October 24, 2012
I woke up to the call to prayer echoing around Marrakesh. The morning one (at 5AM) always seems louder than the other times of day. I stayed in the old, traditional part of town where buildings are very condensed, and there are a few mosques in the medina. In Amman, I think they used the same recording so the call was uniform across the town. Here, it was sung live with many different voices. "Allahu Abkar..." - I think it is saying something like "God is great, there is no other deity but God" I find it extremely spooky, especially when it is still dark and you are sleeping. Spooky but so beautiful. I wasn't staying up late in Morocco so I wasn't annoyed by it like I was the Dutch church bells across the canal that "gong!!"ed me awake and into a post - half marathon party hangover just two nights before in Amsterdam. It's all right, Allah. I'm an early bird too. I feel you.
After a jarring first day, I decided to make it easy on myself and have only TWO goals for today. One, to find the museum of photography, and two to find a really note-worthy dinner in the Dja El Fnaa. That was it. The museum of photography was only about a 20-30 minute (SAFE, EASY) walk away, but I knew that it would take me hours to find it because maps are completely useless here and the entire town is like a corn maze. Every street is narrow with high walls and no street signs. Main streets are twisting alleys with no rhyme or reason. And even if you could just use trial and error - well, that would be nice - but the entire souk is filled with people who wanted to talk to me, follow me, get my attention. If I asked for directions, they will not simply point the way. That is an invitation to talk!
"Umm.. parlez-vous anglais? non? Ou est la musee de photographie?
"hello miss! you cannot go there. Too difficult for you. I take you!"
"no, merci. can you just point the direction?"
(suddenly the person is starting to walk with you)
"I take you. you will not find it. too difficult for you. First you come to my shop. nice shop"
"bonjour.. ou est la musee de photographie? that way? or this way?"
"it is closed! you come to my shop"
"where you go? where you from? America? I take you, you cannot go alone"
After brushing off people for over an hour, and walking in the general direction where I thought it was, I tripped over some beautiful bowls sitting in the street. I love the arabic-calligraphic design. I really haven't seen too many examples of it in the souk. I apologized to the man and picked up the bowl I knocked over. He just smiled and didn't try to sell me anything. I found my shop. He let me look in peace and didn't hand me 15 things while I was looking. I loved him. we started our negotiations. I give the equivalent in USD:
me: how much are these? (three small bowls)
me: oh, that's a little more than I wanted to pay.
him: how much you want to pay?
him: OK, $15!
me: OK. Shukran!
easiest negotiation ever. we went from $210 to $15 with no fight. I love my bowls, but $210 makes me laugh. He even threw in an extra one so now I have four.
After the little bowl detour, it was back to finding the museum. I started to ONLY ask people who were BEHIND a counter, so they wouldn't leave their shop to give me unwanted company. That worked sometimes, but there was nearly always a friend standing nearby who tried to walk with me. sigh. So then, I started to ask only veiled women. But none of them spoke English and many didn't speak French. Finally, with the help of some young girl students, I found the mosque that it was next to and after 10 more minutes of trial and error, I found it. It took me almost two hours. To walk the equivalent of one mile. I was so excited.
The museum had all kinds of amazing historical photos of Morocco:
I got into a conversation with the French co-owner of the museum about on-line sales and our (similar) hopes for the US election. I would love to buy some of these prints when I get home. My apartment is already in danger of looking like a crazed Cost Plus World market, but I can't resist buying things from every country I visit.
Even the floor of the museum was a beautiful old tile. I am crazy about Moroccan tile. From a purely design standpoint, Morocco is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The towering mosques, the atmospheric old crumbling streets, the intricate tilework and courtyard plunge pools in the riads..the experience of walking down a 4 foot dirty alley to imposing 8 foot high doors of a building that opens up into the most grand, mosaic tiled courtyard..everywhere. Hidden surprises around every corner. All the Islamic and Asian influences come together with a touch of traditional African style to make what is uniquely Moroccan.
The rooftop of the museum had a nice, hassle-free restaurant where I had some awesome preserved lemon chicken tagine with olives. Two months ago, I preserved some lemons in my apartment for the specific purpose of making this dish when I came home.
I found my way home a little easier, because my hotel is near the Dja El Fnaa and that is a major part of town. After using a horrible internet cafe to write the Amsterdam entry, I went back to the Dja El fnaa for dinner. I saw this busy stall that had crowds of people around it waiting to eat there, everyone eating tiny little sausages. This was stall number 32 - Hassan's stall.
Here is a video I made of dining here!
Because I was alone, I slipped into a single seat quickly at the hottest spot in town just as I would at Kuma's corner at home. Dining solo rocks! OK, not always.. but you can usually squeeze in much faster than a group of 2 or 3. Everybody crowded together on single benches and even though there were several things on the menu, every single person had ordered this so I did too:
They were lamb merguez sausages. Heaven. Smoky, so fresh and served with a side of what tasted like salsa. I topped off the sausages with some couscous at another stall where I happily dined with some fellow Americans.
After dinner, I wandered around to watch the show. Drummers, snake charmers, musicians, all in little circles that had people watching and throwing appreciative change.
The Dja El Fnaa has not changed in a thousand years. My kind of dinner theater! I had a pre-bed glass of wine at kosybar, the rooftop bar near my riad and went to sleep by 10PM.