Sunday, 27 September 2015

Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar (part one of three)


It's been a long, exhausting but exciting year at work and I needed a break. I've been overseeing various community projects and delivering on our action plan following our Heritage Lottery award for Cassiobury Park, as well as having contributed to yet another book, Hyde Park, A Social History, (out now on Amberley publishers; £16.99 on Amazon and all good book stores)

An early flight from England meant arriving at my destination in the heat of the day. I dislike airports and while I don't mind flying (in fact I rather enjoy it)  they are an unfortunate necessity now as my annual leave  doesn't give me the time to use my much preferred mode of travel, that of cycling to these destinations. So, suffer them I do, with all the queuing, the interminable waiting, and trying to wake myself from my early morning sleepiness by drinking endless cups of strong coffee on the plane.

I anxiously approached the security queues, wondering how I would explain to impassive faced security guards, armed to the teeth with high powered machine guns, that my dripping, sweat drenched face, perspiring armpits, scarlet cheeks and my continuous shifting and hopping from one leg to another, while furtively glancing around me (I was desperate for a loo after all that coffee) was in fact nothing more than a bladder filled but menopausal woman of a certain age, experiencing a hot flush, rather than a  nervous, drug laden courier, hiding contraband down her trousers. My ever fertile mind was obviously in overdrive after having watched the film, Midnight Express, too often. They probably thought that I was just  on a Saga holiday. (Humph!  drug smuggling is one thing, but really!... a Saga holiday!) Expecting the worst, a particularly
po faced and bearded, uniformed official, surrounded by two even sterner looking, bearded, uniformed officials, pointed and beckoned me over to them, only to greet me with a huge friendly smile and said, 'Welcome to Marrakech'.


a singing street musician in Marrakech's Medina

Seven Days in Morocco

I entered the dusky pink, eleventh century, mud and brick Medina (old town) to the endless noise and bustle of drum beats, the hypnotic monotones of the snake charmers, strains of continuous Arabic music and the wail from surrounding synagogues calling the faithful to prayer. Having come straight from the plane, this cacophony assaults the senses straight away and for me, one reason why cycling is so much more preferable as a mode of transport, as its slow pace allows you to acclimatise to each country's culture; the senses already used to it's climate, sounds and smells by the time you reach the metropolis.

the bustling hub of the Medina, Djmaa El Fna square
As I entered the old, walled city, I could  feel my forefinger already unconsciously  lightly tapping the camera button, imagining future, photographic joys as I made my way towards my  Riad hotel, (Moroccan  decorated guest houses) delighting at the sight of brightly
coloured, glazed, ceramic tagines, leather footwear and multi-coloured varieties of goods stuffed to the rafters in the maze of tiny stalls and claustrophobic narrow alleyways that I passed in the Medina. But first, I checked into my budget (and spotless) hotel to refresh and recuperate. The camera would have to wait for now.

   dancing for the tourists (and money)  in Djmaa El Fna square

Venturing out to explore, I learnt one of many lessons during my seven days in Marrakech. I noticed how few people were carrying cameras and how even fewer photographs were being taken. I soon found out why. Morocco is the most difficult of places to take photographs. While I acknowledge that many Muslims don't wish to be photographed, ( I tried as much as possible to be sensitive by asking first) the relentless harassment for money every time I lifted the camera was both annoying (I never believe in paying for photos in public places) and exhausting.

 gatekeeper to the souk

Aggressive selling to a single woman is the norm for a tourist trap such as Marrakesh and not a day went by without a souk (market) seller or a street trader bartering with me to buy something or pay for a photo. Single women, while not harmed, are notoriously singled out for this treatment, as a woman on her own carries a certain amount of disrespect from Muslim men and therefore are seen as easy prey. As with all foreign travel, when you start out, you expect that nothing will be as comfortable as home and that you can either choose to accept it and not let it ruin your experience or you can compare it with northern hemisphere standards and let it get you down. I chose the former. Once I had accepted that this was the way it was going to be, I learnt to, politely but firmly, say no and while it was still tiring and somewhat annoying not to be able to just browse the souks and watch the performers without attracting attention, it did help in accepting things for what they were and then allowing myself to enjoy my time in Marrakech.

   sweet seller in the Medina souks

My improving confidence was growing with this unwanted attention but I never felt threatened or unsafe and I eventually saw it for what it was - something that could be nipped in the bud if dealt with in the right way. However, one or two incidences occurred where this unwanted attention tipped over into direct physical harassment.

One ploy used by many street traders, is to greet you with a friendly welcome while encouraging you in to browse, or give you a free gift. This sucks you in to a false sense of security and once they have given you the 'free' item, they pester you for payment for their work. Because of this outright deception, I refused to pay on a few occasions, including a woman henna tattooist, who began to get aggressive to the point of manhandling me and grappling with my bag. Calling me all the names under the sun and telling me I was 'no good', I eventually managed to walk away, the hullabaloo attracting, by now, a small crowd around me and the tattooist  gave up, but it did shake me somewhat to think that they could use such aggressive methods.

But I quickly learnt not to let this get to me and for the rest of my stay I politely and firmly declined any future free offers of gifts and either passed by, or browsed in defiance, ignoring the persistent hard sell and accepting the attention without malice.

Solitary travel for me is addictive and the pros far out weigh the cons, but I have to admit that it is sometimes easier (and cheaper) not to go to these places alone. But it works both ways, solo travel heightens the experience and when travelling alone, people are more willing to approach you (possibly because they feel sorry for you!) to start up conversations, whereas, couples or groups are not approached as much. 

 a street trader carrying out a supposedly, free, henna tattoo who then got aggressive with me when I refused to pay

   early morning travel to work in the souks

But for all my determination to ignore the pleas to buy and haggling over prices, I know I was ripped off a few times during my stay. Not that I was worried, it's all part of the journey and most of the Medina Marrakechies are so poor, that I went out of my way to pay for the odd photo or agreed to the overpriced souvenir.

overwhelming poverty of a central souk worker and his recycling workshop. Behind the gap in the bags and paraphernalia at the top of the photo, there is a space of about 4 square feet where he and his wife (who wouldn't be photographed ) live

souk carpenter guiding the chisel with his foot.

souk carpenter

After a few hectic days of trying to find my way amongst the hustle and bustle of the souks and their maze of alleyways, I decided and needed to have a day's rest and recuperation at a luxury resort. I found a delightful villa on the outskirts of Marrakech, just a twenty minute taxi ride away, that was perfect for soothing my jagged nerves and resting my over stimulated mind. I could never afford or want to stay there as a complete holiday, but a one day pool and lunch pass was acceptable, not only because I get uncomfortable and bored staying in such luxury for any length of time, but also for my budget.

 rest and recuperation at Casa Taos on outskirts of Marrakech
Greeted by the friendliest of dogs, Acho  (pronounced aaayko) the villa's loping Boxer dog, Casa Taos was (literally) the oasis in the dessert. Its quiet setting amongst the palms and only a short taxi ride from the centre, was a world away from the crashing noise of the Medina. Casa Taos, owned by a friendly couple who originate from Cassablanca, had bought this former holiday home and now run it as a luxury hotel.  

A day's rest lounging in the sun, ordering lunch poolside and cooling off with occasional dips in the aquamarine water under cobalt blue skies was just what I needed.
Casa Taos

For one day only -sheer luxury -  Mohammed bringing the lunch menu to my poolside lounger

lounging amongst the palms


Acho looking guilty after being caught drinking from the pool

the irrepressible Acho trying for sympathy after being told off for drinking from the pool.

Moroccan finch cooling off poolside
But one day was enough. Refreshed but getting itchy feet again, I decided to return to the chaos of the Medina and the wonderful photo opportunities waiting for me.

Medina guide
souk trader 
all dressed up for the tourists
 cactus fruit seller Medina

cat enjoying a nap in one of the baskets  - all made from recycled tyres


The fresh, orange juice stalls in the main square - delicious!

clay tagines and pots in Medina alleyway

the chefs in the outside cafes in the Djmaa El Fna start preparing for the evening rush
the tables are set
outside eating in the Medina
tajine stall in Medina
traffic in the streets of the Medina
cutlery served up in a Moroccan slipper at the Henna Café
 setting up -  pavement trader in the square
sunset over Marrakech
After a few days in Marrakech I was relaxed, getting the hang of dealing with the unwanted attention and looking forward to the days, sights and sounds ahead. A day trip to the coastal town and former 1960's hippy hangout,  Essaouira was next on the agenda. (scroll down to 'older posts' to see part two of three, blog posts)
Lullaby and the  Ceaseless Roar (title from the album by Robert Plant and Sensational Space Shifters)
copright (C) Deborah Anne Brady: all rights reserved. September 2015 All photographs (c) Deborah Anne Brady


Lullaby and the Ceaseles Roar (part two of three)

I had seven days in Marrakech and therefore time to take a day trip to see more of Morocco. I decided to take a local coach rather than a tourist excursion to the coastal and former hippy town of Essaouira (pronounced essweera) .

Boarding the dilapidated and fabric worn seats of the local coach, on a three hour bus ride, made me think twice about the wisdom of travelling this way. But I'm so glad I did. Being on a bus full of locals, with a conductor dressed as though he was a homeless streetwalker, rather than a smart uniformed ticket inspector, added to the exotic flavour of seeing real Moroccans at work, and gave just a snapshot of Moroccan life, far removed from the tourist hot spots.

One particular quirk, was the way the coach conductor clapped twice from the back of the bus every time he wanted to stop the coach to let someone off. And not for the first time on my travels, I sat next to a young Muslim woman, Amena, who couldn't speak a word of English, as I couldn't speak a word of Arabic, but we had the most enjoyable conversation in broken French. She asked me if I was a photographer in England and the clapping bus conductor very kindly forewarned me of a great photo opportunity just outside Essaouira by pointing out the bus window to dessert goats feeding up in the trees.

tourists stopping to get a look at the wonder of goats feeding in the trees. You can just spot the blue leg of the shepherd in the tree.

just in case you didn't believe your eyes the first time...real goats.

The white washed houses of Essaouira, framed with blue doors and window shutters was another departure from the chaotic sounds and scenes of Marrakech. This little coastal town, with its winding and charming Medina streets was a much more relaxed tourist site. Jimi Hendrix, the rock guitarist visited here for three days back in the 60's and I had my lunchtime snack in the very courtyard café where he also spent a few hours. (a claim, I'm sure, made by all the cafes in Essaouira!). I found two photos of him on the restaurant walls and the café with its airy and light courtyard café and its central location, I could imagine, was, just the sort of upmarket riad, a millionaire rock star would have dropped in to for a refreshing break.

One of my hero's, photos of the 1960's rock guitarist, Jimi Hendrix on the walls of the Hotel Medina Café, in Essaouira, where he supposedly and probably, had spent a few hours for a lunch.

I had to catch the late afternoon bus back so I didn't have too much time. Heading for the walled ramparts I spent a few minutes watching the Atlantic waves crash against the rocky coast, exploring the charming, winding artisan  craft shops, busy fishing port and fish market, before heading back to the bus station for the ride back to Marrakech.

The whitewashed walled town of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast

rowing boats in the harbour of Essaouira

artisan Essaouira

Essaourian man

old pots and kettles

fishing boats in Essaouira harbour

 Medina tourist trade

 craft seller

ramparts that defended the walled Medina of Essaouira

Indigo blue - the colour of  Essaouira

Local butchers

fishing boat in Essaouira harbour

how many rowing boats can you fit into one harbour?

tourist souvenirs hang from the walls of the narrow streets behind the ramparts

view of Essaouira and Atlantic ocean as we approach by bus

 art of Essaouira

gathering up handfuls of fish for the customers at the fish market

seagulls hovering for the scraps

locals choosing the ripest cactus fruits, the seller cuts and peels the fruit which are eaten at the cart with the pith and peel dumped in a bin underneath

fresh orange juice stalls, as in Marrakech, but in Essaouira, complete with peel for decoration 

 women selling fish in the harbour market

feral cat and kitten sleeping in streets of Essaouira - slightly healthier looking than the cats in Marrakech

I took a lot of photographs from the window of the bus to capture some of the country in between the two towns. Morocco is developing as a country and many women are now accepted in work, with many womens' cooperatives set up in compounds outside towns producing argon and crafts. But it's sad to know that a great percentage of Moroccans who live in the countryside, still cannot read or write.

view from bus of isolated outlet selling Bedouin tents.

dessert farmstead in between Essaouira and Marrakech

lonely goatherd in the dessert.

 plenty of tajine stalls by the roadside

 Social housing project in the dessert. There seems to be more social housing being supplied in parts of Morocco, than we have here in Britain

crashing Atlantic waves on the coast at Essaouira

After a few hours in Essaouira, it was time to head back to the bus and back to  Marrakech and the Medina.   (scroll down to 'older posts' to see part three ) 

Copyright: (C) Deborah Anne Brady: all rights reserved  September 2015 All photographs by Deborah Anne Brady (C)