Marrakech - Part Four

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 19 July 2008

I'm not sure I know how to have a holiday.

It's not that I'm a workaholic its just that I don't know what to expect when I give myself a vacation..

The old git says a holiday has to be relaxing. Using that criteria our Morrocan mis-adventure was less a holiday more an endurance test.

Interesting. Yes.

Colourful. Certainly.

Hot. Decidedly.

But relaxing? Well if you find traipsing from one slipper shop to another in 56 degrees, picking at food that may incur dysentry, fighting off vendors who want to trade a teapot in exchange for your virtue, spending every last Dirham on tipping, tipping and more tipping, then Morrocco is the perfect place for you.

I need simplicity.

Good Food.

Beautiful scenery.

Equality for men and women.

The question is does anybody have the perfect break? All the holiday progammes/newspaper suppliments/travel agents insist that the Great British Nation, more often than not, do have a fabulous time on vacation, but I'm not so sure..

In Essaouira we had eaten, read, sunbathed, talked, eaten, read, sunbathed and shopped but we hadn't been in the water.

The Atlantic was freezing. Apart from children, fishermen and surfers, nobody dipped so much as a sandal clad toe in. On our last day John Gabriel organised a race with seven fishing boats. The closest I got to getting wet was standing on the waters edge waiting for the race to begin.

Our Hotelier, JG, bought a flag. The Mayor was present, the local paper turned up and a small but enthusiastic crowd cheered feebly as the flag came down, Le Mans style, and 7 swarthy, toothless, fishermen set off for their boats. The prize 500D and a bag of chocolate.

It was good fun. But it was then that I realised that the main component for me to have a relaxing holiday was water. Warm, beautiful, clean water. Lapping waves, a gentle breeze and bathing bodies. Essaouira had water but I was too much of a wimp to share it.

Having left the seaside, the chances of finding a palm-fringed beach in the middle of the big city was a bit like trying to find a camel in Helsinki....

When I awoke on Monday July 7th I was determined to enjoy our last three days, if the mountain wasn't going to come to Mohammed then we would have to go to the mountain, but not before we had hired a horse and cart.

The Morroccans are very clever linguists they either speak Arabic, their born tongue, French the language of their colonisers or English. Everybody we met spoke a smattering of something and we obliged by attempting to converse in their chosen lingo. But like all big cities, Marrakech has its own arrogance. Communication was less easy, so when we awoke on Monday morning trying to ascertain where breakfast was served, what was on offer and if there was an alternative to stale bread, schoolgirl Franglais didn't cut the moutard. In the end I sat and snivvelled as I tried to gather myself together.

Walking through Jemma el Fna in the bright morning was less harrowing than the night before.

All the ATM's had gone down, for the second time in ten days, so we took cover in a tea shop that sold fancy cakes, good coffee and had a perfectly passable toilette.

After a brief discussion we decided to take a horse and carriage. Hang the expense what was 300D in the scheme of things.

Our driver had won awards, year after year, for the well being of his horses. All the brass plaques were screwed into the back of his seat. A pair of greys, that were so well looked after their coats gleamed, were hitched up and ready to go. Jim and I climbed into the carriage, too tired to haggle, we settled back as the horses clip-clopped their way out of the square and through the souk. Over the main roads, into the traffic, past the Mosques, round the hotels, beyond the fumes and then to an elegant stop by the Jardin Majorelle.

A sea of calm, an oasis of beauty - and thats me talking not the brochure. Bamboo, water lillies, shade, Majorelle blue - a blue so deep and intense, deeper than lapis lazuli, was the colour designed by artists. The garden was bought by Yves St. Laurent. His ashes had recently been interned there.

Our driver told us we had 30 minutes before he needed us back. It was half an hour of bliss. Cool, calm, bliss. The blue communicated itself into my soul. One bottle of water from the fridge, ice still in it, accompanied us back to our carriage.

The green plants left their imprint as we trotted sedately around Marrakech, our driver stopping at a herbalist. Not wishing to be rude we dismounted and stepped into a marble shelved shop. A plate of onion seed, a square of cloth and a willing pharmacist awaited us. We declined her demonstration as we had been ably looked after by the herbalist back in Essaouira. The onion seeds - kelongi - are poured into the cloth. The cloth is twisted tighty. The bunched up seeds are whacked three times on the palm of the hand. The fumes are then inhaled through the right nostril, watch out as the top of your head blows off. Inhale through the left, to keep the body balanced, and cries of amazement are shared.. Brilliant ancient herbalism. Good for the sinuses and stuffed noses, how somebody discovered that will be a story in itself. Better than a Vic-Stick any day.

We climbed aboard our carriage and were driven to gift shops, which we declined, a bizarre emporium that was all fixed price so that we didn't have to haggle, which we also declined, through the Jewish Quarter, past slipper shops, tyre shops, snack bars and a fight. It was the first time I had ever seen a man whip of his t-shirt and be restrained as he tried to thump his opponent. All was resolved with much shouting and puffing.

We were left in the square where we took lunch. A tagine, that was made for us tourists.

We went back to the Riad. I was writing my journal on the terrace when Rachid came and joined me. He had heard that I was unhappy with the service, the room, the welcoming committee, and had come to apologise. We discovered there was an annex with a plunge pool, fruit for breakfast, should I desire it, and another Rachid who would take us up the mountain.

To celerate some sort of breakthrough we took supper in Jemma el Fna. Rent-a-Square had turned up, snakes, monkeys, Gnaouan dancers, story tellers and tourists all perfectly cast. We decided to sit at stall number 57.

Th smoke from their small barbeque billowed as two plates were laid before us. A handful of chips. A handful of fish. A plate of mashed tomatoes, round bread and the ubiquitous Coca Cola were served. More if we wanted. We sat with single men sucking out the prawns from the shells, pulling the fish off its bones, all satisfied with their meal. The tradition is you write on a square of paper what you've eaten, they tot it up and you pay. Its a bit like dim-sum. Only we didn't have a pencil so we used the paper as napkins instead. If the locals liked it so would we. And we did. This resplendent feast came to the princely sum of 5.00.

It was now Monday night and spirits were revived.

Back at the ranch Sebastian Foulks kept me company whilst David Niven shared his life story with Jim. We both fell asleep to the sounds of kids running up and down the passage.

We were woken at 4.37 on Tuesday morning by the call to prayer.

I fell back to sleep only to be woken by two birds who had flown in through the window. They heralded a new day.

We were meeting Rachid at 10.00 outside the Cafe France.

Take a shawl for respect, good shoes in case and a bucket load of tips - we were going to need them.

To be cont.

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes


1. At July 20, 2008 10:27 AM Hymie wrote:

Brilliant Jeni,

Each instalment gets better and better. You really should have your own chat show on TV, what a blast that would be.

Really appreciate you,

Hymie. x

2. At July 20, 2008 10:36 PM Ann wrote:

Give me Southend-on-Sea any day!

3. At July 21, 2008 2:22 PM philip windsor wrote:

I am sorry you're not too enthusiastic about Marrakech. I have been many times, always at Christmas when the weather's wonderful and love most things about the place. Essaouira's OK for a day trip. I hope you sampled the freshly caught fish in the harbour! I too liked the Jardin Marjorelle, but it gets a bit crowded. But for me the 'place' at night is wonderful, although I am not as brave as you and couldn't bring myself to risk the openair cuisine. Perhaps you could try a return visit in the winter when the superb Mamounia reopens. V highly reccommended!

4. At July 21, 2008 9:01 PM chrissie wrote:

More please.
Chrissie x x

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