[ Marrakech, Morocco ]
My north African visit is at an end. Two full months, gone.
Schluss. Vorbei. Finis.
Next Monday, Nepal.
Tonight—in place of Mirleft’s calm, and her fauvist, Atlantic Ocean sunsets—stood the gold-limned silhouette of Marrakech’s giddily shambolic Djemaa El Fna square. This small miracle of Chaos is protected by UNESCO, via the delightfully named designation Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Apt categorization, that. And a perfect place to close out my Moroccan aufenthalt.
Drinking coffee at Cafe de France, I let the sun descend completely before I disappear into the assembled multitudes, searching for dinner. The array of options is dizzying, so the task confounds. Requirements include, but are not limited to: stepping around (and, once, over) charmed cobras and rattlesnakes; fending off advances from chattering, glad-handing monkeys and huge, menacing Barbary apes; dodging suicidal mopeds; deflecting the inescapable harangues of highly motivated shopkeepers, hustlers, and hawkers of wares; declining offers from hordes of open-air, couscous restaurant barkers (each restaurant lives in a stall designated by number instead of name, so the pitches sound something like “Hungry, boss? We have great food here. The best. Number Twenty-Five will keep you alive. No diarrhea, guaranteed!”)
Calls to prayer waft into the square from several directions—an Islamic tintinnabulation floating atop the crowd’s dull roar. All together, a gorgeous cacophony.
The No Diarrhea guarantee seems cowardly. Prone to somewhat sketchier culinary dalliances, I soon find myself seated at booth number Three—one of five establishments serving nothing whatsoever but fresh-boiled snails. Five dirham (~$0.65USD) gets me a steaming bowlful of molluscs in a hideous-looking dark brown broth, and a toothpick to dig them out. I pick up the first shell, pry out what appears to be a mutant hybrid between a raw oyster and the world’s largest booger, and plop it down my waiting gullet. Surprisingly toothsome. Delicious. In addition to slurping down snails, the folks seated around me (locals, mostly) are drinking their bowls dry—bottoms-upping the slug-stock. I give this a try, but it’s too salty for me, and the dirty-bathwater look isn’t helping. My server smiles.
Walking on, I dodge horse-drawn carriages to join crowds encircling musicians, magicians, actors, fire jugglers, and dancers—including a woman in full hijab gyrating atop what looks like a sawed-off steel drum. I say merci, non a hundred times, easily, as I’m offered everything from spices to henna tattoos to baclava and fresh raspberries to pirated music and movies. I buy fresh-squeezed banana juice, drinking it while my earrings and ponytail earn incessant offerings of hashish (“really good, man; and cheap!”). Another snake. Another monkey. Another hawker: “Follow me to my shop. I sell you nice Berber jewelry for your wife! Handmade. Cheap!” No wife. “Ok. Girlfriend!” Everyone’s speech bristles with more exclamation points than a texting teen.
It’s exhausting, and exhilarating. I will miss this place, no doubt. My first taste of Africa has confounded my expectations while also exceeding them.
That’s a winning combination, friends. Like the Governator famously said, all those movies ago:
I’ll be back.