Morocco Diary - March 14

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Tuesday, March 14

Another glorious day in Morocco.

Morning tour in horse-drawn carriages (caleches). Each caleche is decorated with large amounts of highly polished brass, most of it elaborately etched or hammered. Just lovely. Aziz told us to keep track of the number of our caleche, as we’d be getting out and in a few times, and needed to get in the same caleche each time. Our caleche is number 11.

Drove down garden-adorned Mohammed VI Boulevard, past the Palais du Congrés and the stunningly over-the-top Royal Theater. We turned onto Mohammed II, where we passed high-end high rises and a McDonalds in pink adobe with a dome!

Stopped at Les Perles du Sud to buy jewelry. (As Aziz said, that’s how we help Morocco—spend money.) They had fabulous stuff, with nice things on the ground floor and spectacular things upstairs. I had thought I’d buy a silver charm, which I did, but I also got seduced into buying a $400 malachite, lapis, coral, and pearl necklace. I think it’s the most I’ve ever spent for a single piece of jewelry—but it is fabulous.

Next stop: Bahia Palace—loveliest of Marrakech’s palaces, Aziz told us. Bahia means “brilliant.” Pasha Ba Ahmed built the palace in the late 1800s. Bahia was the name of his first legitimate wife. (He had four wives and 20 concubines.) This was considered a dark period for Morocco—the period of the Pasha’s, especially Ba Ahmed. The palace was stripped bare by the wives, concubines, and servants when Ba Ahmed died, so all that is left is the palace itself.

Gorgeous Moorish architecture—spectacularly ornate. Carved, inlaid wood, carved marble, tiled courtyards with pools or fountains, delicate arches—just splendid. Ceilings are particularly richly decorated.

Morocco used to trade with Italy. One kilo of sugar and spice could be traded for one kilo of Carrara marble, Aziz said, and this is how the tremendous amounts of marble in this palace got here.

Rosemary hedges in garden (we’ve seen rosemary growing everywhere here).

After the tour of the palace, we walked a couple of blocks—past a fabulous spice shop with tall, cone-shaped piles of spices and chunks of salt and resins—back to our waiting caleches.

Near schools and train or bus stations, almost as many bicycles as in China.

Along the city’s wall and into the medina! Next stop: herbalist/Berber pharmacy, where spices, perfumes, and herbal medicines were for sale. This place was obviously designed for tour groups, as there were several different sections with chairs set up facing a row of shelves stocked with the goods carried by the shop. A white-coated attendant came in and began telling us about all the stuff they had available for sale, demonstrating much of it on us. Among the many spices and herbal blends, the ones I bought were Ras al Hanout, the “head spice,” which is a blend of 35 spices and is ideal for tagines or couscous; cumin, which was exceptionally fragrant here (our sales girl told us to use it on white cheese and in recipes); and Moroccan curry, made up of coriander, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, and ginger.

She passed around perfumes (including rose, of course), and a “magic” lipstick that she said would last for 24 hours. She demonstrated nigella oil on me—two drops, massage across the temples and forehead, and headaches vanish. I didn’t have much of a headache when I volunteered, but it was gone, though the massage may have had something to do with that. Still, I bought the nigella oil.

Finally, they demonstrated kohl on us—the Berber look—black liner that goes inside your eyelashes. They told us it is antiseptic and wonderful for the health of one’s eyes. It feels odd having it floating in your field of vision, but then it all sticks to your eyelids, and you can see clearly again, only now you look like a Berber woman.

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