When most people go to Marrakech, they like to go to the touristic circus of Jmma al Fna to see the snake charmers, the monkeys, the fortune tellers, the henna artists, acrobats, and madness that is the most Moroccan place on the planet while at the same time being the biggest caricature of what Morocco and Morocco are. If you come to Morocco and you don’t go to Jmma al Fna to eat in the food trucks, watch the transvestite dancers, get hustled by the touts, and laugh at the crazy antics there – you are missing out on an extraordinary experience….
The thing is…in my humble opinion – once is enough. I’ve done it four times now. So, when I took a little micro-break to escape to Marrakech before we emigrate to the USA next week – I was looking for something different. For that reason, I was quite happy to rent an apartment from Only-Apartments which was a good clip from Jmma al Fna – and, in fact, not in the old medina. I realize that not staying in the old medina violates some sort of Moroccan tourist convention and not sleeping in an ancient riad is a travesty against foreign riad owners – but, and bear with me here…I live in Morocco and I am so incredibly tired of sleeping in shared living space, traipsing through narrow alleyways to find obsequious hosts who don’t understand I’m looking for space and solitude, and sharing breakfast with strangers who have nothing in common with me besides also being strangers staying in a fancy riad with a friendly family taking too much care of us.
So, I was very happy to stay in Anas Majorel Apartment just a stone’s throw from the magnificent (but definitely overpriced) Majorel Gardens. The apartment was done up in modern Moroccan which can sometimes feel like a boudoir from a oriental love epic, but was perfect for my needs. Two modern grocery stores within walking distance, a complete kitchen so I could indulge in my guilty pleasure of frozen pizza and fresh orange juice, and a cafe downstairs with wi-fi that just reached the balcony so I could answer important emails but not get distracted by dirty movies. The view from the balcony was urban, but the blackout blinds allowed me to shut out the glorious pink buildings of Marrakech’s ville nouvelle when I was ready to sleep or watch American films on the big plasma screen televisions. An actual drip coffee maker completed my sense of comfort and American ease as I drank gallons of coffee and watched a seeming marathon of Owen Wilson movies on MBC-Action.
Of course, I didn’t spend all of my days cocooned in the apartment. I met with friends, took long walks, and drank coffee in the many cafe’s of modern Marrakech as well. The weather was astounding and beautiful. Early April weather in Morocco is almost impossible to beat. Wildflowers and endless expanses of green fields blanketed the nine hours on the train from Fez to Marrakech and for once, my first class ticket put me in a compartment with no companions so I was able to read, listen to music, draw, paint, and eat sandwiches without feeling like I should offer some to the other inhabitants or curb my gluttonous appetite for Sour Cream and Chive pringles. Yeah, I ate the whole 3 inches of them!
I did finally visit the Majorel Gardens and since I’m from Hawaii – the cactus and bamboo didn’t blow my mind – though, it was certainly someplace I was happy to be – until the two busloads of chubby tourists arrived – they all seemed to have eaten the twelve inch stacks of pringles…
Given the number of visitors, I would never recommend that anyone pay the 50 dirham entrance fee to the Majorel…EXCEPT… that inside is the best museum I’ve visited in Morocco. The Berber Museum is an additional 25 dirham and while it is a small museum it is exceptionally well curated, fascinating, beautiful, and will give you a finer appreciation for everything else you will see in Morocco. I’ve been here for five years, I’ve read ravenously about the place, I’ve written books about it…and on my two hour visit to the Berber Museum, I learned a huge amount. The Berber Museum is worth the entire 75 dirham price tag (because you can’t go to the Berber Museum without going into the gardens – tricky).
Installed in the workshop designed by Paul Sinoir in 1931 to Jacques Majorelle, the personal collection of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent is presented to the public.
“ Since my arrival at Marrakech in 1966, I have never ceased to be fascinated by the Berber culture and art. Over the years I have collected, admired the art that spans several countries at once. Rightly, the Berbers have always been proud of their culture that have continued to claim despite the vicissitudes they faced. In Marrakech Berber country, in the Jardin Majorelle created by an artist who painted many scenes , men and women Berber, it is naturally the idea of this museum is imposed. “ Pierre Bergé
I admit, I did pay one more visit to the old medina and Jmma al Fna. My friend Mike Richardson of Cafe Clock in Fez is building a new Cafe Clock in Marrakech. When it is complete, it will certainly create a new compelling reason to visit the old medina. We grabbed some Indian food at Les Jardins de Bala which turned out to be pretty delicious. I’ve had bad luck with non-Moroccan cuisine in Morocco, but in this case – the naan, chicken tiki masala, and saag were delicous. As for the restaurant and setting itself…just wow. Gorgeous.
Finally, for those who want to see modern Morocco and the creativity that lives and breathes – I might recommend a gallery that is not designed for tourists, not made for the public, and not listed in any guide book. The truck depot not far from Bab Doukala is a place to see and feel the real Morocco. The truckers were surprised to see me wandering among their rigs, taking photos, and looking at their art. Many of them were confused and began conversations with ‘No pictures” or “Go”. I was very grateful to be able to explain to them that I love their trucks and their art. My Arabic was sufficient to bring understanding and soon I was being led around, offered tea, and introduced to other truckers and shown more trucks.
I admit that in the hustle of touristic medinas, the glitz of posh hotels with submissive staffs, and the con of trying to buy any sort of handicraft or artifact – I have sometimes lost sight of what makes Morocco and Moroccans beautiful. I am grateful for those awesome truckers for reminding me that the beauty of Morocco is of and comes from her people.
The Moroccan Spring is beautiful and almost made me wish I were staying.