An excerpt from the Journal of D:
22/6/10, Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.
I keep losing track of what day it is.
San Ambrosio was hardly a month ago, and yet it seems like an eternity. I’m sitting tonight on Riad Medina Azahara’s rooftop terrace in Marrekesh, listening to Moroccan music, mixed with the music of snake charmers in the square which occasionally wafts over to me in the night breeze, mixed with the calls to prayer from the mosques tucked into squares, alleys and elsewhere in the medina.
The peachy pink clay walls of the city blend nearly perfectly with the 9 p.m. Moroccan sunset.
Lights twinkle in their pretty metal casings in the open air of the rectangle windows. And, outside the walls of my riad oasis, a world spins, hectically, chaotically … a carnival-like atmosphere overflows through the narrow streets, the twisting turns, the massive square of Marrakesh’s medina.
Souks snake down nearly every winding road from the main square where the madness begins, down covered paths, in tiny corners, in courtyards. Walking from the square through the souks and the terracota-colored brick paths of the medina is an intense experience. Sensory overload. You are smacked with culture, with people, with life, everywhere you turn. Tagine, cigarettes, donkey crap and diesel permeate the air, snaking into your nostrils and mixing into something fierce.
You cannot escape any little part of what makes Marrakesh’s medina unique.
It’s the devout, face-veiled Muslim women perched on a tiny plastic stool every few steps in the square yelling “Hello, Hola, Bonjour, please, come here,” attempting to grab your hand and lure you into a henna tattoo you didn’t really want but now have ink on your skin, so you must pay.
It’s the monkeys on short chains clamped at their neck with a leather collar. You’d love to take a photo with them, but know just to have the cute little fellow placed on your shoulders costs more than anyone should ever pay for a three-second experience.
It’s the 20 million fresh-squeezed orange juice carts in rows lined up and down the square, each vendor calling to you to entice you to please come to their stand and spend your 3dh for the sweet nectar (and it is gooooood).
It’s even the poisonous snake charmers, enticing cobras to bop and weave their shiny bodies to music which immediately takes you back to a time when you believed in genies.
Then, in the souks, it’s completely different. It’s life or death/spend or don’t spend battles. First, there is the issue of money. These souk owners, they can smell fresh money, they know when you have even 1dh to spend, and they come after you fast and furious to make sure that 1dh goes in their pocket and not the souk next to them. It’s a little spark in the eye that says “I’m going to get the best deal ever known to man for that pair of harem pants.” Yeah, they know that’s what you think and they beckon you, “please miss” to you, “just come see … it’s free.”
You can then make the oh-so crucial decision — to spend or not to spend. Not spending? Thinking you are crafty, you claim to speak only Icelandic. But, surprise, surprise, they are the only person in Morocco who happens to have studied that language. You scurry by once they start breaking out Icelandic. Spending averted. OR, and this is where it turns for the worst, you stop. You look. Then, you are a goner.
The Moroccoan, oooh, they are a cunning, charismatic people. “Where are you from? America. Ahhh. American and Morocco. We are together. I love America. We love America. One-thousand welcomes. I give you good, good price.” Then, you are walking out with a carpet. Where the hell did that one come from?
More importantly, there is the issue of life or death. The medina roads are narrow. Souk displays, vendors and people compete for space, leaving barely the middle of the road free. And, the two- and three-wheel motorized and unmotorized modes of transportation compete for that precious free space in the middle. The bikes. The bikes with motors. The motor bikes. The wheelbarrow carts toted by old men carrying fresh bread and fruit deliveries to the tiny stores. There are the donkeys loaded down with goods and strapped to a massive cart.
In a split second, you have to read incoming drivers/riders eyes to see which way they will veer, decide your fate/game step and avoid getting bumped, bruised or even worse, hit. Avoiding the traffic from behind is another challenge. My toes have come dangerously close to being smooshed.
Once you get out of the souks and down the side streets to the riad, the people trying to get money off of you start to emerge. They can be standing on the street, waiting for goners like you, or talking with friends. Suddenly, it’s “Do you need a hotel? I can take you to one. You have a hotel, where are you going? Here, I can show you where to go. No guide. No guide.” Then, when they follow you to the place you knew how to get to, they hold out their hand for the few feet they “walked” you from the corner to the door and demand money.
There’s also the boys who have just hit puberty, lurking under the arched doorways, leaning against a wall, trying to sell you hash, hash oil or whatever.
“You want hash, I give you good deal.” Even saying no with a shake of your head, a brush of your hand, doesn’t phase them. “It’s good.” Eventually, they either give up or find someone else who can be their victim.
But, then there’s the riad. The anti-medina. The terracotta walls that give way to blue and white and green and yellow tiled floors, a plunge pool, banana and hibiscus trees, lounges scattered about. There, you unwind. Refresh. Sit on the roof top terrace and enjoy the desert breeze. It takes a few minutes in the riad to remind you of the electricity pulsing only feet away, in the streets of the medina. The circus of attractions to take over your thoughts and senses. A few minutes in the riad reminds you of the high you get from being out there, among all of the people, the souks and gives you just enough of a respite to enable you to get back up and do it all over again.