Eyes in the Kasbah

November 18, 2010 in MOROCCO | Comments (54)

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Last day in Marrakech, and don’t want to go. Feel I should float here forever, on the rooftop of our riad, in the hot sun of this November day. A rooster crows from the Kasbah, among the washing on a rooftop. Today cars inched into the souk below, carrying boxes of vegetables. Usually it is just donkey carts or hand drawn carts making deliveries. But this is Saturday!

The mosque was our view over breakfast in the sun, the date palms, and a crumbling tower full of pigeons in pigeonholes….old crumbly holes no doubt worn by pigeons wiggling. Below the Saadian tombs are deserted – too early for the tour groups (image from La Sultana rooftop taken previously).

I don’t want to go. I just want to be in Marrakech.

Probably the most magical thing about Marrakech is the women in their caftans, shawls and veils.

Only one in a hundred women is wearing Western dress in the Kasbah, many with niquabs, and in the souks most are wearing long caftans and head shawls. People-watching at the Square from Café Glacier is something to remember forever.

Flowing past in their caftans, gliding silkily, mysteriously. All colours, all patterns, matching head scarf, sometimes a niqab, seldom a real burqa…

Far from threatening. Far from tragic, to an onlooker the veils just hold the power of exotism and unknown things. We are strangely sisters…as she finds weight in choosing vegetables and her dreams in the most lustrous fabric spilling out onto the pavement.

Where do men fit in her real intimate world?  The younger men have all gone to Western clothes and noisy bikes. Just the older men are left in the world of the women, at least it seems to me as onlooker, the world of caftans and hoods, shawls and niqabs. And slow pace…

I imagine it is going to change fast, as in groups of teenagers up in the Square there are usually one or two girls showing their hair.

Many young women in the evening are out with a man, eyes duskily ringed with kohl, but beautifully covered up in exquisite caftan and head veil.

Later Saturday.

We went “window”-shopping just outside La Sultana. Busy day in the Kasbah, goods everywhere. Fresh meat, Berber teapots, luminous pink washing powder in buckets – children’s clothes and gauzy cloths. And piles of herrings, bananas and oranges. We bought a hunk of amber and crumble of lavender (5 euro note), aromatic spices (ridiculously low prices –20 dirham note –  for almost half a kilo of spice). Each bag of fragrant spice in picture below cost 5 dirham (0.5 euro, 5o cents).

Bought two Berber teapots (one new and reported to be silver 🙂 and one old (referred to as antique) for my last 500 krona note (worth close to 600 MAD).

The Kasbah no longer felt threatening. We had grown used to the crush, the bikes, the donkey carts. It felt more gentle and somehow familiar, yet intriguing still.

I walked slowly, trying to see the world of the women, the things they buy, the clothes they wear, and their eyes.  To see peace, concentration or whatever.

Just once I was terrified. She has haunted me ever since. She was so worried, that slender dark-eyed young woman, with frowns roaming around that small part of her face that showed above her niqab. As if there was nowhere safe to go for her on this earth.

Who or what was terrifying her? If I devoted the rest of my life to it, and roamed the Kasbah day after day, would I ever find her? And would I ever be able to help?


Later we took a horse-drawn carriage ride. Whether to go back to the Square, or see something new?

“Have you seen the Gardens?” asked the helpful front desk manager at La Sultana. He found us a horse drawn carriage ride at only 150 dirham for a little excursion to the Gardens, and back either to the square or the hotel. He explained to the driver that we would decide en route whether we wanted dropoff at the Square or return to the hotel.

The Majorelle Gardens lie out of the Medina near its northern end. That is a long way. So the horses went at top speed, as if in a chariot race, down rue de la Kasbah, out though the Kasbah gate, along a major road Avenue Mohamed V past the Katoubia mosque (the very road we had tried to cross on Thursday, when timorous as a rabbit I quivered on the pavement waiting for a non-existent stop in the traffic).

The driver had no mirror. So when turning he would give an effective jerk of the head and take in the traffic situation in an instant. Our carriage raced alongside donkey carts, cars, motorbikes and gigantic buses that were completely stuffed with passengers.

Yet after the terrors of crossing roads on the way to the Square and back, it was much more relaxing to be in the perhaps illusory safety of our carriage. You get used to Marrakech.

Our driver gave us 20 minutes to see the gardens. A short wait in a queue to pay and get in, and then entry into a lush garden, rather full of happy snappers, but quite beautiful with paths wandering through areas devoted to giant cactus, banana palms and bamboo. Used to belong to Yves Saint Laurent and he has a memorial there. The Islamic museum was closed for renovation, otherwise only 20 minutes would have been just too frustrating.

Just outside the Gardens the area was under a lot of development, and a shiny chrome and plastic, but stylish minimalistic coffee bar had apparently just been opened.

We took a different route back to the hotel …through the New Town, which was still largely rose-tinted, but straighter, cleaner and quieter and rather less interesting, at least on the route we took. The driver remarked: “rich people” – as he pointed at a newly painted block of flats. In this area there is an increasing number of hotels, some very luxurious (like Sofitel and Le Meridien). We passed the grand entrances of La Mamounia, just inside the Medina.

Back in the Medina traffic, we trotted past a three wheeled motorcyle with a platform on which lay a sheep. I saw so many of these sheep on the back of donkey carts or mopeds, their horns tied against something, most standing and fighting to get free.

Our driver to the airport explained why there were so many sheep being transported at present. They were sheep for the sacrifice – a special Islamic day was coming up – something to do with Abraham, he explained, reminding of our common Judaic heritage.

However, as a non eater of meat, I have a tendency to take the animal’s side in situations like this. A little more towards Confucious I believe. I felt a helpless empathy for those frantic or resigned sheep.

I was reminded of all the people on this earth entrapped by circumstance, or believing they are. Fighting furiously or sinking down, giving up. And the black eyed woman in the Kasbah still haunts me.

This is not meant to be my last note about Marrakech. It is just one of the shadows. Along with the begging of children and irritating hustlers.

Mostly I see Marrakech in the brilliant light of the sun, the rose-tinted city glowing. Exotic, vibrant, pulsating Marrakech, with all its romance and intrigue. Its glorious upredictability and its 1001 caves of hand-made goods in the souk labyrinths.

My only regret is I took so little home with us, thanks to the folly of thinking plastic money and the wall would do.

I have summed up our Marrakech experiences much more succinctly under Articles.

Exotism in Marrakech, and under Luscious Luxury (Amanjena, La Sultana, Dar JL).

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