We are celebrating Ross’s second retirement. He said he wanted a rite of passage to get him out of pharma mode and back into real life. So here we are! On advice, we have decided that five nights downtown in a hot, noisy Riad is probably too much so we are staying in the Palmeraie district in a lovely place, Les Deux Tours, set in luscious gardens complete with vegetables, goats, hammam, large pool, hidden 4-poster beds for a post-prandial nap, and immaculate service. Our room lies behind a Mediterranean blue door and has its own secret garden. Spoiling indeed.
Instead we are palmed off to a sleezy bloke in a dirty black nylon tracksuit who presses a bunch of mint into our hands. ‘Berber gas mask’ he says, as he leads us into a vast area of curing tanks. Everywhere there are fleeces in varying states of decay, and the putrefying stench of blood. It is stinking hot and I am gagging, pressing the mint right up my nostrils. But now there is no escape as our new friend pushes us this way and hither…and finally to a shop (of course) where we buy nothing. He then demands the equivalent of 20 Euros, and is backed up a nearby man…it is all we can do to escape minus a measly 5 Euros!
Much less busy but no less interesting is the last remaining synagogue in the Mellah, or Jewish quarter, where the houses are meant to be taller and streets narrower; the cemetery is massive, and dates from the early 17th century; of all the Jewish cemeteries I have visited recently it stands out because no-one has died from pogroms or persecution. It is a peaceful place.
Most people are friendly and half-heartedly pester you, apart from one stall-holder who had begun helpfully, by advising that the Badia Palace was shut, but suddenly turned nasty when I wouldn’t buy anything. ‘Fuck French’; I am not French, I counter, I am English. ‘Fuck English’. It was probably not wise to have told him I was Jewish when he tried to direct me to a long-extinct synagogue.
Each day after a bit of sightseeing we repair to our hotel to swim and relax; sometimes we venture out again for dinner in recommended Riads, but the food in Marrakech is disappointing. There’s only so much couscous and tagine a girl can eat (although it’s always good); but when we venture into more international territory it is disappointing.
Even our lovely hotel scores a big fail on their Thai menus; the Riad El Fenn’s menu is just bizarre and they can’t tell the difference between fish and chicken: turbot on a Marrakech menu – whatever next? Mind you when it was put in front of me instead of the chicken I ate it and it was surprisingly tasty. Lunches are usually fairly safe with an assortment of Moroccan salads a safe bet, normally they are part of a set menu, popular with tourist places. The Café Badia is the best value in town and delicious, with great views of the nesting storks on the old palace walls.
So we spend a very pleasant time in Marrakech; the days are a mixture of frenetic sightseeing, a bit of argan oil shopping, even meeting some old friends, and chilling in the gardens of the hotel, surrounded by the pleasantly cloying scent of jacaranda, mixed with jasmine and rose; an occasional peacock drops in, the hotel cats wind round my legs; turtles and frogs plop in the ponds and croak like banshees at night. A hammam sloughs off all the winter skin and we feel refreshed and glowing. A great place for a mini break!