Morocco - Part 1
After the inevitable delays en route, the Menara airport at
Before long we had left our luggage in the Riad and headed out for dinner, with the kind of insurmountable appetite one displays on holiday. The Djema El Fna at this late hour was quiet save dimming light of the shops and café’s lining the Djema and the couple of food stalls, serving rudimentary kebabs, salads and coffee, while we caught up excitedly about experiences since we last met. The chameleon-like nature of the Djema El Fna wasn’t to become clear to us till the next day…
Waking up the next morning in the Riad, was a slow and gradual process with oodles of time passing between wakefulness and any form of mobility, competing amongst the three of us for languor, till we were in danger of missing the mid-day sun. The many sounds of the Riad drifting and sifting through the windows reminded us of the world going about its business outside, like the man collecting old and used vessels who goes by with his plaintive cry and his wheelbarrow,. The Riad set inside the alleyways of the old city, is not unusual to old Indian “haveli”s or the ancient houses you will even today in many parts of
During the day, through the same walls all over the Djema el Fna and the numerous Souks that lead off from them are splashed with a thousand shades of red and orange. The souks are crowded, bustling and seemingly caught in the perpetual motion of trading. Organized by type of product – you can make your way through the Leather souk, the spices souk, the wood work souk and a dozen that take some finding, the souks are as inviting to shoppers as they are to those just wishing to immerse themselves in the local flavour. As in any developing country, the number of people who appear to be just there, doing not a lot is very high. But somehow, everybody is involved. Everybody can become the face that you turn to for directions or for asking the price. Neighbouring shops may have the same owner, salesmen or you might find shops which are unattended – where the proprietor may have gone for a mid-afternoon siesta, or perhaps to have a neighbourly discussion with a friend down the in souk. You’ll never really know. Through the bamboo slats above, the sun streams in, striping everything in light and shade, adding to the mystery of the Souk. The carpet stalls draw you in eagerly. They tell you they are your friend. As soon as they discover you’re Indian, they reel off half a dozen movies, film stars and burst into Bollywood love songs. Trading is done with a nod to tradition. The man who makes crepes (or what we’ve grown up calling parathas in
When you’re tired of the clamour of the Souk, you step back into the sun at the Djema El Fna – all roads lead to the Djema. At every hour, the tone and nature of the Djema change… till suddenly, it’s a whole different place. At 4 in the afternoon, the snake charmers, and fortune tellers are still going strong. The flea markets, and trinket sellers are thinking about winding up and a little lull has set in after the frenetic activity at noon, where drums from the dancers compete with the pipes from the snake charmers and the acrobats perform outside the cafes. As the sun continues to dip, and darkness shrouds the place, by some miracle there are a hundred food stalls which have appeared and furious consumption of kebabs and tagines is the only activity in the Djema. Interspersed by the prayer times, when the sounds of the prayer ring out from the visible mosques behind the jema. The feeding will frenzy will continue till it all winds down again to the last two food stalls which will serve the late-nighters.
Through all of this, two things stand out quite dramatically, but don’t really present themselves to you upfront – you discover them as you spend more and more time here. The first is the complete lack of aggression. Through the bargaining at the souks, to the jostling in every alleyway, and from negotiating rates to negotiating your journey through the old town as cycles and scooters dodge in and out of pedestrian traffic at impossible speeds, there is a harmony and an acceptance which never rises to aggression or anger. Any angst is kept well controlled, and perhaps expressed in a rueful smile rather than a frown. Apologies come quickly – be it the shopkeeper who tells you how sorry he is that he cannot sell you the piece you want at the price you want it, or the drunkard to tells you how India and Africa share the same sadness. The other is the utter lack of advertising and hoardings. The only signs are at the shops, banks, tourist offices or other places of commerce. There are no advertising hoardings in Marrakech. Whether it’s planned or just another small reason why it continues to preserve its medieval aura – right down to the chamelions, parrots, monkeys and turtles – in cages, on chains or in shows, walking into the Al Medina in Marrakech is like stepping into a time machine.
20 minutes and a thousand years away, across the city lies Guelitz – where you might remember that this is after all the 21st century. Guelitz boasts of bars, Chinese food (best avoided) and even smoky night clubs replete with live performances and scantily clad women. This is a world so hard to reconcile with the old city of
In that other, old, Marrakech, food can be an exciting experience as well. The Le Foundouk, turned out to be a gastronomic tour de force. The walk needless to say required us to enlist local help to negotiate the labyrinthine alleys, but the wonderful food like my order of lamb tagine with almonds and prunes left a lingering memory long after the taste had gone.
When we finally said goodbye to Marrakech, it was with the same gentleness and hospitality. Loaded into a small minibus, which allowed us and our luggage plenty of breathing room, we had an easy journey to Essouira, stopping for yet another sumptuous meal at a roadside café.