Refreshed, not only by the mint tea, but by the full-blast air-conditioning in our room, and changed into breezy linen clothes, we attempted to head out for a little exploration when the owner waved us over to his desk. Was there a problem? Not at all. In addition to sharing the (mentally) delightful news that the temperature had cooled to 39ºC we were given what is probably the standard lecture on where to go, where NOT to go, and basically, how not to be swindled by a Berber.
“I’ve got this,” says my Eagle Scout as Riad Guy drew us a map that was so not-to-scale it was comical. And off we set. Did Riad Guy just whisper a prayer to Allah for our safe return, I asked myself?
Wending our way out of the terra cotta rabbit warren we landed in Jemaa el Fna, the main square of the Medina. The Medina is the ancient part of Marrakesh where the locals watch, “As Seen in the Medina;” and tourists attempt to barter in the souks and get their picture taken with mistreated monkeys and de-fanged cobras (neither of which we did).
One snap of the square reveals raw Marrakeshi life: donkey carts overflowing with fresh, aromatic cantaloupe for sale; two large men in billowing caftans riding one scooter with a flat screen television balanced on their heads; toothless old men working hard for a living while young Marrakeshis entertain the tourists; the occasional sheep passing through: and women in hijabs and niqabs and burkas selling everything from pocket tissues (for the WC) to silvery bangles. Just glorious.
On this first afternoon we dipped into one of the souks just to absorb the character. Now, Anna Grace and I have been to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Cairo’s main souk, so my Resting Rebut Face is solid. I’ve got the 100-yard stare behind my shades, and can swish a, “La, shukran” or “Merci, non” off my tongue like nobody’s business. As we walked deeper with the labyrinth, though, I discovered my intrepid traveler son looking a little shell-shocked. The hassling in a Marrakeshi souk is hard core, and I had tossed him in like a mama bird nudges a fledgling out of the nest. The sights, the sounds, and the barrage of, “Come, come. To look is free.” “Bonjour! Have a look in my shop for free.” “Where are you from? Germany? Guten Tag! My store is free to look.” was taking its toll.
“Don’t point! Don’t point!” came the desperate admonishments from Jack. This was my sign to follow the bread crumb trail we had left back to our Riad for dinner. Except, well, that bread crumb trail ran out about 1.000 steps prior and now we were nowhere near to seeing the light of day. As the Eagle Scout began triangulating our position using sun shadows and movements of kitties he swore he’d seen near the square, I spotted The. Rug. I pointed and the carpet men swarmed. Jack slumped with exasperation. The saving grace was that I had not enough Dirhams on my person to buy a rug of my desired size, and so I whispered that we would return, and Jack almost wept with relief that escape was nigh.
While enjoying a savory tajine of chicken, lemon, and olives on the roof terrace of our Riad this evening, with the evening call to prayer in the background and the sounds of Djembes in the square below us, Jack found his Zen: “What you see is the Middle East. What you hear are the sounds of Africa. And what you eat seems French and Mediterranean.”
By now exhaustion had become our close personal friend, and so we slipped into our cool, air-conditioned room for the night, me dreaming of a new Berber rug.