Staying in Morocco for a longer time has some interesting effects on a solitary traveler. Women soon come to appear as either marvels or mirages. This is something that was rather similar to my experiences in the more conservative parts of India.
They are always or almost always veiled, unless you are in a big city. The colours they wear are usually not lacking beauty, but are not attractive in the sense that your eyes are drawn to them. They are like muted flowers, veiled and shrouded. Sometimes the veils and shrouds are remarkable and stunning and sometimes they fuel only your dreams. One can only guess at most women’s physicality and that does heighten the senses for a man (I can already hear the chorus of complaining voices and how I tolerate and even praise a despicable male-dominated culture, but I am simply reporting how it felt to me) and creates a different kind of focus.
We men are easily distracted animals. Parade a beautiful woman in front of us and we forget what we were about to do. Without sexual impulses – of which there are many in daily European life; for example, on the airport in Milan, I held a Playboy magazine with shaking hands, glancing over my shoulder like a nervous schoolboy as I gingerly leafed through it; but even perfume ads are clearly sexual, the women looking as if they are about to melt in a sensuous orgasm brought on by the inestimable delight of that scent, I suppose – without sexual impulses, I mean to say, we focus on other things, we truly do.
In me it brings out a certain poetry. Moments become heightened, there is a feel of male camaraderie and companionship in the air, also a feel that emotions are allowed to run their course and male emotions tend to be more sluggish and slow and much more hesitant to unfold. Things take on a different sense and the more beautiful it is to meet a woman and even share a few words with her.
Women and men, you see, do not walk together and rarely talk together in public. Women are colourful or colourless bundles or beautiful framed eyes or even faces. They are dreams, because unless a man is married or goes to a prostitute, he will not see a naked woman…and few sights are more beautiful to a man (well, to me, I know some men prefer different sights).
Nakedness, however, has degrees. Once I went into a riad to talk to the owners and in front of me was a beautiful young woman who was working there as a maid. She has taken off her veil and it took me some strength not to stop and stare at her. Her hair, the way it framed her face, the ease of her features and the way she held herself. It seemed both secret and alluring to me. Later, after seeing the riad, I came down the stairs and saw a woman with a headscarf. I greeted her and she said, “C’est moi.” The beautiful young maid appeared from her features. It took me a moment to recognize her, as if she had become a different being by putting on her scarf.
So I suppose it may be in some cases. The veil is not always a prison, but sometimes a refuge. Men will consider an unveiled woman fair game, because of the different sensitivities as to what nakedness is. Fair game does not mean rape or molestation, by all means, since we are now in a culture where everything apparently needs to be taken to extremes, but simply an attempt to get together with that woman, subtle or unsubtle. Of course how much that affects each woman differently is unknown to me.
Islamic literature, poetry and even history have an immensely deep sensual side to them. We psychologically trained Westerners have the tendency to say: of course, they sublimate all their suppressed desires, but that is perhaps because we usually allow desires to run rampart in some ways. We feel better with explanations that tear away everything, but in a world where veils are prevalent, the senses are keener. Mysteries are appreciated because they speak to the imagination rather than the intellect.
Live, of course, is more multifacetted than most literature or poetry. It can be traumatic and altering if one has forcibly torn a veil from one’s face. Of course it is also traumatic and altering to be wrapped in something that one does not want around oneself. I wish everyone the patience and clarity to discern which situation is which and become aware what constitutes the veils you like to draw around yourselves, whether you are women or men.