Episode 36 - Marrakech
Join your host Stephen Bailey on a journey of discovery through the old medina of Marrakech. Embrace the sounds and smells of this mystical place as Stephen imitates Berber storytelling methods to share this short tale.
A very special journey on this podcast episode, as your host imitates the style of traditional Berber storytellers, taking you on a 10-minute journey through the souks and subtleties of Marrakesh. It’s a story never to be repeated again. You need to listen.
A Brief Lull, And The Call To Prayer
Let’s go on a journey. Let’s go on a journey to a place where a mustachioed man emerges from a maze cycling past us, with a monkey balanced on his handlebars. Follow his mischievous grin, but turn around because a snake charmer’s flute grabs our attention — there the cobra rises. People shout out impossible deals and smoke rises from street barbecues and innumerable women in hijabs offer henna tattoos. Now a brief lull and the beautiful soundtrack of the call to prayer — a dozen mosques in a call-and-response routine that meanders breathtakingly across the cityscape.
Stop, breathe. Close your eyes. Take it all in. Take in the magic of Marrakech. I’m your host Stephen Bailey and today, let’s travel the world together — travel the world to a place that defies GPS systems. Marrakech’s medina is an assortment of constricted alleyways. They are not mapped. They are not known to us, but each is welcoming. So, let’s twist and turn, in every corner, something new, every ground floor building selling something different — carpets and trinkets, plantains, olives, hats, camels, camel tours, Chinese sewing machines that resemble staplers.
A Simple Harmony
Deeper, deeper, we go into the souks, finding how they compartmentalize. So we are now walking through wool, then silk, then the blacksmith’s alley, then artisans, then camel meat, than the butchers and the bakers, then tupperware, then the pans and the pots. Now the smells lead us to a showcase of spices — spices as potent as they are colourful. So many pilee beautifully in columns. As we travel through the souks, the traders are not aggressive. They try to lure us in of course, and as we go inside, we sit on lush carpets, drinking mint tea, being shown produce — and we probably won’t buy, but that’s okay.
They are not aggressive or persistent. So he move on, further into the souks — and it’s easy to get lost in these souks for hours, for days, for weeks. It would be a great thing to do, only walking around the Marrakech souks, every day different for a whole year. But this is a story — and a city — with marked attractions. Wandering through the city, we find palaces palaces with looking gloriously towards the Atlas Mountains. We find gardens — gardens designed by Yves Saint-Laurent. We find great mosques, most that are open, as well as madrasas that are open, where there is an insight into this country’s Islamic heritage.
And the more time we spend here, the more we find the artist’s touch. This is the great appeal of Marrakech. What first seems to be a hotchpotch, a mishmash of colors and different things, has a simple harmony that can be found by travel. This is not a place with a million colours, it’s actually a city conceived of naturally-created tones that enable impossible combinations of colours — blue and yellow, purple and green, maroon and orange. Then the walls, always plain white, that simplicity enabling the rest to shine. Doorways are elaborately carved, ceilings have the most incredible patterns. And we get carried away in one building, forgetting where we are. And as we come out, we are back in the maze, turn a corner, walk into madrasa — or perhaps we turn another corner and walk into a man with a wooden potato cart.
Your Story Will Not Be Repeated
Here is the city of show-and-tell, where timid faces are exposed — exposed by the snake charmer, perhaps exposed in their confusion. A city where a guide is so valuable. Not because a guide knows where to go — of course, a guide knows where to go, that is why they are the guide — but also, a guide is a host.
A guide takes that timidity, bashfulness, off your face. So instead of walking into the snake charmer, we walk into a collection of people telling old Arabic stories. The guide translates. The storyteller spins a yarn pulling everybody in — the ancient way of storytelling, the same they do in books. And as each chapter finishes, the storyteller asks for a tip for the story to continue. So we leave a tip and the story does continue. And the next time somebody else leaves a tip and the story continues again, until we sit here for four hours, listening to the Arabic bliss of his chords.
And also here, when we leave the square, we find Jemaa el-Fnaa, the great central square of North Africa. At first, it seems a chaotic Moroccan circus, but again, there is harmony. Orange juice, snails, other edibles to try. Tea, always tea, caffeine and sugar to further stimulate the senses. And then drums, a Berber street band, an old-fashioned performance, who will also entertain for cash.
And now the story continues, shouts intermingle, eyes make contact, people look confused and there is never enough time to soak it all in. It just happens. Marrakech isn’t about attractions — it’s defined by thousands of interactions. It builds in an energetic picture, each person another part of the tale. A saffron trader. Getting lost in the Jewish quarter. More cups of tea, more caffeine and sugar to stimulate the senses. A horse-drawn carriage wandering through a derelict palace. A man playing the guitar with a live chicken balanced on his head.
Our day will not be repeated, this story will not be repeated, because this is what Marrakech offers everyone — a completely unique experience, every single day.