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by Heather F
Heywood, Victoria, Australia
May 12, 2007
From journal Casablanca Highlights
New York City, New York
November 17, 2004
Once crossing that threshold, I was in the narrow streets of the Ancienne Médina. My first impression was that it was more of a quiet neighborhood than a bustling marketplace. Before I had gone ten steps, I was accosted by a drunken Moroccan man who could barely hold himself - or his "tour guide" shtick - together. It did not take but a few moments for him to go from friendly hustler to hostile drunk (ah, the wonders of alcohol). Shouting at me alternatively in English and Arabic, he made it fairly clear that we was going to beat a rain check into my face if I did not give him some money. He was half my size and could barely stand, but looking around, the less-than-friendly glares from other locals let me know I was on my own. I talked him down, gave him a few Dirham coins, and pointed him towards a gaggle of German tourists that were disembarking from a tour bus behind me.
That sorted, my goal at the Medina was to find a few examples of Moroccan Marquetry – the ancient art of inlaying wood. Sadly, there were no stalls, and the few shops that were open punted only a few sorry postcards, paperweights, and knock-off luggage. The Medina here is not really a place of commerce, but more of a neighborhood -- and a poor neighborhood at that. I had expected a bustling souk, with rug-makers and other artisans spilling out into the street. The reality was that this was a quiet, stifling, squalid place. The narrow streets wound in various directions, and the few shops sold a meager selection of groceries. The fecundity I had expected turned out instead to be rot. Many dead-ends were piled high with garbage and human filth, and the sweet smell of their decay was impossible to escape.
Passing the one bar I saw, a handful of African men were gathered around billiards table. Their play and conversation stopped as I passed, and through the smoke I could feel their sullen eyes follow me. I heard once that much of Moroccan life takes place behind closed doors. It was clear to me that I was not going to see behind that door that day. It was time to leave, but -- being a person who does not give up easily (or indeed, ever admit to being wrong) -- I pressed on. I happened upon a woman, dressed in Western fashion, being escorted by her mother, dressed in a traditional djellaba. Asking them for directions in French resulted in them kindly escorting me out of the Medina to Boulevard des Almohades. They flagged down a taxi for me, and I made for my hotel, exhausted.
From journal Casablanca-Gateway to a Kingdom