Saturday, January 31, 2015

From Marrakech to Rabat

Donkey having breakfast on the street...carrot peelings, greens...

Knitting while waiting in the train station Saturday...

I've started writing this while on the train from Marrakech to Rabat. We're traveling first class, with six people in a compartment. The seats are wide and comfortable...wide enough for me to have my shoulder bag beside me and my knitting on my lap. I'm in the middle  seat facing forward. On my right is a gracious French woman, an ex-pat from Paris who lives in Marrakech and works on a magazine about luxurious decor and is traveling to Casablanca. Like every European we meet, she apologized for her bad English however her English is far superior to our French! On my left is a young woman, likely Moroccan, dressed very fashionably without head covering who has not spoken since thanking Lloyd for putting her suitcase up on the rack. She has spent most of her time on her smart phone reviewing male profiles in what appears to be a multinational Muslim matrimonial site..aren't I snoopy...and on an English translation site, I think formulating responses in English to some of these profiles... Across from me and next to Lloyd is another young woman with long black hair  wearing a longer skirt who has said not a word. She stares at me while I knit but doesn't smile when I smile at her. Her male companion could be an American black man, but his English is definitely not...maybe Nigerian? And he's a man of very few words too. 

We're travelling through a fertile landscape, quite unlike the stony brown fields south of the Atlas Mountains. There are green fields of wheat or barley, bright orange flowers that might be calendula, prickly pear cactus, the occasional almond tree with its pale pink blossoms, a few cows and donkeys, some sheep and goat herds, and olive orchards. It's a misty drizzling day.  This is not a fast train so there is lots of time to enjoy the landscape. It's not easy to tell what stations we're stopping at--no signs on the platform. Hope it'll be obvious when we get to Rabat! (Addendum..yes, platform was well labelled!)

After the French woman left the train, Lloyd took this photo of me taking a break from knitting to write this post...

We spent the last two days exploring the Marrakech medina, the old city. It was a huge challenge for me the first morning. I was so irritated by the vendors...Madame, please look! No charge for looking! Madame, hello! Do you speak English or Francais?  See my lovely shawls! You need a carpet?... I felt like stamping my foot and screaming "no shopping!" Lloyd helped me adjust my attitude with annoyingly calm words, "this is their job, this is how they do business..." So we carried on, first to the Saadian Tombs...built over 500 years ago to house the tombs of the important members of the  family, the rulers of Marrakech at that time. Amazingly this site was relatively unknown for a few hundred years until about 100 years ago when it was rediscovered and restoration begun. 

On site was a craftsman creating small medallions from tiles.

A stork is nesting on top of this tower...

Our next destination was the Palais Bahia, and of course we didn't manage to navigate there directly. The narrow twisting lanes...thoroughfares, cul-de-sacs, and dead ends make this difficult, plus so many "helpful" people..."are you lost? Where do you want to go? Not that way!" So many just wanted to steer us towards businesses. Another ploy is "I remember you from the Riad!" (No, I've never seen you before.) "It's your lucky day! There's an exhibition of Berber art/ carpets/ antiquities today!" (My new calm voice..."no thank you")

On to the Palais..what a building! 
A beautiful door and a painted ceiling...

After a lunch (a pretty reasonable omelet) Lloyd escorted me back to the Riad for the afternoon where I enjoyed some quality knitting time until sunset...

...and then out to dinner with new friends from Switzerland. One aspect that we enjoyed in Marrakech was other peoples' company...we are no longer the only guests in the Riad! So, some good conversations over good food.

Friday was similar, with the exception that my attitude adjustment made it a lot easier! Plus Lloyd said to just ignore them and let him do the talking. One of the best bits of advice we got from our first Marrakech host was to ask a vendor for directions, and to ask for directions to the nearest landmark, e.g. Ben Yusef mosque, rather than accepting unsolicited help from young men who will demand payment when you finally reach your destination. So off we went to the Dar Si Saïd museum and another gorgeous building. We turned down what we thought was the right street, only to be greeted by an older woman who was closing a gate, "non Monsieur, c'est ma maison!" So Lloyd, ever with the quick rejoinder, said, "but Madame, we were coming for dinner!" At which point she laughed, and we all laughed. She redirected us back to the main street and "a gauche", and sure enough we soon found the signs for Dar Si Saïd....another delightful and beautiful complex built in the late 19th C. There were some interesting carpets, shawls, jewelry, ceramics, and carved doors, but the building itself was the star attraction.

Next we dropped into the Bert Flint Museum, another charming 19th C residence which houses a collection of folk art from the Saharan region (including Mali, Niger, and Mauritania) amassed by a Dutch academic, Bert Flint starting in the 1950s. While much of it is rather dusty, it's well displayed with good descriptions. 

We stopped for lunch nearby and then made our way back through the souks (and organized chaos...pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, donkey carts...) the dyers' souk. 
Coarse wool, single spun

With it being Friday, the holy day of the week, none of the dyers was working, however one of the vendors showed us around. Here are samples of the dyes; he said they were all minerals (not so sure about that...)

 He was desperate to sell us a scarf, shawl, or bed covering from his stall...even going so far as to wrap Lloyd's head in a Berber-style turban.

Lloyd entered into negotiations and ended up buying this apparently indigo-dyed silk/cotton scarf. I'm not so sure that it really is indigo.  The vendor also said these shawls were all naturally dyed, but I think the colours were too bright. 

My curiosity about the dyers' souk satisfied, we went back to the Riad where I enjoyed a few hours of knitting in the sunshine! 

Topped off with a bottle of Moroccan white wine that Lloyd bought from the little supermarket 10 minutes away. Alcohol is prohibited in the Islamic religion, however it's available in certain stores (very controlled, enter through a small door and exit out the back alley, but very well stocked) as well as restaurants and hotels serving a western clientele.

I'm finishing this post from the Riad Yanis in Rabat where we will be for 3 nights. We walked here from the train station, about 500 m, without getting lost!
It's still raining...I can hear it bounce on the canopy over the central courtyard.

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