Sunday, May 30, 2010

Maddening Marrakech

Day six.
Marrakech is insane. Narrow streets chock full of loud vendors, their kitschy wares, befuddled tourists browsing, men with donkey carts, women on motorcycles and stray cats all coming at you at once. The medina here is a showpiece for tourists: Moroccan culture the way you want it. It seems like Marrakech is suffering from a sort of self-imposed orientalism -- Marrakshis know what tourists want. They want the Morocco of Delacroix, with its harems, its tiger skins, its snake charmers, its souks brimming with goods. And they are only too happy to deliver. And to sell.

Despite this though, I find myself pretty smitten by it all. Sure, Marrakech isn't as 'exotic' as all that for me. But that hasn't stopped me from enjoying its many sights. And its food.

I've been going at the food with gusto. Though I'm working on a tight budget, the dirham (Moroccan currency) gets you far. If you eat like a local, and steer clear from the sexy/trendy/cool restaurants that come dime a dozen here to cater to tourists who want to sip their pomegranate martinis on rooftops overlooking towering minarets, you get a lot of bang for your buck (unfortunately, its really hard not to get seduced by the gloss of these establishments, especially if you're me). Tagines, couscous, grilled meats, hearty lentil soup: that's what Morocco is all about. For lunch, many Marrakshis love convenience and Moroccan takes on Levantine and Mediterranean food is eaten à emporter. Falafel, schawarma, brochettes -- all for 4 dollars or less.

I've met a lot of people at the hostel. But the more time I spend with them, the more I realize that this is me time. And wow, if you think people at Williams are generally annoying, you need to get out there and realize the only element more abundant than hydrogen is stupidity. I have been asked the following questions:
"What's a minaret?"
"Where's Tunisia?"
"Where's Fez? Is it in Morocco?"

Marrakech is great, but after five days, I kind of feel like I'm ... done. I'm excited to go to Fez next (less excited about the seven and a half hour train ride). In the meanwhile though, I have two more days to really get to know the Red City. There's already a level of familiarity I've achieved with the immediate vicinity of my hostel. There's nothing like stepping out into the calm clay-colored alleyway just outside the hostel and walking its cool winding path until its spills out into the madness of the market.

Probably the most arresting moment of my trip so far was when I was browsing a book stand in the market and I came across a copy of Amours Sorcières by Tahar Ben Jelloun, my favorite Moroccan novelist. On the cover was John Singer Sargent's Fumée d'Ambregris, my absolute favorite painting at the Clark. I whipped it up -- it was meant to be.

P.S. I'm obsessed. I love Morocco. I can't tell which is better. The music. Or the video.

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