09 May, 2007

the day of 43 cats

Did you know that one of the major tourist attractions in Marrakech is the cats? I didn't either, but Avery quickly corrected me on that point. During our entire visit she was on a one-girl mission to see, count and pet every cat in the city. I can assure that assiduous hand-washing was insisted on by her mother, but I have to admit I'm a sucker for a cat, too. We saw 43 in one day, Avery wants me to tell you.

Saturday saw us all fully battery-ed up and ready for another adventure, or several. Because he is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way, Vincent had arranged for us to have access to a swimming pool at a nearby riad, so after another divine breakfast under the blazing sun and the ever-helpful eye of Brigitte, we all gathered in the center courtyard to negotiate who was going where: Pam wanted to go to the market, Boyd and Emmanuel wanted to stay and soak up some sun, and Avery and I were adamant that if there was a pool, we were going swimming. As we discussed all these possibilities, Vincent began dancing in the blinky sunlight to the Brazilian music that seemed to pour endlessly from the hotel stereos. Now there are people who can dance and look divinely sexy and elegant, and that's fine. But when he called over to me, "Kristen, come and dance with me," I had to decline. "Three strikes against me, Vincent: I'm too American, I'm too white, and I'm sober."

So Vincent, Pete, Mike, John and Avery and I headed through the labrynthine paths of the Medina behind a guide's back and followed him to another small hotel, in the center courtyard of which was... the smallest and COLDEST swimming pool we had ever encountered. How did they GET it so cold!! Pete dashed in, then Mike crept in up to his knees, laughing hysterically, then Avery and I approached the water, then he said, "All you can do is just take the plunge," and did so. "OHMIGOD!" So I ducked my head and just dived in. Yikes! Mike bravely averred, "After awhile, if you kick about, it gets better," but truth be told, if you stayed in and kicked about, you simply lost all feeling in your body and that made it seem better. After we felt we had shown sufficient chutzpah, we all slithered out under the gaze of nice dry Vincent and John (was it a derisive gaze, or an admiring one? not sure) onto white mats and towels, and soaked up the sun coming from the open roof of the courtyard. "This is the life," I said. "And I, who eats Rennies and Tums all day in London, have not had one scrap of indi-jaggers since we got here. I think the bacteria in the water of Morocco agrees with me." Vincent said, "It's called relaxation."

Off again then to change and head out with what turned out to be our long-suffering guide Abdul for a tour of some of the official sights. Poor guy. He was probably a very good guide, but between Mike's constant laughter, Avery's insistence on stopping to pet every kitten she saw, my obsession with the street food stalls, and Emmanuel's "shiny object syndrome," it was like herding cats to keep us together. At one point we got together with Jane and Peter at the gorgeous Palace Badii, home of the king, his four wives and 24 concubines (I briefly considered explaining this all to Avery and then decided to preserve a cowardly silence). Intricate painted wooden carving that for some reason reminded me of the Russian dachas we saw outside Moscow, and delicate stucco tracery, plus enormously complex and rich mosaic tiles. It really was worth the visit. From there we trailed around the Jewish quarter and the Kasbah, eluding our guide at crucial moments when he doubtless had the most important gem to share with us! I did feel sorry for him.

We were so fascinated by fig trees, orange trees, bread ovens, patisserie carts and little shops that to keep us on the straight and narrow was never going to happen. But he served one important purpose besides education (and we did learn a lot): we didn't get lost. Finally we ended up in the main public square and he was more than happy to leave us there, I think. We met up with everyone else at the souk and everyone accomplished last-minute shopping goals: sunglasses for Avery, one more flowing robe for Pete, and then John headed off with Pam to seal the deal on our carpets. We agreed to meet up outside the carpet passage, and Avery and I set out to score some Moroccan candy.

Several kidnap attempts later (well, I'm exaggerating), and finally tiring of the crowds, Mike, Avery and I waylaid our carpet guide of the day before and convinced him to remove the poster from the door, undo the padlocks, and lead us to John. "Keep hold of my hand, Avery!" Mike shouted. The corridors and squares that had been empty the day before were now crowded with shrouded women selling what appeared to be car-boot booty: used shoes, old fabrics, chipped dishes. It was a madhouse! "Make a right at the ostrich carcass!" Avery yelled to me, struggling to keep up behind her. Completely mad. Finally we reached John, who looked as though he had been dragged through the eye of a needle. "Go on to the hotel, I'm almost finished here," he said through gritted teeth. "Bargaining going well?" I asked, then we left and caught a taxi to the hotel. It was nearly time for the long-awaited birthday dinner at the top restaurant in Morocco, and we were... dirty.


jane222 said...

Wow! Just wow!

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