Landscapes have a funny way of evoking emotions in the people who traverse them. According to The Book of Human Emotions, the Russian word toska is one such phenomenon. Toska is said to evoke a maddening feeling and a deep curiosity within oneself that is impossible to satisfy. A man named Vladimir Nabokov describes toska as “a dull ache” of the soul, and “a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restfulness.” After familiarizing myself with this word, I believe that what I felt as I walked through Chefchaouen was just that.
We took our time exploring the blue city, the hues of the medina walls ranging from pale periwinkles to dark indigo. Vendors lined the walkways, their colorful crafts spilling out of their market stalls, and flower pots decorated the walls we passed. As we walked the streets, I felt a calmness wash over me. It wasn’t the typical feeling of tranquility that you might expect; it was rather a feeling that I experience often. It was the familiar sensation of pure melancholy, that “feeling blue” that sinks into your bones, the kind of wistful calm that leaves you curious and produces feeling a muted ache deep in your soul. I felt my focus drift away from our group as I found myself wondering about each person we passed. How did they live? Is there something that they’re passionate about? What’s their story?
Some may not find this sort of melancholic curiosity to be a pleasant feeling, but I experience it so often that I have learned to welcome it. The feeling carried with me during our travels into the heart of the Rif Mountains. As I observed how the craggy mountaintops gave way to the thick treeline, I found myself wondering how different my life would be if I had never gotten the chance to experience these places.