Mornings in Marrakech were a world away from the monotony of a morning commute at home. Awoken with the azan and dining al fresco in the courtyard or the mezzanine of our Riad Ilayka; the warmth of the morning sun gracing our shoulders was a pleasure I’d happily and repeatedly relive.
Each course of our breakfast was something to be savoured, an art applied to each dish presented to us. Not a continental fright in sight. Or queue for that matter. Amber scented yogurt, pomegranate jewels, warmed m’semmen and Moroccan crepes drizzled in honey and flaky pastries with homemade lemon marmalade were just some of the offerings that we indulged in – guilt free.
‘’I’m so sorry we’re late, breakfast was just too good to rush.’’
Our guide Habib bowed his head. Soft creases formed to a gentle point and with a warming smile he simply said to me; ‘’Not a problem Nadia, Marrakech always has time for you.’’
Indeed it does.
Habib guided us from the unruffled peace of the riad; a winding walk through unbroken terracotta walls. We wandered through the souks, admiring fellow travellers trying their hand at haggling for bargains. While the traders remained playfully firm – both parties seemed keen to experience this souk dalliance; coy glances turning to somewhat exasperated sighs. One type of market blended with another. From dazzling lanterns and glassware, we found ourselves thrusted into the pungent scent of the leather market of colourful and decorative babouche slippers and handbags. As we turned another corner our ears were assaulted with the clanging chorus of iron hammers. We continued through and discovered the colourful stalls of spices, herbal remedies and cosmetics, and of course the varying forms of the Moroccan wonder – argan.
Reaching the edge of the medina we spotted a small walkway leading to an open courtyard.
‘’And this is a foundouk’’.
What was now the creative hub for artisans studios I imagined once were the resting places of the travelling caravans, of years long ago, laying down for the evening. Once again, fashioned around a central courtyard, the stables on the ground level, which would have formerly sheltered the horses had been transformed into shabby chic painting spaces and trading areas. Above, overlooking the central courtyard below, we were told is where the artists would now reside. A man knelt over tapestries rearranging and dusting them. Next to him another man dressed in a long hooded cloak – djellaba – stacked ceramic bowls and bevelled silver tea pots. They both looked up from their work, and nodded towards us in acknowledgment; no heavy handed selling here.
After our first day with Habib we ventured out on our own. With or without purpose, to explore or to seek calm, the many streets and alleyways of the medina combined to create a welcome myriad of character and charm for us. Getting lost, whilst some may find frightful, gave us an opportunity to discover beyond that which we were looking for. And Marrakech, well, she offered a guiding hand throughout.
We armed ourselves with a keen eye for our surroundings, as well as the phrase ‘’la shukran’’ within the serpentine forms of the medina. As the old Moroccan proverb goes: ‘’a narrow space looks wide to only the narrow minded’’.
We dodged donkey carts and motorbikes, kitty cats and trays of freshly baked bread from the local street ovens. All the while we minded the careful pyramid stacks of souvenirs on display and smiled politely; nodding to the various references to Bollywood actresses and films. It seems Bollywood is surprisingly popular in Morocco – Shah Rukh Khan playing a starring role in the Film Festival that coincided with our holiday.
Beyond our dirhams, we were sure to spend our time in Marrakech. We watched locals from afar and gazed at their shifting shadows in the Djema El Fna; the balcony of Cafe de Paris becoming our habitual spot to do so; all the while sipping sweetened mint tea. The Red City with its pops of majorelle blue – courtesy of Jardin Majorelle – has a mystical charm of the Middle East but a familiarity of something closer to home. Whether it was the similarity to Bollywood actresses or my inquisitive supposed ‘Berber eyes’’, conversations with the locals came easy. Their experiences were offered as freely as the next pot of mint tea, and equally they were keen to know what I loved most about Marrakech.
Contrasts of bohemian high culture, ancient traditions and the azan reverberating through the skyline coalesce to create something beautifully calm; all cocooned in the warm seductive scents of my favourite amber and oudh. In a sentence these are the things that make me think ‘’ana bahebbek, Marrakech’’.