I will never forget the first time that I saw a monkey wearing a nappy or the weathered man who lifted up a large basket to reveal a big fat python. Women offered to draw henna on our hands and glided under billowing dark blue robes, following us like large phantoms with piercing eyes, across the wide expanse of dryness. The acrobats, the pipe sounds and the mounds of dried fruit being sold off the burrow must be considered the most “normal” of activities conducted at Place Jemaa el Fnaa, with the rest essentially being a real mine field of weirdness. The square is wide and the punters are strategically placed, or at least it feels this way. Place Jemaa el Fnaa makes you stop and gaze but you must do so at your own peril. Everything ugly is but a large trap and you will have to shell out to try to extrapolate yourself. The beauty of the atmosphere, the stalls of perfumes and wicker baskets, the men waving and gesturing to you behind the rows fruit juice stands, the horses and carts gracefully clip clopping over the warm wide expanse of Africa’s biggest square will all, if you gaze too intently, hypnotize you much like a flute hypnotizes a cobra.
It took us a while to get there even though we weren’t too far away. Having dropped our bags off we stepped back into the heat of the day. We left the comforts of our beautiful hotel and made our way into the heart of the Medina. Crafts, jewels, pottery and leather goods poured out it seemed from cracks in the walls. Carpets and clothes lined the yellow walls of the Mosque and apothecaries decorated their shops with piles of saffron and pigment.”Where do you come from?” “Come and have a look!” We were greeted and encouraged to browse by all. Men pointed us towards Tombs and Palaces and some told us they were closed, helpful information, although our destination wasn’t to be there that day. We continued our journey onwards, thanking as we went, politely refusing advances from all sides. It wasn’t threatening but it was quite tiring. We got out our map and having refused instructions from a number of people we were befriended and eventually followed a kind young boy who took us rather a long way round through the Jewish quarter and via his father’s shop, where we got to smell fantastic natural perfumes, teas and spices. It wasn’t part of the plan but it was fun.
As the day grew long and the sun began descending low into the sky we sat down at a local restaurant opposite Cafe de France. Local Moroccan families sat patiently next to us, their food delivered to their tables but left untouched for what seemed like hours. Little boys ran back to their mums with full bottles of freshly squeezed orange juice and women with sun glasses and gold earrings produced pastries including pancakes and french pains aux chocolat for their families. The shadows grew longer and the blue sky became stained red and the market was engulfed in an orange glow.
More people were now out, and mopeds sped up and down the main square. The whole sound of the beeping vehicles, the ephemeral pipes of the charmers and the cries of the sellers rose higher and higher and merged with the buzz of the sun. Then a cry rang out, a chant on a tanoy, the Call to Pray – this one although sounding like all the others we had heard throughout the day was particularly special as it marked the end of the first day of Ramadan, where devout Muslims of all ages go without food or water for 17 hours. Bottles were opened, tea was poured and glasses were downed. We wished our neighbors “bon appetite” and with smiles on all of our faces we ate our tagine in the glowing evening, side by side with those families breaking their daily fast with their Ramadan breakfast, a very spiritually powerful moment which we had the privilege of witnessing.
As night descended upon the square, Place de Jemaa el Fnaa came to life. We walked through throngs of people and passed the many food stalls which had been assembled quickly just before the Call to Prayer. Music played, shops which had been until then closed, opened and so it was then under the gaze of the moon that we set off into the souks of Marrakesh. But that I’m afraid, is another story 😉