It was late April, a month after my Malta trip, I was approaching the end of the tunnel I had been in since Helen died on Christmas Day. The weather was warmer, I had met a few people. The lows of the past few months were slowly being replaced by smiles and bits of jokes. Daughter 4 had visited twice, we had eaten well and drank even better. I had booked another trip, Daughter 2 was calling from Morocco and I was looking forward to it with anticipation. I felt comfortable in myself, tears were getting scarcer.
I left Knock Airport at 12.30pm to a cool 11C, arrived at Gatwick on a slightly warmer 12C and landed at Marrakech at 9.00pm to a blast 0f 25C and a warm greeting from Daughter 2 and Grand-daughter 2 with hugs and smiles after I had trundled through the ancient custom shambles that is Moroccan protocol. Security 10%, burocracy 90%. I suppose it gives jobs to people that would normally be unemployed.
The new airport terminal at Marrakech Menara is the most beautiful and spacious that I have ever seen and it makes a statement to the world of where Morocco wants to be in the years to come. It is not only beautiful architecture on the interior but magnificent on the outside. It greets arrivals and departures equally and importantly is designed by Moroccan architects and built by Moroccan contractors.
30 minutes later, by an illuminated pool, we are drinking gris cooled by cubes of ice. A French idea brought to Morocco which would make the avid traditionalist wince but here it seems to work. Local flat bread, cheese and olives are washed down and a welcome bed is made available after my 2,000 mile journey. By the way gris is what it says it is, grey. The juice of the grapes removed very early on from the skins in the maceration process giving a colour nearer to white than rose wine. This wine can be found in southern France around Marseilles but it makes a claim for fame in Morocco.
I awoke at 7.30am to blazing sunshine and a cool 25C surrounding this oasis of greenery. Turkeys gobbling, ducks quacking and peacocks screaming out their matinal war cries. The hens would have joined them but the last of them and two turkey chicks had been killed by a new pup the day before I arrived. Feral aligned with beauty, I think, is what Morocco is about at the moment and I saw many examples of this which could jar on the sensibilities of the naive European.
A trip to Anima Gardens was planned. 30 Kms south of Marrakech, laid out by an Austrian artist, Andre Heller. It contains the finest collection and display of plants I have ever seen. Thousands of blossoms and coloured plants interspersed with sculptural artefacts. The flowers on the cactus plants probably the most beautiful of all. It would be worth a trip to Marrakech just to see these gardens alone.
Suffused with beauty and natural aromas we headed for town for lunch at Le Chouet, a French inspired peaceful rendez vous, almost vegetarian, with courses interrupted by amuse bouche of high quality all washed down by Mogador gris.
Replete, it was back to the oasis over rutted dust tracks, passing high quality estates. The affluent round here build their walled desmesnes before civilization arrives in the form of urban sprawl and at some stage in the future it will have to fit itself around these well-heeled prospectors.
Late afternoon and evening round the pool whilst the kids, as agile as fishes, did aquatic gymnastics. More gris, conversation, olives, various salamis were tackled and an early bed for me at least.
The following morning a hopeful drive into town to solve a telecom problem was foiled by large queues but breakfast at Le Grand Cafe de la Poste dissolved our worries and it was decided to call back to Maroc Telecom on Friday when most of the population would be at prayer. Le Grand Cafe, a relic of the 19th Century, served me the finest omelette aux fines herbes done in the “Parisienne ” style and washed down by freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee.
I did not want to leave, looking at my fellow customers and the boulavardiers was enough entertainment. The French-speaking sub-Saharan girls who come to Marrakech from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and the Cameroon to earn a bob or two and hoping to snare a fat business man between meetings for a quick bout of hokey-cokey, are very busy. These girls are tall and thin and darker than the Moroccan lady who tends to be a little plumper and wears muslim dress in all its variety. The sub-Saharans dress for the climate wearing the skimpiest of clothes with plenty of bling and ply their trade from an early hour. The police do not seem to mind, the business men are numerous and seem happy with the deal but the Moroccans spurn these girls and shopkeepers put them to the back of the queue at all times. In a way I feel sorry for them. This life for them must be far better than that they have in their homeland. They seem to supply a need and I hate double standards.
A couple of families have got together to home-school their kids and they employ teachers to control a syllabus that seems far more advanced than the Irish or English model. I meet one child – an English earl to be ploughing along with my own kith and kin in an ancient farmhouse on a hillside 20 miles out of town. As these children reach 12 they are farmed out to boarding schools in England or to the American school in Marrakech. They slip easily into the 2nd level system as they are far in advance of their peers in training for the International Baccalaureate. Two of my grandsons, twins, are seven years old and they have a reading age of 12.
The following days are spent writing in the shade by the pool, dazzled by the brightness and beaten by 28C which with no humidity is more comfortable than you think. I sleep well probably making up for the dark days when I hardly slept. I now know I am well on the road to recovery. The words flow. I am no longer stymied by something I cannot see. Helen is still with me but beside me, no longer blocking my path. If it can be said with gratitude, I am now almost happy.
A daytime starts around 7.00am, the sun already up and about in a clear blue sky with wispy clouds in the far distance above the Atlas mountains.
There are two ladies in the house, Fatimzara the general factotum and Haffida the cook. It is she who brings breakfast at about 9.30am, omelettes, olives, cheese and flat breads, orange juice and coffee. Lunch is large about 1.00pm, the main meal of the day. For example yesterday was a delicious meatball tagine, spiced green beans and carrots, a tomato and onion salad and more flatbread. With the women gone about 3.00pm, the evening is a sprawl of tasty bits, left over lunch, cheese, salami etc washed down with my normal preprandial and a couple of glasses of gris or sometimes red wine, both suitable companions for the snacks.
Bed is early before 10.00pm with the odd unexplained late one which results in a gingerly awakening slightly later than normal. People who work go off about their tasks and I write, nod off or read. All tasks perfectly suited to the climate. I face the prospect of the Manchester United v Manchester City football match tonight. There is no television set in the house but grandson No 1 of the family is going to fetch it up live on the computer. Everything these days is in the realm of a 12 year old.
The last day of my first week was spent in Marrakech following daughter No 2 on her daily business, legal, commercial and familial. Daily life for the ex-pat in the country is slow and chaotic, in the town fast, chaotic and bureaucratic but it all seems to work somehow.
The amazing thing to me about Morocco and Marrakech in particular is its young well educated, urbanised demographic. Totally unable to travel the world unless sponsored by an international company. Moroccans cannot as a rule get a visa to travel. So educated youngsters fluent in several languages take jobs as waiters and secretaries. To compare these young, very able people to the scrotes in England who apply for work and expect to be employed because they are there is a no brainer. The young educated Moroccan could work and live anywhere in the world and be successful. Watch out for yourselves you western world youngsters, time is not on your side.
Another last thought before I close this post and it is the Marrakech world of prostitution having done a little research and seen some glaring examples today. It seems there are some brothels containing Moroccan and therefore muslim ladies which are very discreet. These ladies do not ply their trade in the open like the sub-Saharan ladies, but remain hidden behind curtained windows which claim to be hammams (bath houses) and cafes and cater for the more robust likes of men. Size and shape is a must for customers but it seems like all shapes are catered for.
It was Friday afternoon as we returned to the oasis, little traffic on the road. Mosques big and small, full of seated males in their mainly white djellabahs (I hope that is the correct spelling of these long one piece garments). The women are invisible, where they are I do not know but presume in their various kitchens cooking for their returning but holy menfolk.
If only Morocco could shake off the entrapment of Islam which seems to me to be about disempowerment and the removal of choice and leave their religion to personal consciousness, they would zoom in the world. The religion of Islam started 600 years after Christianity put its black mark on the world and Islam seems in many ways to be 600 years behind the western world in so many things. Just as so many of us have eschewed the bonds Christianity imposed let us hope the people of Islam do the same only quicker.
The morning was hot, the wind got up, the dust covered everything, rain was forecast for 2.00pm and on the dot down it came, one massive deluge which freshened everything up. Underfoot the paths and roads were so hot the surfaces dried in seconds and within 30 minutes the deluge was non-existent.
I end my first week at the oasis listening to the children playing. 8 children playing the games children play all over the world but they are speaking a language only they understand. A mixture of Spanish, English and Darija, the local brand of Arabic, with a few French words thrown in for good measure. This is the world of tomorrow.