Monday, October 15, 2018

Morocco (Part 2) : Marrakech Vendors

Some Morocoan Proverbs: 
"Bend over, but talk straight."
"You will see many things in Morocco that surprise you--even donkeys flying."

Having fun with the vendors...

Winston Churchill described Marrakech as "the loveliest spot on Earth to spend an afternoon." He stayed about six months (six different trips) of his life here on painting expeditions--trying to capture the light and beauty of this place he called the "Paris of the Sahara." When he and Roosevelt met in Casa Blanca in 1943 to figure out how to end the war, he coaxed the ailing American president to come to Marakeesh for just two days. The reason? To see the light change colors in the sunset and experience the narrow alleys inside the red walls of the medina (the large sprawling market). Marakeesh sparked him to be a better artist (Yes, he was indeed a great writer, leader, AND artist). Morocco charmed him for about three decades of his life--from the 1930's until his last trip in the 1960's.

Winston Churchill's painting of Marrakech
Churchill was right. Marrakech is one of the loveliest spots on earth. You feel like an adventure is brewing once you step off the train in Marrakech. But to go inside the red walls of the medina and see the people of this desert treasure is, even more, exhilarating My blog about Marakeesh Craftsmanship in the Medina To trek and meander the narrow alleys of the many villages that make up the medina allows you to see Moroccan humanity up close. You can smell the cooking, admire the craftsmanship, laugh at their jokes and antics, and be amazed by the creativity with just a few materials.

As you walk into the medina, there is a distinct sense of many communities working and living closely together--sometimes for generations. Vendors brag their ancestors haggled with would-be customers in their same space--even hundreds of years before. The communities living and working inside the medina are fascinating to watch and observe. For example, many still share an earthen oven to make their daily bread together. The dough is made every day, sometimes twice daily, and brought to the oven to bake. Rubber stamps are embedded in the round, flat, crusty bread so they know which family it comes from.

The medina is divided into quarters--each has a mosque, hammam (bathhouse), communal bread oven, and a madrassa (an educational institution). Just choose a direction. Maps won't be helpful. You have to navigate with landmarks and all your five senses in the "medina maze." You will feel like you are in an Indiana Jones movie. Have fun!



Walking around the medina at night. 


Creative vender in the medina. He wrote signs in English to direct everyone to his shop.


All kinds of olives....

Arabic pastries are usually sweet and syrupy. 

Spices are piled everywhere of saffron, hibiscus, curries, rose petals, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamon, white pepper...

I am endlessly fascinated with spices. Notice the beautifully carved doors to the shop.

A woodcarver shop. He has on the authentic dress of Morocco for men, a wool tunic with a hood.

More spices... and also for medicinal purposes. Vendors wear white coats to show they are here to assist your ailments. Westerners know pills, but not this kind of herbal apothecary. 

It is fun to wander in to smell, rub herbs together in muslin. You can find argon oil, perfumes, and the exoticness of North Africa.

You can find sandalwood, black cumin seeds for sinuses, frankincense to help you feel calm, etc. 

If I could choose, I would say I like the pottery shop the best of all. I wish I could have brought back dozens of geometrically colored plates, bowls, and tangine pots.

Moroccan vendors like to make their wares beautifully arranged to make it more appealing to the buyer.

A family helping their grandma get on a scooter.
Elias going to bed on his birthday with a the traditional Moroccoan hat called "the fez"--named for the city of Fez. It was popular during the Ottoman empire. 

Some people were all dressed for their Moroccan holiday--and fit in perfectly with the crowd. The older men still wear these loose tunics, but the younger men generally wear t-shirts and jeans. 

The bread of Morocco--flatbread about an inch high called khobaz in Arabic. Since Moroccan people consume so much bread (sometimes making it twice daily), you can see many vendors speckled around the streets and medina selling khobz.

Another way to use humor and personalize your accessories is made from the vendors. You can write anything you want, in other languages too.

Bargaining with the vendor of the wedding blankets.

Learning the art of henna...

The captivating doors and statue inside of this rug shop just beg you to come in.


Wandering the medina and its labyrinths are not for the weary. The walk home is filled with stories and adventures of a very full day.  Senses have peeked and you feel like you have just met with a whole new array of humanity. And a few more friends too.