Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First Night in Morocco and Another Apu Moment

I've never experienced anything like Morocco before. The second we step foot off the plane in Marrakech we love it already. Such colors and warmth.

If I could read energies (like my dear friend Perna can), Barcelona would be a light aqua blue...maybe robin's egg, but Marrakech would be an explosion of rich, loud hues. In fact, we saw a random rainbow in the sky as we were landing. Maybe I CAN see auras.

Ooh, the sensory overload:

1. Cab drops us off near the main square. Find a hostel called Central Palace. Amazing tiled courtyard and rooftop terrace. Pretty decorative light fixtures hanging everywhere. Ornately designed iron window coverings.

2. We've spent a lot of time in Djemaa El-Fna, the central square of the old town. It's a massive, sprawling open space with food vendors, all kinds of performers and beggars. Multiple roads stretch out from every direction with souqs, the small shops that sell ornate shoes, bags, rugs, belts, scarves, traditional Moroccan dress, and oh so much more.

3. The moment we enter the square Dan gets accosted by a man with a monkey on a leash. I run away (my mother taught me to trust no one, so I try not to allow strangers on the street to come within touching distance of me...even ones with adorable monkeys, which she would have loved.).

Man with monkey: "Welcome! Welcome! Don't be scared! He doesn't bite!"

I'm a little scared.

Monkey proceeds to jump on Dan's shoulder and bites him. He looks like the little fellow from the movie Outbreak. Luckily, he doesn't break through Dan's jacket.

A REAL Apu moment! Welcome to Marrakech, kids.

4. Scooters, bikes and donkeys whiz by in all directions. Well, the donkeys more accurately go at a lazy trot. Lots of honking. Yelling.

5. Try a glass of fresh squeezed OJ from a stall. It's so refreshing and delicious. I wonder for a second if I've somehow been drugged. Only 3 dirham each. The man doesn't have enough change for us so tells us to come back later to return the 1 dirham we owe him (that's like 13 cents).

6. As we walk down the crowded aisles, food salesmen approach us from every direction:

"Come! See menu! Good prices! Sit down, my friend! No good, no pay. I promise."

"Hello! Speak English? Come. I have tagine, pastilla. Very good!"

"What's up, man!"

"Where you from? Come eat! Yes? No? Maybe later? Come back?! Promise? Promise? Maybe later alligator?"

"Tagine here! No KFC, but finger licking gooood."

"Kenichiwa! Arigato!" (Everyone here thinks I'm Japanese, and most vendors can speak a remarkable amount. One guy talked to me for almost five minutes straight. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I just said, "Arigato! Very good!" in my best Japanese accent, giggled and bowed my head as I ran away.)

"Come back tomorrow! Maybe later? Don't forget! I'm number 1-1-7...closest to heaven."

Everyone has their own catchphrase to charm you or memory trick to recall their stall number. It gets a little tiresome, but they're actually so friendly and funny in person that it's quite effective. One guy does this thing where he put lettuce on his head and uses a cucumber as a telephone to call's very cute.

7. We go with a busy looking stand selling a giant pile of snails in a steel pot full of boiling broth. We pull the snail flesh out with toothpicks and dump the shells into communal buckets. Chewy. Flavorful. Broth tastes like some kind of spiced, salty tea.

We tried to use one of our 200 dirham bills on this guy too, but he can't break it. He tells us to come back later to pay the five we owe him for the bowl of bug (65 cents).

What's with all the trusting and IOUs?

We pay him with some of the smaller bills we have, and go back to the OJ guy to return the dirham with the change we receive from the snail man.

8. Next up is another busy stand full of locals. Row of sheep's heads in the front case with a man standing behind them hacking away at various parts.

We order lamb (which we're convinced is actually sheep...where else would the rest of those sheep go?) and a mixed plate (which is just random face...piece of tongue, slice of what may be a slightly hairy ear, other undefinable pieces).

We point to an especially perplexing and interestingly textured bit and ask the food guy what it is. Emphatic, vague reply: "head."

Despite the confusion and overwhelming environment, it's a very pleasant meal. We're served round loaves of soft, crusty bread that you use to scoop up the meat with your hands instead of using flatware. It's got a nice, dense, spongey texture kind of like a pugliese bread.

Always use your right hand as the left is your potty hand.

There's a communal bowl full of spices and salt (tastes like dukkah to me, which if you entered my Cambridge apartment the last weeks I was in town, I probably forced you to eat with olive oil and bread). We sprinkle it generously on everything, even though it's all already quite flavorful.

The lamb comes with an additional half slice of bread soaked in oily, meaty juices. Kind of like a French dip sandwich.

Dan gets a tea. I'm refraining from any non bottled forms of water to spare my stomach from what would most likely be guaranteed unfortunate side effects.

9. We finish the night wandering the open-air theater, staring at clumps of people/"performers" doing strange things and trying to avoid the many children begging for money and little girls grabbing your hands, giving you hugs and trying to sell you bags of tissues. Drum circles. Dancing. Moroccan versions of carnival games.

10. Walk to the minaret, tallest point in the area, and pass a group of young men clapping together around their scooters. Just standing in a circle. Clapping in unison. Having a grand ole time.

Marrakech is the best.

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