The airport in Marrakech is sparkling and flamboyant, with large columns that bring air and space to the passengers who have been cramped in airplanes. It is truly one of the nicest airports I have seen. For some reason, I was expecting crowds and crowded, but instead there is efficiency and space. I was expecting desert and heat, but instead there are roses and fountains and snow-covered mountains in the distance. There is a lack of Christmas here, but it’s refreshing to be away from the rush of consumerism.
Not to say that there isn’t shopping. This city is the main trading post for Moroccan tourism, so the shops are full of things to take home. There are all shapes and sizes of brass lamps, pottery, woven carpets, and then there are the spices. I have never seen such a diversity of spices, with all kinds of dried leaves and twigs, and then colorful dried flowers mixed in. I bought a tagine, one of the ubiquitous stove top slow cookers, and the spices to stew my own carrots, potatoes, eggplants and zucchinis at home.
I am part of a very unusual family, where it doesn’t seem all that unusual to unite for Christmas in a distant land. We travel many hours in planes to end up in a somewhat chilly but comfortable riad, for a week of togetherness, plus sightseeing. In the USA some of my acquaintances immediately asked “is it safe there?” when I told about my plans to visit Moroccco. Here I feel much safer than in San Francisco. The traffic seems relaxed, although the scooters sometimes come uncomfortably close when I am walking. I haven’t seen any signs of guns, except on the police who were outside the synagogue. Actually, it was a surprise to me that there even is an active synagogue in this predominantly muslim country. The religious beliefs here seem relaxed and reformed. It was women who scrubbed my body in the hamam, and a strong woman gave me a relaxing massage. Perhaps this is just Marrakech which gets a huge number of European tourists, although at this time of year, they are home for Christmas.
The day trip to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains took us to a Berber village, and a women’s collective where they hand produce delicious and smoky, healthy argan oil. We hiked to a waterfall and had lunch on a river bed. As a vegan, there are options; mostly couscous with vegetables. There are carpets to buy, plus more pottery and semi-precious stones. The views of the mountains are spectacular, and the atmosphere of the hill station is reminiscent of the ones in India. In the summer, it is a place to escape the heat and relax.
Cats emphatically leave their mark on this city. I really enjoyed the movie about the cats of Istanbul. The cats of Marrakech are equally prevalent and dominant. No dogs here. My niece and I set out to photograph as many as we could find. After the Moroccan cooking class, we had a delicious meal on the roof, with cat-urine-scented wine glasses. No one could understand how the smell pervaded into the cupboards for the fine china.
The language of the people is flowing and sounds like a mixture of French and Arabic. Everyone speaks perfect French, and it is easy to communicate in English too. I bought a djellaba, and it fits me well. After much haggling, I found that I still got it at the high end of the price scale. Then several hours later, I went back and exchanged it for a bigger one; no problem. I don’t know if wearing a djellaba is cultural appropriation when I am in Morocco. I could pass as a Moroccan, and wearing the traditional outfit keeps me warm. The nights are cold, especially in the cement riad in the early morning. In the USA, people would think I am dressing like a Star Wars character. I get asked where I am from, and most guess India. I have not seen any Americans, but we did run into some Lithuanian tourists.
I want Americans to travel more. I want them to experience Morocco and the delightful warmth of the people: the incessant bargaining while shopping, and the flowery tea poured from metal tea pots. If I were the president, rather than being isolationist, I would force every American student into a cultural exchange program. Rather than spending money on “defense” our offense would be exchanging young people with all the countries of the world.
Wishing everyone wonderfully Happy Holidays.