Thankfully, Fez is not the model city for Morocco. Marrakech is so much unlike Fez, actually, that it hardly seems possible that they are in the same country. Our train rolled into an actual station, complete with a platform, and things went off without a hitch.
Our hotel is just a few hundred meters from the train station and it was a beautiful walk. There are sidewalks here--ones that really work. It was so even and straightforward that we put Rachel down and let her run. That almost never happens here.
The hotel is very nice, nicer than our hotel in Fez, and even had freshly squeezed orange juice with breakfast. Could things get better? I submit that they could not!
We walked from our hotel to the Medina. That was a bit of a trek, but it wasn't quite as far as we had imagined. We got to the Koutoubia minaret in no time and stood for a few minutes just taking in the sheer magnitude. It's tall. While we were watching it was saw a crane fly out of its nest on the top, which was pretty neat.
We didn't want to stick around there too long, though, because surrounding the Koutoubia are the ruins of a mosque, which the public seem to use as a makeshift bathroom and it smells rather terribly. We had a lot more to see, anyway.
So we struck off again on our way to the Medina. Rachel walked most of the way by herself. She likes to balance on curbs or, if there isn't a curb, any line she can find.
We saw some interesting things on our walk, including some more djellaba-cloaked Jedi with a bike and some fountains that were slightly less than appealing.
We entered the Medina through the Bab Nkob and found ourselves in the wildly African Jamaa el Fna, welcomed by the sound of beating drums, tinkling bells, and wailing flutes. Fortune tellers, snake charmers, and henna artists all vied for our attention while some cross-dressed belly dancing men tried to seduce a dirham or two out of Andrew's wallet.
Witch doctors gave lectures and shook lizards at the throngs of people and "dentists" showed off the hundreds of teeth they pulled and tried to convince unfortunate souls that they had incurable tooth aches.
This last dentist allowed, rather encouraged, us to take his picture for payment. We didn't think this was unfair, so we snapped our pictures and handed him a few coins. His meek, friendly demeanor quickly dissolved into a flurry of indignant passion. He grabbed Andrew's arm before he could put his wallet away and demanded more money. Andrew wrenched out of his grasp and told the man that he had been paid. The man followed us around for a few minutes shoving and heckling Andrew.
We told him, again, that he had been paid and that he was being incredibly rude and we would not pay him more. Eventually he left us alone, but not without a few choice words.
Later, when we were taking a few pictures of the general chaos of Jamaa el Fna, a snake charmer descended on us quite virulently, fittingly enough. He insisted we had taken a picture of him even though we had our back to him when he approached us. He, also, wanted a few coins for his "trouble."
We refused, for we had not taken his picture. I even showed him the pictures we had taken to prove that we hadn't taken a picture of him. He insisted that the man in the red-orange jacket was him.
When we pointed out that that was impossible since that man was most definitely not a snake charmer, he still wanted to be paid insisting,
"He is my cousin."
Are you serious? Your cousin? Well then, come, and let me pay your cousin. Since your cousin is watching some grotesque male belly-dancers mincing and shaking, I really doubt he cares if we took his picture.
He refused to leave us alone and, embarrassingly enough, we got into a bit of an altercation with him. A yelling match, if you will.
He was getting right into Andrew's face, demanding money and talking loudly, while gesturing threateningly.
"NO!" Andrew yelled.
We were advised, by AUC, to get loud if things were turning dangerous so that people would rally around us. Or at least so that there would be witnesses if anything too terrible happened.
"Don't get angry!" he yelled, pulling Andrew closer, close enough now that he was spitting in his face while talking.
Andrew pushed his arms away and yelled in Arabic, "May God destroy your house!"
The snake charmer returned Andrew's cursings while we walked away, but didn't pursue us anymore.
Perhaps I wouldn't be so upset about these situations if my baby and I weren't treated like a circus act, ourselves. We go outside here, or anywhere in the Middle East, and people are constantly staring and snapping pictures. Perhaps I should start charging as well. We draw much more of a crowd than a grumpy dentist or surly snake charmer. 5 dirhams for a photo. 10 to stroke Rachel's cheek or pull her pigtails. 20 per "boosa" or "kiss."
If only her visa wasn't stamped with "NO WORK." We'd be rich.
Can you imagine the reaction I'd get if I asked for money--or worse, if I assaulted someone for refusing to give me money--after someone took a picture of Rachel? Can you imagine the reaction I'd get if I refused to let someone take a picture of her, or if I got mad at them for taking a picture of her?
I would be tut-tutted and tsked at for sure.
Rachel didn't really enjoy all the hubbub of the square. She was crying "No! No! No!" the whole time we were there. Perhaps she didn't like seeing her Daddy yell at people. Perhaps she didn't like all the funny people pulling on her and demanding "PHOTO!" Perhaps the cacophony was just too much for her little ears to handle. Eventually we had to put it all behind us and delve into the suq.
I found the coolest pants. Ever.
Unfortunately, since I was already wearing pants when I bought them and there was no where to change I had to wait for the rest of the day to put them on. It was almost torture.
They are wrap around pants. Really cool.
We got a few other items and wandered around some of the "food" suqs. They have a Suq Djaj that sells, what else but, chickens. There were chickens, eggs, turkeys, and pigeons all over the place. We went to take a picture but were yelled by some man holding an egg carton in front of his face, as if to shield him from the sheer awesomeness of our camera lens.
We did, however, get some pictures in the spice market and the snack area.
Who thought of escargot first, the French or the Moroccans? I know the French claim it, but really? snails? That sounds a little exotic. It sounds like something the French would take back to France from Morocco, since Morocco seems a lot more exotic than France, at least to me. As for the dijon mustard, I'm sure the Moroccans borrowed that from the French. It is served with every meal here, like mayonnaise in Russia or ketchup in Egypt.
Instead of the escargot, we had couscous at a little place in the Jamaa el Fna square and then headed off in the small, winding, labyrinthine streets of the Medina to find some museums. Rachel was happy to leave the square behind, once again.
Unlike Fez, the streets of the Medina in Merrakech (or Mrr-A-ksh as the locals are wont to say) are fairly void of people, donkeys, carts, or otherwise. There were a few roads that were crowded with motorbikes and had people milling about, but mostly we were alone.
Finding our way was a little tricky, but we had our map and there were signs pointing the way to the museum. We had just found our way to a little alley leading the way to the museum when a little boy appeared out of thin air.
"You want to find the museum?" he asked in an odd mix of French, English, and Arabic.
"Yes, of course," we said, pointing to the sign.
"I will show you the way!" the young boy offered, pushing his way in front of us.
"We can read the signs," said Andrew, in Arabic.
The boy continued to wait for us at every turn, right under the signs that also were showing us the way at every turn. The boy's services were overtly superfluous. We'd much rather have paid the sign painter than pay the young man pestering us to follow him. So we pointed out, at each turn, that we didn't need him and wouldn't pay him because we could read.
He insisted on walking us the whole way to the museum, which was, disappointedly, closed for lunch. We thanked him for walking with us and reminded him that we had known where we were the whole time, were following the signs, and that he had done us no service.
"Give me money!" he whined, sticking out his hand.
After a little back-and-forthing we eventually paid him just to go away before heading back to the square to wait for "lunch" to be over.
I wish that I had something to give to everyone I came across, but I don't. It breaks my heart to see so many poor people, but it creates cynicism to be swindled so often. Wouldn't that boy be better off in school than begging pithy amounts of money from lost tourists? Does it really help to give him a coin for doing little, if anything?
I'm not really sure. And I wonder, further, why the restaurant we ate lunch at would allow acrobats to perform outside the restaurant and then run around pestering their clients for a few coins and yet would throw out, quite roughly, a vagrant--muttering constantly, quite crazily, and smelling so strongly of human feces that I thought an outhouse had walked by.
Surely he needed the money more than the acrobats. But would he even be able to use the money? I'm not sure. So perhaps we should have just paid the acrobats.
This world is in too much of a mess for me.
It was nice to finally get out of the square, once and for all, and into the silent seclusion of Dar Si-Said. It was quite an amazing house, displaying an array of insignificant objects of unimpressive age in inadequate lighting.
We weren't allowed to take pictures, which, due to the lack of interesting displays, would have been fine, were it not for the amazing architecture. Luckily, the house was all but empty and we had most of the chambers to ourselves. We didn't take any pictures, still, because that was against the rules, but we did make up an echo game that Rachel found wonderfully entertaining.
Soon one of the groundskeepers caught up with us and proceeded to lead us on a personal tour. We went into the harem, which was rather impressive. He pointed out a few things and tried to make friends with Rachel. We thanked him, and turned around to go back to the public part of the museum.
He stopped us, though, and beckoned us into another room off the harem. This room was quite unimpressive, compared to the rest of the house, let alone the harem, and we couldn't figure out why he wanted to show it to us.
But we didn't want to hurt his feelings, so we poked around and tried to look interested, before going back into the harem. We almost made it back through the harem doors and into the museum when he stopped us, again, and asked us to follow him.
He took us back to that boring old room again and then fumbled with his keys before forcing a squeaky door open revealing a dark passage way filled with junk.
Against our better judgement, but not wanting to pass up an adventure, we followed him, tripping on loose tiles and stumbling over unknown objects. It was too dark to tell where we were going until we emerged into a little living area, complete with a bed, a tv, and a little kitchen. Presumably, this is where the groundskeeper lived. He spread his arm out and nodded proudly as if to say, "Yes, this is all mine!"
He walked us to an old, wooden door that looked like it hadn't been opened in hundreds of years. It's hinges were rusted and so corroded that it seemed impossible that the door should open, but he took out his keys again and found one that fit in the ancient lock.
Andrew and I looked at each other quizzically. We didn't have time to wonder what the other was thinking, we were so consumed with our own thoughts. Would it lead to a magnificent chamber, or would we find ourselves locked away to rot in a dungeon?
The old door slowly opened, protesting loudly against its hinges and before we, ourselves, could protest the groundskeeper gave us a little shove that forced us through the door. He shut it quickly, and tightly behind us.
Having just been through those dark tunnels, the light was much too bright and we had to blink a few times to clear our eyes. When we had adjusted to the light and got our bearings straight we looked at each other and laughed.
We were standing in the street. The groundskeeper had kicked us out of the museum, for some reason or another. We'll never know what the rest of the museum looks like and we'll never know why we were kicked out. Maybe the groundskeeper was just crazy. The creepy way he led us through the house, I'm more than half inclined to think he was.
After getting our laughter under control we sauntered over to Palais Bahia, which was very similar, architecturally speaking, to Dar Si-Said, but much bigger and we could take as many pictures as we wanted. Oh, and there were many more tourists and zero creepy groundskeepers. We had fun exploring all the rooms and courtyards.
Rachel saw a fountain in one of the courtyards. She loves fountains. She calls them "wa-wa" for obvious reasons, because she loves water.
Andrew thought it would be a good idea to let her get close enough to touch the fountain. He also thought it would be a good idea to instruct her to "splash," hoping that the water would splash in my direction.
I'm not convinced it was the smartest idea he's ever come up with, but it ended up being pretty hilarious for me! It backfired on him, royally. He ended up soaked.
Rachel found other ways to prove herself a regular little monkey, besides just splashing her Daddy. We spent at least 20 minutes at this window grate, playing through it with Rachel. She was sticking limbs through it, trying to climb up it, kissing me through it, and was being silly, in general. She even ended up pulling off her shoe and demanded that I put it back on, through the grate, of course.
Oh, and then there was the fountain in the middle of the harem. She ran to it the minute we got in the room and immediately started swinging from it like it was the bathroom sink.
This is a common sight in our house whenever Rachel hears the words, "Let's brush your teeth!" or "Let's go wash your hands!" or whenever she's feeling just a little bit bored. She loves to grab onto the sink and swing back and forth. She really is a little monkey. We're not sure which side that little trait comes from.
From there we headed to the Jardin Majorelle, which we hadn't originally planned on going to but saw a picture of in the hotel elevator and decided to add to our agenda. When we got there, however, we found that the garden closed for the day in just a half hour and, since I'm a tight wad, didn't want to spend 30 dirhams (each) to get in the garden to spend just a few minutes wandering around.
So instead we decided to just walk back to our hotel. To make the most of our walk (ie: ensure that Rachel wears herself out sufficiently before bedtime) I had Rachel take a turn wearing the backpack. She was so excited to wear the "ba-ba," even though it was much too large for her. She had to push her little tummy out in order to keep her balance and kept tripping on the straps. We only let her wear it for a little while and she gave it up, torn between being relieved of its weight and upset that we took it away from her.
Luckily for us, it did the trick and wore her out! She was in bed, and asleep, by 8:00. That hasn't happened in who knows how long!
So, there's Marrakech for you! Hopefully you got through all that. This was l-o-n-g. But Marrakech was so neat, so it was worth it. I still have more to say (don't know if that's good or bad) but we have to get to bed. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.