Sunday, June 4, 2006

Portrait of a King

The other day, as I approached Agdal's main drag, I couldn't help but see a gentleman standing in the middle of the road. This in and of itself is not abnormal: people stand in the middle of the road all time here - it's how we cross a street. I should add though that he was wearing a bright red construction hat. For a moment I thought that there might be construction going on and he was directing traffic, but no - on closer inspection, his "hard" hat would have broken every safety violation known to mankind (it actually looked like a kid's Tonka plaything) and - wait - what's he holding? - a photograph. Ahhhh, I now see that he's standing in the middle of Follow the Leader, wearing a bright red children's play hat and he's holding up a framed photo of the king like he was Norma Rae. Curious, no?

So thought the taxi driver who had pulled over to give me a lift. I asked him what Bob Abdul the Builder was up to, and my driver had no clue. He added that Abdul the Builder's position, being kitty-corner to and in direct view of the police station on Al Atlas, suggested that he was a brick short of that celebrated load. But as my taxi sped away downtown, I couldn't get that image of Abdul the Builder holding the photograph of the Mohammed VI out of my head. Perhaps he was demonstrating. Perhaps he was begging. Perhaps he was nuts. Perhaps he was showing the world yet another awful photo of the king.

Before moving to Rabat last fall, Mr. Cat in Rabat & I had visited five years earlier, just weeks after Mohammed VI (M6) had been crowned. We couldn't help but notice the gazillion photos of the king which were tacked, taped and stapled to the walls of just about every establishment we entered, from hanoots to bus stations. Perhaps because of his age and youthfulness (he will probably look like a teenager when he's 80), images of the then wild & crazy bachelor king astride his jetski - a little trop, no? - were ubiquitous, earning him a few unpleasant sobriquets (majetski comes to mind). At least he wasn't wearing a Speedo. Now in his 40's, married and a father, his more recent photos hint at the grim dual realities of middle-age spread and a receding hairline. Okay - my point in all of this? - I am appalled that M6 not only takes such lousy photos (even those by his official photographers) but that they and the more candid (& horrifically bad) shots of him enjoy such widespread popularity. He takes crappy photos and they are everywhere. Everywhere. I'm sure he's a very nice man, a loving husband & a doting father, but photogenic he isn't.

He's been king now for almost 6 years and in every posed photograph he looks as stiff and uncomfortable as a 17 year old at his shotgun wedding. Looking slightly off-camera, he normally purses his lips or affects a smile that suggests that a nervous laugh is emitting from the royal mouth as the photographer cries cheese. It is not that I am without sympathy. I recoil from cameras. I will seldom allow my photo to be taken because I too suffer the lot of the unphotogenic. But, given enough money, even the most lens-cracking subject can find a competent enough airbrush artist photographer. So what gives M6? I live from paycheque to paycheque - what's your excuse?

I must confess that the candid ones make me howl. Sometimes he's walking into the wind with his face all scrunched up and his jacket flapping into the wind - it's not very attractive but I've seen dozens of these photos. Or, he's gussied up in religious garb so that he looks like a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and a woodland pixie. His administration should just ban cameras from any and all of his public engagements and, while they're at it, they can poke around for a new royal photographer. On the off chance that His Majesty deigns to take my advice, I'll have to act quickly & pick up one of his postcard-size photos before the good ones disappear. I could tape it to my wall. It seems like the thing to do. Next time I'm downtown, I'll stop by one of the sidewalk sellers and browse through his collection. If I can find one of M6 on his jetski then I'll buy it. Those have become rather scarce these days - perhaps, they are deemed undignified - although the two 3-meter high images of M6 which flank a flatscreen plasma TV in the new Goldstar store on Follow the Leader aren't particularly. I can't imagine finding larger-than-life effigies of Queen Elizabeth on display in electronics stores throughout London. Go figure.

In any case, I did see a jetski photo a few weeks back here in Agdal. If I need my M6-as-playboy fix, I know where to find it.

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