or the young head of family becoming a worn-down, but loving old man.

texier1 texier1 texier1 texier1 texier1

Moroccans notoriously dislike being photographed. Even village children protest, shouting when they see the camera. In order to take such beautiful pictures of these five or six persons, it was really necessary for the photographer to have an intimate relationship with them, which he obviously had, so he could follow the changes and constancy of their lives for twenty years.

texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2 texier2

Where is happiness?

Happiness is in the center of Saint Petersburg, at the corner of Malaya Morskaya Street and St. Isaac’s Cathedral Square. Three of its ground floor windows overlook the square, and two Malaya Morskaya Street, but on this side it also shines on the adjoining house – before the Revolution, the seat of the famous Marks publishing house, and today the Rolls-Royce showroom in Saint Petersburg –, because its entrance opens from there.

People are weird. Just as God’s address is not widely known, so the seat of Happiness is famous for something completely different. The white marble plaque stands in quite absurd contrast to the happily shining golden name of the pub.

“In the former Hotel Angleterre, on 28 December 1925, the life of the poet Sergey Yesenin was tragically broken.”

Hotel Angleterre/Англетер, in whose room no. 5 Yesenin hanged himself – or, according to some unlikely conspiracy theories, was killed – did not always bear this name. Napoleon Bocquin, who built it around the middle of the 19th century, openend the hotel in his own name. In the first photo of the area, made in 1859 from the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, it still bears this name.

In the next photo, of 1908, the main entrance was moved to the façade in Isaac Square, and the place of today’s Happiness Bar is occupied on the corner by I. Grote’s bookshop and the signboard for the St. Isaac Pharmacy. And the hotel is already called Angleterre, taking that name in 1876, when Theresa Schmidt bought it. For a short while it was called Angliya, then Schmidt-Angliya, but it was soon replaced with the more elegant French version. After the revolution, it was renamed “Internatsional”, but in 1925 it was again renamed Angleterre, just in time for Yesenin to die and to immortalize the hotel under that name.

In the 1920s, in the NEP era, it was mainly a hotel for Western guests, along with the neighboring Astoria Hotel. In this period the renowned poet, children’s book author and translator Samuil Marshak wrote a poem mocking racist bourgeois money bags, which was the second reason to make the hotel widely known.

Бывший министр,
Владелец заводов,
Газет, пароходов,
Входит в гостиницу
«Англетер»”, etc.
former minister,
who has plenty of
factories, ships
and newspapers,
enters the hotel

You can see the whole poem here as an animated film. However, in this post-WWII film, the hotel cannot be identified, for since 1948 it was called Leningradskaya, and it only returned to its original name in the early 1990s.

Renaming, however, was not the beginning of a new life, but the definitive ending for the old one. During the decades of socialism, the hotel decayed to such an extent that it only functioned as a low-cost worker hostel. The new investors found it impossible to save. Although there was a mass demonstration and a lifeline against its demise, it did not help. In 1991, the hotel was completely rebuilt with a façade imitating the old one, now part of the neighboring Astoria Hotel.

Building the new Angleterre, 1990s

The new Hotel Angleterre, with a sign on the left-hand side shop windows:
Скоро будет Счастье,
“Happiness will soon be here”.

Room no. 5 does not exist any more, as no longer does the other room where Yesenin first met his femme fatale, Isadora Duncan, who stayed here in 1921.

Room no. 5. The photo was taken by photographer Presnyakov, just after Yesenin’s death, at the request of his widow Sofia Tolstaya. It is interesting that the curtain’s edges were retouched by the photographer’s hand, since without that, the window opening was similar to a contours of a person.

In the room, Yesenin left a short farewell, one of his most poignant and well-known poems:

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Милый мой, ты у меня в груди.
Предназначенное расставанье
Обещает встречу впереди.

До свиданья, друг мой, без руки, без слова,
Не грусти и не печаль бровей, —
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.
Goodbye, my friend, goodbye,
my dear, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part,
and then be reunited again.

Goodbye: no handshake, no word,
no sadness, no furrowed brow –
there’s nothing new in dying in this life,
though living is no newer, of course.

Below, I also include its Hungarian translation with the beautiful musical version by Kaláka Ensemble, which drew inspiration from Orthodox church funerals:

Yessenin: Ég veled, barátom – Kaláka. From the LP Fekete ember: Dalok Szergej Jeszenyin verseire (Black Man: songs on Sergei Yesenin’s poems)

Ég veled, barátom, Isten áldjon,
elviszem szívemben képedet.
Kiszabatott: el kell tőled válnom,
egyszer még találkozom veled.
Isten áldjon, engedj némán elköszönnöm.
Ne horgaszd a fejedet, hiszen
nem új dolog meghalni a földön,
és nem újabb, persze, élni sem.

Of course, like all great Russian poems, this one also has a well-known Russian musical version. However, its text is not quite the same as Yesenin’s original. The melody comes from Alexander Vertinsky, the great magician of pre-WWII Russian chanson, and he found it more suited to his genre if he paraphrased the original poem with a hint to Yesenin’s memory:

Alexander Vertinsky: Последнее письмо – The last letter. Sung by Zhanna Bichevskaya (1st version) and by Vertinsky himself (2nd version)

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Мне так трудно жить среди людей.
Каждый шаг мой стерегут страданья.
В этой жизни счастья нет нигде.

До свиданья, догорели свечи…
Как мне страшно уходить во тьму!
Ждать всю жизнь и не дождаться встречи,
И остаться ночью одному.

До свиданья, без руки, без слова…
Так и проще будет и нежней…
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.
Goodbye, my friend, good bye,
it’s hard for me to live among people.
There’s no happiness in this life anywhere,
every step just prolongs my suffering.

Goodbye, the candles burned to the stump,
how terrible to enter the darkness!
to wait for a meeting for a lifetime
and finally to stay alone in the night.

Goodbye: no handshake, no word,
it’s gentler this way and easier for me –
there’s nothing new in dying in this life,
though living is no newer, of course.

В этой жизни счастья нет нигде” – “There’s no happiness in this life anywhere”, says Yesenin in Vertinsky’s paraphrase. But reality disproves it. After all, where is Happiness? In Saint Petersburg, at the corner of Malaya Morskaya Street and St. Isaac’s Cathedral Square.

Ghosts of Istanbul

The Kumbaracı yokuşu, that is, “Bombardier descent” runs up into the always crowded İstiklal Avenue at its end near the sea, not far from the Passage Oriental, which housed the Café Lebon, the once famous café built in Art Nouveau style by the Istanbul-born French architect Alexandre Vallaury, not long after returning home from his studies in Paris. There were several similar passages on the İstiklal, the former Grand Rue de Péra, the main avenue of the European quarter of Istanbul from the Galata Tower up to Taksim Square, some of them are still open nowadays.

Postcard with the view of the Grand Rue de Péra, from here

But if you also wander into the small streets and alleys opening from the İstiklal, you can find other, more neglected heralds of old Istanbul, a world gone almost a hundred years ago. On the Kumbaracı, not far from the fountain of Miralem Halil Ağa built as a pious gift in 1729, there is an interesting fin-de-siècle house. Arriving from the İstiklal, the French inscription on the left side of the doorway catches the eye first: “Fabrique et dépôt de meubles”, furniture factory and depot. The inscription on the right side is indecipherable, but the ones on the street front are mostly still there, defying time and weather, advertising the wares of the former owner in three languages and three different scripts.

The one on the left side seems to be the most interesting of all of them. The script is Armenian, but the language is Ottoman Turkish: ՄԷՖՐՈՒՇԱԹ ՖԱՊՐԻՔԱՍԸ mefrušat fabrikası, in modern orthography mefruşat fabrikası, “furniture factory”. It may sound strange today, but Ottoman Turkish was often written with Armenian script until the alphabet reform in 1928, after which the Latin script has been used for Turkish – even the very first Turkish novel, the Akabi’s story was published in Armeno-Turkish script in 1851. For most people it was easier to learn and the language itself could be rendered more precisely than in the otherwise used Ottoman Turkish script, a modified version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. Precision depended on the language user him/herself too, however. In the inscription of the furniture factory a peculiarity can be observed: the use of Ք k in ՖԱՊՐԻՔԱՍԸ fabrikası is quite uncommon as it usually stands before front rounded vowels. Before back vowels its almost mirrored counterpart, a Գ should be used (the difference between the two might be more palpable if one looks at their counterparts in the Ottoman script: ك and ق‎, respectively).

The other inscriptions are much easier. In the middle and on the right the owner’s name can be read in French and Greek: A. Loucrezis / A. ΛOUKPEZHΣ. Between the two, under the window on the right the hardly legible Greek inscription reads as ΕΡΓOΣTAXION ΕΠIΠΛΩN, “furniture factory”. If there was a similar inscription under the window on the left, it has by now disappeared, the red graffiti in Turkish and English is much more recent.

loucrezis1 loucrezis1 loucrezis1 loucrezis1 loucrezis1

As the blog Painted Signs and Mosaics – which is the only one reporting about this inscription in detail – puts it, it is obvious that Loucrezis tried to reach as many of the potential local customers as possible: the European residents of Beyoğlu (it seems to be more than a mere coincidence that it is the inscription written in French which can be seen first, coming from the main avenue) as well as the locak Greek and Armenian communities. And maybe even the Turkish one, since many people arrived in the Tophane quarter from Anatolia since the beginning of the century. Unfortunately, there isn’t any information on Loucrezis or his factory except these signs. Aside from the blog post, even the inscriptions are mentioned only by the the French historian Étienne Copeaux as an illustration to one of his articles, based on the post by Painted Signs and Mosaics.

loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2 loucrezis2

There aren’t any traces of Loucrezis in the thorough almanac of the trades and craftsmen of Istanbul, the Annuaire oriental du commerce, at least not in the volumes accessible to me. He is not yet mentioned among the furniture manufacturers in 1891 and 1896/7 and is no longer there by 1930, therefore he should have flourished sometime between 1897 and 1930. Maybe he fled the City already in the first half of the 1920s, in the shadow of deportations – the Greeks of Istanbul were less stricken by them, they had to leave thirty years later –, maybe he died not so long after and there was no one to take over the business. Based on the Annuaire of 1930 it seems sure that there wasn’t any furniture manufacturer under the name Loucrezis in any of the towns of Greece. After all, who would need a Greek furniture tradesman from Istanbul in Athens or Saloniki? The refugees from the Pontus? Or the local Greeks of the Peloponnesus? Both seem unlikely. What remained is a shadow of shadows only, a few ghost signs in three languages and three different scripts in a lonely alley which runs down towards the sea, not far from the always crowded İstiklal.

The Fascism Among Us

Mussolini’s portrait on the Fascist Party’s Roman headquarter, 1934

This term was used by Umberto Eco for those still flourishing nationalist authoritarian regimes, whose distinguishing characteristics were summarized by him in fourteen points. I, however, use it now more specifically for the visual legacy of the Italian fascist ideology of 1922 to 1945, which is still visible in the public spaces of Italy.

Sicily is a graffiti paradise. Movements, religions, ideologies both generously and creatively use this medium to promote their messages. Walking the narrow streets of Palermo, Siracusa or Catania, you have the feeling of attending an endless poster exhibition.

fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1 fascism1

Among the contemporary messages, ghost signs also appear here and there, whose sell-by date – theoretically – has long since expired. In the main square of Monreale near Palermo, in front of the Romanesque cathedral, a neatly framed, carefully typographed inscription can be read on the firewall. The left side is still relatively legible, while the right side has already faded into the background. However, the existing fragments allow the whole text to be googled:

«L’Italia è un’isola che si immerge nel Mediterraneo. Se per gli altri il Mediterraneo è una strada, per noi italiani è la vita.»

“Italy is an island embraced by the Mediterranean Sea. While for others, the Mediterranean Sea is a route, for us Italians, it is life itself.”

This quote is from Mussolini’s Milan speech of 1 November 1936, one of those “great historic speeches”, which, writes Eco, “marked all my childhood, and whose most significant passages we memorized in schools.” This is just one of those passages.

Detail from Mussolini’s Milan speech

This quote delivered a well-calculated message of foreign and domestic policy. On the foreign front, it reflected on Foreign Minister Ciano’s visit to Germany a few weeks earlier, where Ciano and Hitler had agreed on the joint struggle against the Spanish Republic and Bolshevism, and Hitler pledged support to Italy against British ambitions in the Mediterranean Sea, declaring that “the Mediterranean is an Italian sea”; and Hitler also recognized the conquest of Ethiopia by Italy in the spring of that year. Mussolini, in his speech, echoes Hitler’s formula, and introduces for the first time the concept of a “Berlin-Rome axis”, which was also sketched for the simple folk on the front page of the published speech. On the other hand, he still seeks some compromise with the British, for whom, he admits, the Mediterranean “is a route, or rather a kind of shortcut” to their Far Eastern colonial empire through the Suez Canal (“the idea of which, I note only in parenthesis, was first raised by an Italian, Negrelli, who was at that time called insane by the English”). However, the Monreale inscription emphasizes two phrases that are digestible for the domestic public (and which originally stood far apart from each other, in different contexts), thus reinforcing in them the imperialistic idea of Mare Nostrum and nationalistic pride. The festive podium stood obviously here, in the main square, facing the cathedral, and the message of the respective speakers was raised high and woven into a national-imperial context by the quote of the Duce hovering above them.

One hundred fifty kilometers to the east, in the main square of Nicosia, on the wall of Bar Antica Gelateria, are the remains of a similar inscription. The central part of the five-line inscription painted on the plaster has been cut off. It does not look as if it was done with the purpose of destroying it, but rather that something was mounted there, and its straight contours cut out the center of the text. I can reconstruct the top line for a while from the top of the letters: “Il popolo italiano ha…”.

I go in Diana Bar, and while asking for a coffee, I ask the barista whether he knows what was written there. “The professore knows it for sure”, he leads me enthusiastically and respectfully to one of the small, round marble tables, where a small, round gentleman is reading his newspaper. The professore puts on his glasses, looks far into the deep well of the past, and dictates:

«Il popolo italiano ha creato col suo sangue l’impero. Lo feconderà col suo lavoro e lo difenderà contro chiunque con le sue armi.»

The Italian people created the empire with his blood. He will fertilize it with his work, and will protect it against anyone with his weapons.

This famous passage, frase celebre, is from Mussolini’s Victory Day speech of 9 May 1936 in Rome, where he announced the end of the Ethiopian War and the birth of the Italian Impero. Once again, this is a speech of major foreign political importance, demanding a place for Italy alongside the great powers, while, on the other hand, it also sends a message to the people concerning what the empire expects of them. In its time, the passage was popularized by many public works and inscriptions throughout Italy, including this mural still standing today in via Roma in Trento, from which Mussolini’s name was later carved off (by leaving its outlines):

Or in Cagliari, where the same passage can be read on the representative façade of the Scuola Umberto e Margherita overlooking the Piazzetta Mafalda di Savoia, up in the castle. More precisely, only a few fragments of it are legible. Nevertheless, by now we have such expertise in the subject that, just like the professore, we can reconstruct from memory what is unreadable to the beginner. Here, they even left Mussolini’s signature.

Apropos of the Nicosia text, I cannot help but mention that a few meters away we can also read a molto più celebre inscription. If you ascend the steep steps between the two bars to the “hill of the twenty-four barons”, the nest of the noble palaces of Nicosia, the text on the south wall of the tower of the hilltop Church of the Savior, enlarged each year from the early 1700s on, perpetuate the day and month of the arrival of the first swallows to Nicosia. During our recent visit, the church was closed, so I cannot attach a picture of the inscription, just the view of the old town from the church square, with Etna in the distance. Down there, to the left of the Norman Romanesque church of St. Nicholas, converted from an Arab mosque, is the main square with the inscription of 1936. The other church in the background, on the top of the other hill, was the church of St. Nicholas of the pre-Norman Greek population, which gave the name Nicosia to the town. As in the St. Nicholas Day processions the Greek and Catholic believers regularly clashed with each other, this church was renamed the Church of the Assumption, to celebrate its feast and procession in the summer, on 15 August instead of 6 December.

A third memorial helps us to understand why post-war systems have left the public decorations of fascism more or less untouched. Thirty kilometers to the west, at the foot of the Madonia Mountains, a marble sign on the town hall of the mountain town of Gangi announces:

«18 Novembre 1935 XIV. A ricordo dell’assedio perché resti documentata nei secoli l’enorme ingiustizia consumata contro l’Italia, alla quale tanto deve la civiltà di tutti i continenti.»

18 November 1935, XIV[th year of fascism]. In eternal memory for centuries of the attacks and of the terrible injustice against Italy, to which the civilization of all continents owes so much.

The attacks and the terrible injustice were the sanctions of the League of Nations against Italy for invading Ethiopia. These sanctions, by the way, were diluted by Britain and France, the leading powers of the League, for the sake of good relations with Italy, and thus Mussolini was able to occupy Ethiopia without any problems. However, the incident provided an opportunity to blackmail Brussels the League of Nations to the people of Italy, which, despite being the eastern bastion of Europe for centuries the torch of civilization for Europe (and other continents, including Africa) for thousands of years, was neglected and humiliated by the new nations that grew fat at the cost of his sweat.

The key to the survival of these inscriptions is offered by the small copper plate that was placed underneath the marble plaque obviously long after the end of the war:

A marble plaque reminiscent of the historic era of fascism and a related event, the sanctions against Italy. It was exhibited in November 1935, and it was removed immediately after the end of the war (1945). Its restoration to the original place serves reflection and the civil confrontation of ideas. «FACTS DO NOT CEASE TO EXIST BECAUSE THEY ARE IGNORED.» (A. Huxley)

This latter frase celebre could also stand in the place of the often renamed, demolished, destroyed, relocated Eastern European memorials, plaques, street signs. Although it would be much better if it stood underneath the originals left in place.

Fascism-period athlete statues in the Foro Italico in Rome. From The New Yorker’s article “Why are so many Fascist monuments still standing in Italy?”