How is Marrakech different from Fes, you’re perhaps asking. In a word: More. Add an -er or an -ier or a “more” to everything, and that’s Marrakech. Faster-moving, louder, crazier in every way. Pushier. Hotter. More exhausting.
But we’re here, and we’re making our way. We’re staying in low-cost riads because we’re not in Madonna’s 60th-birthday party entourage, which means the taxi drops you at the gate to the ancient medina, and the person from your guest house meets you and escorts you the rest of the way, your bags going bump-bump-bump on the bricks or cobbles. Remember I mentioned that in Fes, you mostly walk, but there are also donkeys and occasional motor scooters? OK, with the -er intensifier mentioned above, in Marrakesh there are LOTS of motor scooters. Mopeds, Vespa-type scoots, even full-size motorcycles and they are not messing around. Five minutes on the street, and your heart is in your mouth, having witnessed 17 near-miss accidents that somehow never happened, praise Allah.
I’m talking THAT’S A GRANDMA OH GOD or WATCH OUT FOR THAT OLD MAN, or HELLO THERE’S A HEAD-ON COLLISION ABOUT TWO MICROSECONDS FROM HAPPENING or, from this morning, DUDE THAT IS A BABY IN A DAMN STROLLER YOU CANNOT PASS CLOSE ENOUGH TO STIR HIS CORNSILK HAIR LIKE THAT, and yet — this is all day every day. It’s just the way things are, and I guess people are simply used to it, because mothers let their children toddle in the streets and the only person I’ve seen being treated for any injury at all was a woman, a tourist, about my age, and it looked like she’d just twisted her ankle or something.
I’d include pictures, but the internet here is very very slow, so.
And you don’t even want to hear about the roads outside the medina, which are simply insane. To all of the above, add full-size cars, buses, horses and speed.
We haven’t yet seen the famous square, the Djemaa el Fna, in its full after-dark glory, but in broad daylight, it is a carnival of tourists and animal cruelty. On this, the guidebooks are clear — do what you want, but be advised that for every dirham you flip to a “snake charmer,” you’re supporting a racket that takes cobras, extracts their fangs, sews their mouths shut except for a small slot for their flicking tongue, then waits for them to starve to death, upon which they’re replaced. The “monkey men” are handling Barbary macaques from the wild, poached by criminal gangs and similarly abused. There were only a few out early today (it’s Friday, the Sunday of Islam), and yet there were fat Western tourists posing for photographs with both. Probably Russians.
But the worst was when I saw a horse slip and fall in the traces on the slick tile pavement. Horses can handle city pavement fine (ask any mounted cop) when they’re properly shod, but I expect that would require more money than a carriage driver can afford, or is willing to pay.
The horse successfully regained its feet, but ugh.
In other news, I’m listening closely to the calls to prayer, and am starting to pick out individual words in the chanting. Last Sunday it just sounded like moaning, but now I can hear the Alllaaaahu ak-baaarr, so that’s a start. And listening closely is sort of required, as there are lots of mosques around the older parts of the city, and that’s where we are.
Now back at the riad, reading “The Nickel Boys” and catching up on news from back home. I wish I could say it hasn’t come this far, but alas, it has.