Around the World With the ArvaMonts
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“Attenzione, attenzione!!!” I pull Anika out of the way and a donkey passes us, with a man riding on a wooden board thrown across the metals sides of his cart. As he passes he invites Anika to climb on board! In fact, there is something about Anika that seems to really appeal to Moroccans. They all seem to want to stroke her head, and much to her chagrin many do.
We arrived at our petit riad in Marrakech last night, and this is our first foray out into the Medina, the old walled city. Our riad is so lovely, it is difficult to leave its shelter and tranquility. Outside, the medina consists of narrow alleyways made up of three-story, windowless, terracotta-colored, mud walls teaming with people and noise and smells and the hustle and bustle of an active vibrant town. Inside, the riad has a secluded private courtyard with four orange trees and a fountain, off which are bedrooms and bathrooms. When we determine we must leave the inner tranquility to experience Marrakech, we first walk in a circle. This fixes our bearings right up and now we know where we are going.
He is our first donkey, but the novelty of donkeys wears off within the next 20 minutes, as we continue to weave out of their way. And it isn’t only donkeys we have to dodge. There are horse-drawn carts, bicycles, mopeds, motorized bicycles, men pulling handcarts and lots colorfully robed men and women as well as tourists wandering around who all represent hazards on these narrow, winding alleyways.
Along both sides of many alleyways there are shop fronts. These are simple affairs. Their internal area is generally quite small, and much of their merchandise is displayed in front of their shops. These shops are generally specialized. For example, there are many selling tassels, apparently a Moroccan specialty. Can you imagine an entire shop selling just tassels? There are big ones and tiny ones and every size in between and they are available in every color you can name. There are wool shops, selling every imaginable color of wool in small bundles. There are shops selling slippers, another Marrakech specialty. Actually, there are a lot selling slippers. Every tourist must be expected to buy several pairs of slippers, to keep all these merchants in business! The spices are in jars lining the walls of the shops, but to attract attention, the shop keepers build miraculous towers of ground spices which they display out in the alleyways.
And then you get into the souks. Historically, guilds of craftsman opened shops on the same alley. These were called souks. There are still areas of Marrakech that are predominately one particular product. These alleyways are particularly impressive. The guilds have often banded together to put a roof over the alleyways for their shops, making the medina equivalent of a shopping mall! There were tanners, wool dyers, carpet weavers, brass workers, silver workers, cloth merchants and more. The brass souk contained hundreds of little shops selling everything you can imagine made of brass, all polished and glittering. Once when we were lost we even wandered through an electronics souk. There were 20 tiny little store fronts, selling television sets and stereos. As is the case the world over, the television vendors had their televisions on and tuned in, to entice customers into their shop! We must have wandered far astray, as I am sure this souk was not one specializing in the tourist trade!!! It certainly was not marked on the map!
Oh, there is so much more to write about. La Place transforming at dusk into dozens of outdoor cafes, or the snake charmers, water carriers and monkey wranglers who live off of the tourist photo trade. Or the architecture, or the mosaics - the beautiful colors, all reserved for the insides, never the outsides, which are required to be the color of terracotta. Or the sounds at the call to prayer, of several mosques broadcasting the call simultaneously. Or what about the new town, where there are shopping centers and grocery stores and even a McDonalds located right in front of a mosque. But all those descriptions will need to wait for another night.
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