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Mad Marrakech

June 28, 2016

Marrakech was a nonstop whirlwind of sights and sounds. A nonstop whirlwind of shopping, to boot. A shortlist of my purchases and haggle successes:

  • Leather belt: 50 dirhams ($5), haggled down from 80 ($8).
  • Small chess set: 100 ($10) dirhams, haggled down from 180 ($18).
  • Serving bowls from Fes: 450 ($45) for two, haggled down from 800 ($80). These bowls (ultimately a wedding gift) was my crown haggling achievement. It took walking out the door and getting the guy to beg me to accept my original offer halfway down a medina block. Expert haggling tip: always be ready to walk away.
  • Large chess set: 600 ($60) dirhams, haggled down from 900 ($90). I wasn’t planning to spend more than 450 ($45) on this one, but I ultimately really wanted it as a birthday present for myself, which the guy undoubtedly recognized. The expert way to haggle, as I eventually gathered, is to start at around 1/3-2/5 of the original price, and bargain back up to around 50%, so I was a ways off. I did get the added thrill, however, of riding on the back of a motorbike through the medina to get to an ATM machine because I didn’t have enough money to buy the set on hand. Those motorbikers have skill.
  • $10 of worth of sweets to share back home
  • Another $10 worth of sweets to share back home: The first place didn’t feel authentic enough so I was going to buy $3 worth from a scrappier looking pastry stall in the medina. The guy kept filling up my box long after I waved for him to stop. I ended up forking over another 100 dirhams.
  • A small camelskin hand drum: 80 dirhams ($8). I think I just gave him the 80 dirhams at this point because I was tired of haggling.

My companions Sergio, Natalia, and Trevor made off with a leather soccer ball, several leather bags, a leather backpack, and several small purses.

Beyond the shopping, our apartment was maybe itself the star attraction. A beautiful, enormous palace-riad featured on an episode of House Hunters, it contained a huge, bright courtyard and an area on the roof for sunbathing, plus more mosaics and metalwork than you could shake a stick at. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the slightest if storks hung around the house languidly flapping their wings while some servant fed you grapes. We didn’t have servants or storks so we mostly just played whist while drinking wine purchased at the airport. Which feels slightly edgy in a Muslim country.

And then there was the Jemaa el-Fna, the night courtyard which goes crazy with performers, dancing snakes, fire breathers, and, above all, dudes trying to sell you juice. There is seriously a ton of juice on the Jemaa. 4 dirhams ($0.40) for an orange juice or grapefruit juice and 10 ($1) for a mixed juice, which could be any combination of oranges, grapefruits, peaches, bananas, avocados, pineapple, apples, pears, kiwis… All you have to do is ask. And pay 10 dirhams. Or don’t ask. It doesn’t matter. If you have 10 dirhams, you’ll eventually have juice, like it or not. And a few packs of tissues too. You’ll see.

The Jemaa always appeared to be dying down or puttering awake when we were there, so I have no pictures of giant cobras around my neck, sadly.

Other highlights:

  • The Jardin Marjorelle, the creation of Yves St. Laurent, an Art Deco garden full of lush greenery, fat succulents, vivid blue, yellow, green and red ceramic pots, and secluded corners in the shade. The Berber museum included inside the gardens nicely exceeded our expectations—full of interesting, diverse and well-labelled artifacts of Berber life, from pottery to tools to jewelry to clothes. Unlike some anthropological/archaeological exhibits they don’t err on the side of showing too much of the same monotonous stuff (how many arrowheads can you really look at?), and it probably helped that Berber stuff is genuinely pretty fun—geometric decorative motifs meets sartorial flamboyance and a heckuva lot of cloth.
  • Sneaking into the pool of a local apartment complex with the collusion of our rental car place. We felt guilty about 10 minutes in when we realized we were very much the only Western foreigners in the bunch.
  • The Hammam De L’Orient, my first hammam. For those who don’t know, a hammam is basically the closest a human being can get to shedding a skin like a snake. You get lathered with thick, exfoliating mud, scrubbed down and rinsed, several times over, with large buckets of water being poured over your head repeatedly (maybe the most I’ve ever enjoyed myself while feeling like I was drowning). You then get to lie down a bunch, and ultimately get a massage. It’s pretty great.

Now, without further ado, food porn a la Marrakech, with captions:

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