Tuesday, 7 April 2020

1993 Morocco

25.5.93 Essaouira

Eccomi sur la plage – in the restaurant of the same name – on a sunny but very windy day.  Fish awaits us – hopefully without the consequences of Mexico…  Huge portions: soupe de poissons, sardines, sole (too young – depletion of stocks?).  The atmosphere good here – great view onto the beach – rather like sunrise.  Our hotel – "des Îles" – not outrageously expensive, great position, comfortable.

Yesterday: delayed flight (traffic: we came over France and Spain, then high over an endless desert covered by broken cloud).  So many things to worry about at the airport – the car, insurance, the hotels (few on the plane – about 30, fewer off at Marrakesh – about 10).   But one thing not a problem: driven in our slightly dented Renault 4 to hotel by main man – only ten minutes away, chosen for that reason – to sleep in a large hard bed.

Up at 6am – large breakfast, then out to car hire place to try to fix windscreen cleaner – no luck, and anyway I hope not needed.  Then early on to road to Essaouira – not as much traffic as I expected – nothing like Cairo, say.  Good road, driving not too insane, reasonable bilingual signposting.  And everywhere, people speak French, which makes this place seem far less foreign, far more European.  Until you hit the desert: frightening, endless, red, rolling.  Seeing the strip of lonely asphalt stretch ahead of us for miles was disquieting.  Seeing no other traffic, ditto.  I began to understand why pioneers travelled together, that feeling of safety.  And how I started remembering where a house was, how far it was to the next village.

Now round the pool.  Crazy weather.  Sky almost totally clear, but a fierce wind cools so you cannot judge the heat.  Few at the hotel – fewer than ten – great, strange end of the world atmosphere that I love.  Sprinklers beat the air rhythmically with spray, seagulls wheel overhead, a pneumatic drill thrums petulantly in the road outside.  So far the Moroccans have seemed an enchanting mixture of friendliness combined with self-respect.

While waiting for the plane yesterday I started reading "Tribes with Flags" – good but standard journalistic stuff so far: a catalogue of interesting people he met and what they said.  What travel writing needs now is books that have a structure to them, not these strings of pearls…

A walk through the town, familiar sights and smells.  Small kids in cardigans everywhere, heavily veiled women, just the eyes peeping out, young men lounging provocatively, a challenge.  Pools of dusty water, blue doors and windows everywhere (lucky colour – remember "Chichester Palms"?).

Back along the "high street", all white arcades, piles of fruit, a few consumer goods, series of gates – one filled with herb vendors.  And everywhere the odour of mint.  Passed the Hotel Villa Maroc, which looks good if inaccessible with jamjar.  I sit writing this by the port, facing the large and inexplicable piazza there.  Wind cool, but sun fine as it declines.

26.5.93 Essaouira

To the Chalet de la Plage again last night – the restaurant we saw in Essaouira were not really suitable for stomachs still delicate.  A typically Arab white wine (rather like Greek, Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese).  Veal cooked in an earthenware pot – very hot (physically) and so surprisingly tender.  Otherwise potage de légumes (buckets), sardines (again) and mint tea (reminds me of the Hammam in Paris).  Beautiful morning now, clouds on the horizon but clear sky above us.  Wind not too strong yet.  Yesterday, on the piazza, there were mothers with their children – but all swathed so similarly – white gown, black veil – that even the kids mistook them.

After breakfast, out along the beach.  All 1.5 miles of it, a great sweeping curve of pure sand.  Fewer than 30 people on the whole area.  From a distance the town is neat behind its pink walls, with the twin towers of the harbour.  Out to sea the island with a strange walled enclosure.  In front of us, to the south, a strange outcrop of rocks that looks fortified, or like the bridge of a ship run aground.  In fact it's a tower, collapsed and worn away – the masonry course are clearly visible, as is some ornamental ribbing and castellations.  Some camels – unaccompanied – have appeared on the beach – on holiday?  Behind, the beach stretches for miles.

After 90 minutes of sun (enough for me) round the pool – us alone – along to Chez Sam.  Past the fresh fish stalls with food grilled while you wait; past the boat building yard – a good seven or eight in various stages – to the ramshackle but shipshape Chez Sam.  Inside labyrinthine if small, full of gaily painted wood – rose, mostly – with stuffed fish, plants, Arab brasses – moderately busy – 15 odd here.  Reminds me of Connemara, the strange little shack I ate in – lobster then, but not today.  Cheaper the menu fixe (60 vs. 70 Dirham) of the Chalet de la Plage.  Now playing Bach (barocco in Morocco).  Outside the rusty ships bob at anchor – a real port, stinking, messy (the buoys using scraps of orange plastic for flags), lively.  Yesterday on the road here, a sign: Casablanca...surely some mistake?  Casablanca…  Fine meal, good value – better wine than yesterday.  Back to the hotel.

A man wearing a scarlet fez; big seagulls wheeling overhead.  Everywhere the grass – rough, spongey stuff – is being watered.  A stroll round the town – remarkably untouristic – except for the wonderful carved goods – what tables!  Then to Chez Sam for a lightning meal.  Outside, the port, darkness, pools of sodium light, the red and green lights.  Reminds me of...Naxos, somewhere in Skye, Fiji (and in the restaurant boat…).  Boats leaving (to get the sardines?).  

It's true: I find it far easier to speak in French here than in France: no self-consciousness, no Froggies sneering (well, not much).

27.5.93 Marrakesh

Back here, circling it, but never entering, as if saving it… In fact, we went across the top to get to here, a rather touristy place called Hotel Riu Tikida, on the road to Fes.  Set amidst some fine palms, with rather striking Moorish architecture in blue and dark biscuit brown, it is spoilt by being nearly full (the other hotel was full) of tourists, French mostly, who act like, well, tourists, arsing around, destroying one of the few loungers (I spent 15 minutes trying to rustle up chairs and towels for us – we have now found them, and feel better than sitting on the grass with the stupid flies.

Woke up the smorning (sic: I still do it after 30 years...) [good sonnet there] to torrential downpour – no umbrella with us, nothing.  But as with yesterday and the day before, the sun gradually burnt away the clouds, and we drove into a fast-drying landscape.  One that continued to strike me as biblical: the old men in heavy, striped coats, grizzled beards and heavily-lined faces, the donkeys bent under impossible loads, boys sitting the sun, immobile, watching flocks of sheep search out something edible, the mud-brick houses, low and with few openings.  But a few unusual sights: windmills made of brightly-coloured metal, pumping water; almost negroid Berbers; young women, gypsy-like in their colouring; piles of stones, fields of them; the wonderfully neat drystone walling; camels; sheep in the trees; the loneliness of the small desert we crossed; the sight of the High Atlas in the distance (we're crossing that…?)

Essaouira was great: few tourists, a sense of being on the edge.  The closed town with its narrow, arched streets, no cars (I have only really registered this: a kind of dry Venice, an Arabic San Gimignano – but less touristy), the women almost completely obscured.  Last night we looked for a vaguely touristy by ethnic restaurant – and couldn't find one.  Either popular (=Arab) or else Chez Sam, so we chose the latter – and had more restrained food, but the atmosphere was good with the dusk falling and boats leaving.

The clouds so high above us, mere wisps that the sun burns off.  The pool good here, the place more acceptable as the afternoon deepens and with it the shadows.  After waiting until 8 o'clock, to the Moroccan pavilion.  Beautiful inlaid roof, sunken area in the middle, surrounded by divans covered in worked material.  An oud (?) plays plausibly in the background.  Fine harira, couscous a little tasteless, tagine tough-ish, Moroccan sweets ultra-sweet.  Outside to the starry night (crescent moon).  Something moves by the pool – a frog.  There's another on the edge; the first comes to join it – and jumps on it – well, that's life/love/nature for you… Strange glooping noises come from the froggy pair.

28.5.93  Ouarzazate

The wind comes in off the Sahara, and is like air from an oven.  Totally clear blue sky, sun murderous, air thin (1600 metres) and dry on the lilps.  The journey was spectacular but long and hard.  Out from Marrakesh along the P31, fast and good road – quiet, today being Friday.  The landscape gradually more verdant, the trees thicker, water evident.  Big rolling hills, Berber folk.  Then the ascent, the road zigzagging up the side of rocky hills, now ruddy.  But strange to see patches of wheat, already golden, plus cherry trees and others.  Already, the houses square and Berberish, with tiny windows.  Fantastic views across the foothills as we follow the course of a river.  Great moulded volcanic rocks for hills.

And everywhere – sometimes within yards – men, boys, offering gorgeous precious stones – amethyst, quartz – for sale.  Often eggs split in two to reveal yolk colours, greens, blues, and blacks.  They almost jump in front of us.  A few coaches and Land Rovers on the road – things becoming more touristic these days.

To Taddart, a pleasant enough village/town (at 1650 metres), where I have a coffee from a typical fly-blown café.  Then real ascent for the last 600 metres to the summit.  I am reminded first of New Zealand – the Southern Alps – and then even more by Kashmir, that long ascent following the river Jhelum – the same villages hanging precariously on to the sides of the valleys, the sudden patches of green cultivation.  Strangely, the moon visible, lying palely on its side – the air so thin here, I suppose.  One hair-raising climb along a ridge – drops either side – and then we're at the pass, which continues for some miles, still surprisingly green.  Along the way we have met horseriders and even cyclists… The descent is gentler – losing only 1100 metres and that mostly at the beginning.  Then quite a fast road but one that soon burns out into the scorching desert.

8 o'clock.  Earlier, the moon was at its zenith, the sun setting low, but still hot with its sticky, thick heat.  The telephone saga.  We wanted to make a call.  The standard apparently en panne here, so we go out to the public phone.  Carte téléphonique – nobody has.  Change? Nobody will give us (there seems to be a kind of reverse imperialism here: many seemed to delight in our problems).  So, we go "into" town (which, on the way in had broad avenues and a totally surreal Berber architecture applied – utterly convincingly – to shops and offices.)  We find the Post Office, and a few helpful people to explain where to go (as luck would also have it, the main telephone exchange was en panne).  We buy the card, and then try – 20, 30 times – to use it.  Eventually we give up.  We stagger back to the car.  Back to the hotel, where the bloody standard is working now, so we can call from there.  Outside the sky has darkened and we await the starts.  But back to the journey.

The last part was just long and frightening again as it seemed we were really driving into the heart of the Sahara.  Maps are such comforters, such liars.  They make journeys seem so plausible, so possible.  But nothing on the map could prepare us for the twisting, climbing, ever-on of the journey, all four and a half hours of it.  It was the same with Essaouira: on the page the town all looked so neat and compact, so graspable; instead, it was a warren, something 3D or Escherian that could not be conveyed by 2D alone.  Perhaps this is the fundamental flaw of my journeying: I always underestimate the distances (and, en passant, are we really going to drive 450 kilometres at the end?).  I conceive of going to, say, Bolivia (as I do now), and if/when I meet the reality find it is far worse than expect – or just far worse.  In fact, in this sense I don't really "enjoy" travelling, I enjoy having travelled – unfortunately the latter requires the former.  And also the strange sense of the present: why now?  What will happen next – and why can't we know?

Oh yes, the hotel: Belere, notable (besides its lackadaisical staff) for its clever use of real Berber mud covering (complete with chaff).  Lovely pool – but I fear the sun's rays are deadly here.  At dusk, a crowd of birds in the trees in the courtyard by the pool – a riot (and swifts were dipping elegantly in yesterday's pool at the same time).  Very noticeably women have no veils, knee-length dresses, rather attractive and quite un-Arabic.  Fascinating this growing centre so far from everything.  Re-entering the hotel you realise the sheer necessity of shade and coolth – just as heat is necessary in Moscow, say.

29.5.93  Ouarzazate

In the Kasbah, attractive designs on main section.  Inside refreshingly cool, with breezes through grilled windows.  View over the lake.  On the whitewashed walls the smuts of old candle flames.  The floor oscillates as others walk on it. A view over more mud-brick dwellings.  Roofs made of reeds laid side by side.  Who knows what these wall saw?  Up to the tiled room, surprisingly cool in the breeze.  Sugary tea for breakfast, ditto for lunch.  Sunbathing in the morning after our visit, and later in the afternoon.  Now the breeze is strong, the sun veiled by incredibly high clouds – wispy.  I don't know why, but I am sure these are the highest clouds I've seen.  Strange the rhythm of these places when meals no longer exists as markers in the day.  Pool surprisingly cold this morning.  Strange too all this water here so near the Sahara, and with such aridity around.  To the café with the terrace – inside is nicely done out in black, white and red tiles, brocades, chairs and divans.

30.5.93 Marrakesh

Aït Benhaddou. Off the road to here, stopping this side of the stream.  Fantastic views of the brown forms opposite.  What a view they have.  7.30am and the sun begins to burn.  In the café at the pass.  Cool – cold even.  Little traffic, brilliant, hard sunshine.  Terraces cultivated as in Bali, almost bare mountain tops with added sprinkling of bent trees.  What a landscape – so far from everywhere.  

Back at the Tikida – though to tell the truth, this time we have done better: a room on the first floor, facing outwards, towels then loungers; food served moderately quickly – despite a huge group having their barbecue (or perhaps because?).  So we sit now by the pool, in the shade, a pleasant breeze wafting over us.  We have a whole day's rest tomorrow, to be used partly in Marrakesh – this place we have hovered around but never seen… (though coming in today we saw the tower of the great mosque). [Parenthetically, I am appalled to note that these black books are no longer bound, but simply glued: what are things coming to?]

Thinking of our two days' expedition: although I did not do half the things I had hoped to, I feel that our incomplete visit was far more real than any that could have been made in a coach group – though they may well have been to more places – for all the usual reasons.  Driving back through one-street villages, hot and dusty under the pale sky, I was reminded of Nepal, of Kashmir, of all those place so far away from my world.  I feel again a desire to write about them all and to link them in some way – how I know not.  Here in Marrakesh I also feel all the other currents: French, Arabic etc.  And the sense of sheer insignificance when confronted by the rocks, the sheer faces, the crags (makes me long for the Lake District) – the mountain tops.  Following the path round a hill, precariously clinging to its face; lost in a maze of valleys, clefts, plains.

I must go: the flies are horrendous…

31.5.93 Marrakesh

Jemaa el-Fna. Sitting in the café Argana, splendid view over the square – snake charmers' shawms raucous in the background.  Arabic radio with French news bulletins.  Paid 50 Dirham to get here – alas, no other taxi at the hotel to bargain with, and I'm too tired to drive yet.  Passed around walls, and garden by Koutoubia, then to Jemaa el-Fna.  Stopped by snake charmer – very nasty-looking snakes, and saw water sellers, old women with greasy tarot cards.  Assaulted by guides, one claims us, and fiercely shoos away any others.  We refuse for ten minutes, but he follows us, and eventually I agree on 5 Dirham – 40p – for "protection" really.  

Then into the souk.  Past the cassette stalls, music blaring.  The rest very similar to Egyptian bazaar/Istanbul, but far fewer tourists.  Often we were the only ones which felt a little worrying at times.  For some of them were narrow and dark [a plane comes to land close to the city] with donkeys (sores and blood on their mistreated backs), horses, motorcycles, bikes.  The stalls: carvings, pottery, odd bits of meat (great slobbering tongues), strange dead animals (aphrodisiacs), spices (glorious smells), piles of fruits, vegetables, clothing, carpets (huge palaces of them).  A thought: how many million items are there here?  

Back to Tikida. After passable buffet lunch (and a change of room) to the pool (weird plastic loungers).  I finish off "Tribes with Flags" – realising that all this applies totally to Yugoslavia.  Then back to Jemaa el-Fna and the Argana restaurant for a view of the packed square – packed with Moroccans – grouped in circles in a way that seems innately human.  One circle: we see musicians with rebab, drums…  In the distance, the long line of Atlas mountains obscured by haze.  Swifts in the air.  To the Marrakesh restaurant – surprisingly empty, but lovely view of the Place, the illuminated  Koutoubia and the apricot sunset.  Lamps lit down in the market – bustling as ever.  The cries that rise to use like an uprising: not a general hubbub, but more forceful.  Our waiter tells us that the crowd is so large below because this is the feast of the Moutons.

A nice ritual – washing hands with a ewer and basin (first time I've used that word…) before eating.  The pastilla de poulet sweet and excellent. Outside the lights like candles on a birthday cake.  Tajine: lamb with figs – very figgy – and good.  People moving in the Place outside, obscuring and then uncovering the lights in a wonderfully random fashion… The proprietor (?) or at least head man, who looks like Tom Stoppard, has a plaster across his nose.  As we entered, he wore Western clothes and looked like a bouncer.  Dressed à la Maroc, in a tasteful purple kit, he looks much more cuddly.  

The muezzin (9pm) – only the second we've heard here.  Very loud (given the transparent [sonically] roof we have here).  Seems real.

1.6.93 Rabat

The Chellah Rabat Hotel – nothing special.  Fun finding it in  central Rabat, though fortunately today being a holiday there was little traffic.  Four hours or so it took us.  The journey pretty good.  Roads excellent – which means 100 km/hour was easy and safe-ish (though I worry about the tyres).  To the Great Tower – fine piece of masonry.  Strange breeze blowing off the sea.  Very peaceful here – despite arriving at the same time as a tour group.  A forest of dumpy pillars behind us (hello Chichen Itza…).  Late afternoon sun and colours.  To the glistening white Mausoleum of Mohammed V – over the top, but rather nice.  Inside, fascinating to see rich ornament that is either script or geometry: words/maths.  Below, the marble is polished like water…  A walk down to the station – smart and clean.  City is generally tidy and efficient – though a little dull for a capital.

2.6.93 Rabat

Down at breakfast.  The vestigial smells remind me of real breakfast smells of hotels in the Lake District, in Christchurch (the New Zealand one) – for these, perhaps, you need cold air outside, and hot steamy kitchens.  To the Chellah.  Surprisingly large, very peaceful inside.  Glorious purple-foliaged trees – and hundreds of cranes and storks – nests high in trees and in the ruins.  Great view.  Constant squealing (as in Nyman's "M"…).  

To the museum, the usual collection of fragmentary inscriptions (DIV AUG) and coins and bones, plus the bronzes (in a separate room). Glaring black, verdigris.  The "famous" dog. A firm Cato Uticensis: severe, ears sticking out, Roman nose, incredible tristesse in the downward tilt of the head – a slight curl of the lip…

Meknes – to the Bab El Mansour, which I recognise, having passed it on the drive here – led by two lads on a motorbike.  To the mausoleum – lovely gate, hypnotic mosaics in the first courtyard, in the second, with plain buttressed walls.  Initial impression of the Medina good: feels authentic, but I've seen little…  A square of blue above us. Into the main courtyard – very dignified and noble.  As people take off their shoes, the muezzin sounds (or is it muezzins? What is the plural?  A minaret of muezzins?). Strange that this is the only mosque visitable by non-Muslims – no problems in Egypt, Turkey etc.  [Driving across here, flat, fertile land rising to the hills near Meknes.  Hotel Rif – four star, OK, but always details disappoint.]

Inside: wonderfully delicate marble columns support the fretted arches, fine white lacework, then blue and green, then a rich ceiling.  Women's section opposite the mihrab.  The tomb itself – lovely silhouettes of ogives and pillars and lamps.  A grandfather clock in the corner.  Long, long, long walk past fig trees, families living in tin shacks, to the Great Bassin – impressive but somehow rather pointless (not like the sacred pools of Egypt).  Up to the café at the top of the gardens.  Lots of courting couples – very noticeably the smart set.  Some attractive women (and blokes, I am told).  Very Westernised, some doing schoolwork (as we also saw on Essaouira beach).  

Into the granaries below the royal stables – cold and dark (like the cistern in Istanbul).  High barrel vaults – above which sat, unknowingly. The changing perspectives of the arches – like Karnak.  Golden yellow stone, the blue sky above.  As we return from the open arches to the closed hall, a blast of glacial air.  Ivy falling down from a hole in the roof.  Reminds me of the Serapeum of Saqqara, the huge underground temple to the bulls.  Also very Boullée – those huge, impossible halls.   Luckily we find a petit taxi – with a working meter (a meter showing Pesetas…).

I love the way everyone replies to "Bonsoir" and "Monsieur" - in fact, I think that part of the charm of Morocco is that it has some of the magic of France and none of the tiresomeness of Anglophone tourist spots where mangled English (Glanglish) can get really painful.  Here, obviously, we are not so aware of French errors – as non-Anglophones probably are not with English.

3.6.93 Fes

Volubilis. Clear early morning, the place to ourselves.  Stunning location on a hill overlooking an almost Paduan plain.  To the Campidoglio, the forum.  Sun already strong.  Who knows what transactions took place in this forum (I think of Pergamon).  Simple but effective triumphal arch.  Strange to see original classical architecture – rather than Renaissance copies.  The view through the arch stupendous – like a Magritte – so unreal in its clarity and contrast with the crumbling stones.  House of the Columns – rather bijou courtyard – you almost imagine the fountain plashing….  Home of the Ephebe – again, a really good sense of how things were here – living.  In the shade of the arch to change films – reminds me of the Ramesseum – sitting in the desperately-needed shade….  Peace (Piece).  The view over the plain presumably little changed in 2000 years.  Nice to be among obviously Western artefacts.  To Bacco e Arianna (sic), alas, the lady a little fugitive.  The Labours of Hercules – very impressive – this place feels so present, not abstract.  But unable to find the mosaics – the lost mosaics of Volubilis…  But stunning.

Fes. Into the Medina – very untouristy outside.  To the Madrasa of Bou Inania – rather like those of Cairo – full of pigeons, decaying, beautiful, and in use.  Up to the students' room – reminds me of San Marco, Florence, no pix… Then up again, fragmentary view of the city's roofs...

The bark of the gelato man.  A donkey with a packed fridge on its back.  A man advertising himself as "sociologue", a radio from the 1950s.  A man repairing a car radio.  Into the fondouk.  Full of flies, not camels.  Striking bits of dead sheep (later we see a man carrying the flayed skins).  Then down to a carpet factory – warehouse Balia – lovely spiel from salesman – "what's your favourite colour?  Which is your favourite?"  - to which I answered "all of them".  But prices quite reasonable.

Cretinous restaurant service tonight – big group in, so they can't cope with us.  Nearly full moon.

4.6.93 Fes

Place Nejjaarine. A quiet corner, lovely fountain.  We have finally (?) lost our "guide" – using the books instead.  Past Zaouia de Moulay Idriss – very ornate.  Fewer tourists and generally quieter – Friday?  Round to main mosque – tantalising glimpses.  The to dyers' souk – empty – across bridge and petit taxi to car for abortive drive around the walls.  Fes reminds me of Venice, with its enclosed feel, its lack of traffic, its dark alleys, its shops and homes on top of each other.  Fes el Bali is separate from the new city, so self-contained.  Entering its walls is really to enter another world.

We are sitting in the boulevard opposite our hotel – another characteristic green-tiled building to our left.  After another (abortive) visit to the dyers' souk (closed) – and nearly coming to blows with two to four "guides" (very persistent), we flee back to the hotel, then here, a salon de thé nearby.  Fine music playing, mint tea in front of us.  Sky veiled, cooler now.  Amazing the vastly different racial types here – interesting to know if there is racism – for example vis-à-vis the Berbers.

5.6.93 Marrakesh

Eating the best cherries of my life (From Fes) in suite 214.  500 kilometres – plus a speeding ticket (for doing more than 40 km/h).  Stopped for this "infraction" – I was fined 35 Dirham (about £3) – but 20 Dirham "sans écrire" – "you don't want a receipt, do you…?" Of course not, officer…

Yesterday a strange day.  We were half contemplating leaving that afternoon for somewhere – Casablanca, or Plage des Nations – but couldn't get through to the hotel there.  The effect of our encounter in Fes el Bali – we were getting tired of the stress.  Instead we were up at 5.30am this morning, and drove almost non-stop for seven and a half hours.  Arrived here at 1.30pm, ate subito.  

Fun last night when we came to pay.  They wanted us to pay for two meals that we thought were the demi pension.  The cashier, the maître d', all became involved, but wouldn't budge. But something weird happened.  Hovering in the foyer like some white wizard – Gandalf, in fact, dressed in a long white robe and pointed hat (Ku Klux Klan style).  Tall and very imposing, he started berating the poor cashier.  Saying I was right, and that he (the cashier) would have to pay the difference.  The cashier wilted at this, and I felt guilty that some bloke being denied 100 Dirham.  But the old man (late 50s) was very impressive – I could imagine taking orders from him, even though I had nothing to do with him.

Then there was the worm.  Ordering a lamb tagine that took ages to arrive (and had to be sent back to be reheated, as at Meknes), we spotted a white, slug-like thing.  Exit horrified waitress, enter a clutch of waiters who eventually decide it is marrow.  Hmm.  We didn't pay for that, but nonetheless…

Strange but apt that we retraced our path almost exactly – like a conservative field, or as if we had gone out on elastic.  Returning to Marrakesh that has been our constant focus.  

A meal in the hotel – too tired to go out.  Good Euro food, resinous wine (cf. that restaurant under the Acropolis…)  And everywhere the music – though not what I was expecting in Ouarzazate – a strange mixture of Beethoven's Fifth and Peter Gabriel; in Fes, Tristan und Isolde; and here, Black Box.  Trouble is, we cannot switch off the room's radio… 

6.6.93 Marrakesh

Saadien's Tombs.  Picturesque quarter – the twelve columns glorious – unusual grouping, unequal distance.  The walls and ceiling positively palpitating with movement – bubbling.  Simple columns but rich capitals, tombs very simple.  The mihrab room: four pillars, patches of mosaic on the floor, hypnotic ceilings – those attempts to get around the prohibition on representation.  Annoying to think of these hidden from view for years. The niches with their beehive ornamentation.  Vertiginous.  To the El Badii Palace – reminds me of Egypt, of Ramses III – but far less impressive.  This empty shell rather sums the place up, alas.  Lots of storks.  Water in middle with island – reminds me of Lombok.

Back to "our" café - Argana – for a thé à la menthe.  Jemaa el-Fna relatively empty.  Arabic newspapers: never having read one, I can still comment that their typefaces tend to lack elegance, headlines being thick and heavy.  Into the souk (with guide), to the Almoravid Koubba, poor but interesting, and then to here, the Madrassa Ben Youssef - very fine – though even all this was destroyed and rebuilt many times.

A final blow-out in the hotel's restaurant, a good buffet, and some more of the excellent cream goat cheese we had this morning.  Brought to us specially…  Sunbathe, then to the centre artisanal – where we narrowly escape buying a carpet.  To the café, and then a fun time crossing the Jemaa.  Assailed by women who wanted to sell (1 Dirham), then "give", silver bracelets – then started forcing them on me.  Meanwhile a small boy with a shirt over his arm approached – a trick I recognised.  We fled – literally – to find that my marsupial had been opened – though nothing stolen (I think) – the old tricks are always the best.

Then to the Marrakesh Restaurant – sunset really beautiful tonight.  The crowd below less thick.  [Arriving here, a bloke with a pair of cymbals played for five minutes – then demanded money – which I didn't give – and he finally gave up.]  Fine red wine Ksar – very rich and full.  Pigeon pastilla, tagine.  Sadly, we are the only ones here.  Another pregnant cat – symbol of plenitude here – the sixth or seventh we've seen (don't they know about condoms?).  A large tip – partly out of sympathy.  Place Jemaa el-Fna quieter than last week, but bustling.  We find a taxi, and depart.

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