‘This way, sir – lubbly jubbly.’ Amid the tumult of helmetless motorcyclists riding pell-mell through a gaggle of school children, a phlegmatic babouche seller catches my attention with his snappy badinage. Armed with my rehearsed ‘Salaam-Alaikum’, I falter. But we shake hands and smile as an imperilling, throttle-zealous wrist passes within two inches of a child’s eye. ‘Bonjour. Salut,’ call the beaming brown-eyed kids, insouciantly disregarding any threat of maiming.
Unguents, spices and two-stroke fumes needle my nostrils; slippered women saunter effortlessly amongst the throng, exotically bedecked in vibrant, hand-embroidered finery; the sun’s rays peep through the rusty slats of corrugated iron sheltering the street. The medina’s enrapturing assault on my senses temporarily overwhelms me…and I need tea. I’m in the right city for it.
Nice Cup of Moroccan Tea
Beneath a carpet of satellite dishes, I watch, transfixed, as the ornate teapot is lifted higher and higher. Despite pouring from a height of half a metre, the café owner doesn’t spill a drop. Steaming, urine-coloured liquid, laced with enough sugar to warrant an imminent visit to a dentist, splashes into a small glass, forming a frothy head. “A tea without foam is like a Berber without a turban,” says Jamal, my tour guide. “But the tea has to be strong enough.”
Lounging on Moorish leather cushions, I reflect for a moment, with a cat atop an elegant footstool for company. We sit together awhile, watching the magic of this beguiling arena unfold before us. Rickshaw drivers loll in their carts beside listless mules; a boy of no more than ten cycles past, precariously balancing a huge basket of bread between chin and handlebars. His knuckles narrowly miss a heavily-veiled woman on the back of a scooter – encumbered with an unwieldy wooden cabinet, she clings on for dear life. It is a delicious chaos.
Enjoy Getting Lost in Marrakech’s Souks
Butting on once again through Morocco’s biggest market, I begin to understand the minutiae of daily existence here. Rather than fleeing from salesmen’s patter, wary of protracted haggling, I start having fun with them and bandying pleasantries in schoolboy French. I nod to the artisans fashioning chess sets and backgammon boards in the streets. And I peer behind intricately carved doorways into a veritable Aladdin’s cave, stacked with gorgeous Arabic lanterns. This is a working medina, not a film set designed for tourists, and every nook and cranny is bursting with interest.
And then, like thousands before me in these labyrinthine passageways, I realise I’m lost. I fumble inexpertly and fruitlessly with a map, searching for clues on how best to reach my riad. As the muezzins call last prayer from the minarets, my colleague, Gwen, happens to pass by and points me in the right direction. ‘I knew I’d missed the turning when I got as far as the goat’s feet,’ she says, laughing at our hopelessly improbable landmark. I know now what Herman Melville meant in Moby Dick, when he wrote, ‘It is not down in any map, true places never are.’
For more on this trip to Marrakech last November, click here.