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Sleepy or stormy?

After the hustle that was the souks of Marrakesh, it was a refreshing change to wander about the souks in the medina in Essaouira where ‘no thanks’ was accepted as a polite rebuke, only occasionally met with eyes thrown to heaven or mutterings underbreath about what I assume was the equivalent of ‘bloody foreigners’. And in Essaouira, the mix was surreal: carcasses of meat hanging between the latest designer knockoffs.

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IMG_2731 (600x800)Sunshine during the day was lovely. Lots of cafés to stop off in and watch the world go by. Plenty of mosques to create a cacophony five times daily, including one just across the street from our blue-shuttered flat. The couple of days I spent in bed, sick, were interesting to say the least. I really should have paid more attention to the list of restaurants the landlady left for us. Her note beside one saying it was okay to eat the salads there should have rung an alarm bell and made me realise that it might not be okay to eat the salads elsewhere. Add that to taking over-the-counter antibiotics and overdosing on the paracetamol and it was a recipe for disaster.

IMG_2796 (800x600)IMG_2750 (800x600)IMG_2752 (800x600)Moroccan flats are bloody cold in winter. No heating systems. Twenty-four degrees outside and four degrees inside. I had plenty of time to wonder what I’d do were I to move over and I’m still none the wiser. That said, I think I still want to give it a go.

The view from the flat looked down over a
row of shops, one of which was kept going into the small hours of the morning, whatever it was he was selling.  The rooftops are covered with satellite dishes. Internet is cheap – just €2 for 400 MB and about €12 for a data card to IMG_2737 (800x600)make your own home wifi. It’s all a little at odds with the other-worldly feeling that permeates the place.

And much and all as I like to drive, being in a world within walls where no cars are allowed was very IMG_2736 (800x600)therapeutic. The whole place is a Unesco Heritage Site and so well it should be protected. A bolthole from the madness that lives just over the parapets.

My wish for 2016 is that I somehow find the money to buy a flat somewhere, just so that I can come back to Essaouira and furnish it. The carpets. The sconces. The leather. The pottery. The bedspreads. The choices. Truly a shopping heaven and so very very different from the proliferation of sameness that has beset the highstreets of Europe.

IMG_2785 (800x578) (2)But outside the walls that enclose this sleepy haven, the tides push and pull, fighting to make themselves heard. The surf rages. The seagulls compete with the muezzins come prayer time. It’s all in such stark contrast and from the inside looking out, quite spectacular. A fitting place indeed for Jimmy Hendrix to have written When the wind cries Mary.

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Adamant or rude?

I need to learn how to say no. A firm, authoritative, no. One that brooks no argument. It doesn’t need an exclamation mark. Or any additional volume. It doesn’t need to be rude.  It should just be firm and final.  But despite years of trying, my no is pathetic. Lily-livered. Downright floppy.

IMG_2139 (800x600)IMG_2141 (800x600)I was up against the professionals. The souks in Marrakesh are the stomping grounds of some of the world’s best traders. They have their sales pitches down to a fine art. They’re people readers. They know what buttons to push. With me, they appealed to superstition. ‘You’re my first customer so I have to make you a good price, lady. Otherwise my luck will be bad all day,’ And yes, I know better but still I fall for it. Or they banter and make me laugh, make me like them. And then I’m doomed.

IMG_2167 (800x576)IMG_2201 (800x723)Many years ago, in Dubai, I watched a British colleague haggle with a trader for a suitcase to the point where the fun had gone and it was approaching embarrassment. There was no way what she was offering would cover his cost. I said as much and she was annoyed with me. I found it a tad immoral. Since then, I fix a price in my head that I’d be happy to pay and once I get to that, we’re done. And so what if the next person comes along and gets it at half again – them’s the breaks. I get to sleep easy.

IMG_2207 (800x499)IMG_2358 (800x600)But Marrakesh – Marrakesh is different. The bangle sellers in particular take no prisoners. They’re bandits. They’re relentless. They’re aggressive to the point of threatening. And I couldn’t get rid of the notion that I might be cursed or jinxed if I ungratefully returned the gift they’d clasped on my wrist – a token of friendship because they liked my blue eyes. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they’re all in cahoots because no matter how well I thought I’d done, someone always came up immediately after I’d closed the sale and offered me twice as many for half the price. My calves are black and blue from kicking myself.

I was warned not to make eye contact. But to ignore them and pretend that they’re not there is so rude. Terribly rude.  I couldn’t do it. Instead I had to admire, explain, and refuse to buy. And when the banter was really good and the tactics really clever, then I bought. And the banter can be good – with the lads especially. The women – they’re tough. They, too, use superstition. And the women talk of how they’re going to feed their babies if I don’t buy their wares. And the violins play quietly in the background, and before I know it, the bangle is on my wrist and the palm is open waiting for payment.But at least I can leave these shores knowing that I have done my bit to support several families. Perhaps even the same one.

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But the math doesn’t add up. When I think of the time it would take to string together some of the necklaces I was offered, not to mention the cost of the beads and stones and whatever, I can’t see how anyone is covering their costs. The stuff I had no interest in started at €20 and got as low as €3. But if I liked it, the movement was so slight as to be practically unnoticeable.

IMG_2621 (800x600)IMG_2624 (600x800)I’ve put it down to experience. When I come back next year, I’ll know where to buy, what to buy, and how much to pay for it. I’ll know to go to the spice market for my spices [freshly ground in front of my very eyes] and to a herbarium in the Jewish quarter for my Argan oil. I’ll know to stick to the souks where only the locals go for silverware and jars.  And I’ll know to bring a bigger suitcase.

This time around, I was amused at how they’d have the stuff wrapped before I could blink. I was useless in the face of their logic:

Four bottles for the price of three, then. Excellent quality. You will be very pleased.
I don’t need any, really.
Ok madam – three bottles for the price of two – just for you. Special price.
But I can’t take liquid on the plane.
No problem madam – two bottles for the price of one.
I have no room in my suitcase.
Of course madam, just these. Anything else?

Next time, the novelty will have worn off. Next time I will be more definite. Next time I will be more forceful. More adamant. But I could never ignore them. That would be rude.