I have been inundated with a request to supply further details of our trip to Marrakech the other week. With pictures! As I have very little else to write about at the moment (there seems to be a contagious and unnerving ennui spreading through my sidebar presently) other than posting inane and ill-observed comments over at Geoffandbettyses I thought I may as well give it a go. Don't expect anything unsavoury, will you.
The average person doesn't know much about Morocco. Or so he or she thinks. But go on, name 6 big cities in France. Or Belgium. Betcha can't. Now do Morocco. Tangier, Fez er...Rabat yes I know um...Agadir (that's where your auntie went, werentit?), Casablanca and Marrakech. See, easy. After that, I have to admit my knowledge of the country was about on a par with Jade Goody's familiarity with East Angular. At least I knew it wasn't in America but that I'd STILL have to get on a plane to get there. We (that's me and the estranged but still desperately hankered after) had done a certain amount of research beforehand and identified a few places we wanted to see. Actually, it boiled down to 2 places: the souk and Place Djemaa el Fna.
I'll do the souk another day as La Place deserves a post of its own. You'll have to excuse the quality of the photos here as they were taken with my mobile being as Sharon's camera was broken when she took it out of the case and I don't have one of my own. However, I think they possess a certain quality redolent of the square itself. They bustle, shake and blur - you'll know if you ever go.
Djemaa el Fna means something along the lines of "Assembly of the Dead". Nobody is quite sure why but for many years this was the scene of public executions. Nice. Not for a few years it has to be said, although there is an element of ritual slaughter involved when it comes to fleecing tourists. It doesn't take long to get wise and when we eventually manage to go again - which we fully intend to do - we'll know the dodges. There's no menace involved though, it's all part of the atmosphere and atmosphere is something this place has by the shedload.
We're not hugely experienced travellers. We've done a bit between us but this was our first time out of Europe (unless you count Tenerife which is actually further south but still in Spain) so we were all eyes and ears. We arrived there in the early mid-afternoon courtesy of a horse-taxi that had taken us on a bit of a round trip (we knew, we weren't being ripped off. Unlike the front bumper of the stationary brand new Golf that strayed too close to the wheel of the cart). And at that time it's just beginning to fill up. Earlier in the day it's a wide expanse about 150 metres across, roughly triangular in shape, with the odd animal trainer and market stall. As the day takes hold the noise and bustle builds as more entertainers and food stalls arrive. Come the evening it's a roller coaster ride of noise, smells and sights. We disappeared into the souk after negotiating the snake charmers and those wanting to wrap a reptile round your neck for a photo. Now, I'm not bothered by snakes at all but I was draped with one without asking - I'm pretty certain the handlers can work out who won't throw a paddy just by your reaction - and a couple of dirhams secured its removal. I would have given more but neither myself nor the snake had any say in the matter and regardless of the culture, I don't give alms by force. Again, there was no malice, just a kind of forcefulness that given a bit of time, one gets used to.
When we returned a couple of hours later, the place had taken on a different air. Strings of lights were being hung across the stalls and a vibrant and incessant drumming from the troupe of acrobatic dancers (that's them on the left) filled the air along with the smells and smoke from the numerous barbecues being fired up. We decided to take in the atmosphere for a bit from one of the numerous cafés around the edge of the square. Many have roof terraces from where you can watch but the one we chose required the purchase of a meal to stay upstairs, or at least I think it did, so we stayed down with a coffee and mint tea. Not to worry, the pageant being played out around us was enthralling, even the other customers in the café were fascinating. I was beginning to find the drumming somewhat hypnotic and I could have sat and listened to it for ages. It's nothing like Leicester Square; for a start there are no drunks to spoil anything. But this isn't just for the tourists because there were hardly any of us there. This was Marrakech at play, it's how it's been for decades and they do it every night. There was an incredible sense of being part of a massive play, one that doesn't really have a script but in which every actor knows their lines. You get a feeling that anything could happen at any time and that's the binding force of the place.
The tourist guides say that Djemaa el Fna is on that list of places that should be visited at least once in your life and I have to agree. Sadly, we had to leave earlier than we would have liked as Sharon was flagging and we had a bit of a trek for a taxi. So we'll have to go back, especially as I didn't get to try any of the food on offer, which was a shame. The piles of snails looked particularly good. I realise that may have put most people off but there's only so much tagine chicken one can eat and I found that a bit dry for my liking.
We had a last look round, sniffed the air and went for a taxi. That is an experience for telling another day.