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Field Lab: An Afternoon in the Caliph's House



May 19, 2014


Field Lab: An Afternoon in the Caliph's House

Dar Khalifa

On a recent field lab in Morocco, Professor Natalie Bakopoulos’ Travel Writing class traveled to the home of author Tahir Shah in the southern outskirts of Casablanca. Crossing through a rambling shantytown and down a narrow white-walled lane, they arrived at Shah’s oasis, Dar Khalifa.

Shah, a prolific novelist and travel writer, wrote about how he was lured from England to Casablanca in his book The Caliph’s House. In the book he describes the attraction of Morocco, “The kingdom had always been a place of escape, a place of astonishing intensity, but, beyond all else, a place with a soul.” 

Bakopoulos’ class had the great fortune of meeting the author in Dar Khalifa, the home that brought him to Morocco. They wandered through a secret passageway, browsed the library, saw the view from the roof, and glimpsed Shah’s working spaces. All the while they were able to picture the scenes they had been reading in class from The Caliph’s House.

Amidst the sounds of birds chirping and roosters crowing, they gathered in one of the leafy courtyards to speak with the acclaimed author about his career and the craft of travel writing. Professor Bakopoulos explained, “Tahir made it clear that writing was both artistry and rigor, both creative inspiration and simple hard work. That sentences don’t just spring fully formed and perfect from our fingertips as we type but that each line, each word, each moment must be crafted and edited. I loved the way he was so passionate, so adamant, about the fact that language and its arrangement are just as important as content. Not only what is being said but how.”

As the shadows moved across the courtyard and the afternoon call to prayer rang out from three neighborhood mosques, the class departed for the MV Explorer. The students left exhilarated from the unique opportunity to visit Shah’s beautiful home and inspired by the insights he shared with them about the craft of writing.

Students from Professor Bakopoulos’ Travel Writing class enter the author’s home (left). They marveled at Dar Khalifa, including the library lined from top to bottom with all manner of books and memorabilia (right).
Shah (far right) invited the class into his office where computers hum, hard drives whir, ideas percolate, and novels are written.
A row of Shah’s published novels line the windowsill in his home office.
On top of Dar Khalifa, Shah shares the story of acquiring his home and tells of how he came to know his neighbors in the surrounding shantytown.
Loren Manson from Chapman University learns how to keep on top of writing projects by looking at Shah’s checklists in his secondary office.
Eileen Ford from Boston University, Annie Chapin from Chapman University, and Thomas Bruno from the University of San Diego look on while Shah discusses his meticulous planning process and shows the class his bound notes from his books.
Christina Telesco from the University of San Diego asks Shah about the creative process (left). Professor Bakopoulos, Jenna Peck from Southern Methodist University, and Kiri Campbell from Northern Arizona University listen to Shah while he discusses how he finds inspiration in both the exotic and ordinary (right).
Professor Bakopoulos’s Travel Writing class poses with Shah in the courtyard of Dar Khalifa before returning to the ship.
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