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Splendours of Morocco by Izza Genini, photography by Jacques Bravo and Xavier Richer
published in 2000 by Tauris Parke Books, London & New York

I want to stamp mud all over Splendours of Morocco. I want to scuff up the pages, throw it in the gutter, staple together some pages, spill coffee over its cover and bury it for thirty years. Only then might I like it. As it is, fresh off the press with all its hundreds of beautiful colour pages smelling faintly of ink, I feel nothing but distaste for it. It is an odd emotion for me for I have a completely unbalanced affection for Morocco. I love books about Morocco. I love postcards about Morocco. I love photographs about Morocco. I love films about Morocco. I love Moroccan music and Moroccan food. Why do I dislike Splendours of Morocco so much?

Is it because it looks like a collected edition of all the publicity stills of the Moroccan Tourist Board? No it can't be that. I avidly collect these pamphlets and posters. They have variety. If you look back across the last few decades they provide an intriguing shift in cultural perceptions. It was all couples on the beach in the 60's, palm shaded golf courses in the 70's, adventure hiking in the 80's while we are well immersed in the decade of the bazaar and the palace hotel.

Is it because the book fails to include a single photograph of a working modern city, a motorway, an airport, let alone a train or a car? Ok, we don't need tractor factories, rubbish dumps, traffic jams, dead junkies and power stations. But we could have coped with a street cafe, a newsagent or a packed rural bus. Far from bannishing just the 20th century, the picture editor seems to have decided to remove any trace of the 19th century as well. We have only camels and mounted cavaliers.

Is it because the book is completely obsessed with the poor subsistence economy of the Berber mountain villages? Is it because the endless succession of handsome portrait photographs of these women at their festivals give a completely false impression of the country? No modern traveller will see such faces which are determinedly veiled at the approach of any stranger. However I have learnt just how desperate the average group of camera-wielding visitors are to secure similar such images.

The text, a page long introduction to each chapter of photographs, is concise and informative. There is much good detail here, the Casablanca suburbs of Ain Diab and Ain Sebaa are revealed to be "eye of the wolf" and the "eye of the lion" whilst I was fascinated to read that Andalucia is derived from anda lucia, 'before the sun'. However it is clearly translated from an original French text. No-one would with a respect for English would claim on page 57 that the bustling 700,000 strong city of Meknes "retains a passion for horses, and all the traditions associated with them". On the following page the traditional Moroccan equestrian display, the fantasia, is deemed to be "a living tableau based on the paintings of Eugene Delacroix and others". This is very strong, even from the French. However the assertion on page 77 that the Atlas Berbers find, "the possession of any forms of telecommunications is considered shameful" is just too bizarre to contradict. Buy it and bury it.

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