08 May, 2007

ready for Marrakech

First, I must say that to get away, pure and simple, is a tonic. You, or at least I, don't even know you need to. Sure you're a bit accustomed to the whole routine of food shopping, prep, cooking, cleanup (somewhere in between there is the actual meal), laundry, school run, homework supervision, clearing up after cats and humans. And it's pleasant enough, anyway. Nothing needs to change.

Then your friend invites you to the perfect exotic adventure: a weekend in Marrakech, Morocco, of all things, to celebrate his birthday. Only Vincent would do such a thing, after all. But he did, and we agreed, and then promptly put it out of our minds. I guess in the daily and weekly pleasant grind of horseback riding lessons, skating lessons, keeping up with the blog, house hunting and whatever else, it just disappeared. Until we found ourselves last Thursday afternoon at yet another house with yet another estate agent, and he asked, "Any plans for the Bank Holiday weekend?" Now, being long familiar with what I think of still as dear British oddities, I don't flinch anymore at the phrase "Bank Holiday," but it did give me just enough pause to wonder, "what does it really mean," so I looked it up. Of course it dates back 130 years, as does everything except things that date back 1000 years. But it's to do with celebrating or observing certain important anniversaries and also making sure workers have enough Mondays off to justify the occasional weekend away. In any case, we suddenly realised, "We're going to Morocco this evening." When we mentioned this to the estate agent, a father of a newborn baby, he simply sighed. "Take me with you?" I had to say, "No, I'm embarrassed to say that we haven't even thought about what we're going to do, haven't researched or planned anything. We're really going just to be with our friend Vincent for his birthday."

The sweet guy said, "But that's the best sort of holiday. No plans, no expectations. You are going to have the best time."

So we raced home with Avery, packed in a hazardous unplanned sort of fashion (tucking in formal dress for the official birthday dinner, of course), and took off for Gatwick. In the train on the way, I have to admit I succumbed to Extreme Anticipation. All around me were other holiday makers, a couple of thirty-something ladies traveling together, a middle-aged lady opposite Avery and me who took up two seats and was glued to her laptop the entire journey, a dapper-looking young man across the aisle who answered his mobile, "Si?" All on their way to the airport! Who knows why. Just the thought of where, and why, was exciting. And I had a new book to entertain me. "Murder on the Menu," and I would recommend it without reservation. It has everything: summaries of mystery plots, descriptions of locations, analysis of typical fictional detectives, and... recipes for all the dishes in mystery novels! Perfect mindless travel literature, plus providing the odd tempting recipe for an appetite anticipating several long hours of bad food, if any.

After the most boring and cramped of flights, we arrived near midnight in Marrakech, to be picked up by a driver and led to a van we were to share (Vincent thinks of everything) with one Mike Redfern, who was shortly to become our best mate over the weekend. A photographer by profession, he chatted with us about Vincent, photography, Morocco and whatever else we could find to entertain each other until we pulled up outside the Medina, the old walled city, and were trundled with all our stuff to the place that became home for three days, the Riad El Ouarda, manned that evening by the incomparably elegant and bright-smiled Mohammed. Vincent was there to throw his welcoming and bearlike arms about us all, and we stumbled through a candlelit courtyard, fragrant with bouganivillea and peppered with faint chirpings of what would prove to be hundreds of sparrows, right out the heavy brocade curtains of our rooms. Spectacularly cosy, if that makes sense. Into bed we tumbled, to await the next day's adventures...

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