Sir Isaac Newton’s little known Fourth Law is Marrakesh: Where Equal and Opposite Forces are at Peace while in Motion.
Marrakesh’s charm is that it is chaotic and calm, and raucous and reticent all at the same time, and no travel blog or guide book I consulted truly captured this essence. The Bucket-List Millennials blogs I (attempted to read) relied heavily on their Roget’s app, with, “Nightmare!” “Crazy!” and “Insane!” leading the description of this ancient Silk Road post; and though the formal guidebooks dove a little deeper into the adjective pool, with “Intoxicating” (an odd choice of word to describe a dry country) and “…dazzle, frazzle, enchant,” they, too all came up short. The most creative, though still incomplete description I read was that Marrakesh is, “…like an array of colorful and loud butterflies.” What?
Jemaa el Fna, the Medina’s famous square rises and sets with the sun, and quite literally every blink of the eye offers something new. The calm of the early morning blends unnoticeably into what suddenly seems like an oversized flashmob by midday, with locals, cyclists, donkey carts and tourists full-speed ahead on a collision course, when in fact it is the opposite: everyone is actually heave-ing and ho-ing visibly and predictably.
As the afternoon gives way to the evening, an elderly Habibi takes his place by the post box, sharing the day’s wisdom with the many, many other Habibis who wander past.
“Pop-up” vendors offering henna tattoos approach passersby gently, with photos of the art that can decorate one’s arm or leg. The shoe-cleaning men appear, ready to buff DS’s topsiders for a mere €2 equivalent. Then the food vendor’s routine commences: construct the stall, wash the tables and prepare the food…and proudly display skewers of raw meats and who-only-knows-when fried fish(?) alongside gorgeous salads and buckets of snails crawling around with nowhere to go but a steamer basket.
“No Diarrhea Here!” shouts one of the stall vendors as DS and I walk the gauntlet in our attempt to scope out the elusive Stall #93 (the “tourist-friendly” stall, so I read) for a possible dinner one evening. The stall vendors, it seems, have been reading travel blogs about the misfortunes that befall those visitors who eat the skewered chicken livers and curled sausages left to bake in desert heat, and it took every ounce of respect not to burst out laughing at this social media-savvy entrepreneur.
We skipped the queue of men at the stalls offering roast lamb heads (sans eyeballs, thankfully) as well. Try as we might, we never found Stall #93 and had to “settle” for a couscous dinner on a restaurant roof terrace overlooking the square that night. Perhaps next time.
Inside the Souks an old Marrakeshi in a thawb reads his Koran outside his shop while a younger man wearing jeans motors past on his scooter, dangling two whole chickens on the handlebars (feathers and all) and with a young son clinging to the handlebars.
…and not-so-practical Tajines.
The heady, almost-headache inducing aromas from Mellah, the Spice Souk in the Jewish Quarter where vendors charge unsuspecting visitor’s nostrils with handfuls of various organic matter and ask, “Do you know what this is?” compete with the miniscule Olive Souk where vendors gently let glossy mounds of the earthy fruit speak for themselves. Neither Souk is a place for the gastro-sensitive, and neither are the side lanes of what appeared to be the “Meat Slaughtering Souk,” where roosters and presumably stray dogs yip and yap at one another for the carcass bits that hit the ground.
But step outside of the Souks, or climb the stairs to a restaurant or Riad roof terrace, and exotic Marrakesh appears.
Ben Youssef Madrasa Islamic College, one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and a blissful escape from the heat and the noise of the Souk. Very near is the Café Jad Jamal, where we sat before visiting the Madrasa for the day’s special of falafel sandwiches. The roof terrace was of calming turquoise tiles and dark wooden tables accented with silver; and the sandwiches were excellent, with no skimping on the handmade and perfectly fried falafel.
Dar Si Said and Bahia Palaces. Like the Madrasa, both of the palaces excelled in providing cool and calm spaces for the spirit and colorful feasts for the eyes.
Saadian Tombs. Some are underwhelmed with their visit but Jack and I found the shimmering colors and columns a tranquil place to reflect on the Moroccan dynasty and its 12 pillars of glorious Italian marble. And laugh at the German –speaking visitor in front of us at the less-than-10-minute queue to view the tomb who groused, “Sie sollten uns freies Bier geben.” (They should give us free beer).
Jardin Majorelle. Tourist-dense on our visit; but if you are lucky enough to snag a table at the café beforehand (and we were), your time in the garden is then well spent. The café menu is noteworthy, albeit somewhat pricey by Marrakesh standards, but so goes a captive audience. With neither of us having a design-based background by any stretch of the imagination, we wandered freely without casting a critical glance anywhere, taking equal delight in everything from the koi ponds and the exotic cacti to the strike-a-pose selfies in front of the Moorish “Majorelle Blue” house. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
And when we were ready to return to the Medina, it was just a taxi-fare haggle away.