I’m walking up a pathway when I hear a voice behind me. “Yesterday,” sings the voice in heavily-accented English, “All my troubles seemed so far away, now they have gone and went away…Oh I believe in Yesterday.” The singing stops, but the voice continues. “I am romanteek man,” it sighs, humour and pathos nicely blended in the tone. I start giggling, and turn enough so I can see, out of the corner of my eye, a tour guide in a burgundy djellaba, who by this point has given up on getting a reaction out of us and is now starting his spiel for his own tourists.
We’re leaving the Chellah, that ancient fort located right next to downtown Rabat (the one pictured at the top of this blog). We’ve had guests this week, former colleagues from Mauritania, so we’ve been playing tour guides, showing off the sites of our beautiful new home. We took them to the medina, where I bought three kilos of fresh strawberries and one peach, not to mention a new belt (genuine Gucci!) and two kinds of olives. (Total for all this: $6)
We went to the Oudayas again, where they have opened a new art gallery/pirate museum. We wandered in and admired the large oil paintings, which were abstract and used a lot of paint as texture. I liked them quite a lot, although not everyone in our party did. We were easily talked into paying 10 dirhams for a tour of the newly-opened second floor museum, site of a former prison, where people were tortured and beheaded and there were cannons. We eagerly climbed the stairs, appreciating the fascinating architecture and dusty light filtering in through narrow slits, then wandered dismayed through a really tiny area that had obviously been recently redone but was completely bare.
The man who’d taken our money jogged quickly up at one point, ran to the end of the small hall, announced this was where people were decapitated, mimed it for us by flinging out his arms and then mimed the torture, showed us where the cannons were, rattled off some facts very quickly about how the heads were preserved and then spiked in front of the Palace of Justice, and ran back downstairs to his other job of presiding over the art gallery.
We also managed to bump into a group of tourists, the real kind that go round in busses and wear shorts even though they are over 25 and have tour guides speaking heavily-accented English. We did our best to get round them so we could see the empty corridors for ourselves, with their beautiful brick barrel-vaulted ceilings and rounded torture areas. I didn’t get photos because my camera was out of batteries, which is a pity because I don’t know that I’ll ever go there again and the light was gorgeous, it was just that there was nothing there.
We also visited the museum in the old castle, where we ran into the tour group again and heard their tour guide offering them a chance to buy copies of ancient jewelry “for a very good price“. The second museum is much more established, with exhibits clearly labeled in Arabic, French, and Spanish. (Did you know that the Spanish word for jewelry is joya? I started humming “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”) It was easy to duck away from the tour group and look at carved and embellished ancient weapons, the “jewelry of men” according to the exhibit.
Yesterday, armed with brand-new Duracells, we headed off to the Chellah, our second visit to this combination Roman ruins/Moroccan ruins/picnic area/tourist attraction. It also costs 10 dirhams, which is about $1.25 at the current exchange rate. We declined the offer of a guide and joined the Moroccan families, picnics in hand, who were headed down the large central path, overhung with greenery. Rabat is green green green these days, thanks to the rainiest winter in 30 years. Squint your eyes at that hill, ignore the mosque’s minaret peeking over the top, and you could be in Ireland.
The storks, swallows and egrets have overrun the place since our last visit in September. Our house is not that far from the Chellah, definitely walking distance if you weren’t wearing your painful sandals, and every night at sunset the swallows dip and dive in the gap between my kitchen windows and the neighbour’s. San Juan Capistrano has nothing on the Chellah, where birds of all kinds of feathers are flocking near each other.
As we walk down the long pathway, the noise gets louder and louder. The trees are jam-packed with egrets and storks. I try to get pictures, but fail miserably. See those white specks? Those are the egrets.
We show our guests the Roman ruins. I remember everything perfectly from September. “This was the jail, or possibly a cistern,” I tell them, gesturing at a large hole. I show them the eel-infested pool, where infertile women can bathe and supposedly be cured. I don’t know how well it works on women, but it’s really working on the cats! Nearby is a woman selling bottles labeled “MAGIC.” I try to subtly get a picture, but I guess I’m not as subtle as I’d hoped.
There are many storks.
And also many arches.
Including tiled arches
And arches leading nowhere
Many families were picnicking, enjoying the lovely spring weather.
Not everyone likes to be photographed, like the woman selling magic above. I try to be subtle, which is theoretically possible with a digital camera, but somehow I’m not very good because it’s fairly obvious where the lens is pointing. I was far away from this man, who was enjoying some sunlight and a quiet cigarette between customers for his authentic Berber silver jewelry, but nonetheless he was staring straight at me.
I took his picture anyway, but it won’t load. Maybe tomorrow.
I also am trying really hard to get a definitive shot of this minaret with the storks’ nests. Which do you think comes closest?