Tomorrow Paul and I leave Morocco. I’ve decided Morocco feels like this pose pictured here. It’s a position between two distinct other positions and that is exactly what Marrakech does to your sense of direction and alignment—both externally and internally, right up until the last minute.
Paul had his Australian passport stolen. Even though he has his Norwegian one, he is traveling on his Australian passport that has his entry stamp in it. He has been to two different manically driven police stations four different times today trying to get a piece of paper that we have get to fly tomorrow afternoon. He has to return tomorrow morning. Fingers-crossed.
Even after pick-pockets and all the intense confrontations being here invokes, this is a land that I feel compelled to return to. And so does Paul.
It’s a place where existence feels like sandpaper. In the people here, there is a natural aggressiveness that from their perspective—is just the way things are. From the way merchants sell their goods, to the echoing calls to prayer 5 x a day, to the raspy Arabic language, to the way they scrub the hell out of your skin in the hammams without much mercy. Life here is theater spiced with Arabic and French madness. It’s a mighty spiritual exfoliation.
The strong French influence has left Morocco it’s pasteries, cigarettes, language, and cooking. The 9 million tourists a year who visit Morocco have inspired some incredible restaurants, spas, fine hotels, and unfortunately outrageous prices for goods here. Never in my life have I seen so many over-the-top fashionable, super wealthy tourists. It’s as if all the heads of the fashion houses of Europe take their families here on vacation. And the locals have found a way to accomodate them but with that has come an expectation that has rippled out to the rest of us more ‘common’ folk. It’s at once annoying and amusing.
Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets of the Medina (old city) of Marrakech is like entering a time warp. To find a celebrated restaurant inside a restored several hundred year old riad that drips with charm is to navigate like crazy to find a discreetly marked door down several winding pathways, that is what I imagine finding a speakeasy was like in the 1920’s in the U.S. You go from a dark, empty alley and a door opens—you suddenly enter a mini-mansion of inspirational elegance. Dine on white china next to waterpools and dribbling fountains to the sounds of Louis Armstrong and Elle Fitzgerald. Then when dinner finishes you leave and find yourself back in a dimly lit alley with walls 17 feet high on either side of you and nothing around but cats, pick-pockets, and kids trying to pretend to show you the right direction for a couple of dirham as you pass more doors leading to more secret worlds behind them.
Marrakech is a city where you see as many hajibs (head coverings for women) as you do skinny jeans and knee high boots. It’s a place where satellite dishes grace the skyline of the old city and kaftans are worn by just as many men on the street.
Marrakech is the city where the maid gave me her head scarf when I remarked how beautiful it was, where taxi drivers told us their philosophy of what creates true happiness, where tourist traps abound and where a Muslim salesman wearing a Gap sweatshirt and smoking a cigarette, pours himself a glass of red wine while he explains to us the reasons why alcohol consumption is forbidden in Islamic culture.
Before my 18 days here I was mystified by Islamic culture. Now, I can say, I’m even more confused. But for a good reason—as I spend more time around these people (first in India and now here), the inevitable happens: the picture becomes more nuanced. The diversity within the culture starts to reveal itself.
I leave here grateful for all Morocco has given me on this first visit. I wonder what gifts and challenges await my return.
Now, it’s onward to the hyper clean, efficient, and organized civilization of Norway for a White Christmas, snow, and ‘Hohoho..’