Close to the entrance of the Musee de Marrakech is a herbalist's shop. If you stand with the entrance to the museum behind you and look directly away from the museum, the herbalist is in the row of shops ahead of you and to the left. We've been there before on an organised tour and recognised the place. Since the weather was dull and cold and we had time to spare before heading to the bus station, we decided to go inside and be entertained. A good Moroccan herbalist shop is visual feast of magical potions and ingredients and if you can accept up front that there's absolutely no way you'll get out without buying something – usually something you don't need or really want – then it's well worth a visit.
Outside the shop were large sacks of brightly coloured dried flowers and sacks of what looked like moss. "Must be magic moss" I thought to myself as the herbalist in his white coat urged us in. We told him that we'd been before but our companions were on their first visit and asked if he could do his performance and so he led us into their large display room. The room is equipped with lots of long wooden benches with upholstered tops. On our first visit we'd been part of a party of around 20 people and had filled the room. I couldn't help feeling sad that tourist times were hard and he could only get the four of us in at a time. We wandered around looking at the jars stacked five layers high around the room, some filled with recognisable things – bits of rock, twigs, seed pods, herbs and spices and such like – others with things we rather hoped we didn't recognise – dried lizards, snake skins, shells and bits of fur.
The herbalist started his sales pitch, introducing is to the culinary spice blends and taking us through a range of beauty potions and home cures. My sister suffers with cold sores and he had something for that, her girlfriend with backpain for which he of course had lots of ideas. He showed up the small pots of saffron and how to tell that it was real. He extolled the virtues and miraculous powers of Morocco's special oil – argan oil – explaining the difference between the argan for massage and the oil for culinary use. Get them wrong and use the massage oil on your salad and it's an unintended cure for constipation (or at least that's a nice way of putting it). Various soaps were wafted under our noses and I was surprised to discover my sister has a love of jasmine scented soap which was something rather more 'elderly' than I'd expected.
The herbalist called in his young assistant to demonstrate how wonderful one of his massage potions was. One by one the guy gave us each a back massage so good we could have curled up and gone to sleep in the shop. My sister's girlfriend mentioned her back problem and he found exactly the spot to relieve the pain. We ladies were allowed to keep our tops on (thankfully) but he insisted my husband take his shirt off so he could really get stuck into the massage. It's an excellent way to sell massage oil that hasn't been out of the suitcase since we got back and to lull shoppers into a stupor of happy carefree thoughts that mean they don't seem to care that they've just been sold lots of stuff that they'll get home and wonder why they bought.
We were fairly disciplined because we knew what we want before we went. We have a couple of friends who we knew would want saffron and know that Moroccan is some of the best saffron in the world. We bought the massage oil of course – who doesn't. But mostly I just wanted to stock up on bags of the 30 spice mix for couscous and tagines and the simpler spice mix to use with fish. We'd run through the bags we'd bough several years earlier and were happy to stock up. I was surprised at how much my sister managed to buy but reassured afterwards that she hadn't felt pressured, had only bought what she knew she had a use for or had a person in mind to give it to. The credit cards came out and four happy and well massaged tourists oozed out of the door, goody bags in hand and headed off to their next attraction, more relaxed and less stressed than when they'd gone in.
Yes we tipped the massage guy, just in case you are interested. We knew it would be expected and would be asked for if we didn't so we went into it with our eyes open.