Friday, July 30, 2010

Midnight in Marrakech

Ok. Let’s be honest here. I have never blogged in my life and I am still not really clear on the concept. But I will give it a try. We have been in Morocco for four weeks and I have already had a myriad of experiences, everything from the absolutely delightful and transcendent, to the trying and tedious. One of my very favorite experiences was while we were in Marrakech. Marrakech is a big city, rather exciting and hip for the southern part of Morocco. Marrakech has a long history as a center of power in Morocco and was a terminus of the Trans-Saharan trade. Marrakech also has a long history as a tourist attraction, drawing foreigners who imagine the “exotic,” the possible, when they visit. We are talking Edward Said orientalism at its best here. But it was not the tourism or the imagined exotic that colored our visit. Instead it was the heat. While we were in Marrakech it was hot as hell (covered well in Aileen’s blog.) The famous square, Djemaa el Fna, was unbearable in the afternoon heat. Just walking across the square at midday to get a taxi seemed nearly impossible. Being the only one from Sacramento on the trip I had convinced myself that I could take the heat. But really I could barely stand it. At times the plaza seemed to stretch on forever and at one point I was sure that I would pass out from the heat. As foreigners we were not he only ones suffering. Even the few Moroccans working the tourist crowd seemed wilted in the heat. In fact, the famous square was largely deserted during the heat of the day. Only a few venders, and a few snake and monkey handlers braved the heat under their umbrellas. Even the hustle and bustle of the shaded market slowed down in the heat of the afternoon. Only gradually, very gradually, when the sun set would the heat begin to lesson. And that is when the fun began.
It was our last night in Marrakech. We ate a huge meal very late, as usual, around ten o’clock. After dinner Joel, Eddie and I decided to go back to the square. I wanted to say goodbye properly to Marrakech, see the square one more time, and grab some dried fruits and nuts from the venders for our trip to the coast the next day. So the three of us jumped in a taxi and headed for the square. As we rode in the taxi I noticed that the streets had come to life as the heat dissipated. There were people jammed into the parks and sidewalks—kids in strollers, families having picnics at night, groups of young people promenading. As we got to the square the crowds were incredible. The square that had been largely empty during the day came to life at night! It was packed with people. A whole row of food stands had been set up all along one side. Even many of the shop stalls were still open. Orange juice stands were still in full swing, and, as I had hoped, the nuts and fruit venders as well. We shopped a bit. Eddie got a beautiful lampshade out of camel skin, I got a couple of t-shirts, and Joel just helped us bargain. Buying “stuff” in the markets is definitely part of the experience of being a tourist in Morocco. If you get into the sprit of the game it can be fun. Eddie developed this theory of good bargainer, bad bargainer—like good cop bad cop. Eddie and I were more the “good bargainer” type, a bit more polite and softspoken. Joel, on the other hand, would step in as the tough guy and go for the hard sell, or hard buy I should say. A bit later Louis and Ben joined us and they all downed some steamed snails from one of the food venders. By the look on their faces I was glad I hadn’t tried them. We all had some of the delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice and I finally got my dried figs and almonds. The vendor did get a little annoyed with me. I wanted to mix and match. Very American. We tried to get some evening shots of the Mosque. We couldn’t quite capture it, as this blog can’t quite capture the evening, but the midnight visit was a perfect way to say goodbye to Marrakech.

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