Full Circle

July 16, 2007 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Full circle, back in Marrakesh for two nights to return the car, regroup, and plan the rest of our trip.  This time, Marrakesh felt more familiar, certainly cooler, than it had seemed when we left it.  Now we had traditions, strange as that seems.  Back to the Jama al Fna for dinner, harira first.  This time, the man who had been pressing William a week earlier won out, and we had dinner at the booth of the one who always talked about Thomas Hardy and English writers.  After dinner, as we moved off to listen to a group of drummers surrounded by a circle of spectators, our host pulled William aside.  “You don’t believe me, do you?  I studied English literature.”  He pulled out his notebook and began reading his own poetry. 

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Bahia Palace the next day, another structure with outrageously impressive ornamentation: carved wood ceilings, carved stone decoration, zilij tile mosaics, inlaid marble floors.  In 1912, French officers took it over as their Marrakesh headquarters.  Only part of it has been restored, part is now used by the King. 

When it began to cool off, we spent a bit of time in the market next to the square.  Katie bought a new purse to replace the one she got last summer in Turkey, worn out from a year of constant use.  This one had already begun fraying.  We picked it up from the man who had sold it to her.  Muhammad talked with us about fabrics and prices, then sent us down the shops to a man who sold very nice jalabas.  This shopkeeper used to be a Math professor, but when the university switched from French to Arabic, he explained, he couldn’t continue.  “I’m Berber,” he explained. Now a designer, seller and exporter of caftans, jalabas, jackets, and blouses, he loves his current work. 

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For our last evening, we returned to the square, to the booth we had visited our first night in Marrakesh.  Her husband told us that Rashida, one of the cooks and the person for whom the space was named, began as the first woman cook on the square 24 years ago; she was still only one of two women who worked at the food booths.  She has a huge smile, a big hat, and I’m sure she must have heard me that first night exclaiming that we needed to go to the booth with the woman cook–she seemed terribly amused then, and again seeing us a week later.   It seemed the crowds had grown even larger, and there appeared to be more musicians.  But the performer that still intrigued me most was the story-teller.  Constantly surrounded by large audiences and accompanied by three musicians, he seemed every night to delight his listeners with new tales.  They smiled, then laughed, grew serious.  Watching their faces was quite remarkable.  The square has been named a UNESCO World Cultural Site for the oral traditions on the square.  I wish I could tell stories even a small part as well as he does. 

Greatest missed photo: the woman covered in gray from head to toe, only her eyes visible behind eyeglasses, gloved hands, riding a motorbike.

 We lost power around 10, as we were packing to leave Marrakesh.  That meant an even earlier start for the bus station.  We waited to check our bags as the ticket man greeted his friend, who showed him the front page of the paper: photographs of Morocco’s king, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Both men told us how angry they were–bin Laden, they said, was not only targeting the King for encouraging Western tourism, but targeting the whole country. It seems this does not make friends, at least among some newspaper-reading Moroccans. Goats in trees on the way to the coast.  We walked all the way through the walled city of Essouira to arrive at our hotel, in a courtyard not far from the Atlantic Ocean.  This beach town is a fraction the size of Agadir, with small hotels and easy beach access, a former Portuguese naval stronghold from the 17th century.  If Casablanca is the white city, and Marrakesh the red city, Essouira is the blue and white city. 

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It was a wonderful weekend, a much-appreciated break from the heat of Marrakesh and the desert.  Essaouira still seems to be a small fishing town, with lots of tourist infrastructure.  Unlike Agadir, though, most of the tourists seem to be Moroccan families.  An early morning walk on the beach, where groups of twenty- and thirty-something men were playing soccer, a lesson in making mint tea from a 14-year-old teacher, walks through artist galleries and along the city’s ramparts, watching Moroccans on vacation–a good, quiet weekend before moving on to Fes.  We celebrated our anniversary at a small restaurant; when we told our young waiter it was our anniversary, he grinned enormously, and wished us a large family!

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Entry filed under: Berbers, Middle East, Morocco, Travel.

Observations from the Road Berbers on the Train

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