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The International Writers Magazine: North Africa

Newsletter from Marrakech – City of Contrasts 
Patricia Lebaud
Summer was even too hot for the birds to lift their wings.


Another year is flying by like a bird in a hurry to migrate.  Is the planet spinning faster on its axis or is it because here time is meaningless?  Hassan from his ‘hole-in-the-wall’ store asked me the other day how long I’ve been living here.  ‘Oh not so long,’ I mumbled looking down at my feet..  ‘Really!” he said with a smile, ‘ perhaps 10 years and you still don’t speak Arabic!”   Shame on me.  
Summer was even too hot for the birds to lift their wings. Worse for Moroccans as Ramadan fell on the day when the temperature rose to 53 degrees and hovered between 45/ 50 for the whole month.  But, never let it be said the Moroccans don’t have a sense of humour.  Water guns were a la mode, not only aimed at each other but also the tourists who were stopping in their tracks for a quick spray.  Buckets of water appeared which the men poured over their heads - acceptable as long as they kept their mouths shut in case a drop entered into their mouths. Heaven forbid.  Am sure some cheated!  Wouldn’t you?   All this was done with shouts of laughter and for once no frayed nerves were seen in the last week.   
Autumn has arrived but the sun lingers on projecting ibteresting shadow graphics on my white walls.  The sunsets are colourful abstract paintings which compensate for the pangs of despair when the golden light abruptly changes to black at 6pm.  It’s the season of hot chickpeas ladled out from huge pots, small barrows displaying slices of dazzling white coconut and golden pineapple, melons, apples, bananas, grapes, rosy globular grenadines, bright orange mandarins with green leaves attached are piled high on large barrows…... But these colourful narrow streets filled with mouth-watering splendour can abruptly turn into chaos .Yesterday I was standing on the sidelines watching as a long line of tooting cars, small trucks, braying donkeys, horses pulling loads of mattresses, men with carts shouting attention, attention, motorbikes, bikes, bemused tourists, Moroccans of all shapes and dress, came to a sudden halt.  Suddenly a high pitched shriek pierced the air.  A young veiled woman in a hurry to bypass everyone and everything suddenly found herself hugged by a carcase of mutton hanging on a butcher’s hook, enveloping her body like a large pink and white cape.  I thought it definitely added to her look.
A few hours later, perched on my bike en route to the Place, I was again caught up in total chaos.  A scene from ‘The Name of the Rose’’ came to life. Two old Berbers, both dressed in dusty brown djellebas, their grey-bearded faces framed with brown hoods, appeared out of nowhere. One in front slowly leading a young cow by a blue and white cord and the other trailing behind as if on a path in a mountain village, totally oblivious to the chaos around them.  Everyone stopped, stood aside and silently let them pass. A small smile lit up the faces of the surrounding Moroccans, parents pointed out the two Berbers and the cow to their children, the merchants sitting on stools stood up and watched, there was a murmuring in the crowd as if it was the first time they had seen such a sight in the souk. 

This is the magic of Marrakech – a city of contrasts when the unexpected happens.  
September and October have been full of cultural events and concerts. Highlight was the first International Contemporary Art Fair at the Palace Es Saadi which brought everyone out of the woodwork. Hailed as a success we hope it will be a yearly event.   The art galleries opened their doors to exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photograph. The Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra presented a magnificent classical concert at the Theatre Royal – nothing royal about the seating!   Cushion-less concrete gladiator banquettes or, if you were lucky, a faded, dirty piece of fabric covering a thin slab of foam.  Consequently after a moment your back aches, your head falls on to your hands, you twist and turn and suffer to the end.
For the sporting addicts and adventurous the choice is vast -  surfing the waves at Essaouria, rafting or kayaking down the sublime valleys with a professional guide, trekking, bird watching, cycling, horseback riding in the mountains, roaring off on the road to discovery on a rented BMW motorbike , and of course the usual desert trek on dromedaries.   If the day is fine and the wind is blowing in the right direction, a professional pilot will fly you over the Marrakech region in a hot air balloon.  The views are fabulous as you sweep over the magnificent landscape. And of course there is always golf, golf and more golf!
If all the above doesn’t appeal to your artistic senses, let me take you by the hand to places tourists rarely go,  stay here in my riad, enjoy a delicious romantic dinner in the patio under the orange trees,  listen to music on the terrace with a glass in your hand, lie in the sun, read and relax.
© Patricia Lebaud June 18th 2011

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