LAYERS OF TEXTURE, PATTERNS, SCENTS AND FLAVORS IN MARRAKESH

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO

[MARRAKESH, MOROCCO] — It is the drums that get you first. A full-frontal, heart-fibrillating pounding of Berber rhythms. So intense and staccato-firing that Buddy Rich would have a hard time keeping up. And the flutes. The ear-piercing, high pitched whine of the flutes, constant, taunting cobras to dance on the hot stones. And the people. The rush of endless people. Of every shape, size, color, religion, sunburn, clothing, shape, shoe-type/non-shoe-wearing. And the breeze. A steady wave of warm air that makes the palms, the long robes, the billowing smoke from the merguez grilling in the food stalls all harmonized and flowing like caught in the same current of a river.

“Heeeeyyyyyy” he says in an eerily friendly Americanized accent, scaring me from behind. I jumped. And so did the monkey. Instantly onto my shoulder. He had a turban. And a smile. “Want me to take a picture with the monkey?”

“Ahhh no thanks.” “You sure? He’s a nice monkey. Your friends will laugh.” The monkey was digging for something in my scalp, which I appreciated.

That is what my first three minutes were like in the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The beating heart of Marrakesh. Alive in the day with street vendors, then just before sunset they all disappear and the square completely changes character. Thousands of people, actually not that many tourists, fill the square with life. Teaming life. Tuk-tuk drivers. Mothers dragging their kids. Old men gossiping over cigarettes. Several groups of snake-handlers, with their flutes taunting cobras. Acrobatic troops, ringed with people cheering them on. Twenty smiling young Moroccans with fishing poles in a circle, trying to ring a bottle. Dozens of food stalls vendors, throwing their sales pitch to locals and foreigners alike; from fresh-squeezed orange juice (delish!) to merguez sausages, to great Brontosaurus-sized ribs of lamb on a spit that Fred Flintstone would love.  All of them twirling in their own rhythm and sound, busy with motion within their own five square feet, yet somehow synchronized to the breeze. And there was my monkey.

Watch this. Click on HD and blow up large. A few seconds of freeze frame on the square. Look closely, there is a story in every corner of every frame.

I really didn’t want to go there, actually. People said “Not sure you’re going to like it. Very crowded. Lots of crazy stuff going on. People pulling you into to their stalls.”  I don’t like people, actually. Or crowds. But I decided to go anyway. As you should. Good god, I’m glad I did. The Humanity present and coexisting, all at once. Every single night. All there. Makes you feel good.

The vendors, not aggressive, just friendly. They just want to surprise you with their hospitality. And crack you up with their Henny Youngman-esque standup routines. Not the pawing, baying street urchins you see in other countries. “I’m just looking around right now.” “I know, lots to see. Just remember Stall #38, you come back. You’ll like.”


 

This is Morocco. They are proud of it. They just want to show you their slice of it. I had an absolute blast. And haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

The reason I start with this little story is, to me, this is Marrakesh. If not all of Morocco. Layers and layers and layers of stimulation.

Textures and patterns. Smells and flavors. Light and dark and candles and shadows. Shapes within shapes. Squares within circles within rosettes.

Patterns on patterns of life’s coolest things, all in one country. All happening at once. All done with such great care and effort to please you — and themselves. A proud people that are more than eager to turn you on to their cool attitude and approach. Everyone goes just a littlebitfurther to do something extra cool.  Not just luxury and pampering for rich people, but everywhere. The bus drivers and hawkers, the certified tour guides, the waiters who instantly offer you mint tea… anywhere on the side of the road…and spend minutes mixing and stirring and pouring it so it is just right, not just slapping it on the table.  This is Morocco.

CLICK ON A PIC TO OPEN UP THE SLIDE GALLERY

 

Marrakesh is not that big, only a million people and the Medina is where you need to be. So I’m not going to spend much time telling you what to do or where to go — tons of guidebooks will do that better. Just a photo essay of what I saw, experienced and loved about Marrakesh.

TIPS:

  • Everything is different at night. The sun goes down. The candles and lanterns come out. Thousands of them. Man, do these people know how to light things. I don’t know if was the French that taught them, or they taught the French. If you like it during the day, you’ll love it better at night.
  • You’re going to get lost on your way back to your hotel. Don’t sweat it; even a blind squirrel finds a nut, eventually. Just remember landmarks behind you so you can backtrack.
  • It might be hot and dusty, or might not be. I’d go in April. May was getting really hot. Not after that. Fall would be beautiful.
  • When you go to the square, shoot for 4-5pm. Find a cafe with a rooftop terrace, very easy to do; I suggest Glacier Cafe where I took these, you buy a soft drink self-serve, then go out on the terrace and wiggle your way to the edge. I could (and did) stay there for hours. The drums will reward you for staying. You want to be there as dusk comes, the square gets dark and the stall lights come to life. It is magical. Eat a merguez at the Hassan stand in the corner of my picture.
  • Everyone is super nice. Super proud. You’ll hear the word “Berber” a lot. Read up a little about it, don’t dismiss it. When you leave, you’ll understand it more. And love them. I wish there were more Berbers in this world.

Layers. Just think layers. You should go here.

Here’s a great article 36 Hours in Marrakesh in the New York Times.

Last visited April 2015.

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