Thursday, 11 July 2013

Back to life, back to real ale and tea

Yes, I know. It's been a while. About six weeks, in fact. Sorry about that. I've been busy, you see.

Well, when I say busy, I'm playing a little fast-and-loose with the whole concept. A significant proportion of my time in Marrakech last month was not, in any way, stressful.

Colourful drinks by the side of a pool featured quite heavily in the proceedings.

But it would be wrong to say I spent all my time in a sedentary position. We did get up and around, from time to time. Since our return, whenever anyone's asked me about Morocco, I've mumbled something along the lines of, "Oh yes, a fascinating country."

Which is partly my way of deflecting attention away from the whole 'lying by a pool, drink in hand, European house music in the middle distance' thing. Because in fairness, that only applied to a small amount of our time over there.

Morocco - or at least the bit we saw - is truly fascinating. Get yourself over there if you don't believe me. (Just not right now; it's Ramadan and the temperature's in the high forties. The people were lovely when we were there last month, they must be somewhat distracted at the moment. I know I'd be.)

It's a terrible cliche, but there was something for everyone. 900-year-old cities, the hustle of the souks, the muezzin's call to prayer drifting in on the afternoon's breeze. I even managed to be vaguely arty with my photos. My memory card was groaning by the time we got back; hopefully I avoided any cheesy 'here I am standing in front of a landmark' ones:

OK, scratch that:

Djemaa al-fna Square. Simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and scary places I've ever been. Snake charmers, story-tellers, chaps with monkeys, beggars and blokes trying to flog knock-off Dr Dre headphones. If you want it, you can get it here. Although you might need a shot afterwards.

It wasn't all hustle and bustle. We went up into the Atlas mountains and visited the Berber people there.

Sitting in the house of a village elder, we watched as he made sweet mint tea with which to greet us, passing the water several times through the pot - a ceremony as old as time itself - before pouring it from on high, a stream of hot sweet liquid into narrow glasses.

The effect was lessened only slightly by the Sony Trinitron TV in the corner of the room, hurriedly covered up with a cloth. The 21st century gets everywhere.

We went out to dinner in the medina, the old Marrakech, in a riad. That's basically a townhouse with a very nice garden in a central courtyard. We sat, watching the sky slowly darken from cobalt blue to inky black. red-clad waiters silently brought course after course. Arabic and African musicians entertained us. It was, without any doubt, a night I'll remember for ever.

Going out to a Harvester doesn't really compare.

Returning to England was a real culture shock. I missed the heat. I missed being woken every morning by the tree full of finches outside our window. I missed walking back to our room at night with the bullfrogs and cicadas providing a chorus. I missed the smile of Ismail, the barman whose idea of a gin cocktail was Lots Of Gin. I missed the Brownian motion that passes for traffic over there (I'm not kidding - we were in the country for one hour before we saw our first dead body on the road).

Morocco? Fascinating country.


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