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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marrakesh, Day 6

Where does the time go? Sorry about the inattentiveness. Let me see if I can catchup a little. First off, for everyone who has been e-mailing about how to rent the riad we're staying in, I met an Englishwoman online, Adrienne, who lives here in Marrakesh and rents out riads, her own (one of which is pictured above) and riads owned by other Europeans who just use them from time to time for vacations. Adrienne's website is and you can contact her through that. I started talking about this place with her last May and she was very attentive all the way through. In fact, she was just up here-- she lives up the road across from the riad owned by Bernard-Henri Lévy and just beyond that of IMF head (and perhaps the next President of France), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, another Obama-like Conservative Consensus candidate posing as a champion of ordinary families. She gave us some great tips on some specialized souks outside of the grand souk area where we might be able to get better buys on some stuff. Anyway... she'll take good care of you.

It's funny being here in Marrakesh with a woman, Lisa, instead of just me and Roland (who arrives next week). The first time I came to Morocco was with my girlfriend and it was a very different Morocco in terms of women-- very backward in attitude and not really a pleasant or even safe place for women. Forty years ago Moroccan men were still not entirely used to seeing uncovered women wandering around and awkward situations were very common. That's pretty much over, especially in cosmopolitan Marrakesh, where government policies to drag the traditional culture into the modern worked-- on top of the overflow of tourism and globalization-- and have helped cause a noticeable change in attitude among Moroccans towards women-- their own and those from overseas. It's way more comfortable being a woman in Morocco that it used to be-- and more comfortable and relaxed traveling with a woman.

But what I was getting at was something else entirely. I find myself doing different things with Lisa than I would be normally doing, especially with Roland, Example: two days ago we spent the afternoon at the beautiful urban park Yves Saint Laurent found and revamped, Jardin Majorelle. It was very peaceful, very tranquil... but not something guys usually do unless a woman drags them in that direction. Eveyone there was a woman or men with women. I didn't go quite as far as accompanying her inside the museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent's designs, but just sat outside and enjoyed the fresh air and the beautiful juxtaposition of bamboo and cactus gardens.

And yesterday we did something even more markedly "feminine," a morning at the baths. Actually, Roland and I once went to the hammam at the then fabulous, now... well, now it's a dreadful, pretentious and impersonal Sofitel... Palais Jamaï. We went for the hammam experience of being rubbed all over with a brillo-like glove, a very manly thing.
A person taking a Turkish bath first relaxes in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before splashing themselves with cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.

I just found an English website that proposes readers create the Moroccan hamman experience in their homes:
• Moroccan black soap-- this soap is made from the kernel of the olive nut and has wonderful exfoliating properties.

• A Moroccan scrubbing mitt called a gome-- this course mitt will effectively remove all your dead skin cells, and increase the circulation in your arms and legs, helping to reduce cellulite.  A very handy glove!

• A Moroccan foot scrub (optional)-- this little terracotta foot scrub will remove hard skin from your heels faster than anything I know.

• Rhassoul-- this wonder clay, mined from deep within the Atlas Mountains, has a list of benefits as long as your arm.  See our article on rhassoul.

• Rose water (optional)-- will make you feel like a Moroccan princess.

• Mint tea

I skipped the princess part but we did while away the hours yesterday at what is reputed to be the most luxurious and pamper-oriented hammam in town, the one at La Sultana, a small gem-like hotel right near the Saadien tombs, which we were planning on visiting anyway. The hamman/spa at La Sultana was really amazing, not inexpensive, but amazing. The bath itself is just shockingly beautiful: a large jacuzzi under 3 vaulted ceilings supported by 8 marble columns with 13 traditional chandeliers. Off that main room are the actual hamman, massage rooms, a sauna, showers, and relaxing rooms. And I was surprised that the masseuse was very competent, well-trained and effective.

No really amazing restaurants to report on other than the wonderful one we had at Al Fassia in Gueliz (the new town), which is as good, if not better, than it was in 2006. Again, let me remind you that if you plan to go, it's essential to make reservations in advance. It's got the best food in town and it's always booked up. We're going back in a few days.

Other than that we ate at some mundane Moroccan restaurants, Le Tanjia for lunch yesterday and Le Marrakchi for dinner. These photos of Le Tanjia say a lot more about the skill of the p.r. firm than about the reality of the restaurant. Le Marrakchi has a great view of the Jemaa el Fna but that's the highlight. Again, nothing wrong with the place but... nothing really to recommend it either-- unless you crave lots of noisy, smoking European tourists squished up against you.

A couple days ago we visited a place I've passed by a dozen times but never went into (I'll blame Roland), the Ben Youssuf Merdera (Madrassa), a 14th century college that really is quite spectacular, one of the best sites in town. It's clustered with the Museum of Marrakech (very nice architecture housed in Dar Menebhi Palace, and less interesting displays, with the exception of two small paintings by Hassan Alaoui; another painting of his, similar in feel, is above, left) and the Almoravid Koubba (some not terribly impressive ruins, although they probably are to archeologists). Ben Youssuf's the play. "It is the largest Medrasa in all of Morocco... Its 130 student dormitory cells cluster around a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco. The carvings contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islam, and consist entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns. This madrasa was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and may have housed as many as 900 students... Closed down in 1960, the building was refurbished and reopened to the public as an historical site in 1982."

A couple blocks away is a highly touted restaurant, Le Foundouk which was better than either Le Tanjia or Le Marrakechi-- and more expensive-- but far from the level of Al Fassia.

UPDATE: Are You Coming To Marrakesh?

Adrienne just told me to offer all AroundTheWorldBlog readers a 10% discount off her regular riad prices for 2011. The website is above and her phone number is 00 212 (0) 71 23 46 28. Just mention you heard about her riad from "Howie's blog."

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