VILLA SIMONT, ROUTE DE CASABLANCA 1.11.38

Cannot yet get any definite ideas as to the land system here. All the land round here is either cultivated or what passes as cultivable, except for a few spurs of hills. We are just within the edge of the huge palm plantation which runs round the northern side of Marrakech and must be thousands of acres. The land between the palm trees is mostly cultivated the same as the fields. But there are no or very few boundaries and I cannot find out whether the peasants own their own plots or rent it, whether everyone owns a plot, and whether any land is owned communally. I suspect that some must be, as the fields lying fallow count as pastures for the sake of the few patches of weeds growing on them, and the flocks of sheep and goats are grazed everywhere. Possibly there are private plots for cultivation but common grazing rights. The palms grow in a completely haphazard way and it is difficult to believe that they can be privately owned.

Immediately round our house it is an area mainly of vegetation and fruit gardens. There appear to be some good peasants who cultivate fairly considerable plots and keep them in fairly good order. There are also large and well-ordered market gardens, generally walled off and owned by Europeans or rich Arabs – generally the latter, I think. Contrasting their ground with that of the ordinary peasants, one sees the enormous difference made here by having the capital to run water conduits.

Ploughing is now going on everywhere after the recent heavy rain. From the size of the plots evidently some cereal crop. Here and there a little wheat or some other grain coming up, presumable winter wheat sown at much the same time as in England. The local plough is a wretched thing made entirely from wood except for the share, which is merely a kind of iron point fitted over a wooden bar. The whole apparatus can easily be carried on one’s shoulder. The share stirs the ground about 4” to 6” deep, and presumably most of the soil is never cultivated deeper than this. Nevertheless some of it does not look bad, and in places, eg. the orange grove round our house, it is extremely deep, about 4 feet (ie. the top-soil.) The lack of a wheel on the plough makes it much harder for the men and beasts and almost impossible to plough straight furrows. Oxen are mostly used, but also all the other beasts except camels, and an ox and a donkey sometimes yoked together. Should say a yoke of oxen could plough about half an acre in a day.

Chief crops round here: palms, olive, pomegranates, maize, chilis°, lucerne, most of the European vegetables (beans, cabbages, tomatoes, marrows, pumpkins, peas and radishes [1] ), brinjals, oranges, and some cereals, I do not yet know which. Oranges seem chiefly grown by Europeans, also lemons. Pomegranates are about over, dates coming to an end. I fancy that Lucerne, which grows quickly and is cropped when about a foot high, is grown all the year round. It is the principal fodder here and is sold [2] at 10c. for a bundle about 3” thick. Maize, used for fodder, probably also grown all the year round, and most of the vegetables. Quality of most of the plants very poor, owing no doubt to poor soil and still more to lack of capital for equipment. eg. tomatoes are grown without sticks and are wretched plants. Of the animals, the sheep seem to do best on the miserable pasture, and besides making quite good mutton have excellent fleeces. Most of the other animals wretched, and no milk-yielding animals have udders of any size on them. A good class Spanish goat costs almost the same as a cow, which gives one hint of the latter’s milking qualities. Fowls are like the Indian fowl. All animals abominably treated but astonishingly docile. Tools are extremely primitive. No spades or European forks, only hoes of the Indian style. Cultivation is made much more laborious by the lack of water, because every field has to be partitioned off into tiny plots with earth banks in between, to conserve water. Not only small children but also very old women work in the fields, women who must be at least 60, probably 70, clearing roots etc. with pick-axes.

The typical Arab village is a large enclosure with high mud walls, which look like one huge house. Inside are the usual miserable huts, mostly of straw or palm thatch, shaped like beehives, about eight feet wide and seven high. All the people round here seem to fear robbers and like to feel themselves shut in at night. Except in the temporary field huts used for watching ripe crops, no one sleeps outside the enclosure of the village.

Have not yet got to the bottom of the reason for the very high price of cereals. eg. in the market a decalitre of wheat, weighing about 40lb. costs Frs. 30 or over ld a pound even in English money. Bread is correspondingly expensive. (Last month price of wheat officially fixed at Frs. 158 the quintal. See cutting V.M.[3], 9.10.38.)

Ramadan has begun. The Arabs here seem fairly strict about their observances, but I gather they sometimes eat forbidden things, eg. I suspect they will sometimes eat an animal that has died a natural death. Our servant and M.S.’s caretaker thought it all right to eat a fowl pecked to death by the others. They appear to be strict about not drinking.[4]

Troops often passing on their way to the rifle range nearby. They look pretty good, spirits very good and marching style better that I had expected, better than ordinary French conscripts. Harold Maral, who did his military service in the Zouaves, says the latter are largely Algerian Jews and greatly looked down on by other regiments. I gather that in Morocco proper Jews are not recruited. One meets everywhere here with signs of hostility to Jews, not only among Arabs but also Europeans. Jews are said to undercut, cheat, take other people’s jobs etc., etc. (see cutting P.M. [5], 18.10.38).

[1] In the margin is a note in Orwell’s hand, with no indication of where it fits: ‘potatoes (poor).’.

[2]‘used’ is crossed out and replaced with ‘sold’.

[3] La Vigie Marocaine, a local newspaper.

[4] Marginal note in Orwell’s hand (though not precisely related to this paragraph): ‘M. also eats left-over scraps from our table.’ Eating such scraps is forbidden during Ramadan. M. stands for Mahdjoub Mahommed, ‘our servant’; see 502.

[5] Le Petit Marocain, a Casablancan daily morning newspaper. Peter Davison

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8 Responses to VILLA SIMONT, ROUTE DE CASABLANCA 1.11.38

  1. George~~

    Thank you for the snapshot.

    A huge palm plantation. Thousands of acres of palms growing wild like weeds. Living in the middle of a garden. Bustling agricultural activity.

    I presume the elephant is used to drag the palms around?????

  2. Kenneth says:

    He does seem to be quite fixated on the plows, doesn’t he?

  3. Natalie says:

    God, I’ve always thought it must suck when Ramadan occurs over the harvesting time. Not eating all day is one thing, but going without water while doing physical labor? Better men than I.

  4. CAL says:

    Has anyone been in that area recently? I hope life has improved for both the people and the animals since 1938. Better plows, perhaps, and more water available.

  5. dave says:

    Sounds like a great place to retire to;if you like poverty,baselesness and semi-starvation!

    JL3 I missed the elephant..how is this possible? I know he shot one in India (which to my mind he didn’t sufficiently justify in his essay…

    You can do any thing with (date) palm trees;food,fuel,lumber. I think the price of grain,oats etc reflects the soil and climate.

    Why DID he choose this place to convalesce? anybody know?

  6. Yes. One attempts to avert one’s thoughts from the sufficiency of the plumbing system, doesn’t one…..

    I suspect the Villa Simont has all of the amenities, though.

    Sitting near the open window, sipping a refreshment, watching the traffic on the Road to Casablanca, deep-breathing the bouquet of floral aromas as palms sway in the background under a clear sky.

    When is the next scheduled departure of the Marrakesh Express?

  7. My seemingly-irrelevant elephant-reference was spawned by an over-indulgence in Marc Chagall, flying-aspidistra and gratuitous-hyphenation. In my opinion, there is a need for a somehow inferior (insane, perhaps?) elephant standing around in this picture.

  8. dave says:

    JL3; maybe you were thinking of camels…

    “no milk yielding animals have udders of any size on them…

    he’s keeping an eye out for the perfect udder,on a “good class spanish goat”

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