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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Live Blogging Marrakesh, Morocco-- Riads... And Miswak Toothpaste

Several people have e-mailed asking me what a riad is. It actually describes the type of building. A riad to my understanding is a building featuring a central open courtyard that includes a garden, usually a water feature, like a fountain or pool, with rooms surrounding it. In Marrakesh the last decade or so has seen a rush to buy up dilapidated old riads, fix them up and use them as either homes or as a kind of bed-and-breakfast. In either case, they're an alternative to hotel living.

We rented a whole home (described here), while our friends, Toon and Mieke from Amsterdam, first rented a room in a large riad (for 22 guests) and have now moved into a smaller, more homey riad in our neighborhood that takes 5 guests.

Another Restaurant We Tried

Terrasse des épices is a chic restaurant in the souk Cherifia (#15), with a cool vibe and decent food, mixed European and Moroccan but without the overdone Moroccan feast aspect. The prices are moderate and the setting-- on the roof-- is very pleasant and relaxed.

To be honest, I'm always drawn back to Al Fassia, clearly the best food and most convivial vibe in the city. We ate there again tonight and it was as delicious as ever. And since they all know us there now, they send over extra goodies. We made another reservation for next week to when our last two friends to arrive, Helen and Michael, will be here.

Tip For The Day

Down the street (Avenue el-Fetouaki) from Toon and Mieke's first riad, Bahia Salam, there's a kind of health food store at #91-- Marrakesh Bio Diététique-- selling a variety on decent products. Now that governments and airlines have decided the key to our safety is to make sure we don't carry enough toothpaste for more than a week, it's important to know where to get the Moroccan equivalent of Tom's of Maine type products. This is the place. I found some great herbal toothpaste, about as good as anything Whole Foods carries and very inexpensive. Actually the toothpaste, Miswak, is made in the United Arab Emirates. I've been liking it so much that I looked it up on wikipedia. It's made from the teeth cleaning twig (miswak) of the Salvadora persica tree, also known as the arak tree or the peelu tree and features in Islamic hygienical jurisprudence.
A 2003 scientific study comparing the use of miswak with ordinary toothbrushes concluded that the results clearly were in favor of the users who had been using the miswaak... Studies indicate that Salvadora persica extract is somewhat comparable to other oral disinfectants and anti-plaque agents like Triclosan and Chlorhexidine Gluconate if used at a very high concentration... In addition to strengthening the gums, preventing tooth decay and eliminating toothaches, the miswak is also said to halt further increase in decay that has already set in. Furthermore, it is said to create a fragrance in the mouth, eliminate bad breath, improve the sense of taste and cause the teeth to glow and shine.

In addition, benefits not related to the teeth and gums include sharpening memory, curing headaches, creating a glow on the face of the one who continually uses it, strengthening the eyesight, assisting in digestion and clearing the voice.

Sybaritic Night Life? Here?

The other day Roland was trolling around his Lonely Planet and mentioned there's a disco in Guerliz (the new town) that's supposed to be the biggest disco in North Africa. And I'm sure that's an attraction for someone... somewhere. I think today's NY Times must have thought so too. They did one of their 36 Hours In Marrakesh features. It barely sounds like the city I've been to a dozen or so times since 1969 or the one I've been living in for the past couple weeks.
In 1939, George Orwell wrote of Westerners flocking to Marrakesh in search of “camels, castles, palm-trees, Foreign Legionnaires, brass trays and bandits.” Ever since, the city has been ravishing visitors with its teeming souks, ornate palaces and sybaritic night life. In recent years, a succession of high-end openings and restorations-- most notably, the lavish reopening of the hotel La Mamounia-- has transformed the city into an obligatory stop for jet-setters. Yet despite Marrakesh’s new cachet, the true treasures of the enigmatic city still hide down dusty side streets and behind sagging storefronts.

The Jemaa scene usually starts packing up by 10 or 11pm and, unless I'm blogging, I'm in bed by midnight. So maybe I'm just sleeping through the sybaritic nightlife and really missing out on what draws at certain set of people to Marrakesh.

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