Thursday, January 13, 2011

More Marrakesh--Much More

all photos by Laini Taylor

We were in Marrakesh for five days in the beginning of December. Planning the trip, I didn't know how much time to allow. Some travelogs online said a couple of days was "enough," as the city is not heavy on "sights," but I took that advice with a grain of salt. Traveling with Clementine, we wouldn't be in a rush. We have always liked to rove when we travel -- wander, draw, photograph, nibble things, browse, stroll, meander, traipse, loll. Five days seemed like a good bet.

As it turns out, five days was both too much and not nearly enough.

We didn't begin to scratch the surface. We saw only a smidge of the sights, but at the same time, we weren't sorry to leave. Alas, we didn't love Marrakesh.

I really thought I would. I've been reading Tahir Shah and My Marrakesh for a few years, drooling. I was sure I would be daydreaming of buying and restoring an old riad or something. And there were fabulous things about Marrakesh, but it was also dense and noisy and dirty and not actually beautiful. At least, my opinion of it is that it is not a beautiful city. It is, however, a city full of beautiful things, and striking vignettes, and energy. And also fumes and touts and liars and geez, avoid those henna women. They're scary! 

Here are some images of the city.

{much more below!}

Bab Agneau

The heart of Marrakesh is the Jemaa el-Fna, which also happens to be one location in my forthcoming book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

the Jemaa el-Fna

It's this big, sprawling, irregular square in the center of the medina. It's hard to describe. It's a low-slung place with none of the grandeur of an important European square -- with no notable architecture here, except for the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque visible in the middle distance. The Jemaa is all about people. The UNESCO designation "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" was created specifically for the protection of this place, with its storytellers and gnawa music, acrobats, magicians, snake-charmers, and more. Isn't that a wonderful designation?

With the snake charmers and all it is touristy, sure, but at heart it is as Moroccan as Morocco. Here's a sample of the crowd at darkfall:

There are double- and triple-decker tourist restaurants on all sides of the square, serving mediocre tajines and couscous with terrace views.

Because of baby bedtime, we didn't experience much of nighttime Jemaa, just a few glimpses before setting off to get lost trying to find the riad again. 

Here are more evening pictures in the souks. The souks are the labyrinthine marketplaces all weaving together in the center of the medina, a different one to each type of goods: carpets, leather, metalwork, etc.

Marrakesh was too mad and trafficky, zooming motorbikes in narrow alleys, donkey carts, etc, to set Clementine down very much, hence all the pictures of Jim packing her on his chest.

nap time

But a growing girl must do some squiggling and wiggling, to which end we tried to hit at least one "sight" each day where she could run free. One such was the Palais de la Bahia, a 19th Century palace that is a series of ornate, interlocking courtyards and gardens slowly falling into ruin.

Post-wiggle sip:

Another lovely spot was the Medersa Ben Youssef, a 16th Century Koranic school
considered to be the most beautiful structure in Marrakesh.

Can you believe this plasterwork? The mosaic? The wood carving? One thing about Morocco: the decorative arts are thriving. As I have heard and read and now observed, the traditional crafts and apprenticeship system are ongoing, which is a wonderful thing. In many countries, I think, if you bought a historic property, you wouldn't be able to find artisans who still knew how to do the old decorative work. Not so Morocco. Throughout the souks you will find fondouks, or workshops, where they are working away as they ever have, with the same hand-held tools.

But one of Clementine's favorite things to do was shop. In this jewelry shop, to prolong our browsing, the owner Mohammed encouraged Clementine to play to her heart's content. Happy little girl!

Later, wearing some of the spoils, along with some leftover strawberries, apparently:

She loved carpet shops too, but that was later, in Essaouira. We didn't brave any carpet shops in Marrakesh. The haggle-misery was too oppressive. Only later, with a personal recommendation from an expat, did we dare to carpet shop, and it was fruitful :-)

For all the various difficulties traveling with a toddler in Morocco, I should add that it is an extremely child-friendly and child-affectionate culture, and Clementine was welcomed everywhere. Hugged and kissed and entertained and given gifts. People could not have been warmer or sweeter to her. Also, the food was easy: couscous, cooked vegetables, breads, soft vegetable salads, jams. There were lots of cats and donkeys and camels, to her delight, and an abundance of her namesake fruits to play with and eat. We changed diapers wherever we could make it work, and I nursed discreetly in public without incident or raised eyebrows. 

Of course, we were always on the alert that she not toddle off a wall or pitch through the gaping balusters of some kasbah roof terrace, or jump in a fountain or into the path of a horse-drawn caleche. It wasn't restful, but it worked, and I hope it is the first of many exciting trips to come!

Oh, and randomly, Clementine in her brand-new word-speaking, took to calling out "Habibi!" with great clarity and glee. That's beloved in Arabic. She would sometimes crow it over and over, and it tickled all who heard it. Funny, after we left Morocco, she pretty much stopped. How did she know?

Thanks for perusing my looong post. Now good night!


Marianne said...

It may not be a beautiful city, but you certainly found plenty of beautiful things to photograph! I love your photographs and honestly, could Clementine be any cuter?

nikkebirde said...

I've always dreamed of going Morocco! It looks amazing! I just don't know what I would eat. Was the food good?

, said...

I like that you didn't LOVE it, it gives a much more honest review of the place. And Clementine is an absolute DARLING in those pictures, oh my God.

Jane said...

your photos are beautiful! It's very interesting to hear about Morocco

Carrie said...

The pictures are beautiful and Clementine is absolutely gorgeous! It must have been fun to see everything through her eyes.

andalucy said...

Great photos. I just might snatch some of those and pretend I took them. ;-)

Now I'm trying to puzzle out whether or not I *loved* Marrakesh. We were there for only two days and with older children. I definitely loved the experience of being there. Though not beautiful in the way some European cities are (it's too poor and dirty for that) it is ceaselessly interesting.

I would be interested to know how you think Morocco compares to Turkey. I've never been to Turkey.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing your adventure Laini -better than armchair travel - you are my hero - with a toddler myself getting anywhere can be a task, my hat is off to you. I am in awe of you and your spirit and this post!

storyqueen said...

The pictures are gorgeous. And Clementine has to be the cutest toddler ever.


Alysa Stewart said...

I love that you posted a photo of yourself nursing! As a nursing mom I feel odd sometimes. Good job owning it! :D

Laini Taylor said...

Marianne, yes, it is a wonderful place to take photos. In retrospect I see so many things I neglected to photograph and I itch to go back!

Nikkebirde, never fear, the food is easy and good. Not spicy, not weird. A tagine is a kind of stew with meat and vegetables, often olives, almonds, cured lemons. There's plenty of grilled meat, couscous, fruit. Bread and jam for breakfast, coffee, tea. And in Marrakesh there are a ton of tourist places -- if you're craving a really awful pizza, you can find it :-)

Andalucy, ha ha. Your photos were great too! And I agree: interesting, absolutely. With a lot of beauty, just not in the overall sense one gets used to in European cities. The beauty is so often interior, hidden, quiet.

Gondal-girl, it was a different kind of travel, certainly. Gone were the languorous times of journal-writing in cafes and watching life go by, for one thing. But it was wonderful -- if a little exhausting!

Shelley, thank you!! And: thank you! :-)

Alysa, I have so many pictures of us nursing in different places. That could (and may be) a post all its own!

Heidi, Jane, thank you! Re: Clementine, I agree :-)

Carrie, she really took everything in stride. I don't know if there is a "usual/unusual" meter in her brain yet, and if it is developing now, we are hopefully stretching its boundaries by traveling early.

tone almhjell said...

Oooh, lots of pretty pictures! I especiallu like the one with the man on the bicycle headed for the archway. Archway! The missing word from yesterday. Ha.

I'd say Clemetine is an ideal little kid to travel with. Sqiggly wiggly, yes, but at least she let the pretty pearls intact. No? And how how how could she know the perfect word to use to endear herself to everyone? Kids are strange. I think they soak up much more than we do.

Andrea Eames said...


I love seeing all your photos, Laini, and I love how honest you are about the experience. If I'm truthful, every trip I've made has been much the same - beauty and joy mixed with fear and disappointment. Perhaps every trip everyone makes is like that.

And so many cats! A city of cats. Are they looked after? They look pretty healthy.

A xx

Laini Taylor said...

Oh, and Andalucy, to answer your question re: Turkey comparisons. I can only answer as Marrakesh compares to Istanbul, because it is the only major city in Morocco we visited. But Istanbul was much more outwardly dramatic and extraordinary, architecturally, etc. It has a very Asia-meets-Europe feel, and many grand monuments. The flavor of Marrakesh was really different, with the Arab influence meeting Africa and some Europe in there too. Its scale is completely different. Marrakesh felt wee compared to Istanbul. Istanbul, in my recollection, was also "easier." More on that later.

Tone, yes Clementine is a great traveler. I look forward to her and Magnus running around together some day soon! :-)

Thanks, Andrea! A lot of the cats did seem looked after, but we saw a lot of scrawns, too, and some quite sick-looking. Very few dogs.

KT said...

I love what you're currently doing with your new blog! The pictures are gorgeous. I really like the one with the glaring man and the black horse behind him. That one strikes me as particularly awesome for some reason.

Keep up the good work and I can't wait to read your latest!

amy said...

Great shots! And I love your commentary. I'm thankful for your posts!

anne said...

the colors are amazing. And good for you, being honest in your blogging, not trashing on the place, but saying what you liked, had issue with, etc. Clementine is enough to melt any heart anywhere, she is as good as a passport, I bet!
thanks for sharing!! It feels like we are all there too.

Wyman Stewart said...

Thank you. This is the first visit I have been able to make here in a long time. The visual tour was excellent.

melanie said...

Beautiful pictures, Laini! I want to echo everyone in appreciating your honesty about Marrakesh--but I'm also a little sad that you didn't completely 100% love it. You have been blogging about it for a long time and seemed so excited to go!

I think it's awesome that you're documenting the trip here, and with so many photos. I love to see photos from the trips my family took when I was very little, and I bet Clementine will feel the same way when she sees these!

Johari said...

Your photographs reach out to the onlooker and pull her right in. The colors . . . Oh, man!

Thanks for painting a true portrait of the city. One filled with vibrancy and shadow.

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Wyman! Nice to *see* you :-)

Melanie, yeah, I know. But there was so much I did love about the trip. I just feel in retrospect I wasn't mentally prepared. If/when we return, I will know how to approach it. It was mainly certain aspects of Marrakesh that were offputting (other aspects = awesome); the rest of the trip (to come) had fewer moments of disgruntle :-)

Thanks, Johari!

Shveta Thakrar said...

Awesome, awesome post, Laini. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.

The colors just leave me lit up inside, you know? And I'm delighted to hear the old arts are still alive. Imagine if the whole world had held onto true artisanship. . .

Clementine, what a cutie pie. :) I love watching little kids' wonder as they discover the world, and her expression some of these pictures is just adorable.

Evie said...

I'll add my "voice" to the chorus: great posts, great pictures, sweet Clem and beautiful you. Love it! More, please.

Somebody has to say it...may as well be me--Jim is hot! Nice biceps. What's the tattoo?

Laini Taylor said...

Evie, ha ha! I know, isn't he? And the tattoo is SUPERMAN, of course :-)

Anonymous said...

Your photos are breth taking and I fell like I was there with you all. And Clementine, so cute!

Lo said...

Yes I'm stalking your site and these pictures are killing me. Clementine is like a piece of art, she is so beautiful. I can't wait to smoooooooch!!

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