Morocco Diary - March 15

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March 15

Time is such an odd thing, or rather our perception of it. After two days in Morocco, Barb and I both commented that, because the days were so full, we felt as though we’d been here for a week. Now that it’s our last day, we feel as though we arrived yesterday, and the trip has gone by in a blink.

But it is another glorious, sunny day, so even though it is our last, we look forward to it.

We were technically on our own today, but Aziz was still looking out for us. He gave us recommendations, then ordered caleches to carry us through town and to Le Jardin Majorelle. As we trotted through the city, my own version of the old Crosby, Stills, and Nash song kept running through my head: “Do you know we’re riding in a Marrakech caleche? It’s taking me through Marrakech.” I smiled to think that, when the song was popular, I did not even dream of getting to Marrakech one day.

The driver stopped at one point, hoping to guide us to the shop of some friend or relative, but I assured him we had done all the shopping we needed to do, and we really just wanted to get to the garden. He dropped us off at the entrance of the Jardin Majorelle and, as we paid him, he offered to wait for us, if we would be back in an hour, but we didn’t want to be rushed, so we bid him farewell.

The Jardin Majorelle is gorgeous. It was created in 1924 by the French artist Jacques Majorelle, son of celebrated Art Nouveau furniture designer Louis Majorelle, who fell in love with Morocco when he came here for his health. The gardens are lush and well tended, with plants from all around the world, including a remarkable cactus garden. Fountains, ponds filled with water lilies, and brightly colored garden walls and planters add to the vibrancy of the place. (The bright blue used so extensively in the garden is, in fact, a special color known as Majorelle blue.) In addition, there is a lovely little museum of Islamic art. Many of the things in the museum are items with which we have become familiar over the last two weeks—rugs, ceramics, jewelry, and textiles. I was interested in Jacques Majorelle’s work, which seemed so evocative both of the locale and his era. However, it is said that the garden was his greatest work of art. It fell into disrepair at his death, but was refurbished and reopened later by a new owner, Yves Saint Laurent!

From the garden, we walked through town in the general direction of the Jemaa el Fna, where we were meeting Aziz at 1 o’clock. We were delighted, as we have been throughout our trip, with the friendliness of the people here. When we peeked into work areas, we were waved in for a better view. Truck drivers waved and begged Barb to take their photos. When we stopped to read our map, people stopped to offer advice (though, as it usually presupposed a knowledge of Marrakech, the advice was not always helpful—but combined with the map, we kept heading in the right direction.) We got as far as Bab Doukkal, one of the city gates, then, as we were running late, we flagged down a taxi. The friendly driver told us about a huge cultural and arts festival that was starting that day and would run for a few more days, unintentionally underscoring for us that we’re running out of time.

When we arrived at the square, we quickly found Aziz, near the Restaurant Argana, as promised. He said we could have a salad or omelet at the restaurant, but if we were interested, he would take us into the souk in search of a local specialty called meshoui (or m’choui)—a butter-and-herb-basted, pit-roasted lamb. We wound through the souk, passing shops selling herbs, spices, leather bags, tagines, clothes, t-shirts, and innumerable other items, both for local consumption and for the tourist trade. Down one alley, Aziz led us into one of a series of unmarked entrances. Outside, there were platters of lamb and piles of rounds of bread. Aziz pointed out the covered pit where the lamb is roasted, and then guided us up two flights of stairs to a room that was completely covered in blue and white tiles, where we perched on benches beside a long table. I asked Aziz what the name of the restaurant was, and he said, “No name. It’s just a m’choui place.” The table was set with sheets of heavy blue paper, which were both tablecloth and plate. Aziz said that tea was the traditional accompaniment, so we all ordered glasses of their hot, sweet, strong tea. Then three platters of the succulent roast lamb and three round loaves of bread were placed on the table, and Aziz told us we should tear chunks off both with our hands, dip the lamp into the mixture of course salt and cumin in small bowls on the table, and stuff the lamb in the bread, and then eat it. It was fabulous. As we got down to the bones, we were told that it was entirely appropriate to pick up the bones and gnaw on them, to make sure we got all the tender, flavorful lamb.

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