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Okay, so I've been in Marrakech approximately an hour now, and I'm pretty sure I get it. I get why my coworker S was so rapturous over it and Morocco in general. Don't get me wrong; it has been really swell this last week. But let's be honest - Casablanca is kind of gross, the hotel on the beach was nice but nothing any radically different than I could have seen in the States, and the one afternoon in Rabat was just that - an afternoon.

But wow. The difference between Casablanca and Marrakech could not be more dramatic if they tried. The Casa station is in a verging-on-uncomfortable part of town, with one microscopic store filled with men who leer as I buy a bottle of water and some nuts (was it the nut-buying that was so provocative? hard to tell...). Things were chaotic and a little unclear. But Marrakech is gorgeous and terra cotta colored and clearly recently redesigned and just nice. It actually reminds me a lot of Phoenix - desert city with mountains near-ish, palm trees and buildings made of sand, and miles and miles of sky.

The hotel sent someone to pick me up, and we had a laughing French-is-neither-of-our-first-languages conversation as we drove through the new city - intensely deserty-pink, interspersed with flowers, palaces, and mosques. All wide, main thoroughfares (with several near-deaths for pedestrians, scooters, horses, horses on scooters, etc - Europe ain't got nothin' on the roundabouts here) until we turned into the kasbah, where I'm pretty sure we actually drove through some people's shops. Narrow, cramped streets lined with shops selling everything you could have ever dreamed of, but with two-way traffic on the equivalent of a sidewalk. (Some things you just try not to think too hard about.)

You can't actually drive up to my hotel; you have to park on the main street (parallel parking in Marrakech - it should be a new adventure ride in a theme park somewhere) and then meander down another, tinier back alleyway. This place takes the vague accessibility of Skhirat and chucks that right out the window - if you don't have good knees, don't even try. There are three sets of stairs to my room, and they're almost all verging on a ladder in degree of steepness.

But oh. Oh, it's gorgeous. I did my registration in the main salon, which is all low-slung couches, ornately carved ceilings, dim lighting from colored lanterns, and giant pillars. Peter, the elderly British gentleman who is my primary host here, met me at the door, escorted me to the salon, and offered me a cool towel and fresh-squeezed orange juice. After four hours on a warm, sweaty (but really quite nice) train, both were more welcome than I could have guessed.

Then up to my first room of the stay (I will change three times), right off the main (microscopic) courtyard, with Moroccan latticwork lights and decorated with - wait for it - Japanese artwork and artifacts. There's even a silk kimono for my use with the (microscopic) shower.

Right now I'm up on the very top terrace, which overlooks the courtyard of the riad next door, where dozens of birds losing their mind in the orange trees growing up through the house. I am contemplating a heartbreaking view of the Atlas mountains in the south, the setting sun reflecting off them. The call to prayer just started, and I can hear at least three four - just heard another - different muezzins. They echo off the whole city.

(We'll see if it's equally intriguing at dawn as it is at sunset.)

(Heh. There goes one more, after all the others have stopped. He's got the nicest voice so far.)

One more item of note/interest: I've not even really explored anything - just arrived at the hotel and unpacked - but already I've seen more Americans/Westerners than I have in the last week. Still just a few faces in the crowd, but exponentially more than I saw in either Rabat or Casablanca. Which makes sense - if I remember my reading correctly, the king is really pushing for a dramatic tourism increase for Marrakech, and I think part of it has already taken effect. I'll be interested to see if my opinion changes over the next few days, but right now it feels like what I've seen is what really good theme parks in the US are based on, and I can see how in a few years, it could start to feel like a theme park itself. I don't know. Will report back.

Okay. Dinner in a couple of hours. Time to go explore a little, I think.
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