January 9th, 2021
Wrapping up our virtual tour of Morocco, today we’re exploring Marrakech through a handful of old photographs. I captured these images on a trip in 2007 — back when you could order a CD of the images from your camera. Remember those days? The early technology shows in the grainy quality of the images but somehow it fits with the nostalgia I feel for Marrakech and Morocco at large.
J and I visited for a week before we returned to the U.S. after living in London for 18 months. We approached the trip as we normally do — we booked the flight there and back, but nothing in between. We like to figure it out as we go.
Upon arrival, we hired a taxi to the city center — Jemaa el-Fna. At midday in May, the open plaza was hot and quiet with few people walking around. We walked to a café, dropped our packs and enjoyed our first cups of mint tea as we got our bearings and decided where to start looking for a place to stay. What we thought would take an hour took an entire, long afternoon. The tall, secretive walls and closed doors of the medina were new to us. With little signage in English, it was nearly impossible to figure out what was a riad and what was a private home; what was affordable and what was a luxury accommodation (of which there are many in Marrakech).
We walked and walked, all afternoon, on our search for a place to stay. It was a wonderful way to explore the medina but with heavy packs in the heat, it was exhausting. We finally found an acceptable riad and negotiated in English but the host family was having side conversations in French. I understood enough to know they were trying to overcharge us so we moved on. When we came to the next riad, we decided to up the budget because the room was beautiful and we were so tired, but we learned of an interesting trick. The owner took J aside and negotiated the price with him privately. When it came time to check out, he said that he and J had negotiated a higher price than what they had agreed on. Because he had separated us, J and I had no way to refute his claim other than by not giving him the extra money. And for that, we were thrown out of the riad a little bit early! Tant pis!
Despite the exchange at the riad, I have fond memories of the city. At Jemaa el-Fna and the night market, I remember being fixated on the volume of apricots, nuts, dates, dried fruits and oranges for sale. The night market was full of performers including musicians, snake charmers and even two female boxers.
In the day, the souks were alive with activity… every shop filled with handmade items from shoes to bags to rugs to lamps. The metalwork was exquisitely detailed and irresistible. But it was here, while browsing and negotiating, that a shopkeeper grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back to his storefront — an offensive move that was a direct lesson in what is deemed acceptable behavior toward women by some men and some cultures of the world. I bought nothing from his shop.
Beyond the souks and the memorable exchanges, I remember Marrakech being a city of infinite detail. The tile mosaics, brick, woodcarvings, plaster work, masonry and decoration were such an effusion of creativity, time and skill. Every surface was adorned with such beauty.
The ornamentation throughout Marrakech was my introduction to Islamic Geometric Design — a form of art that has remained a favorite ever since exploring Marrakech.
With travel, there are countries that imprint themselves in our hearts and minds, even through the challenges we may face while visiting them. For me, Morocco is one of those countries — deep, old, rich with art and creativity, varied in landscape, surprising and even disagreeable at times, but always unique in identity. Just like an old friend. I look forward to going back.
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.