At the peak of the heat of the day, I sit on my patio at La Mamounia, in Marrakech. Palm trees with their fronds stretched down, the sound of birds, a mechanical hum relating to the hotel’s operations. I lower my head to peer through mint green balusters of the patio, and there is the red city, the buildings of peach, of terra cotta, squared off, round domes. The walls have holes in them, not as I first imagined, for rifles or for wooden supports of some kind, but to allow the clay to breathe, so that it does not dry and collapse.
Earlier, before the temperatures topped 100 degrees, we’d walked around the Medina, the old town, and the souks. There was the Koutoubia Mosque, the one that I saw light up at night from the hotel’s Moroccan bar, while drinking a very strong gin and tonic.
The minaret is topped with four gold balls. These are actually gilded copper. There are several stories about the orgins of these orbs, including that the gold was donated by a wealthy woman as penance for eating during Ramadan. The contents of her jewelery box, melted and coated on the top of mosque. That was the the story favored by our guide, Kadijah, who had definite opinions on many subjects .
The fountains are usually filled, but aren’t now because it is summer. There are cats everywhere, many orange tabbies. The souk is like the bazaar in Istanbul, but there is traffic, in the form of donkeys holding bolts of things, of motorbikes and sometimes trucks. Pardon, madame, attention, madame. The vendors were cleaning the sidewalk in front of their space with hoses, and my hem got wet. I was glad, though to be wearing the long dress even though I saw many tourists who were not. I saw women wearing long mummuu-like robes, and some with head coverings and some with their faces covered as well. For sale was everything — bug spray, babouches (those pointy slippers), mirrors.
There was the area of the souk that was filled with craftspeople. These were mostly men, working repetitively, banging steel, in those places the souk smelled metallic, and then there was “the market of skins”, and it smelled like flesh. There were cream colored, ragged edged piles of hides. Some were dyed unnatural colors and hanging. There was the tannery area but we did not go to it. There was an empty hole in the wall that was an empty store, not in use, perhaps, Kadijah said, to some sort of a family dispute. The steel workers were banging away, and when one man saw us approach with our cameras he held up his finger and shook it, forbiddingly. No photos.
There were men cutting shapes out of fabric, and a man making a sandal, with many completed sandals in a pile beneath him. There were men using nails to perforate metal to make the lamps. In the store the guide took us to for the clothing the man said he had 12 women and 5 men in his factory making everything by hand, the fabric, the embroidery, the buttons made of thread.
There were piles of pastries covered with flies.
There was the Berber pharmacy and the gregarious man in the black robe who rubbed nigella seeds in a cotton, in black cotton, onto his hand and then held one nostril shut and had us breathe in deeply, and then the other. And he rubbed us with amber, and other things, argan lotion, and he gave a male tourist ginseng and said it would help his libido.When he realized we weren’t going to buy anything, the light went out of his eyes.
At the carpet store, I sat down for a moment and was offered mint tea. I declined, and I was asked by the man whether I was the group leader and when I said no and he said I would come back later and we would talk. About carpets, I said, and he said, yes we will talk about carpets, and not about marriage. As if these two things had some sort of natural nexus.
Alison J. Stein
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