Thursday, March 05, 2015

Marrakesh day two

We spend the morning walking through town. It's sunny, cool and dry. The streets are dusty. Families whiz by on old mopeds, mule carts clickety-clack, students creak by on rusty, old bikes. Women wait at the corner with kids in tow to put them in white vans, the Marrakesh school bus. The vast majority of cars on the road are retro Mercedes sedans. That, and the ochre tinge of the earth and buildings and dust make the city feel like an old sepia tint.

We make our way through town to the Henna Café, which is part henna shop, part free community literacy centre. The girls and I choose a pretty pattern for our hands as we sip our mint tea. A diminutive kerchiefed woman parks herself on a very low stool at our feet and starts squeezing the henna mix onto our hands. When the henna is dry, she pats the pattern with a lemon-sugar mix to set the colour and gives us a little white bag to protect our riad's sheets from the dye. Her English/French is as good as our Arabic so we do a lot of smiling and thanking. When the dye is set, we head off to a beautiful old house in the middle of the medina called maison Mouassine, one of the few intact centuries-old houses where elaborate wood and plaster work were uncovered by accident during a renovation. A wonderful opportunity to talk to the kids about how these households worked when they were occupied by harems. The central common space where the meals were taken and the rooms that open on to that central space were living quarters for the individual wives and their children. The medina is far less daunting that our first foray. If you just wander somewhat aimlessly, you see it all and everyone is more than happy to help you find your way once you've decided you want to get someplace specific. Just don't make the mistake of asking for help without first saying hello and asking after the other person's health or happiness. It just isn't done. Wil asked someone a quick question, a la "La fontaine est par la?" and was scolded with a "D'abord, Bonjour..." We won't make that mistake again. Since then we've found the coolest reception warms instantly to an earnest, however pathetic, effort at greetings in Berber or Arabic.

The Place des Ferblantiers, where metal is stretched and punched into the most delicate shapes is right around the corner from our riad. We wander in for lunch and are accosted by men with menus. When we reject the first restaurant's offer and head to a table at the next, the waiters of both places engage in some very macho name-calling. Apparently some unwritten rule has been broken. Eventually the owner of our place comes out to settle the matter with some waving of the dishtowel and very stern words. We dig into some very tasty brochettes and yummy olives. Cats wander around under the table looking for scraps. Next door, a thousand lanterns are on display, twisted and punched recycled metal of every description.

We decide to take up the riad's offer for a homemade couscous for supper. The first thing that comes to the table is always the bread. The round aghroum — in some places like a flattened portuguese roll and in others a more rustic rough bread — appears in a basket followed by steaming bowls of harira, a hearty lamb-based soup with chickpeas and noodles. Then the couscous is presented in the tagine. Yummy cabbage, carrots, turnip, chickpeas and merguez placed elegantly on a heap of couscous sprinkled with plump little yellow raisins. All of which are piled on top of spiced chicken pieces. We are served by an ancient man with a big smile but very little teeth. I ask how he's doing and he replies not so well because he got a coup de soleil today. The temperature was, at most, 25 and he is as pale as a ghost so it is all a bit mysterious, only slightly less so than the pair of men who keep exiting the basement door with every piece of furniture imaginable, comically bringing tables up the stairs with the legs pointing in the wrong direction and getting snagged. When we move on to dessert the woman who was cooking our dinner comes out of the kitchen and waves goodnight. Probably off to make another dinner for her own family, bundled up in her veil and djellaba for the way home, she has gone from an attractive woman in her fifties to a shapeless old woman. The ritual end to our meal -- a silver tray with five little glasses and a pot of sweet mint tea, poured with flourish from a great height. If it doesn't have bubbles, it's not tea.

With our Renault Kangoo from the airport, tomorrow morning we set off for Imlil and our three day hike in the High Atlas Mountains.

1 comment:

Jules said...

Yummy... Wish I was there