Day 9 Marrakesh
So, here we are in famous Marrakesh, sung about in the 70s by the popular singers of the day. Anne has brought her huge Macbook-pro down to the pool where there is wifi, to prove that she was right in thinking there was a Beatles song. We listen. Also there is a Crosby Stills & Nash number Marrakesh Express which has been going around in my head. I recognise the LP cover as we listen to it, I still have it in my collection.
Today we have a tour in the morning and a free afternoon as there is a change to the schedule. This has been talked about for several days, the problem being that our flights out of Casablanca would necessitate leaving Marrakesh at 4am in the morning to get to the airport in time. Were told there is a conference in Casablanca which has made booking a hotel difficult. Im not sure why this hasnt been anticipated earlier as the agents have had our flight times for some months. Mary was hoping to take a day trip to a seaside place called Essaouira tomorrow and is disappointed. Im happy to have a look at Casablanca and in particular the great Mosque and to get to the airport without a rush.
We walk to our minibus to meet our guide for the morning and with Hotoman at the wheel, are whisked off into the countryside to look at an irrigation scheme. This isnt on the schedule, but we neednt worry as some government official is visiting the site and we cant see it. Instead we go and look at the outside of the main mosque we are not allowed inside and join a number of large coach parties also looking. Next we pile back into the Medina to look at Medersa Ben Youssef (Islamic School) which is beautifully tiled.
Simos boys think its a cool place to go to school, but are unsure about the small Spartan rooms where the students used to live. We move onto the 19th C Mnebhi Palace which is now a museum. It has a large tent over the courtyard casting a yellow light over everything.
Theres an art exhibition mostly still life, which Im not usually attracted to. They are strangely similar to the European Masters, for example, a painting of sunflowers in five panels. They are rough, exuberant and I like them. I overhear one of our party saying what poor quality they are, but Liz agrees with me. We move on to the DarSiSaidMuseum of traditional crafts. This is dull, poorly lit and badly curated. One couple can be seen shining their mobile phone on a gloomy glass case in order to see its contents.
Next theres a visit to a contemporary artists gallery or shop. Im not that interested and after climbing the stairs, find it all tourist rubbish. The afore-mentioned person however is enthusing loudly. I descend to the street and wait, waving away the sellers of leather wallets. Fairly soon others form the party, who have seen the light join me and the wallet sellers return like flies. Our last organised retail opportunity is to a spice market. Its not the sort of market where heaps of colourful spices are displayed but a highly organised business on several floors. We are herded in groups of about twenty into one of the many presentation rooms painted pale green to look pharmaceutical. Cabinets around the room house jars containing various substances. We have an entertaining lecture from one of the staff, promoting herbal medicines, spices, oils and creams all made from natural products, allegedly. I can see how this is going and at the end of the lecture the list of products are gone through and people agree to buy. I cant believe Mary and Sue, who are buying up large. In the end however they drop the Agane oil as it is the same price in New Zealand. I can buy all of these spices in East London and prefer to make up my own blends and dont want to be laden down. I note the Gary and Willy are also not buying. I slip out though the crowds and wait in a narrow and equally crowded alley-way while our group collect and pay for their purchases.
We now have free time and for once can choose where to eat lunch at our own expense. Mary, Sue and I have our eyes on an arts & craft school weve passed several times and there is the Jardin Majorelle, otherwise known as the Yves St Laurent garden. But first, lunch. Theres a modest looking café on the square which will do, but Mary is not well and only Sue & I eat. In the end Mary goes back to the Riad leaving Me and Sue to get a taxi to the wonderful gardens. The taxis are reliable and cheap, though the first one we hail doesnt know where it is.
The next one knows and we find a gathering of coaches and taxis at the entrance to Jardin Marjorelle. Its a riot of colour with brick red paths, cobalt blue buildings, green and blue tiles and brightly coloured pots. Green and blue should never bee seen the saying goes. What nonsense, the colours vibrate against each other to stunning effect.
We spend our time oo-ing and ahh-ing at vistas and exotic plants. The garden was made by French furniture maker Marjorelle in the 40s. After he died, it was acquired and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. There is a tranquil area dominated by a ruined classical pillar, a suitably phallic memorial to Yves. There is also a Berber museum, which we didn’t go into but instead look at the high quality and beautifully designed Moroccan garments on sale in the shop, at a price.
We decide it is too far to walk in the heat back to the Arts & Craft centre and engage a cab. Which one do we want to visit? We just know its near the Mosque and in the end we are dropped not at the school, but at the Main outlet for the graduates. Its all very intricate and not really to my taste, but interesting to see nonetheless. We attempt to get a cab back to the main square, but a kindly driver points out that we are literally around the corner. As we walk back to the riad, theres time for me to do a little last minute shopping. I find a pair of red leather Moroccan slippers (my black English ones are a disgrace) at a good price. Next its rosebuds, which I need for the making of Ras el hanout. This is a North African blend of many spices which I use in tagines. I last bought rose buds in Tunisia years ago. Im on the look out for the actual buds as much of the pre packed stuff is mostly petals. I find a self service place and pick out the buds. Lastly, a traditional check scarf for my daughter which I think needs to be grey. Success at the last hour as I haggle the price down for a bargain.
Our evening event is out of town, a dining experience followed by a pageant performed by local people on a grand scale. When the originator of the place died, his family wanted to close it down, but the King intervened and insisted it be kept open, providing employment for the local people. We arrive at a Hollywood style Kasbah with a large parking lot for coaches. People are piling out of vehicles and we join in the queue passing musicians and dancers on the way in. These local people are supposed to create the atmosphere, but its pretty half hearted. Inside is a huge rectangular area boarded by stone seating. Set further back are dining booths. Its all enormous. Theres a donkey running up and down and a camel giving rides. Liz jumps at this chance and one of her dreams has been fulfilled. It is clear that the place not well subscribed this evening. We are in one of many large dining areas and served the usual salads. This is followed by the most sensational slow roasted shoulders of lamb flavoured with cumin. Throughout the meal musicians and dancers invade the space and we give them coins, although were not supposed to as they are all paid. Now it is show time and we move onto the tiered seating and wait for the performers to appear. There is a procession of dancers, musicians and people in costumes all looking very bored with what they are doing. At one point Aladdins flying carpet slowly crosses the stage on a wire and various floats go past. The show climaxes with cavalry charges where the riders, dressed as Lawrence of Arabia freedom fighters gallop past and fire their muskets at one end. Various acrobatic tricks are performed by the riders and theres a comedy run made by a man on the donkey. I cant help thinking that the family may have had a point wanting to close down this tacky Hollywood style event.
Our drive back is somewhat alarming. Hotoman has been stopped twice by police here, once for talking on his mobile phone while driving (hes always doing that) and another time to check something else. Were told that there is a log of speeds and such like built into the minibus. Everyone is in high spirits after the evening and Hotoman decides to weave back and forth across the road and then go round a roundabout 4 or 5 times. Im a bit alarmed but some of the party are having the time of their lives. Im just hoping that we dont get spotted by the police. Who would drive us to Casablanca tomorrow?