We just spent the last week in Marrakesh, a city so different to Paris that it’s impossible to ready yourself for the culture shock you’re likely to experience. At risk of sounding like a middle class idiot – which would only be half right – Le Souk, my favourite restaurant in Bastille, couldn’t resemble the Souk in the heart of the city any less, while the road our riad was situated on was maybe a little like Paris… were it still the 17th Century.
Last year we visited Tangiers for one afternoon, which was preparation in a sense, though the traders we met in the city who were selling fez hats and other plastic ephemera for a euro a pop, seemed a disorganised bunch, whereas in Marrakesh it felt like the whole city was in on the same racket. Take the guy who ran our riad. He was a helpful sort, organising trips and sending us off on jaunts we’d only expressed a fleeting interest in, only taking a tenner’s commission for himself with each expedition. Our friend slept just a few hours in the afternoon each day, and at other times you could see him offering advice to guests, phoning tours or spas, or cooking up schemes to fleece more dirham our of the kaftan-wearing walking cash machines stopping at his palatial guesthouse. And who can blame him really? Especially the Tarquins and Mirandas who arrived on our final night and spent the evening blasting ‘Buffalo Soldier’ around the riad, the fucking cunts.
Our room itself, called the Saffron suite, was rather lovely, and it suited me especially well as you couldn’t really open the windows properly. Claire wasn’t too enamoured, but at least one of us was happy sleeping half the day away like a student. Our sanctuary from the hubbub of the city – the dust, and flies, the forlorn horses and the whizzing motorbikes – was somewhat undermined the evening we returned and found we had a visitor. A massive cockroach was crawling across the floor, and I was told I had to jump on it. I duly obliged, despite my occasional animal rights rhetoric, and compared to the people on the street who like to whip out a rabbit’s pulsating liver and eat it before your very eyes, my squashing a bug seemed quite tame. At first, when Claire called out for me to kill it, I thought to myself, “but aren’t cockroaches indestructible?” I’m not sure where that erroneous nonsense crawled out from, but after flattening its guts all over the bathroom stone, I will forever be deprived of that notion.
So anyway, we had a lovely time, despite what it sounds like. And this is even though somebody spat at me when we went to Essaouira, which we think might have been because Claire was showing her bare arms at the time (it was exceedingly hot). We went to the beach after, washed gob off my ear, and slept in the sun. In Essaouira, we ate the best couscous tagine known to man, and ran into two headscarfed postmenopausal loons who’d clearly escaped there to drop acid and relive having sex with Jimi Hendrix in 1968. We met these women separately, though they were the same woman in two different bodies. I can’t really put my finger on it or explain to you what I mean, but for a moment I thought I was living in a sequel to Don’t Look Now (the dwarves generally wore green hoods though). It wasn’t the only peculiar thing to happen, but it was the most peculiar. I should have known when I arrived at the airport and the computer crashed mid stamp and I had to stand around for 25 minutes while the security guards went off to play cards that it might be a strange trip.
Some things I learned
On the way to Essaouira we discovered that some goats like standing in trees. It was like a goaty fresco of a goaty boyband, but real.
The locals tell you the Palais El Badi is boring, but don’t listen, this ruin apparently commissioned by the Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in the late 16th century was a gobsmacking highlight for me.
There are snake charmers in the main Place Jemaa el-Fnaa – and I really despise snakes – but actually, the playing is usually so charmless that they don’t bother emerging from their caskets. Around seven o’clock when the city’s musicians assemble in the old square and make a delightfully atavistic racket is when you might see cobras unsheathed and dancing to the groove.
I hate to say this but it’s difficult to know who to trust: one really old guy led us down a creepy alleyway and then took us to this fantastic restaurant with belly dancers and musicians, and we were so relieved when we got to this great resto that we nearly kissed him despite the fact he wasn’t massively attractive. But there also seemed to be a lot of yoot who were keen to send us the wrong way, and one gang we thought might have a go at robbing us, at least until Claire got cold feet and took us in another direction. I wish I could have been a bit more trusting, because the Berber hospitality is warm and most people we spoke to were great; the shitehawks and the spitters are rare, but you have to be mindful of them. That night we finally got out of the souk, our hearts beating like harrassed lapin hoping to keep our livers, and then we took a taxi and drove around the city walls while the taxi driver listened to the radio screaming in French as Luis Suarez took PSG apart. The whole thing was a surreal rush that was as close to being on some really hairy internet drugs without actually having taken anything that I’ve experienced in all the time I’ve been clean. Great in other words.
Also, if we go again, then a trip into the desert is a must, though you need a couple of days to do that at least, or so they say…