Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Marrakech is a show-off

Marrakech would feel a different place without our experiences in other parts of Morocco. Or more accurately, if all you experienced of Morocco was Marrakech, you’d have a very skewed view of this land. This is generally true of course, but with such contrasts, it feels particularly true here.

The main square is everything we had expected it might be. Snake charmers blow their bugle-like instruments, henna artists flog their trade, monkeys on leashes grab your hand, fortune tellers sit in front of their tools of trade, street performers solicit crowds alongside typical market faire. The souks (markets) stretch from the main square into hidden alleys and paths with leather, metal, pottery and all that defines Moroccan artisanship. It is brash and in your face. In Chefchaouen, the medina is ‘sleepy’ by comparison. In Fes, while travellers can be spotted, they are practically ignored. It is grubby and crude, if deeply meaningful and captivating. The old cities south of the Atlas Mountains also have travellers passing through, but they are traditional and culturally rich. I felt uncomfortable wearing shorts and the girls covered up in the heat.

But Marrakech is a showoff. As a tourist, in the square, you are bombarded with invitations to engage, but it is simply a ploy to extract as much money as you are gullible enough to part with. Even being aware, we have already been ripped off by a henna artist whose (expensive) week-long art had faded on Johanna’s arm by the evening. Here many young European tourists appear to make little effort to modify their dress. On our first evening our dessert was interrupted by scantily clad belly dancers. Here in Marrakech, Morocco’s collision with the West is most pronounced. Perhaps this city has always been where Morocco meets the world, we don’t know enough about the history to understand. But it is certainly now where the norms of what we have experienced elsewhere are most seriously challenged.

Marrakech is thoroughly Morrocan, but we are so glad we are experiencing it in the context of what we have seen in other places.