Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marrakech - a city of contrasts

Marrakech is a place of amazing contrasts as a stroll around the souks will quickly demonstrate. However, before our roving correspondent, Derek Workman leads you around the Medina streets, pause to consider a little real estate opportunity.
A breathtaking traditional Moroccan palace in Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, has been listed for sale via an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate for a staggering $28 million.

Photo Courtesy of Christies International Real Estate
 Boasting nearly 50,000 square feet of interior space, the magnificent interior has been designed and furnished with exceptional taste in the colloquial style with every possible luxury and refinement. There are four incredibly spacious bedrooms and four spa-style baths in the main part of the residence.

The exclusive grandeur of the charismatic architecture offers luxurious living spaces. Finished with exquisite craftsmanship, every detail has been done by hand with liberal use of precious marbles, mosaics and stone. Set amidst a magnificent garden with pools, flowing water, fountains and secret passages, it has been situated to guarantee absolute peace and tranquility to its owners.

Marrakech has long been a fashionable destination for stylish jet setters. The late Yves Saint-Laurent maintained a vacation house there and fellow French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier still does.

Derek Workman decided the "absolute peace and tranquility" was not exactly his style, so decided on a slightly cheaper option - a stroll in the Medina.
I took a stroll around the souk in Marrakech yesterday afternoon, watching the artisans at work, and an interview I did with a Spanish hotel owner a while ago came to mind. He’d spent a couple of years working in Marrakech and had built up a lot of contacts in the small workshops. He told me that there’s no such thing as discounts for buying in bulk because the idea of mass-production almost doesn’t exist. For example, if you negotiated with a lamp maker to take his production of perhaps twenty lamps a week, that was about the best you would get. If you wanted two hundred a week either you’d have to go to ten makers yourself or have someone do it for you, preferably a local who knows ten lamp makers, who would then add his commission. You’d get the quantity you wanted, but it would actually cost you more than the first lot per item you bought from the original small workshop. So there you go.

It never ceases to amaze me, the quality of workmanship that comes out of a workshop measuring about four metres square. There are certain parts of the souk dedicated to particular products; the metal workers souk, the djellaba sellers souk, but if you drift out to the periphery, away from the tourists around Djemaa el Fna, you come to what are basically workers suburbs, but not suburbs as we might know them.
Lined along the streets and in tucked-away little back alleys, a barber with one chair patched with electrician’s tape and a cracked mirror will work next to a tin-smith slowly turning a piece of metal, as he punches ornate designs into it to make the beautiful lamps that cast starbursts of light when illuminated; alongside him woodcarvers and masonry workers etch intricate designs into their chosen materials, a butcher whose sole stock consists of a camel’s head suspended from a hook and a pile of congealing grey innards. (If you want to find out what camel’s meat taste like, get down to the food stalls in Djemaa el Fna at night and you can delight your taste buds.)
Dark caverns are lit by a single flourescent tube showing olives, olive oil and vats of preserved lemons for that emblematic Moroccan dish, poulet au citron. Single-portion tajines cook on a hot-plate beside a food stall, made from a couple of paper-covered low tables and a few old stools, with the cook selling battered fish deep-fried in a blackened old frying pan. A shop with a collection of beautiful antique tea pots on display shows, on further inspection, shelves of second-hand kettles for sale at the back.

Those who can’t afford a shop will have a carton of Marlboro open on a cardboard box counter, selling cigarettes individually, (you can recognise the itinerant cigarette seller by the sound of the coins he jingles in his hand as he walks around); a family-sized block of almond chocolate is cut into narrow strips, each offering four small, square bites; carrots tied in small bundles and spicy green peppers sold in threes, just enough for a tajine.

Estate agents buy, sell and rent from bedraggled hidey-holes furnished with a beaten-up old desk and a couple of 50s tubular steel kitchen chairs. Their properties must all be filed in their heads because there is no sign of paperwork. Five-hundred-year-old doors with great studded nail-heads, lacquered with layers of ancient brown paint, stand open to reveal walls tiled in a mixture of gaudy seventies factory rejects.
And above all, there is the ubiquitous mint tea.

Derek Workman is an English journalist living in Valencia City, Spain – although he admits to a love of Morocco and would love to up sticks and move here. To read more about life in Spain visit Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.



Beyond Marrakech said...

Brilliant how you captured Marrakech with words!

Anonymous said...

What a shame we missed the camel sampling! Just got back from our honeymoon a week ago and already making plans to go back! Absolutely beautiful and exotic!