In Arabic it is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, the Kingdom of the West, the western edge of the Muslim world, a land sliding down the African continent and disappearing into the far Atlantic.
To us it is Morocco, from the Portuguese Marrocos, which in turn is derived from Marrakesh – its name still in the Persian, Punjabi, and Pashto languages – a Berber combination of words meaning the Land of God.
To us it is the exotic, the East, the Orient. It is the land of Orientalist art, a genre of painting popular in 19th century Europe that depicted setting as subject: harems and slave quarters, beggar boys and imperial conquests. Alien, alluring, unfamiliar, other.
In our minds it is still like a painting, static and crystallized, drawn in a disarray of color and distressed histories to be peeled away like wallpaper and sorted through like a pile of rugs. The legendary expats of Tangiers pursuing decadence and decoration in the twilight of their great escapes. Winding streets leading you away from the present into rhythms of a distant past. Details so beautiful and ornate and timeless that they magically reappear in the pages of an Anthropologie catalog.
But all this is why we travel, isn’t it. Gateways to the Other, colors and textures that cannot be captured here at home. Why we work and schedule and save, even as we take the pictures our fathers took and buy the bags our mothers bought. Even as we dream of the places they have already dreamed of.