Friday, July 27, 2012

Another Side of Marrakech

Writing for the New Zealand Herald, Graham Reid has produced an article worth reading.  He avoids all the usual cliches and finds another Marrakech worth exploring

Marrakech: Souk city by night

As anyone who has had the good fortune to go will tell you, Marrakech is a city of noise, especially in the grand central square.

By day, snake charmers and fortune tellers call for attention, motor scooters blast past, cars on the unmarked road around the perimeter sound their horns, fruit and vegetable sellers shout invitations at you to sample from their attractive displays, Berber musicians play impromptu sessions and people hold animated conversations.

At night, when the restaurant tables are set up, it happens all over again. But more of it, and louder.

Little wonder then that many retreat to rooftop cafes and restaurants to eat meals prepared in the ubiquitous tagines and sip mint tea in the quiet.

But there is another Marrakech. The silent city.

Late at night after the tourists have drifted away, when the restaurant tables have been stacked in a corner and the musicians are nodding down into low, trance-like rhythms, the lanes and blind alleys off the square - crowded by day with merchants, donkey cars and scooters - are deserted.

The wares have been stowed away and the narrow lanes now appear as wide as streets under the jaundiced glow of intermittent light bulbs and flickering fluorescent tubes. Once familiar lanes now look disorientingly different. This is a world owned by wandering cats and old men sleeping in doorways.

Photo: João Pedro

Footsteps echo off stone walls and heavy wooden doors, locals retreat to the inward-looking homes and riads. Marrakech can be eerily silent.

Like Venice in winter when the stones freeze to the touch and black canals are as still as death, Marrakech at midnight and beyond is a very different world.

Up ahead in a lane an unseen door closes with a low thud, down an alley hooded figures move into fuzzy pools of light and disappear again as they sink into deep shadow, a bundle of rags moves as an old man shifts into a more comfortable position.

The smells of the day - incense, spice and the dusty odour of old material and wood - seem to have disappeared into the black sky above the lane's webbing of sticks and tattered cloth. The world here is now still. A distant radio brings the barely audible sound of an exotic song, disembodied in the night.

For the late stayer, or early riser who gets into the alleys and lanes before merchants open their doors and unload wares onto the street and the calls to prayer started to echo above, Marrakech can reveal itself in a very different way.

Early one morning we walked as sleep rubbed itself out of the eyes of cool lanes. Unused to seeing tourists out at this time, vendors smiled and chatted with no thought to making a sale so early. And we were waved into a place we might otherwise never have seen.

We entered a huge store stacked floor to ceiling with Berber artefacts, bad knock-offs of Salvador Dali paintings, multicoloured shoes filed on a wall like abstract art, leather goods, pots and pans, jewellery, lamps, hookah pipes, mirrors in chequerboard frames and glassware. It was as if the exotic loot of the world had been stored in a warehouse. This was a living market yawning into the dawn as the owner shuffled around and women swept the floor.

No one tried to sell us anything, so we lingered undisturbed.

Later in the day, by chance, we passed the same place. It now seemed unrecognisable. Outside were stacks of doors and mirrors, people cajoling tourists to come inside (none did that we saw) and a sense of urgency which hadn't been there previously.

Marrakech seemed like that most of the time, urgent and busy. But Marrakech can be as quiet as it is noisy for those who make time to find the silence.

See the original article here: New Zealand Herald


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