Drums, fire and tarot cards... 'Mab travels to Morocco - Episode VI: Marrakesh'

Morocco seems so long ago now, and it is the curse of long-distance relationships that you forget the hard truths and remember the magic, constructing your beloved out of fragments of memories, images and feelings, mementos you've collected and brought back from the days you spent together. Good thing I believe in magic. And my ink pen on yellowed pages of my journal, which always remembers all I could forget. You should see my notes on Marrakesh. Let me show you. It goes like this: red, storks, donkeys, apparently I'm wearing men's clothing - do I care - nope, souks get lost don't panic, jemaa el fnaa empty and quiet how nice, can't look at anymore Touareg jewellery, where are the galettes, storks, so many cats, red, can you drink too much mint tea, I can discuss forever can you?, lion king style sunset, jemaa el fnaa what the fuck can we stop time, I need those cards from that fortune teller, donkeys, my Moroccan drink is fanta lemon, storks, henna ladies are mean, cats, fortune tellers, drums, drums, drums, fire and tarot cards and spicy tea that burns and makes you crave sugar, it is all witchcraft, I'm staying here, red, drums, ... and then there is the diary of my days in the red city.

The setting sun left a permanent mark on the dwelling in the desert, red roofs looking over red streets, though I don't see it in colour untill the next day. When we arrive to Marrakesh, the sun is long gone, and the night blankets the streets that are strangers to me yet. Places are people, and Marrakesh is Salmane, the poet on a motorbike, the caring host and guide, and my first time ever meeting an unreliable narrator in flesh, a trickster at first careful and then bold and confrontational, and oh how we're trying to figure each other out and how much fun we have with it! He knows a lot more than he is telling, and still telling a lot, and any topic can and does turn into a heated discussion with disregard to limits of possibilities and logic. It is a delight to engage in passionate academic arguments while walking towards the casbah, somehow we got from the living room to the main square and it is midnight, and I will probably never again see it as empty as that first night in Marrakesh, drums and voices and a small circle, halqa, around the musicians... now I know it was a friendly welcome and a smug understatement of what was to come. A rare, personal and intimate first meeting with the ancient intangible soul of Marrakesh, before it put on the mask and the hat with the bells and the public persona for the masses of tourists taking selfies with monkeys and then quickly escaping to one of the cafe terraces after being grabbed by a woman wielding a henna cone like a weapon...

We play tourists for a day, finding the beautiful Riad Zinoun, where we will be starting and ending the collective week, the others arrive in a few days and we scout the places we want to show them, and of course see for ourselves. Dar Si Said with its Museum of Moroccan Arts and breathtaking mosaic walls and decorative ceilings, Palais el Badi where dozens of storks nest on the palace ruins guarding the new MMP - Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts (absolutely worth a visit!), and our ever favourite resting oasis, base of operations, library, restaurant and information point, all wrapped up in awesome art, delicious food and genuinely friendly people, Cafe Clock! If navigating the underground corridors of Palais el Badi made me feel like a time traveler and an adventurous archaeologist (did I finally get to be Tomb Raider?!), Cafe Clock made me feel like standing in a current connecting the past and the present, in awe and respect of the history, and barely contained excitement for the future. Clock is a knot of interlaced paths, leading all the right people to their doors, and leaving them happier and with a promise to come back soon. We do come back. Pretty much every day. Perfect brunch with pancakes and fruits and dips and salads, and incredibly fun music session with some rad musicians, blog writing and book reading, coffee drinking and making new friends. A compulsory stop in Marrakesh!


Next on our plan is something, or rather someone I was really excited to meet - Amanda, the MarocMama herself! Her blog was one of my favorite information sources about Morocco, and I love her writing style. She and her husband Youssef meet us at the casbah and take us to one of their favourite restaurants, right on the Rue de Casbah, grilled meat and cooked beans and yummy sauces, great food to accompany a great conversation. If you want to eat your way through authentic Marrakesh, make sure to book the food tour, I definitely will next time I'm there! Also, Amanda's Instagram is a treasured little window to every-day life in Morocco.

Then it's the day when the rest of our little adventurous group arrives! Before leaving for the airport to pick them up, our curiosity leads us to the many art galleries in the newer part of the city we nicknamed 'hipster quarter'. Beautiful and original art on the walls of small independent galleries, little cafes and restaurants, antique furniture and decor shops, calligraphy street art across the road... I could spend quite some time here, I keep thinking as we hail a taxi and head for the airport.

I am always excited to show people around my favorite places, and I found quite a few of them in Marrakech, so it was natural to join the excitement which had everyone bouncing in their seats, and we made our stop at the riad as short as possible in order to have enough time for a walk through the casbah to Cafe Clock, in time for  the special evening programm - traditional storytelling by Moroccan master storytellers and their apprentices! Tonight is somewhat special, as there are two masters present, and joining the evening as a special guest is writer Richard Hamilton, who has been collecting the storytellers' stories and brought them out in the book ' The Last Storytellers'. As once the storytellers used to enchant the crowds at Jemaa el Fnaa, now they hold us spellbound as they weave words and gestures into stories alive and funny and dramatic. Even if we don't understand Arabic, the performance engages everyone's imagination, and after the tale, one of the young apprentices translates what it actually was about as we share what each of us thought it to be and compete who was closest to the actual story. Then the apprentices take the floor, with stories translated into English, traditional as well as their own original ones, and it is clear how valuable and enriching the support of this almost extinct art is.

We leave Clock with one foot still in the storyworld, and set out towards Jemaa el Fnaa, determined to experience as much of Marrakesh as possible in our short time here. We make delightful discoveries ranging from new foods and drinks (spicy tea!) to new friends making music and playing fire in one of the circles. I enlist one of them to help me talk to a fortune teller and convince her to sell me her cards, although they both don't understand why I won't just buy a new pack at a store tomorrow. Baraka, I tell them, and it is beautiful how this explanation is instantly accepted and deemed sufficient, and I even receive the cards as a gift which makes them all the more precious. Among the snake charmers, gnawa musicians, henna ladies, fortune tellers and countless street kitchens and orange juice stands, the sensory overload gives way to content awe and wide-grin joy for this extraordinary and at the same time familiar place.

Jemaa el Fnaa, find a spot and look around. Don't move. Don't speak. Not yet. Get your coins and hold them tightly in your hand . Breathe in. Smell. See. Hear. Then follow the sounds and the sights, the smell of spiced tea and the smoke rising up from the street kitchens, and the rhythm of clapper-cymbals and drums, and the kajal-framed eyes of a fortune teller with cards in her hands, what is it you wish to know? You can search for it here. You'll probably find it somewhere else, but as a starting point, there are places like this, where you can make a cross on the map of your journeys and never forget the ground under your feet has been stood upon by thousands of seekers, just like you and me and everybody around us. I'll be back to sit on one of the plastic chairs in the storyteller's circle, listening to my future in arabic - french and trying to see behind the cards, behind her eyes, finding only mirrors, showing me what is already there.
Don't move. Don't speak. Not yet.

Photos by Birgit Mühleder, Anna Bleyer, Sebastian Buchner and myself.

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