Indagare member Lisa Miller recently visited Marrakech with her family. Here are her impressions from the trip.
I pushed open the heavy wooden windows of La Mamounia’s silken bedroom and stepped into another lifetime. The call to prayer pulls at my core and I am beckoned, almost forced against my will to stare at the tower from where the call comes. The Koutoubia Mosque is the only structure rising up and above the rest of the medina. It is a powerful draw, instinctual, even animalistic. The call is too hard to resist. I don’t pray, but it’s all I can do to not throw myself out the window across the medina to the tower itself. So I pray in my own way: I capture. I photograph the pink-hued tower at dawn while I breathe in the incensed, aromatically thick and primal air. I drink the spicy, strong Arabic coffee while I let the scene sink in further. The age of all that surrounds me makes me feel small and unborn.
The medina itself is a delicious, thrilling madness. I feel too excited to sit still in the horse and carriage ride that we take around it. I am like an antsy toddler as my family and I are bombarded by too much base sensation and visual stimulation. The cobras are a fear, the tassel fez hats a joy, the smells are ancient and shifting in their layers and the shops are endless temptations. The best store I find (where I get great deals and have everything shipped home quickly and with great ease) is Societe Les Nomades de Marrakech (Zaouiat Lahder No. 40). The salesmen here are humble and professional and the rooftop of the shop is a perfect vantage spot. I also fall in love with Jade Bijoux, which is conveniently located at the front door of La Mamounia. My front hall at home is now adorned with an antique rug from that sweet store.
Our tour guide is patient and informative, and he takes good pictures. This should, in my opinion, be an integral part of all tour-guide training. He is there to guide and teach us, but his ability to capture special moments at the drop of a hat makes him invaluable.
He takes us to the Berber Museum and to Jardin Majorelle, Yves St. Laurent’s famous garden, where we marvel at the array of cacti and the deep blue buildings. We venture up to the Koutoubia Mosque and minaret tower, the one I am drawn to, but we do not enter. We tour Saadian Tombs and get swarmed by cats and we see the beautiful Bahia Palace.
We visit a hammam that is heated by a fire that is stoked all day by a man who sits in ash-filled air, and later, we see how bread is baked, swaddled in cloth, in large, wood-burning ovens and pulled out on wooden boards with long handles. These men work hard throughout the day with great pride.
Sometime during that first day, I begin to learn a new language: shokran bezaf (“thank you very much”), and as-salamu alaykum, which basically means peace be with you, just like Christians say at church. Our guide tells us that the word Islam means surrender, submission, sincerity, obedience and peace. I try hard to surrender any anxiety I might have in this foreign land.
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