Life & Travels Afloat in our Moody
The very name raises all sorts of images, probably most of aging hippies with hash-addled bodies and minds. One can imagine how it might have been in the 1960s, but today is rather different, and maybe not always for the better. Whilst the modern world is addressed by much of the outskirts, it is the centre that tourists are drawn to. The walled inner city is a maze of narrow streets and alleys with a single huge square in its midst.
Nothing is as it seems. Doorways in tiny alleys open out into havens of peace and tranquillity. Thus dusty decrepid exterior is replaced by cool, delightfully decorated courtyards and rooms. Our guest-house also had a very welcome plunge pool, a cool oasis in the sweltering heat. The two elements are in such contrast as to defy the imagination.
Doorways are openings into the imagination. A street door with a lightly tiled surround may open into a labyrinth of formerly ornate rooms with astonishing ceilings. And yet this magnificence is just a hint of the former glory, for most of such buildings have lost their wealthy patrons who have been supplanted by the traders of the souk. Nowhere is this more evident than in the trading halls of the architectural salvage merchants. One suspects that their market is facing foreign custom than local restoration.
And having broached the subject of the souk and its trade, one is forced to confront the reality of today. It is a tale of the hunters and the hunted, for the souk is the battleground for the rape of the tourist. The vast majority of trade is about separation, the parting of the tourist from his/her money. Salesmen here make timeshare sales people look like charity workers. Everything is about pressure, with slices being demanded by all and sundry. For example, they seek to deny one the ability to even hail a taxi, by trying to stand between you and the desired cab, hand held out in assertive expectation.
Much of what is being sold is of low quality, from imitation Arabic teasets to Dr Dre knock-off headphones, (a bargain at £5 a set !). Yet there is genuine quality and unusual items can be found of amazing quality. These can be inexpensive, such as the wooden marquetry, or fascinating, like the natural pharmacies. Remember that argan oil? It is to be found here, both as a deliciously nutty edible oil for salads, or refined into a non-greasy moisturiser. Some of the other offers in these unusual establishments are equally tempting, with just the right equilibrium between evident proven natural remedies and claims just shy of snake oil! It would be even more impressive if the goods were sold at prices that had a chance to be remotely affordable by the Morrocan people.
I won’t go into the machinations of the carpet salesmen, suffice it to say that they could make a good living out of obtaining blood donations from stones!
Night-time brings out the crowds. The main square is filled with temporary dining facilities, each with multi-lingual ‘snatchers’ intent on press-ganging the mildy peckish onto their table. That is perhaps a bit unkind as most are very good-humoured and make for entertaining exchanges. Others congregate around street theatre performers and snake charmers. One feels for the snakes really, the lengths they have to go to just to minimise the annoyingly shrill shrieking of the charmer’s pipe!
On the advice of our guest-house (riad) manager, we headed for the Al-Barack restaurant. There we were served with exceedingly welcome large g & t’s, the first for many weeks. The starter course was along the lines of tapas, wonderful vegetable dishes along with nuts and olives. In truth, I would have been happy at that stage, but tagine chicken supported by a mountain of lamb and vegetable couscous defeated us all. Orange and fig desert felt like a sort of digestif after this. Then the music started, and sooner after came the belly-dancer. A well-proportioned young lady, graceful in her moves, drew the eyes of almost all. Paying attention to each table in turn, it was the Janet Jackson-style ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that helped young Max’s eyes leap out on stalks.
Especially when she drew him up for a dance with her…… Poor lad was never the same after that.
And so it came for time to make our separate ways, Suky and Max to the airport, and us back to the boat. Marrakesh seemed to be so much at odds with our previous experience in the ports further north, where the character of the local people reflected true friendliness and welcome. That latter experience tempered our enjoyment of Marrakesh, and made us glad to leave it behind.