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The Marrakech Express & Sizzling in the Souks (Markets)

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 31, 2009

On Friday we boarded the train to Marrakech, which was a 7.5 hour affair, so hardly an express!  It felt a bit like a black’n’white Hitchcock film, for some reason; Islamic women in full Purdah, American Marketing Managers, French and Spanish tourists and us, set against a passing landscape of parched tones.  The most notable thing about passing city after town after village across Morocco is the proliferation of satellite dishes astride each building’s roof-top.  Each building, including those make-shift shelters in shanty towns, has at least half a dozen dishes crammed onto the roof-top.  As we travelled further south, the physical beauty of the land became quite similar to that of out-back Australia.

On arrival in Marrakech we were collected and transferred to a beautiful Riad hotel (a very secure 3 story house with an internal garden, and intense decorative tiling), just a few minutes from Jemaa el Fna, the great square.  In the evenings this enormous public space comes alive with snake-charmers, musicians, story-tellers, fire-eaters, henna hand-painters,outdoor restaurants, and eye-sizzling smoke fumes from the barbecued meats.  It’s a blaze of sounds, sights and smells.

On Saturday, we met our Marrakech guide, Mustafa, who was an absolute hoot; very candid and entertaining.  He took us to the run-down Bahia Palace, once a splendid mansion built in 1866 for a former slave who had risen to a position of importance in the government of Moulay Hassan. We explored the tranquil inner courtyards, fragrant with orange blossom, and the many salons and chambers.   We listened to stories of live was there; a man with 5 wives and 24 concubines, belly-dancers fattened with suet, young and old eunuchs, and musicians forcibly blinded to ensure their attention to the quality of sound…  It was very interesting, but needs a lot of money poured into the rejuvenation, curation & decoration of the space to really bring the past to life in a more compelling fashion.  We then walked to the Marrakech Museum, itself a former palace, and in far grander repair.  This space remains truly beautiful, and houses a fine collection of Morrocan art.  Largely though, and with few exceptions, I’ve noticed that while the Morroccans are very good indeed at creating exquisite furnishings and finishes, they then leave the splendour to decay, with no attention whatsoever to maintenance.  It’s such a shame, because everything starts of in finest form, and then it’s all down-hill there-after.  That said, though, they are at least relatively clean in terms of sweeping the streets each morning, and as far as developing nations go this is kind of like the top-shelf option.  The taste and wealth is very discreetly kept behind locked and guarded doors.  It’s an intriguing dichotomy.  And the French have a very big hand in the tourist economy, that is for sure. Marrakech really is a play-ground for the wealthy French.

Today we’re heading back to the souks, despite the intense afternoon heat, to ponder the treasure-trove of goodies within.  Thank Gosh we didn’t come here in Summer – it would be an intolerable furnace.  When all is said and done, there’s really not a great deal to do here other than walk around the streets of the old medina and browse the souks, and that’s really what it’s all about – just being here amid this exotic culture.  Tomorrow we’re going to see a garden owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent, and then spending the balance of the daywandering about and relaxing in readiness for our flight to Madrid on Tuesday.  Morocco has been both fascinating and fun, and I’m glad we came.  It’s a visual feast.

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