John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Sunday 23 March 2014

[Saturday 22 March 2014]

Opera Plaza, Marrakesh

Day 82 Numbers 31; John 13
After breakfast we will have a coach and walking tour of parts of Marrakesh, during which we will see some of its principal monuments. You will be able to practise the haggling skills you picked up in Fez, although Marrakesh souk is smaller and more "manageable" than the one in Fez! The afternoon is free for you to explore Marrakesh as you wish. This evening we will offer a transfer to the main Square, Djemaa El Fna. This is when the square “comes alive”, and some of the sights have to be seen to be believed!

Today we weren’t starting the organised activity till 9am, but Janet had decided to make it her once-a-week “pig out” day (usually, back home, this is Saturday) and to get up early to start it with a big breakfast. I hadn’t decided whether to get up when she did, or to lie in bed a bit longer and join her for breakfast later. She got up ca.6.15am, and in fact I followed not long after, so we went down for breakfast together just after 7am. We were the first hotel residents there. I had my “usual” (in quotes because I don’t eat breakfast back home, i.e. “usual for this holiday”) corn flakes, orange juice, rolls with smoked meats, and coffee. Janet noticed them setting up a stall just outside the dining room in the corner of the courtyard, and had some freshly made Moroccan pancakes from it. I left Janet to it when I’d finished. She came back to the room, then set off in search of a supermarket. She got four cans from a little shop she found in the nearby Gare de Marrakech. Meanwhile, I did the Bible reading for Day 75 (to 08:28) and Day 76 (to 08:38). We boarded the coach at 9am.

09:03:16 Waiting to depart: Théâtre Royal, across the road from the hotel, seen through the adjacent window

09:04:14 Waiting to depart: Opera Plaza Hotel, seen through the opposite window

09:10:50 Seen from the coach: Medina walls

09:11:50 Seen from the coach: Koutoubia Mosque

09:16:22 Seen from the coach: Bab Agnaou

09:17:02 Seen from the coach: to the right of Bab Agnaou

09:19:06 El Mansour Mosque in the kasbah

09:22:48 Common starlings on the kasbah wall

First stop was for a visit to the Saadian tombs, looking in through the doors of a couple or so buildings situated in a walled courtyard with palms. At one point, in one of his rambling discourses El Hassani mentioned death and judgment day, so in the free time to look round the site after he finished showing us things I asked him if in Islam there was conscious existence between death and resurrection. He said that Jibreel (Gabriel) comes to take the soul to God. I commented that conscious existence, then, was “a belief shared by Muslims and Christians”. He seemed to think I was saying that that was the only such belief shared, so I changed my wording to “one of the beliefs shared by Muslims and Christians”. I said that St. Paul wrote, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”, and, “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” He commented that Muslims don’t depart to be with Mohammed but with God, for Mohammad was a man like any other. I can’t remember whether I said, “Christians believe that Jesus was a man, but more than just a man.”

09:24:26 Saadian Tombs

09:24:40 Saadian Tombs

09:28:16 Saadian Tombs

09:28:34 Saadian Tombs

09:37:16 Saadian Tombs

09:37:56 Saadian Tombs

09:48:04 Saadian Tombs

09:56:48 Saadian Tombs

09:57:00 Saadian Tombs

10:09:52 Stork nesting on top of the end of a ruined kasbah wall.
From where I took this photo, the nest appeared to be on the top of a narrow tower (cf. “12:05:22” on 16 July 2013). So I asked El Hassani whether it was a minaret. He seemed surprised by the question (as well he might; for all the minarets there were fairly chunky square structures, more like church towers back home than “classic” slender minarets), and said that it was part of the old wall of the kasbah. Indeed, a change of position revealed to me that that was the case. This was as we were about to enter the Saadian Tombs; I took the photo just after we came out.

Then we had a walking tour through some of the souks, “where,” Janet wrote, “skilled craftsmen were creating intricate leather-ware, jewellery and furniture to sell in the souks — blacksmiths, carpenters, etc.…” An elderly man with a crutch seemed to be hanging around, and Janet and I changed our position at one point, when the group gathered, to avoid him. We didn’t realise that he was appointed to be there to help make sure no one got lost.

10:12:56 El Hassani, in white, leads the Riviera party to the Marrakesh souks.

10:36:18 Walking tour of the Marrakesh souks

10:40:16 Walking tour of the Marrakesh souks: stacks of hides

10:41:26 Walking tour of the Marrakesh souks: blacksmiths at work

10:43:46 Walking tour of the Marrakesh souks: blacksmiths at work

We entered an anonymous door in the wall of one of the narrow streets, went down a corridor, and were sat on benches in a room with many jars on shelves on the walls all around, and given the ubiquitous mint tea; this was a Berber apothecary, staffed by people in white coats as though they were “real” pharmacists. The demonstration of their many products — herbs and spices; argan oil, a cure-all and elixir from the argan tree, endemic to Morocco; rose oil; orange-blossom oil; saffron; Nigella sativa (black cumin) seeds wrapped in a cloth, rubbed and inhaled through one nostril at a time (wow!); even something termed “herbal Viagra”; etc. — just went on and on, though, and Janet and I got a bit bored. Most of the others bought one or more of the items. There were massages with aromatic oils offered (a bit too persistently, latterly, to me) and given (not to me), too.

11:13:28 Visit to a Berber pharmacy

11:48:04 Visit to a Berber pharmacy: massages being given

We ended in the busy Jemaa El Fna, the large square and market place in the medina quarter, noisy with the wail of Moroccan oboes and clatter of drums from the snake charmers. I gave a guy a coin (10 dirhams, perhaps) so I could take photos.

13:00:54 Snake charming on Jamaa el Fna

13:01:02 Snake charming on Jamaa el Fna

Janet wrote: “I’d asked about a traditional Moroccan restaurant and El Hassani said he’d sort it. We were led off by a Moroccan gentleman with a stick” — the aforementioned man that we’d tried to avoid! “We seemed to be walking for ages ([we] weren’t really — [it was] just that the M.G. was very slow). After a while we were led ‘off the beaten track’ down a very seedy looking street and I began feeling a bit scared! However, we were finally led into a very pleasant courtyard and handed over to the maître d’.” Before he left us there, I gave the “M.G.” a coin or two, perhaps 20 dirhams, for his trouble. “We were led up several flights of steps to a traditional Moroccan restaurant in the open air, but ‘covered up with curtains’. It was all comfy sofas, cushions and low tables, with a musician playing.” I don’t recall a “courtyard” initially; I have the impression of a smallish entrance hall, with flights of internal stairs upwards off to the left, which continued then in the open air up to the flat roof. This surrounded an open-air courtyard on the floor below, itself three or so storeys up. There were awnings or canopies on the roof, and we were led round to the one at the opposite end from the stairs.

13:25:02 Going to lunch, led by the “Moroccan Gentleman”—

13:30:22 —up to the roof of the restaurant

13:33:26 Lunch: under an awning on the roof

13:40:32 Lunch: under an awning on the roof

I noticed on the drinks menu the Spéciale Flag that I’d had at yesterday’s lunch-halt, so I had one of those, and Janet had Schweppes Citron (cloudy lemonade). We had two of each, before we finished.

13:44:12 Lunch: Spéciale Flag and Schweppes Citron

Janet wrote: “We had Moroccan salads served in mini tagines,—

13:59:02 Lunch: ten mini tagines of cold vegetables

—“bread, chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons,—

14:22:40 Lunch: chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons, with quartered cakes of bread

—“then Moroccan crêpes with sweetened cream and cinnamon.” We were visited by one or two little grey-headed brown birds that went under the tables in search of crumbs.

14:49:10 A visiting House Bunting (Emberiza sahari)

14:49:18 A visiting House Bunting (Emberiza sahari)

15:06:44 Looking back, up to the restaurant and the roof awning where we’d been

“We left around 3pm and ambled back towards Jemaa El Fna Square. En route we bought ice lollies [popsicles]. It was seriously hot by then.” (And I’d forgotten to bring my hat with me. I didn’t suffer any sunburn, though.) “We got postcards and ‘fridge supplies’: bottles of Orangina and Citron, a large bottle of water, and two one-litre bottles of Coke Light — 38 dirhams for the drinks: what a bargain!” Near to Jemaa El Fna was a small park with shady trees, with two-horse calèches lined up on one side and a taxicab-rank on another. Christine had advised: “Agree the price before you travel, and accept no more than 30 dirhams.” The cab driver asked for 50 dirhams but agreed to 30. However, he deposited us short of our destination, a long block away, perhaps 400 yards or more. In error, or for revenge? And I gave him a 3-dirham tip, before I realised we didn’t know where we were! In similar situations Janet has asked for directions, but this time she was for flagging another taxi, which I didn’t want to do. So I stopped one or two people, who couldn’t help me. The last of these pointed to a policeman. But he was on point-duty in the middle of the busy street. Ostensibly: there were a number instances of police officers in the middle of crossroads, which were already adequately traffic-light controlled — seemingly not doing anything but stand there! There was another policeman not far off, seated in a car with the window wound down, so I asked him. He directed us down the street round the corner from where we were. And eventually we saw ahead the encouragingly recognisable outline of the Théâtre Royal.[i] Copied photos from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (16:34–16:35) and edited them (16:40–18:09). I wasn’t overly hungry, and found the thought of yesterday’s buffet items unappetising, so Janet went down on her own, ca.6.50pm. She brought me back two pieces of sesame-seeded bread, sliced from a baguette, and gave me some chocolate. “We are both bedding down for the night,” Janet wrote. “It’s 8.45pm…”

[i] I didn’t realise that it was called “Théâtre Royal” at that point, which may have been the cause of our being deposited in the wrong place; I’d been asking for “Opéra”, thinking that that was the name of the establishment, and that our hotel “Opera Plaza Hotel” across the road from it was named after it.

[Monday 24 March 2014]

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