Ismail loves Canadians, he tells us. In fact, over the years, 8 different Canadians have lived in our etage, of course not all at the same time, he assures us. He manages to be out in the garden when we are first going out with our guests, and he gets to know them. Later that night comes a knock at the door. “Maman” has made a cake to honour our guests. He presents it to us, a bundt-shaped cake still warm from the oven, sprinkled with crushed almonds, rich with egg and raisins.
The next day he manages to bump into us again. Assured that the cake was delicious, he beams. How long are they staying? he anxiously inquires. Ah, good then. Time for another surprise. And so on Friday, when my maid has just finished making an enormous chicken-lemon-green olive tagine, we are presented with a platter of couscous from downstairs, and a plateful of loquats from the tree in the back of the garden. The table groans with food. We eat heartily, but there’s plenty of leftovers.
It’s rude to return empty plates. I’m making cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting. Last time, when they sent us up Moroccan crepes with local honey and sweet whole-wheat anis buns, I sent them chocolate chip cookies. Why can’t I lose weight?
One of our guests loves the medina and can’t get enough of it. She responds to the bustling busy atmosphere, the kaleidoscope of colours and smells and sounds, the cries of the vendors. She adores the rabbit warren of cool dusty alleyways and sunlight filtering, angled, glinting through layers of colored glass or catching just a corner of a vivid cactus-silk scarf, or a young boy‘s face. She wants to go back. Once is not enough, although she leaves with scarves and necklaces made of ribbon and colored stones, bought after much bargaining and cajoling from a friendly young Berber man.
So we take her back, just the girls, she and I and Louise, my former colleague from Nouakchott, and Ilsa. We take two taxis and head down into the bustling crowd of humanity that is the medina on a Friday evening. It’s amazing. I have never been in a human traffic jam before, where the people are literally so packed that no movement is possible. At first it is exhilarating, but soon it becomes exhausting.
Laura, however, is thriving. We meet a friend at the Marche Central, and head into the more modern section of the medina. You can still find traditional things here though, and Laura finds a tunic and pant set in turquoise. We form a wall with our bodies and the shopkeeper considerately faces outward as she tries on the pants in the back of the tiny shop.
After she has bought sparkly silver slippers to complete her outfit and Ilsa has made friends with an artist painting pictures on bowls, we retrace our steps to a tiny restaurant, a greasy-spoon type of joint where bowls of traditional harira soup are only 50 cents. We climb three flights of stairs to the rooftop, which overlooks the still-bustling central square, although things are beginning to close down now for the night. It’s getting on for 10 as we sip our soup and eat plates of salad and greasy fries, watching the kaleidoscope still swirl below, although more slowly now.
This picture goes with my previous post about the Chellah, but for some reason it wouldn’t load at the time.