notyourmonkey: (Default)
Or driver. Whatever. My train to Casa leaves at one; I should be at the station by noon, and we'll see just how well my packing of a ridiculous number of fragile things holds up over the next two days. (Note to self: do not swing backpack around quite so cavalierly.)

At this point, taking two days to get from Marrakech to DC is seeming a little ridiculous. I kind of want it over and done with, not this leisurely pace. However, I know when that alarm goes off Friday morning for work, I'll probably be glad of the time to rest in between. Still, Thursday's gonna be long. I'll leave my hotel at 8 am Morocco time and get home between 9 and 10 pm Eastern Standard Time. Bleh.

Yesterday's recap will have to wait for later. In short, cooking class was awesome, ran into a co-worker from the conference while in line at the Saadian Tombs, saw the Jemaa el Fna at night, then came back to the hotel, was greeted like a long-lost sister, and sat chatting with the owners and the Australian couple for three hours. I now have a place to stay in Sydney, should I ever venture thataways.

Okay. Last little bit of packing, including computer: go.
notyourmonkey: (Default)
Eeeeeeeeeeeeepic. Three hours at Les Bains de L'Alhambra. Hammam, rose petal bath, massage, with assorted extras sprinkled throughout. I was originally going to go to Les Bains de Marrakech, which were strongly recommended by my coworker, but L'Alhambra was marginally closer, cheaper, and advertised at my hotel. It's very new, very small, and very awesome.

Cut to spare those of you who don't care about spa-type things. )

The spa was a huge hunk of my day, but I also did a little meandering. I tried to go to the Saadian tombs but managed to catch them right at the start of the three and a half hour lunch break. Instead, I bargained for an hour's caleche ride through the medina (and only ended up paying fifty dirhams more than I should have, sigh), and traveled much of what I walked yesterday, only this time in a horse and carriage. We briefly picked up a friend of the driver's and her two children, and later my driver stopped to buy two cigarettes, and it wasn't anything new or particularly thrilling, but it was a nice, lazy hour in the sun, soaking up a little atmosphere without diving into the melee.

But I dived into the melee afterwards. I had the caleche drop me off at the Jemaa el Fna, and I strode off with purpose into the souks. I'd missed most of it yesterday, what with my enormous tannery detour, and I was determined to wallow in it a little.

Which I did. Really, the only thing I can think to compare it to is The Labyrinth, only with real people instead of Muppets and David Bowie. (I did see a monkey in a tutu today, though.) There is nothing straightforward about the warren of streets - and I use that word loosely - that pack into the area north of the Jemaa. Many of them are covered, which is a relief in November and an absolute necessity in July, I imagine, and then it's just city-wall-to-city-wall shops, selling god knows what. (I swear I saw the Swiffer souk this morning. Nothing but floor wipers and little rolly-brush sweepers.) Lots of repetition - hundreds of slipper stalls, leather goods, tagines tagines and more tagines, pottery, jewelry, and more knicknacks than I ever knew existed. My guidebook calls Marrakech the "land of 1001 interior designers," and they're not far off.

Sometimes it's piles of random crap; sometimes it's something the owner swears is a unique-one-of-a-kind when you can see its twin in the stall across the way, and sometimes it's something genuinely unusual. My guidelines have been "buy it because you like it not because it's special" and "you can always walk away." So far that has led me to a silver and genuine-but-deeply-flawed turquoise necklace that I got for a third the going rate (according to the fixed price shop), a carpet at again a third of the going rate (according to my guidebook and the fixed price shop, so wow), and some small ticket items that I got completely hosed on. Totally and completely. Like, double the fixed price shop. But that comes down to just a few dollars, and I more than made up for it on the other items. When knew I could bargain? I certainly didn't.

Tonight I'm having dinner at the riad again, since it's far cheaper and far better than most of the restaurants I've read about (and I don't really need belly dancers or fire breathers with my couscous). Tomorrow is the cooking class. Wednesday I leave! Shall try to fit in a little more culture and a little less shopping these next two days...
notyourmonkey: (Default)
Yet once again, in yet another strange city, I have managed to undertake a relatively straightforward operation (go to dinner in a square I visited earlier in the day) and turn it into a trip to Parts Of Town What I Should Not Visit On My Own. When I mentioned to Lawrence where I'd gone and how swiftly the catcalls had gotten ugly, his eyes got enormous.

I mean, a week in Morocco and a full day wandering the souks - I'm used to a little hassle. I'm used to every third car or bike honking at me. I'm used to the "hey pretty lady" and "bonsoir" from what feels like three out of every four men (or little boys as the case may be) I pass or who passes me. I'm used to a polite smile and walking with purpose or just ignoring and walking (faster) with purpose as the situation calls for.

What I'm not used to is for every other catcall to turn into "fat whore" or "ugly slut" or other things that really don't bear repeating. I kept walking further and further, and things got less and less comfortable (though nothing actually physically threatening, and how sad is it that nothing short of 'physically threatening' is something to take especial notice of?), and I checked my map behind a truck so no one could see me not sure of where I was, and eventually I asked two policemen to confirm that I was still headed in the right direction (Time Out Guides maps = not exactly to scale, can I just say). The directions were straightforward enough: right out of the hotel down the main road, then right when that road deadends. Simple, right? (No.)

When I got to the square, I still couldn't find the entrance (signs, people. they help.), but as luck would have it, the lamp guy I had talked to earlier in the day was still there, and he herded me away from some of the more aggressive "helpers" straight to the restaurant door. It was gorgeous inside, and I had the strangest assortment of food (samosas shaped like spring rolls, actually really good sushi - fresh and tightly rolled, and chocolate fondue) that was nevertheless delicious. When it was time to head back, Lamp Guy flagged me down a taxi, for which I was egregiously overcharged (almost seven dollars!), but it was worth every penny in the end.

My hotel is tucked away at the end of an alley, and it is blissfully quiet and well-lit. I used my key to get in, but Lawrence was headed down for a smoke, so we chatted for a bit. He and Peter (brothers or "brothers"? hard to tell in Morocco, where many things are illegal) have been in Marrakech for fifteen years, and before that, Lawrence lived in Thailand for eight years. I also learned all about his rabies treatment after a dog bit him in Bangkok (Lawrence's doctor friend - "oh, it bit you below the knee? well, you have at least two days before you have to worry about your brain getting infected!"), some of the artifacts they've decorated the house with, etc. It seems that there's a little something with some sort of history from either Asia or Morocco tucked in every nook and cranny of this house.

There was chatting and discussion of breakfast ("we'll serve until at least eleven-thirty; don't hurry out of bed on our account!"), and Lawrence declared me "faaaabulous," and now I'm back at the computer, contemplating a shower and how exactly I'm going to get the pair of sneakers I wore today back home. They really, really smell like the tanneries.
notyourmonkey: (Default)
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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