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Settling In in Marrakech

December 2, 2021

Amanda and Youssef, my keepers here on the ground, set me up with a guide for the day on Tuesday. Abdou is probably in his early 20s, the youngest of seven children, and studied to be guide while in college. He proved to be knowledgeable and engaging. Our first stop today was Bahia Palace, so much more interesting with a well-informed guide to fill in the details. Built in the 1860s and comprising 150 rooms, the palace was the home of a grand vizier and covers an expanse of 8000 square meters (86,000 square feet!)

There are private rooms for his four wives and a special one for Bahia, his favorite. Surrounding a large courtyard, known as the harem room, are twelve apartments, each accommodating two of the vizier’s concubines. The vizier had six children by his four wives, and countless more by his harem; the number of the latter is not recorded.

The layout is a labyrinth, due to the fact that it wasn’t built all in one go, but added onto piecemeal by the vizier’s heirs. There are various riads inside the palace, and lovely, peaceful gardens separating the different sections. All of the rooms are lavishly decorated in carved plaster and painted cedar, with Koranic verses spelled out in decorative tile. The grand courtyard is paved in Carrera marble, and I have to confess that the old event planner in me shouted “black tie venue” when I saw it.

Our next stop was the argan cooperative, which our host described as a “Berber pharmacy.” The shelves held a dizzying array of miraculous lotions, potions, creams and oils (for cooking as well as beauty), including nigella seed for exfoliating the skin, argan massage cream, Berber tea, black soap…the list goes on. I filled my basket with products for myself and Christmas gifts for others.

Abdou knew I was on orders from daughter K to find an 8×10 kilim rug, so we marched on to the carpet cooperative, where the energetic helpers rolled out rug after rug for my inspection. Then the process of elimination began.

I made a Marco Polo video to send to K for her input, and we settled on one similar to the one in the top right-hand corner. Then I chose a smaller one for my entryway similar to the one at lower right. The bargaining commenced, and I have to admit that it was nerve-wracking for me. But the salesman threw in a much smaller one to position beside my bed, and took my bag from the argon store to include in the (free and insured) shipment. They will arrive next week, before I do.

Shopping can bring on a powerful hunger, and Abdou wanted to make sure I would eat authentic Moroccan food, so we enjoyed a tanjira at a cafe overlooking the souk. This one was made from lamb cooked very slowly with many spices and preserved lemon. To eat it, you tear off a piece of bread, dunk it in the sauce, and use the bread to pull off chunks of meat. Quite delicious.

After lunch, we dived back into the souk so I could have a brief lesson in plaster carving and tile making. I learned I’m not very good at either, as it takes years to develop the skills these two craftsmen have.

Our meanderings took us to a shop with fabulous handmade shoes (see me below with Mohammad the cobbler and the giant shoe), exquisite scarves colored with natural plant-based dyes, and and olive shop where we sampled olives at various stages of ripeness.

Moroccans love their sweets, and Abdou is no exception. He picked out a half-dozen or so from one of the shops and we devoured them with mint tea on one of the rooftops overlooking Jamaa el Fna, as we watched the last vestiges of the sunset fade behind the mosque.

Sunset at Jamaa el Fna

Two more quick stops to fill the last empty corners of our stomachs: a tiny place for harira and a savory crepe, and another for grilled chopped sardines made into balls we tucked into bread. Both simple and delicious — and by the way, Moroccan bread is fantastic.

After a long, full day, I tumbled into bed with my hot water bottle.

Abdou

2 Comments
  1. Cheri L Anderson permalink

    Wonderful experiences, Diana! Thank you for talking time to share with those of us left behind.

    Like

  2. Mary Madden permalink

    What an amazing day. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. I am jealous. But also looking forward to experiencing this wonderful country when our trip is rescheduled next year. Keep on enjoying

    Like

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