Sunday, July 1, 2007


(Murrakush, or more commonly, Marrakech)

I'm medina-wandering a lot nowadays, trying to anticipate and memorize memorize those sights and sounds I will most miss. Today I think I will test whether Principessa's built-in microphone and GarageBand are able to adequately record the call to prayer from a hotel terrace over the medina...wish me luck. If you have any souvenir requests, by all means, make them - but otherwise I will try NOT to wallow in leaving-Fes too much. Besides, I'm behind on other stories, like the fact that I went to Marrakech over a month ago and never wrote about it, even though Marrakech is the one Moroccan city all the tourists, likely tourists and armchair tourists want to hear about.

Having adopted Fes as my home base, I expected to dismiss touristy Marrakech as a Disney-fied sellout, check it off my "been there, done that" list and return to my (obviously superior) town. Thankfully, the reality was more fun than that - Marrakech has made its concessions to the visitors but it's still very Moroccan also, and I enjoyed spending two days lost in its medina - and could have stayed longer.

First, the Jemma al-Fnaa, supposedly the largest public square on the African continent. Farrin and I arrived there after dark and so first discovered its nocturnal incarnation as a place of picnic-table eateries, a heaven of 3-dirham harira and overpriced tagines that bustled with life even at 10 pm. I asked directions to the hostel from the man at orange juice stand number 12 and made a mental note to return when next I needed a 3-dirham glass of fresh-squeezed.

Making dinner plans with Laura, I chose juice stand 12 as a meeting point and set out to find him once again. Approaching the row of juice carts and CD vendors, one man called out to me and I began to walk in his direction until I realized that his was juice stand number 13 and turned instead to my friend at 12. As I ordered a glass of grapefruit juice, the purveyor of stand 13 left his cart and came down to berate me for buying from a competitor, a tirade that ended in "fuck you! fuck you! fuck you!" Laura arrived just in time to witness my welcome to Marrakech, and we quietly rejoiced in returning to stand 12 as often as possible during our stay, partly for delicious fresh juice and partly to watch the man in stand 13 throw evil eyes our way.

The next morning Farrin and I set out to get lost in the medina - an easy task considering I had not brought my guidebook along and therefore had no map. The streets were generally wider than the alleyways of Fes, and they all had names and markers, a very un-Moroccan level of organization indeed. The salesmen on the main streets had all learned just enough English to shout "Fish and chips!" at us as we walked by, which both confused and amused me greatly. We soon wandered aimlessly away from the main streets and past the mosques, schools and shops - including one restored museum-madrassa - of the central city before reaching another gate and hailing a taxi back to meet Laura for lunch.

For the afternoon we meandered through the Palais al-Bahia and took advantage of its cool, shadowed gardens during the heat of the afternoon. I took photos of the tilework, plaster carvings and painted wood. My comparison of a floral design on one shutter to Norwegian rosemaling earned me the nickname Wikipedia for knowing one obscure trivium too many, apparently. After taking our pictures of arches, windows and walls, we returned to the Jmaa al-Fnaa and watched the sunset from a café terrace before descending to the square for more orange juice and harira.

For day two, I negotiated myself a shirt-length caftan for half the original price and navigated my way to a small riadh-cum-art studio to see a photography exhibit and drink spiced coffee. After one last bowl of addictive harira and a stop at the juice stand to get a liter-bottle filled for the road, Farrin and I caught the evening train back home and found myself once more in Morocco's soul and my own little house early the next morning.

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