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mercoledì 21 dicembre 2011

Que viva Morocco

In a way this post is connected to my ex boyfriend whom I spent six years with, both for the video of U2 which not only is set in Fes where I spent the last few days of my vacation but also because some lines of the songs are very true " Only love can leave such a mark. Only love can leave such a scar". and for the fact that when I arrived to Marrakech a few years ago on the first day of the year i had just broken up with him for what I then found to be one of 100 times until the definite break up six months ago. Well although I wasn't in a good mood I was staying in one narrow alley in the casbah in Marrakech and I immediately liked the atmosphere and the peculiar smell of leather and spices which was in the air almost in every corner of the city. My sister joined me after a few hours and in the meantime I slept in the peace and quiet of my room in a very nice Riad out of the touristic area. The good thing is, that as a matter of fact you can still be in the casbah but surrounded by typical houses and locals and not by tourists when in this very pretty riad: (A riad (Arabic: رياض‎) is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard- Wikipedia) Riad Sidi Ayoub. Very pretty indeed as you can see by the website. The day I arrived was the day after what they call the Sheep's day but should be called the Not the Sheep's day since it is the day that according to the Coran an animal has to be sacrificed in order to accomplish total submission to God. Well I can only say that if I had been there that day I probably would have stopped eating meat earlier and would have fled the country.
Streets of the medina
Children playing in the alleys of the Medina
There are many places you can go to in Marrakech but once in the Medina you only want to get lost and wonder around the streets looking at all the little shops, stalls in the middle of the street and the houses and riads. Then at some point in your wondering you will reach Djama El Fnaa the main square in Marrakech where you can sit and eat the food sold by the vendors scattered all around who will try to call you all at onece and guide you the tables in the square placed in front of their stalls.
Views of Djama El fnaa
On the southern part of the square there are snake enchanters and monkey trainers who will ask you to take a picture with their little friends.(?)While being there I was wondering about the assumption of many people that being two women traveling around Morocco we were bound to be pestered and hassled by the local men. We were indeed approached a lot but I noticed that unlike other places where I have been, if you tell the men politely that you want to be left alone they DO leave you alone and sometimes they even get offended and apologize. Locals are very friendly and polite ad even walking around at night in the Medina can be quite safe (at least so we were told: we didn't really try it ourselves I have to admit). Then on the south -east end of the square you will find one of the coolest places of the city Narwama Restaurant a moroccan-thai bar restaurant owned by a very friendly local man who speaks perfect Italian since he worked many years at RAI National broadcasting before the Berlusconi era. There are two other places to go to for dinner in my humble opinion and they are all very fancy: Le Fondouk a really beautiful place in the heart of the Medina and Le comptoir a huge place in the new part of the city with a nice bar where to enjoy the local nightlife. Having said that keep in mind that Marrakech is not a cheap place and in fact it can turn out to be quite expensive. As far as sightseeing is concerned there are a lot of old palaces and the big mosque in the main Square but the main thing is to walk around the Medina and as I said you can wonder there for hours. The climate can be very mild during the day in winter but at night it is quite chilly so you need a jacket in winter at al times. It is quite useful also for the wind you will find in Essaouira a nice place on the coast where we took a day trip. This is a very interesting city made of blue and white houses and fishermen's huts. The place is famous for having been the set for Orson Welles movie Othello.
Views of Essaouira and of its walls
After a few days we went to Casablanca only for one day on our way to Fes. Now Casablanca is another story. I didn't like it at all I have to say. If Marrakech had this exotic and warm atmosphere and Essaouira had the typical allure of a fishermen town, Casablanca had this seedy and dark aura which made me a little uncomfortable. Ww tried to go and visit the big Hassan II mosque but it was closed to women that day (damn it) so we just had a peek from outside. fortunately enough we found a marvellous fish restaurant La Mer where it seems to go back in time . It has this nostalgic elegant atmosphere with waiters in a white jacket and black bow tie all speaking French to the many French expats as well as to the locals . It is a very refined place and the food is wonderful. Speaking of food I have to say that Morocco can be very difficult if you are not a meat eater like myself. The specialty is tajine so called for the earthenware pot in which the food is cooked. Usually it is a chicken or meat dish with vegetables and fruit for example meat with prunes and almonds or chicken with lemon and olives. Another one is the pastilla a meat pie made of pigeon or chicken, cinnamon, sugar and almonds. Not exactly my taste not even when I ate meat but many people find it delicious.
Hassan II Mosque
Meat tajine with prunes and almonds
Pastilla
And then we went to Fes, last stop of our brief trip to Morocco. Now if the Medina in Marrakech is big and chaotic the one in Fes is huge and almost impossible not to get lost into. Thousands of narrow streets and alleys going up and down the hill with vendors on both sides and little shops selling dried fruits and nuts, carpets and the famous leather booties. That is the place where I tried a local hammam ( mind you: not the one for tourists) and it was both a good and bad experience. I had to overcome the sense of discomfort which those of you who have been to a real hammam (I insist: not the polished ones for tourists or the ones we have at home) know exactly about and let myself go while the ladies scrubbed me with the peeling glove and the savon noir in the steam while surrounded by many other women peeling tangerines, washing and combing their hair at the same time. In a real hammam you sit on the hot floor (not exactly immaculate) in your underwear and you can't do without physical contact with the people in there (especially the ones who scrub you fom head to toe)but it's a real experience and in the end you're perfectly clean and relaxed with the smoothest skin that you ever had. Bearing that feeling in mind and in heart I feel like I just got out of the hammam when I think of my relationship which is now over after six years and apply what have learnt in yoga. Forgive them and wish them all the best while sending them away never to be seen again i.e. Forget them. And this is exactly what I have done with my ex whom I wish good luck to, while the image of him slowly fades away for good.
Fes Medina
Moroccan leather shoes
Savon noir
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