Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Morocco – Giving Marrakech One Last Try

Coming back in to Morocco, we immediately felt more at ease, as our Riad was located in a more central part of town heavily traveled by tourists. It just felt more “friendly”, although there were certainly people all around us urging us to part with our money. However, we did have one scare after a quick dinner at a small cafeteria, when we returned to the Riad and Suzanne realized that she left her purse there – something she has NEVER done since I have known her! I had flashes of panic, wondering how we were ever going to cancel all our credit cards and important documents from a foreign country where we don’t speak the language and our phones weren’t working! Fortunately when I arrived, her purse was sitting on the table and the owner had been keeping an eye on it, awaiting our return. I thanked him profusely and returned to the Riad relieved, feeling the adrenaline still coursing through my veins. Over the next few days, we enjoyed several of the major palaces in the city, which interestingly were not well preserved and paled in comparison to the Alhambra and the Mezquita in Spain. It had always surprised me to hear people say “if you want to see the finest examples of Moroccan design, go to Spain”, but now I get it. In the spirit of cultural experience, I got sucked into one shopkeeper’s lair, ostensibly to enjoy a cup of mint tea and discuss life in America. Of course, this quickly degraded into a “perhaps you would like to look at a few carpets while you are here” marathon, where he must have brought out over 50 carpets for me to look at in spite of my countless protestations. What ensued was a painstaking review of which carpets I MIGHT find somewhat interesting. After rejecting 49 outright, I hesitated on one and that was enough to start the bargaining process. He drew out 2 columns on a sheet of paper and asked me to name a price. At first I refused, telling him we had absolutely no room to take home a carpet under any price, but he would not back down. Ultimately this ended with an offer so low, he was insulted and demanded a tip for his “hospitality”. It was worth a euro to pay for his pot of tea and get out of there! We later wandered through an amazing distribution center of Moroccan hand crafted furniture and brightly colored home decoration items. Suzanne called this her version of “torture” - being amongst all these amazingly beautiful pieces without buying anything! Particularly since we had no room in our luggage and no clear idea of what to buy for (as you may know, our house has been on the market all this time and we still don’t know exactly where we will end up after the summer). So she had to suck it up, bite her lip and somehow get through the next several days empty-handed. I must say I could not relate completely to her struggles, but it certainly looked like she was in a lot of pain… One of the most fascinating places was the Jmaa el Fnaa plaza – the central square in Marrakech. As the sun got low in the sky, the square came alive, as the food stalls were set up for grilled meats, stews, sheep’s heads, boiled snails and all sorts of other interesting things. With all the smoke and flames from the grills, the square almost looked on fire every night. In the background, small bands would form in the plaza, playing flutes and drums and people were out everywhere, congregating around fortune tellers and street performers. It was a mesmerizing experience and was a microcosm of the amazing intensity of this country – the sights, sounds, and smells – all at a level that was both exhilarating and overwhelming. Kind of like Vegas without the kitsczh! It seemed at times our kids were in a state of sensory overload and it will be interesting to see what they recall from this trip when they look back.

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