I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Justin Berber

Happy birthday, JB. Apparently.

I slept through the call to prayer on Saturday morning. What a rubbish Muslim I would make. Also I am told there was a cockerel, which I missed too. A bit weird to be on holiday and not wake up and immediately shove on BBC World or CNBC or radio 4 or download a new podcast; and in a room whose privacy levels the NSA and GCHQ would be proud of there was nothing to do except actually get up and do some day seizing.

First, a massively sugary breakfast in the courtyard directly outside our room, and some studious blogging interspersed with a bit of squeeing over the cat, Limoun. And then, some tourism.

Marrakech doesn't really seem to do mornings, as everywhere was relatively empty, calm and quiet compared to the madness of our first evening. We wandered back up to the now empty main square and took a few photos, and despite the sun it was actually a tiny bit chilly - perfect for me, annoying for Helen. We made sure we knew where the booze hole for the evening was and then set off to the souks.

The first two souks were pretty ordinary really. Some fresh produce, which is no use to us, and then some fabrics and stuff which we weren't interested in. But the main souk complex didn't disappoint, this largely covered (with various forms of metal) maze of endless alleys of shop after shop after shop selling leather goods, rugs, food, toys, spices, all kinds of everything. My gut instinct led us somewhere a bit crap at one point, but I made up for it by spotting a tiny artisan courtyard where people were actually making things out of leather there and then, with no hassle from locals, just a working area with residences as well. We weren't really in the mood to buy, just to gawp, and anyway this was on the way to the tanneries.

We were making half decent progress in the correct direction through the maze until, of course, someone gave us directions and then a lad happened to walk the same way as us and made conversation and, hello, he led us to the tanneries, talked a lot about my beard and called me Ali Baba, introduced us to the boss of some of the tanners and promptly disappeared without hanging around waiting for 50dh. OK then...

Boss man taught us some words in Arabic and Berber which we promptly used and then forgot, and walked us around his tannery. Over and over again, he explained how the hide from camels, goats, sheep and cows get shoved in lime and salt for a week, then covered in pigeon shit, then have the hair scraped off, then get plunged in water for a week, and then they're ready to be worked on. Apparently these here Berbers from the Atlas mountains only come down to the city every so often to do this work and sell it. We're on the last day of the big leather festival, before they piss off back to the hills, how lucky! We walked in and around two different tanneries and also got a birds eye view of some others, one of which we were requested not to take photos of because of the strictly religious guy who disapproved of cameras. They were interesting places, nothing like as picturesque as sundry books had led us to believe but also they didn't stink. We had been told about 15 times by now that pigeon shit is "Berber Chanel no.5" and is used because it does the same job but is less dangerous to the skin than ammonia.

Finally we were led into a shop where the most gregarious Berber salesmen in all Morocco sat us down, made his boys fetch us some mint tea, offered me 5000 camels for Helen, and directed us through the most astonishing sales pitch I've ever witnessed. We were shown big floor cushions I want to spell "poofs" with angering the entire gay community, then bag after bag after bag, then a shitload of rugs in various colours and designs featuring patterns representing ice, the high Atlas, the middle Atlas, Berber tattoos, luck, marriage, etc etc. Everything unique, everything much better quality than you'd find in that horrible main square where everything is "China quality", don't you know. Him and his folk have had to come 60-70km down from the mountains! The Arabs don't like them, politically (though personally they get along fine). We Londoners are eternal brothers with the Berber people and there is no obligation to buy anything and, seriously, how many camels for Helen? And I was repeatedly called Ali Baba because of my heroic beard.

We did actually want to buy something, luckily enough, but I felt really guilty his boys had laid out so many rugs when there wasn't a cat in hell's chance we'd buy one. They got put away and we picked a couple of items we did want and then the "democratic pricing" came into effect. More touchy feely, Helen was designated "director of finance" and a written haggle proceeded. He wrote down 1700dh which we misread as 700, so we started at 400dh. Cutting his arm off! 1400! 700? 1200! 1000? OK, 1000. He won't be able to eat but we're such nice people, etc etc.

It was a fair chunk of cash but we'd played into the whole experience and it was fun, and we really did want the things we purchased. But unfortunately the entire thing was soured as we left the shop, the boss of the tanneries magically appeared at exactly the right time and straight out demanded an extra 200dh for the tour he'd given us. No asking if we fancied rewarding him and his workers, just a flat demand for an exact amount of cash. We shoved 100dh his way and told him he was getting no more, and pissed off away back towards the main square.

"Towards the main square" is an interesting concept in Marrakech. We did actually get a bit lost and seemed to reach a very non-touristy area full of roaming youths and football gang graffiti. Refusing to explicitly stop and turn back, I glanced at my phone as if to check a text message and discerned a swift right right, left combo which would get us back on track back towards Jemaa el-Fna. Soon enough we were back in the covered souks with excellent fractured light beams, and a huge congested traffic jam of mopeds and pedestrians and cycles and donkeys. Absolutely crazy and fantastic to try and walk through these narrow alleys, which have been here for hundreds if not thousands of years and have resolutely refused to adapt since the introduction of motorised vehicles.

We totally knew exactly where we were going, and attempted to give off that impression, yet still had random locals shouting "main square, this way" every couple of yards, each pointing in a direction different to the last. No-one was getting our dh this time, we got all the way back just fine thank you very much. The only exception was this guy who tried to direct us to the Jewish quarter. Huh.

At the square we fancied something to eat and drink, so went up to the top floor balcony of a cafe and got some lemon juice plus a cheese sandwich and chips. Very authentic. We could see the Atlas mountains though, which was pretty fucking cool. At this café Helen realised she'd had her e-fag lifted from her bag, or maybe it had just dropped out - either way she didn't have it any more and this was bad. The nicotine cravings were already, ironically enough, stopping her from being able to open the emergency nicotine strip packet and there was some concern that she hadn't brought a spare and might have to get some real fags. Uh-oh.

Back to the hotel, via a vigorous demand from the local barber. Twice now, as he sees us approaching, he's leapt out of his doorway and shouted "SHAVE!" at me. Anyway we went back not just to check on the vape but just to have a break after the morning's madness anyway, and make plans for the afternoon. A recurring theme in our riad is to be serenaded by the night manager's mate practicing acoustic guitar. I'd been sure I'd heard him playing Metallica's Nothing Else Matters but then realised it was probably just the open strings, but now I am sure because he played all the way through to the end of the first verse. It seems to be about the only song he knows, apart from Old McDonald Had A Farm which we'd also had on Friday.

More Scrabble. I won, and was a bad winner. Helen did indeed bring a spare e-cig. Phew.

Now, time to head south. Virtually next door to our riad is a palace called Palais Bahia, a snip at 10dh entry into some really nice gardens with a few stray cats being cute and then a complex of tiled rooms and courtyards with fountains and stuff. Lots of really nice Islamic architecture and design, and vast amounts of photobombing tourists and GOD DAMN IT STOP TAKING PHOTOS WITH IPADS. I hate that.

Back out and heading a little bit further south, we really didn't know until now that there was a touristy area so close to where we were staying. A bunch of restaurants and stuff appeared and then we stumbled almost literally into the metalworking square, which was a proper clang-fest. Back out and around and here's another palace, this time all ruins and birds and cats and sunken gardens and pools. It's a vast(-ish) complex of roofless rooms from a palace built in the late 1500s modeled after something in Granada and it's really quite pretty and peaceful and we were very impressed by the cranes/storks/whatever they were all perched along the tops of the edge walls, as well as the cats wandering around and making rackets.

We wandered in and around each bit - the main complex, the annexe, but not into the museum of photography and visual arts which is somewhat incongruously in the middle of these ruins. We had however paid the extra 10dh to get entry into what we thought was a mosque, but is in fact a little room in which photography is not allowed and which houses a minbar from 900 years ago. A minbar is a stepped pulpit, and it was intricate and lovely and that but not honestly worth doubling the price of entry, certainly not for an infidel like me.

The final corner of the main complex has an upstairs terrace with views over the whole city and the surrounding mountains including them there Atlases again. Fantastic. While up there, I got a text from Gavin who is also in Marrakech with his missus right now - did we fancy meeting them up by the main square this evening? Well, yes, we did.

Left the palace and had a bit of a quiet moan about the girl showing masses of skin - high shorts and a vest on top. Come on, have some respect for local customs and opinion even if you don't share them. Crossed the busy street like a boss, I unwittingly left Helen behind. D'oh! She ran across and we strolled up the street parallel to the main one next to our riad. A brief stop to purchase a camel, we nipped through some side roads to get back to Zitoun el Jdid and popped into the Earth Café 'cos Helen was a bit peckish. A small snack turned out to be a plate so full of potatoes, apples, pastry and other stuff that I ended up having probably more than half of it, washed down with some "yogi tea" which did not taste of bear nor expert zen master. Out the window on this second floor we could see just how awesomely cobbled together the electricity infrastructure of the old town is.

Nipped back to the hotel, being implored yet again to shave, I startled a donkey and Helen laughed her head off at my saying "sorry mate" to it. I can't help being polite! She got changed while we were treated to Nothing Else Matters again, and I found out AFC Wimbledon lost 1-0 away to bloody Hartlepool. Sigh. Loz texted me asking if I wanted some beers and Geoff sent me a photo of a shitload of booze, both taunting me as we had yet to find alcohol in the city - though we were in posession of a flyer for a venue which promised booze and a happy hour from 4.30pm-1am.

Back to the main square, headed to an ATM and stumbled into Gavin and his missus who were just about to brave the souks. Told them where we'd be for drinking and a few minutes later there we were, with wine and local Flag lager on the 3rd floor with a view of the Atlas mountains at sunset. Bliss. The others joined us before we'd even got through our first drinks, let alone the "get one frees" and we sat and yammered on about Marrakech and football and betting and the soundtrack of Imagination (2 songs! Just An Illusion and Music and Lights!) and Kool and the Gang, but early 80s pop-soul-funk gave way to Adele and a desire for booze gave way to hunger.

Down 2 floors to one of the restauranty bits, the price was a bit jarring and having already established that we weren't all hungry we requested the tasting menu for 2, but to share between 4 of us. Oh, and some Casablanca beers.

Out came the food and we all tucked in, to small dishes of about 16 different things - meats, chickpeas, spinach, beans, tomatoes, pickled stuff, olives, just all kinds of loads of things. We all four of us got fairly full... and then the main course arrived. Hurrah! 4 tagines arrived - one full of cous-cous and veg, one just veg, and two with meat in. I think. Just loads of food, no real clue how this was meant to be for only 2 people but nonetheless I volunteered to wolf down everything that the others didn't want.

Belly dancers! I'm always awkward around this stuff, not really finding it particularly sexy and certainly not wanting to join in, have any attention paid to me, etc. Gavin got up and had a slight boogie and the other tables were nothing like as awkward or straight-laced as me. On the second round, a different lass came to our table and placed the big metal plate covered in bottles with lit candles on Helen's head, and she affirmed that it is bastard heavy. A photogapher was following people round and there were notes poking out of the breastwear, so we stayed cheap and took no pics.

Dessert arrived. Bloody hell. I bravely managed a couple of pieces, not sure anyone else tried any. Time to leave while our legs could still carry us, we left and went our own ways - Gav and Ag are staying a distance out of town and had a cab to haggle, something we are really glad we didn't have to do. The streets were much emptier though by no means empty as we stumbled back to the riad, this time the barber was cutting someone's hair so did not insist I shave. I moaned incessantly about feeling so ridiculously full, and we fell asleep sharpish to the sound of Nothing Else Matters.

I have still not been dumped.

1 comment:

auswomble said...

"I startled a donkey" needs to be a euphemism if it isn't already.