Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Cinema 1938: a mural in Meknes
Say what you will about French imperialism in north Africa, but the so-called Protectorate in Morocco left a certain amount of what it found untouched. Thanks to Resident-General Hubert Lyautey's 'do not offend a single tradition, do not change a single habit', the old ways carried on alongside the new. In Meknes this means that for the flash, be-blinged 4x4-driving Moroccan nouveaux riches, the Ville Nouvelle is the place to go for cafe and nightclubbing life, while the medina on the opposite hill, separated by the valley with the Oued Boufekrane flowing (if that's the right word) through it, carries on an existence largely unchanged since the middle ages. This is the view of the medina from the newly-developed park slopes above the valley.
The other result is that the tourists ignore the Ville Nouvelle other to eat and drink there. Sadly the Moroccans have rather neglected it, too, which is a pity, because it's a treasure-trove of 1930s architecture falling into disrepair. In any other city where this was the only asset, it would be assiduously preserved and guided tours would be taken around its gems (think of Tel Aviv, or wonderful Asmara, capital of Eritrea, where the experimental architectural projects under Mussolini are a major draw). But at least it's still here, and very much the centre of attraction off the central roundabout is the 1930s Cine Camera, still a working picturehouse.
Had it not been for an excellent illustrated French guide to the town loaned us by Mouna and Simon of the Riad Lahboul, we might have missed one of the great artistic treasures of Meknes, one Marcel Couderc's 1938 fresco in the foyer, for neither the Rough nor the Blue Guides mentions it. The eye is drawn up to the central panel of opera singers, pianist, string players (love the double-bassist) and jazz band.
The details are no less charming on a close inspection. There are selective glimpses of Paris
and New York
sport and sailors
and fashion - dig the chap in his plus fours.
even the wall above the projection room is duly adorned.
There's been a fine book produced on the 1930s architecture of Asmara, but I couldn't find much on this - it all needs documenting by an enthusiast of the era. And I'm told Tangier and Casablanca have just as much to offer.