It is amazing what successfully riding public transportation in a foreign city can do for your confidence. All at once the city gets larger (I can get to other places!) and smaller (it's not so big and scary!) in a single ride. With the holiday, I had been hesitant to leave my little enclave not knowing what would be open or closed, but today was my first Arabic class and, well, I had to get home after. So I did, on the number 1 bus. Win.
But yesterday, with the city still relatively quiet, I walked to a cafe to meet Yahya, who will be my landlord beginning on Tuesday and until I depart Marrakech. Here's the apartment in a photo snagged from the Air BnB listing.
It's a cute little one bedroom (he apologized for the couch color) a few blocks and a million miles outside the square. I am definitely looking forward to moving outside of the fray. The square is NOTHING like Times Square, but it is as overstimulating and aggressive, so the best analogy I can give is moving from the Times Square to a studio on Ninth Ave. Not far, but far. "That's where you can get shawarma - real shawarma - and for normal price," Yahya told me, pointing to a closed cafe across the street, "after the festival is done." Yahya is French, in his fifties, an artist and self-proclaimed student of world religions who was eager to talk politics, America, airlines and anything else. More on him soon, I am sure, after I move in to the apartment adjacent to his early next week.
But before I move out of the Jemaa el Fna Square, I want to give you a sense of this magical and terrifying place. In the morning, as seen by a young-ish American on his way to Arabic class, the largest section of it looks like this:
But at night, temporary restaurants, street performers, story tellers and rifraf of all sorts descend upon the area with the gorgeous African sunset. Film has yet to capture dusk in the way the earth glows a magnificent yellow here, as the sky and clouds darken on the horizon and colors you cannot imagine float in the air . . . and then darkness. It is magical. And when the palette is complete and has faded into night, you are left with this, taken in the same spot as above:
Sleeping off last night's exhausting magic, I rose this morning to meet Khalid out by the main bus depot. He picked me up in a grey Volkswagen, and the thought did occur to me that I was hopping into a car with a stranger in a strange city, perhaps to vanish and never be heard from again. But, alas, my life is rarely as interesting as my fear. Khalid is lovely, driving me through Marrakech, pointing out places to see, offering advice and even suggesting that, if I wanted to, he would take me on a moped ride through the city to see what Marrakech is "really like". I tried to contain my glee at the prospect. If you know me, you have already guessed that I failed. Khalid laughed openly at my "Yes!!"
He then introduced me to my teacher for the next two weeks, Hayat. She is fantastic and sweet and teaches with positivity and encouragement. When I apologized (again) for my awful accent and butchery of her beautiful complicated language, she stopped and kindly said, "You must know. I love to teach. I love it. And I am very patient." This is she:
And this is part of my first lesson, conjugating an introduction
(My name is, Your name is, etc.):
I will end today's written journey through my life and mind with two admissions.
The first is that it happened. I have been warned repeatedly about being led away and suddenly finding oneself in an awkward situation where you must purchase or offend. It's a brilliant cultural con, and I fell for it even though I was aware and poised to avoid it. Two charming college kids, working in the market on holiday break, showed me at least 100 herbs, soaps, dyes, oils and scents (while asking me a million questions and practicing their English). I made it through their terrific sales pitch (and to be fair, we laughed and chatted and had a blast throughout) and I only spent 260 DHS (around $30.00). I thought I had succeeded, befriending and talking to them without being pressured into a large purchase. The money exchanged hands and I was offered tea. Triumph . . . right? Then, blam, before I could stop it, I am in another locale, with his cousin, pressured to purchase a Moroccan rug and ship it home. Damn it! I barely and awkwardly escaped without a new carpet, but carrying the shame that it had worked on me, too. I would rather have a rug.
Here is a picture of one of the two young men (the other - the one who got me - snuck out of the frame on purpose at the last second) and a photo of the carpets I almost owned.
The second admission is that I have to confess, though I am loathe to admit it (as you know I champion bizarre juxtapositions of morality and sex, e.g. prayer and prostitution), that the "massage" offers had more to do with my demeanor than prostitutional prevalence. Apparently my "I am nervous because I don't know where I'm going" face looks strikingly similar to an "I am nervous because I am illegally soliciting drugs and sex" face. Now that I know my way around, the massage offers have all but disappeared and the drug dealers have reduced to a drive-by whisper ("Hashish?"), no more intimidating than the "Smoke? Smoke?" of Washington Square.
I guess it's back to the cafe for me . . .
- - Adam