MOROCCO - EXCEPT THE SKIES NOTHING IS THE SAME, 2017
Meknès was a reminiscence of the past while Chefchaouen is a relaxing hippie town of the present. Fès is a labyrinth with tall walls and Marrakech is lively but feels too much of everything; noise, pollution, people. Aït Benhaddou and the Sahara is like a dream made of red earth.
My daughter and I were given permission to enter the Women’s Gallery on the terms of declaring the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith. The huge gallery ornamented with chandeliers and mashrabiyyas was empty except the long rays of the setting sun and a few praying women. Before driving to Meknès we stopped for some street food sold in front of dilapidated buildings painted with figures of old ladies and ships.
A medieval labyrinth of narrow streets, the medina is a place to be lost without shame. One can see the sky only in squares with mulberry trees as old as the town itself.
The next morning we visited Dar el-Ma and Heri es-Souani built by Moulay Ismail. Dar el-Ma, the Water House used to hold the town’s water reserves which were drawn by horses through the use of water wheels. Now its hangar like rooms allow only the darkest tones of yellow through its high arched doors.
Just behind the Water House is Heri es-Souani, the Grainstore Stables is open to the skies since the earthquake that destroyed its ceilings in 1775. Its thick walls that used to help to keep the temperatures low is now surrounded by an overgrown vegetation where kittens stroll around.
Fondouk that used to serve to travelers and traders is now abandoned except an ironsmith’s shop. Further down, in the Quartier Andalus the streets are empty except a few elderly women walking slowly. I asked a bookshop owner to take us to a quarter we saw on a photo. He came with us all the way to the calm square with the Al-Hafta fountain in the center. The calmness was spoiled after a while when some of the stray dogs started fighting. A man threw somebody else’s shoe at them, one woman hit a dog with a broom and the fight was over leaving smiling old men and relaxed marmalade cats behind.
During the last hour of the day, we went to the Palace Bahia. Built by two viziers it has serene walkways lined with orange trees and open courtyards in between elaborately decorated tile covered rooms.
Next day, in the new city we visited the Majorelle garden which was built by Jacques Majorelle in 1923. Later it was purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. We walked among the blue tiled pools under the shades of tall bamboos. Yves Saint Laurent's yearly party invitation collages were displayed in a small gallery. It was elegant but unfortunately was preferred by too many tourists.
When we arrived to Âït Ben-Haddaou the reflection of the kasbah in Wadi Mellah was in its deepest red tones. Through the town’s narrow roads where the polite carpet sellers wait, we climbed up to the top. Down below men riding their horses were leaving dust clouds behind. Soon the desert hills started to look like silhouettes of caravans with the setting sun. We purchased two small kilims from a man speaking in softest tones of French and English. After having dinner at Chez Dimitri with signed photos of famous actors and actresses in the town of Ouarzazate, we went back to our hotel Riad Tamdaght.