I am at the start of my 2nd week of renewal, I find myself stronger but there is a fuzziness at the back of my head and I think that will be there for a long time.
We were up early that Saturday morning and we went off to the weekly souk (market). The French have a word for the sights that confronted me that morning, “incroiable”. Hectares of land laid out with thousands of tented stalls, some big, some small, with guy ropes to tents stretched all over the place to trip the unwary shopper. Before you even get into the souk there are merchants selling 2nd hand children’s bikes, 2nd or 3rd hand mobile phones, parts for scooters and bikes, 2nd and 3rd hand pairs of shoes, with a cobbler next door who will re-heel, re-sole and possibly re-upper your bought pair. Under the archway of the souk and into a wonderland. But first of all hire yourself a boy with a wheeled cart. He takes the place of a supermarket trolley but better. You tell him you want oranges and he will sort out the best and the same with vegetables. He stacks them neatly in his cart and follows you to the next section of the souk. Everything is sold in reals which went out of currency in 1921, your barrow boy converts rials into modern day dirhams. Our boy is able for this, he is doing a physics degree at Marrakech University.
The vegetable market comes on you immediately after wading through stalls of knick-knacks, acres of tented stalls with prefabricated iron frames. The produce laid out on the floor in piles, vegetables you could name some you couldn’t. On the fringes of the vegetable souk are the spice stalls, selling spices out of large sacks or from towering piles on plastic trays. Spices I recognised, spices I didn’t. All merchants sit cross-legged on the floor in front of ancient weighing scales. There seems to be set prices for everything set by somebody or some unknown tariff. No fiddling of weights here, no undercutting of prices.
We sit at a bench where a man has a small table and gas ring. He sells lentils cooked in a broth with flat breads to mop up the juices. No way of cleaning the dishes and cutlery and he has not much of these. But has soon as one man finishes his bowl it is refilled for the next, spoons are dipped in to a suspicious looking bucket of used water to clean them. I have to say the lentils were excellent.
At my back were two men starting to hack at a beast they had cajoled into happiness. The halal method of killing by Muslims requires you to have taught the beast that it wants to die and once docile and given food and water, the two veins in its neck are cut and its blood drained out. There was buckets of blood all over the stall and the beast was now officially dead and its quartering allowed to take place. Customers at this time of day are mostly men. It was 8.00am and these men had gathered at 4.00am when the animal market opened. Sheep, cattle and goats are sold to buyers for fattening up and selling for slaughter at a later date. Some animals are killed on the day. There is a small slaughter house but a lot of animals, so some are slaughtered in the open like this. Woman normally visit after lunch when they have completed their household tasks and perhaps are lucky to miss out on this phase of the day.
As we passed through the spice ring the small slaughterhouse was in full swing and pieces of meat of all description were on sale. Not an ounce of the animal is wasted, from the tip of the tail to the end of its horn, every piece on display, a price for every piece. There was a stall selling the hoofs of cattle, another selling lovely bits of meat with teeth sticking out of them, grey turgid flanks of tripe, tails going for big money. Men hacking away with large axes at carcases still warm from the assassin’s knife. Piles of sheep’s heads all awaiting the jingling purses of the impecunious housewives who would shortly be arriving.
Dragging ourselves away from this blood drenched killing ground and the blood spattered vendors we eventually come on the chicken stalls. Thousands of chickens gathered in coups, awaiting the knife of the seller. A live chicken picked by hand, feet bound, a flash of steel, a spurt of blood, left on a spike for a few seconds as blood drained away and into a machine that removes all feathers of the lifeless bird. Another flash of steel and a tumble of guts and the oven ready chicken is on the counter ready for sale after passing through the hands of at least six men in a matter of seconds. The operation works like clockwork and so quickly that the killing hardly registers.
Daughter No 2 points out two of these birds ably assisted by her barrow boy who ties their legs and feels their stomachs to ensure their egg laying capability and so for these two birds it is out of the frying pan that is the coup and into the heaven that is her sanctuary at home. These birds are a gamble but the boy takes her to another section selling big egg laying brown hens slightly dearer than the rescued brace. Alongside the hens are rabbits, ducks and young turkeys. I got the job of barrow-minder whilst the buyers scanned the ranks and two more henswere put into the barrow on top of all the food we had bought. One hen almost crushed by the roll of a massive watermelon as the cart turned a corner.
We pass the medicine man sat at a corner with all his potions laid out before him which so he says will cure anything for a few dirhams. You can go and sit with him and ask him to send a djinni at somebody. Djinn are good or evil spirits, mischievous spirits that can bring good or bad on people (the anglicised version is genie). The muslim people all believe strongly in these spirits but never talk about them. My daughter has tried to discuss the feelings the people have but they remain quiet when spoken to.
So home we go with four live hens and 50kgs of vegetables and fruit all for about €20. We dump our stuff and call for Brahim to put the birds in the sanctuary and off we go into Marrakech for grandchild 2 and 3’s last piano lesson with their tutor. This lovely architectural student has been singled out by the Simon Rattle organised Berlin Philharmonic. She is a young and lovely 22 year old who has got her ticket to ride on the international stage and to see the world. She will find it easy , she speaks several languages and can mix with everybody. Her architectural degree put on the long finger and she is relishing the prospect. This magnificently gifted pianist calls me sir and hopes I am enjoying my holiday. I am humbled.
On the way home we call at the village barbers for a much needed coiffeur. His dexterity with scissor, comb and cut-throat was even better than the men who killed the chickens in the souk and within minutes transformed a hairy old man into a suave, debonair senior citizen as a line of customers watched in awe. My daughter gave him 20 dirhams (€2) after he had said “give me what you think” his regular customers give him 2 dirhams (20 cents). He was overjoyed yet his work was worth 150 dirhams (€15). I have paid that in Boyle for an inferior cut.
An afternoon by the pool, another thunderstorm which makes the exterior tiling glow. A long and large Ricard with ice and water, a few assembled tit bits and my day was done.
I awoke next morning to a glorious crisp day, the sun shining brightly but the temperature at 15C. The rain of the night before seems to have cooled everything off and in fact had cleared the haze of the sun and the Atlas Mountains have suddenly appeared as if by magic.
Their snow covered slopes shining in a majestic glory. They seem to be at the bottom of the garden but are probably 40 miles away. This melting snow provides Marrakech and its hinterland with its water throughout the year.
However before we set off a neighbour visited, a retired French film director who directed the series of erotic porn films “Emanuelle” in the 1970s. He came to invite us round for drinks on the following day with his house-guest a famous Hollywood star of yesteryear, who appeared in the series of Hart to Hart on British Television in the 1980s, Stephanie Powers. Life is certainly trading up for me. International piano players, soft porn film directors, earls of England and Stephanie Powers.
Our trip to the lake was aborted after two hours, the overnight rains having washed away the road in parts. We had a Toyota 4×4 but even with that the journey became too hazardous. So it was back to the suburbs of Marrakech for an excellent lunch in a another French restaurant, La Paillote, in sun drenched gardens shaded by olive trees and parasols.
A diversion on the way home to Carrefour, a branch of the large French supermarket chain where it seems every man and his dog shops on a Sunday afternoon and those that are not shopping come to sight see. It was shopping in hell blasted by loud indescribable music in the middle of what looked like a football crowd. Glad to be home, hot and a little bothered by my shopping experience. I visited Mr Ricard’s house once again and I was in bed for 8.30pm and a long long sleep.
Today is a Bank Holiday in Morocco as in the rest of the western world. Today I do nothing but dream of my inter-reaction with the Hollywood bimbo this evening. A lovely balmy, breezy 26C in which to do nothing but a little reading. However after 10 minutes I was disturbed by the future Earl of England and his sister. They had been brought round by their mother, a very nice titled lady. William had brought his cricket gear and before I knew it I was batting and the future earl bowled me out. Then his elder sister who had a lot more hand/eye co-ordination proceeded to knock my bowling to all points of the compass. My excuse was that the wicket was a bad one and that I was a little rusty having not played in earnest for 45 years. Still it was a lovely interlude re-enacting the sport I loved with kids picking up the game. A page out of Wisden almost.
A beef and pea tagine with a side dish of lentils and salad and slices of a variety of melons washed down with my favourite gris under a parasol at the side of the pool. The whole topped off with a two hour siesta filled the afternoon whilst kids in abundance did everything kids do without the encumbrance of adults or discipline. Future earls and ladies in waiting wrecking the order and loveliness of the house so that post siesta arrival made the house look exactly the same as it did at 7.00am this morning prior to the arrival of the staff to do their most necessary duties. Chaos abounds pleasantly with the afternoon sun.