Keith on the Moroccan music piped through our riad: ‘Do they actually like it, or do they just put it on for the tourists?’
We just missed the International Film Festival with esteemed films from across the world being shown in various venues across the city, including an open air screen in Djemma el Fna, the famous main square in Morocco. As part of the programme, Die Hard 3 was shown in this screen, complete with guest appearance by Jeremy Irons. Missing the experience of watching several thousand Moroccans watching Bruce Willis with a backdrop of the Atlas Mountains and the Koutoubia, a 1000 year old minaret is something I may never recover from. Marrakech has a cycle lane. For anyone who has been here, you will know what a ludicrous concept this is in a city with rubble for pavements and a traffic system which allows mopeds to travel down alleyways barely wide enough for a person. Driving is terrible; its hard to work out whether you are safer inside of a car or out. I have difficulties crossing roads in the UK due to struggling to process all of the moving information quickly enough. Out here its a piece of piss; its a waste of time even attempting to work it all out, so I don’t bother: do as the locals do and just step out. I find this entirely liberating. Marrakech is also wheelchair accessible, although only for crossing one road as far as we could see, and each side of the road beyond this island is made of rubble. Someone somewhere ticked a diversity box on the day this paint came out. We also saw the local version of Costa. Charcoal burner, coffee pot and a bucketful of plastic cups. Coffee costs 1 dirham (about 7p). Most things in Morocco cost 1 dirham. Another highlight of our day was being offered drugs. This is a regular event in Morocco and only goes to show that local client profiling skills are not very sophisticated. Keith and I are the least likely looking hashish buyers on the planet. Keith doesn’t touch anything stronger than tea and thinks cannabis smells like rocket and thus accuses every salad eating person he meets of taking drugs. We didn’t want any hash, but its always nice to be asked.
It was another rainy day today and Marrakech was suddenly filled with hoards of umbrella salesmen armed with multiple parapluies. Even our riad got a bit soggy.
How we laughed; we come from England, you think a bit of rain phases us? Ha! You’ve got to admire such a quick response to climatic change. Tomorrow the weather is set to return to its blue skies norm and all these young men will revert back to selling sunglasses and watches. Other such inventiveness was in the shape of this fella (towards the back of the picture) who walked up, sat down and got out a set of scales. One can only assume that either scales are beyond the budget of the average Moroccan or the average Moroccan has an exhibitionist tendency to desire being weighed in the middle of a packed street. We made two visits in between downpours today. One was to the beautiful Majorelle Gardens and the other to the Carre Eden Shopping Center (sic). Both peaceful and relaxing in their own way, if only because in both locations no one tried to ‘help’ us, being convinced we were lost. Just because we’re looking at a map doesn’t mean we’re lost. Well, we might be lost, but we might like being lost and not want to be found. I guess that may be a strange concept to some people, many of whom never have the luxury of a holiday and of happily getting lost. Life is too busy and too tough for such frivolities.
There is plenty of information on the Majorelle Gardens elsewhere, but here are a few photos. It was established in the 1940s by a French artist and now belongs to a foundation owned by Yves St Laurent and kept for the benefitof the city. The colours of the plants, tiles and pots complement each other perfectly. Its a relief for the eye and probably the least chaotic and ‘scruffy’ place in the whole of Marrakech. It costs 50 dirhams (£3.50) to get in and is a shady oasis in the burning summer heat and a shelter in the torrential winter rain.
The Carre Eden Shopping Center was an odd experience and one indicative of the huge disparity of lifestyle, income and opportunity that exists in Morocco. In the medina, water is collected from public taps and transport is via donkey. In the shopping centre there is Burger King, Dominos, Spongebob and adverts for £45,000 Jaguar cars. What is the Arabic for Spongebob, I wonder?
We had to both confess that we breathed an audible sigh if relief at entering the familiarity of a European style shopping centre. Outdoor Marrakech is an assault on all senses, both social and environmental and we (especially me) struggle with that. Its brilliant, but tiring.The centre has a French supermarket which is both empty and expensive – the small trader is still winning in Marrakech.
The main deal in Marrakech is the Djemma el Fna. By day a half empty concrete expanse populated by snake charmers, henna artists and monkeys which by night transforms into a bright, steaming street food market. The stalls are largely separated into skewers, chips and soup (tourists) and cow head and snails (locals). The bright bare bulbs of the stalls and the rising smoke from the charcoal fires make it very atmospheric.
Sometimes, despite it all, nothing beats a room picnic, especially when it turns out that Pharrell Williams was in the house after all (he’s wearing a woven bathroom toiletries receptacle).