I have now been in Marrakech for 24 hours. I arrived yesterday on Swiss (thru Zurich) and if you have to travel anywhere, you should do so via Swiss trans-Atlantic. I am saying if you have to go to Vermont from NYC, I would recommend flying through Zurich. It is the most civilized travel experience I have ever had. I was dreading the 8 hour flight, but around hour 6 as I tore off a bit of flaky croissant whilst watching ALCESTE A BICYCLETTE, I thought, "I'd be fine here for a few more hours."
Marrakech is wild. It is an incredibly vibrant city that moves simultaneously at 1000 miles per hour and as if the entire population could lay down for a nap at any moment. The market is a whirlwind of mayhem but if you turn down an alleyway (this one leads to my Riad) you find instant silence.
I have learned, in my first 24 hours, that a white man, by himself with no camera or backpack, wandering the streets of Marrakech is probably looking for hashish and hookers. Let's be honest, a white guy in his 30's or 40's wandering ANY city alone is very likely to be seeking the same, but in Marrakech they are genuinely surprised when I am not. My favorite is a frightfully charming young man, probably 16, who works the area in front of Cafe de France. He is bizarrely confident for his age, first offering me a flyer for a local restaurant then whispering, "I take you where you can get massage and shower." The second time I saw him, "You again!" he exclaimed, then, "Really, my friend, I can show you where to get best massage." Our third encounter was less subtle, "The sex is really good."
I have also learned that getting hit by a moped or bicycle is just not that big of a deal. It will happen here. Repeatedly. And it's fine. It honestly just makes me want to buy a moped, but Cherif says I am not allowed.
Today is the Eid Al Kbir festival, which means much of the city is shut down. A street off of the Jamaa el Fna yesterday:
Another street off the same square today:
The thing I love most, so far, is the cafe's. It is perfectly acceptable to sit and order a coffee and sip it for an hour. Or two. The tables are all positioned with chairs side-by-side facing the street, perfectly set up for conversation and people watching. My favorite so far is one a bit outside the square, where the waiter is in his sixties, carrying a fanny pack of cigarettes that he sells mostly to stopped cars and mopeds or the occasional horse-drawn carriage driver. The 12 or so tables were filled with all Moroccan men (between 50 and 75 years old) and me. Le cafe noir could take paint off a car (just the way I like it), the flies were intolerable, and the music was blasting from inside except when turned off during the call to prayer. I ended up in quite a few tourist photos, sitting there amongst the men who were verbosely solving the world's problems.
Here in Morocco, I am both very visible and completely interchangeable. Walking around alone, without a companion or a guide book, I am using my French to get by and make my way around, but still I stand out. And I am irrelevant, foreign, a target or a customer but no different than the rest. I was approached by a man today with a huge, "Remember me?!" and he was shocked that I was not this other man.
Him: "I sell you hashish. Yesterday. In the square."
Me: "That wasn't me."
Him: - baffled look -
Me: "C'etait pas moi."
Him: - baffled look - "You look like him." - pause - "You want hashish?"
Is this how we see each other? To suddenly be the foreigner and see how we treat those we categorize . . . I don't know. When I lived briefly in Walnut Creek, CA (a VERY white town outside of San Fran) I remember seeing an interracial couple (he was white, she Indian) and feeling vaguely bad for them but not knowing exactly why. Being here, different, an outsider, I realize now it was that I knew how everyone in that town described her - she was 'that Indian girl". No wonder we cannot figure out the larger conflicts if we barely see each other as people.
Tomorrow I will meet Yahya, a French/Algerian painter with two rooms to rent, to try to figure out my accommodations for next week. He is sending me his address and i'm going to try to find it on my own. Then on Friday a man named Khalid will pick me up outside the square where the horses line up ("How will I find you?" I asked. Pause. "I think I will be able to pick you out," he replied) and we will begin my Arabic tutoring. After our initial phone call to set up the meeting time and place (the tutoring sessions were booked several weeks ago from the US), Khalid called me back to let me know I should call him if I need anything between now and Friday.
But today with the holiday, I will probably just visit another cafe.
- - Adam