Thursday, October 30, 2014

A few days in Morocco

Marrakech  (52)I leaned against the coral-colored plaster, watching the river of life flowing past.  Boxy yellow taxis, carts pulled by nodding donkeys, motorbikes spitting blue haze into the warm, dry desert air. ‘ Easy to distinguish in a crowd, my white hair and black tee stood out in a culture that wears neither.  As a result, I regularly got directed towards shops or away from the Tannery, navigating through bits of the unfamiliar city.

Misdirecting by answering in Dutch turned out to be little help: some spoke it better than I did.

It can all be disorienting; it can all be exhilarating.  But standing along a street in Marrakesh on a warm clear morning, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

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I’d been looking for a chance to visit Morocco for past year.  It’s a short, inexpensive hope from London (half-off if flown via Casablanca) but a world away in culture and cuisine.  A traditional riad near the Medina offered location and airport connections, immersion in the local neighborhood and proximity to souks and museums.

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It was a wonderful few days getaway, exotic and relaxing, fun and challenging.   Photography can be tricky, but the colour and contrasts, red walls against blue skies under strong light and dark archways, are marvelous.

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The city feels clean and safe, very energetic and alive, from mid-morning (nobody stirs much before 9 am) to late at night (people typically eat around 9 pm) .  The mosques and markets dominate much of the street life in Marrakech’s core,DSC09272 (1008x1300) people quieting at the call to worship, resuming commerce and conversation a moment afterwards. 

Everyone (except for customs agents) was friendly, ever-ready to guide (for a price) or to haggle (over a price), but always attentive at meals and conversational when I had a question.   Still, there are a thousand tradesman’s tricks that inevitably cost 20 dirham (two euro) at each turn, from upselling orange juice to splitting entry fees, night tariffs on taxis to charging for ice slipped into a glass of water.

No matter: at the end of a couple of days, it happened less and less and the w.wezen ( a veteran traveller to the city) and I collected some good stories. And, progress of sorts,  one vendor told me I’d started haggling like a Berber on the last day.

I hope it’s a compliment.

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A tour group scurried by, a local holding an arm up while the flock peered nervously side-to-side, a few clutching shirt-necks over their mouths against the traffic fumes.  They would also see the markets and museums, the restaurants and snake charmers.  But I like the freedom and independence of picking the itinerary, finding my way, diving into the whirl of the Jamaa El-Fna and down the covered alleyways of the Medina.

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But, mostly, I liked sipping a coffee, talking, and watching the river of people and conveyances flow past.  Still photographs don’t do it justice: here’s what a random minute looks like, leaning against a wall at a turn along the Rue Bahia Bab Mellah.

A minute watching people flow through the city.

It’s so different, but everyone has their physical niche and social place.  I wonder whether the world in 100 years will tend towards becoming more planned like London City or more organic like Marrakesh: I’m betting on the latter.

‘Lots of stories to come, and I’ve posted pictures at my Flickr site.

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