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Hamri the Painter of Morocco (part 3 of 3)

Joe Ambrose revisits the life and times of Moroccan painter Hamri, part three of a three part series.

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by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2007
Via Hamri I was forever meeting up with secret policemen, army generals, and state officials. One had to deal with such people to get anything done in Morocco
by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2007
Via Hamri I was forever meeting up with secret policemen, army generals, and state officials. One had to deal with such people to get anything done in Morocco

Joe Ambrose

As we passed through Larache I tried to engage Hamri in conversation concerning his old sparring partner Jean Genet, who lies buried there. He didn't like Genet, he didn't like Burroughs, and he didn't like Timothy Leary. He said they were 'dirty'. By which he meant that they were emotionally confused and, therefore, disturbing to him. Brian Jones he liked but Jones seemed to have mystified him and to not really have been his cup of tea. He didn't like to talk about the dead, he didn't like the idea of growing old, and he feared the prospect of madness. His own death was entirely off the conversational agenda.

Our Mercedes taxi cruised into Asilah, a small seaside town fifty kilometers south of Tangier. Blink and you'd miss it. We made for Patisserie Achmed because he wanted to meet up with Achmed, one of his old Asilah pals, the thriving proprietor of the largest commercial bakery in northern Morocco.

He knew all the food people in Asilah; it was there, in the late Sixties, that he'd opened his third 1001 Nights, the one where he entertained Brian Jones with stories of Joujouka and of the healing powers of the Sufi music to be found there. It was from Asilah that he, Jones, and Gysin embarked on their near-mythological trip to the village to record The Pipes of Pan, now generally acknowledged as the first 'world music' album. A poisoned chalice.

His paintings full of clumsiness, naivety, and serious business. Just like Morocco.

Achmed, genial and rich, was clearly very fond of him. They were both members of the Independence Generation, those who were young when Morocco cast off its colonial past and who now seemed entirely content with life in a pseudo-democracy presided over by a greedy but sophisticated royal family. Achmed was a nice example of a type but Hamri was far too well dug in with an ageing socio-economic elite not entirely to my leftist taste. Via Hamri I was forever meeting up with secret policemen, army generals, and state officials. One had to deal with such people to get anything done in Morocco where the big fat guy in the Merc was the good guy and the disenfranchised unemployed worker on the side of the road was treated like a piece of shit which had attached itself to one's shoe.

Hamri had a project that he wanted to discuss with Achmed. While I sipped coffee and watched a Hassidic Jew working away feverishly on his laptop at another table - laptops and Hassidic Jews were thin on the ground in Morocco then - Achmed made calculations on a piece of paper and had about thirty questions that he asked Hamri in Arabic.

'I want to make the biggest loaf of bread that has ever been made in the world.' Hamri explained when he and Achmed had concluded their negotiations.

'Has Achmed got a big enough oven to make the loaf?' I asked.

'Yes, he has oven the size of small house. He has three ovens the size of small house in his bakery.' Hamri laughed, and Achmed laughed along indulgently. 'We will put the loaf on rollers and feed it in one side of the oven and out the other door when it is baked, and we will keep on rolling in more dough and baking it until we have the biggest loaf in the whole world. You think we will get this into Time magazine?'

'I'm sure we could.' I said. 'And I'm sure we'd get it onto CNN too.'

'Exactly!' he growled in his Now you're talking! way, grinning, exposing a set of perfect pearly white teeth worthy of a fifteen year old boy. 'And then when we have finished with the baking we will break up the bread and give it out to the poor people for their families to eat.'

Soon we were on the outskirts of Tangier. He didn't want to be driven to his Rue Verdun apartment; he had a clandestine rendezvous in a more discreet part of town. In Joujouka it was all cooking and music. In Tangier it was all painting and sex.

Joe Ambrose's next book, Chelsea Hotel Manhattan, is being published by Headpress.

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Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.

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