Never did it occur to me as we took our first tentative steps (you try navigating around the medina) out into Marrakech that only just over 48 hours later I would be careering around it on the back of a motorbike with a bag full of cash, most of it not mine.
But anyway, something must have happened to my sense of reserve and awareness of danger to get to that point. A slow drip, drip, drip, I see now..
We headed for Djemma El Fna. But on the way there were shops. Lots of them. Selling everything. And this wasn’t even the souk. The one selling sinks caught my eye first. I have never seen such an array of beautiful sinks. Gold ones, white ones, peach ones, ones with mosaics, shiney ones, all apparently glistening in the morning sunlight. I wanted one. I didn’t need one. I have all the sinks I need. I have never impulse bought a sink in my life….but, but..they were sooo pretty. It was as if the snake in The Jungle Book was being channelled through the sinks, singing “trust in me…..buy this sink…”
THANK GOD my friend spotted a shop selling scarves. And THANK GOD I am easily distracted. Off we went..and the scarves were sooooo pretty tooo…I wanted them…and I have actually impulse bought a scarf…but no. LOOK EVERYBODY. A SHOP SELLING TEAPOTS.
And they were soooo..etc etc….
Looking back, I realise now that I was being slowly hypnotised.
Sensual I’d call it. Marrakech, that is. Sensual. Full of beautiful things. Full of delicious aromas. Full of life and colours and sounds and something, Something you can’t put can’t quite see, but you can feel it. Just something in the air.
But, I digress.
I wanted a teapot for my mum. A gorgeous tiny silver teapot. But of course, this being Morocco, you don’t just pick it up and pay for it. You have to barter. And I just like picking things up and paying for them. Job done. Out of the door. I don’t even like taking things back when they don’t fit.
So, bartering….ok. Deep breath. I didn’t half get in a state about it. To be honest, the price seemed very reasonable to me, but I knew that protocol meant I had to negotiate. But what to? I was on HOLIDAY, why was I so stressed? So against all my British reserve I picked a random number. He picked another slightly higher random number, I picked a slightly lower number. He picked a very very slightly higher number. I said yes. I just wanted the teapot.
My friends seemed much more relaxed about it. I obviously had a lot to learn. They were busy buying this and that, and I was still on a teapot. However, finally, teapot bought, and me no longer a bartering virgin, we headed to the big square at the centre of the city. Djemma El Fna.
We emerged from the narrow, shaded, intertwining streets into a vast wide open sunlit space. And it was chaos. Just in a bigger space. Cars and vans were driving across it in a fairly random way, weaving around people and stalls, snake charmers and men with monkeys on the shoulders, ladies in burkhas selling henna tatoos.
We adjourned for coffee in one of the many terraced restaurants overlooking the square and planned our day.
We decided that we wanted to go to the Islamic School first. But we also wanted to go on a horse and carriage ride. ..To save time it was decided that we would ask for the horse and carriage not to take its normal route but to take us to the school.
Really, we should know better. Anyway, it was eventful.
So we decided that negotiating a route to the Islamic school “off the beaten track,” so to speak, was a good idea. Although, as we began to sedately trot (sorry, the horses trotted, we sat) through ever narrowing streets with shops overflowing fabric and shoes and oranges and spices into the streets, we probably could have walked there at a slightly higher speed.
But it was nice; I liked it….until we sedately trotted through a narrow arch, from old Marrakech to big, wide, messy, noisy Marrakech, much like going through the Arched Window in an episode of Play School on a horse and cart. That one’s for the older readers. It’s a good analogy, trust me.
So, suddenly there were cars and motorbikes and little vans whizzing past, drivers and passengers waving at us, building work to the right, a market which appeared to be selling nothing but motorbikes to our left. A massive roundabout ahead…with a massive coach pulling out behind us. Our eyes were a little wide by now, with an underlying sense of hysteria beginning to take hold.
Have you seen those old films where they have the actors in the foreground doing their bit and superimposed city scenes in the background? It felt like that, like we weren’t quite there and this was all an image beamed behind us from somewhere else.
That’s my abiding memory of Marrakech – calm, chaos, calm, chaos, fast, slow, fast, slow. That’s me being slowly seduced again, drip, drip, drip.
Then just when you wanted to scream whoooooop, like you’re on a rollercoaster..or I did…horse and carriage veered back through another arch, into the quieter buzz of the medina, till the road got so narrow we could go no further.
A man was waiting for us. Who was he? I don’t know. I still don’t know. All I know is that he helped us off the horse and cart and we followed him blindly. I was at the back, my butterfly eyes jumping from one shop to another, mouth open (probably), like a child in a sweetshop, so had no idea what was going on at the head of the party. It transpired he wanted to take us to his cousin’s spice shop. We didn’t want to go. He was fairly keen. We wanted to go to the Islamic School. I’m sure his cousin’s spice shop was really nice to be honest.
He took us to the Islamic School. We paid him. He went. We were getting used to this. slowly.
Another oasis of calm, the Islamic school was beautiful, serene and quiet. The museum next door was full of breathtaking art. Just being in these places is good for you. You don’t have to look, or study or analyse. You are made better just by absorbing what they contain.
Anyway. Energised, Refreshed. Time for the Souk. Which is when whatever I was being seduced by really kicked in..