Monday was a pretty good tourist day.
Being a traveller is actually hard work. You have to find your way, carry your stuff, make decisions, make plans, be careful and vigilant, adjust to new culture and situations, and of course, see the sights. There were many ways to go, first class, middle, budget, extreme budget. Travel the beaten path or go it alone. You could take a package tour, a day tour or just find your own way. The real travelers just found their own way, avoiding the tours and other tour tourists like the plague. With a tour you were guaranteed to see everything, but at what price, literally and figuratively? It was all fake. You didn’t meet real people. You met actors who were there to sell you something or give you some experience that they were supposed to with as little trouble as possible. It was a job for them of course, not a real human interaction.
Monday was a pretty good day for me. I had a plan, to get up early, walk the 4 kilometers to the main downtown area, and then walk around the old walled city, called the Medina. It was a simple plan, yet I knew it wouldn’t be simple. Just finding the way was hard enough, then there were distractions, changes in plans. It would be a miracle if I could get all that done.
Amazingly I found the city center rather easily. It was modern, with distinctive red brick architecture, wide sidewalks, fancy international stores. It was another world from the bustling hustling Medina where I was staying. After about 30 minutes of walking around, it became boring. It wasn’t that different from my country. The most interesting part was watching people. I saw the police stop a few people get stopped by the police for some minor infraction, and they would grab and hold the officer’s hand, sometimes kissing it, sometimes massaging it. One man leaned his head on the officer’s chest. Couldn’t imagine doing that to a New York City policeman. He would have you in a head-lock in seconds. At the tourist information office they told me about the Islamic Art Museum which was on the way to the wall which I wanted to walk around. Along the way, I was approached and accosted countless times by men wishing me to give them something or sell me something. They would do or say anything to get me to stop. I sympathize with their desperate state, but not their tactics. One man claiming he just wanted to practice English took me into the maze of the Medina streets and when it became clear that I wouldn’t buy anything from him, left me. Luckily, I had been paying attention (turn left at the banana vendor, turn right at the blind beggar in the brightly striped jillabah) and found my way out. I didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of having to having to pay someone to guide me out. These guys would say anything to get you to buy something. “Where are you going?” , “the bus station”, ” the bus station is closed today.” ( it was not of course)” I finally found the museum. The museum was only 10 dirham, but in order to get to the museum you had to walk through the garden, which was 50 dirham. The Moroccans were not shy about charging high, even exorbitant prices to travelers. They knew we were all rich. After some internal debate and muttering, I decided to pay the fee. After all I was here, and anyway, I had to accomplish at least one tourist accomplishment. The museum was good. I was glad I went, and grudgingly i had to admit that the gardennwas spectacular too. Next goal was to walk around the old city wall. Then I got a message from Clay, that he wanted to meet and do some sightseeing together.
Clay (Clemon) was an interesting case. the waitress at the restaurant that I started eating at introduced us. He was French, but he looked Arabic, darker, and the gruff good looks of many of the young Moroccan men everywhere. They were young, angry, brash, hustling, full of brag and bristle. Clay was softer, thoughtful, European. He spoke little Arabic, but was always passing for Moroccan, until he opened his mouth. He came to Morocco because of a woman. When he showed me a picture of her, I could understand why. She was model beautiful. He had even converted to Islam because of her. The strange thing was that she lived in Rabat, and he had been in Marrakech for a month. ” Why don’ t you go and live there and be with her, there?” ” I keep saying I’ll go next week, but I’ve been saying that for 4 weeks now. I don’t know why.”. Clay was a good source of information for me and he knew how to get around the impossible maze of backstreets and alleys called the Medina. Being a European, he was not quite so dogmatic about Islam, he had some perspective, and he was willing to question things, though he was still very enthusiastic about his new beliefs. ” Why do Moslems believe that Mohammed was the last and final prophet? Why not have a prophet update , say, every 100 years or so. You know like Iphone 5?” the answer was not “because it is written” but an appreciative laugh and then, ” I don’t know. Once he got to know me a little, he started talking more and more about Islam. He taught me the 5 tenants of Islam; accept Mohammed as the last and final prophet of the one and only God, pray 5 times a day, observe Ramadam, go to Mecca once in your life ( if possible), and tithe your money ( only 2.5%’…..a bargain compared to the 10% some Christians were supposed to pay). He filled me in on a lot about local customs and laws. For example, it was actually against the law for a non-Muslim to have sexual relations with a Moroccan woman who was Muslim. And it was against the law for 2 Muslims to have sexual relations if they weren’t married. Clay found a way to make this positive. ” it keeps me from fooling around on my girlfriend and violating Islam because I can’t here, it’s illegal. But I sure would like to fuck that waitress and that Korean woman we were talking to a while ago.” ahhhh once a Frenchman…..and ….boys will be boys….of course. After getting the message from Clay,I changed my plan. That is the nice thing about being “on vacation” you could do anything you wanted. I reversed my course and started going around the wall counterclockwise instead of clockwise. In the process, I discovered the site off the circus, and then passed another one, the royal palace. It seemed the king was in town. The KING. It seemed that everyone I talked to had a different option about the King. Some told me he had no real power, that he was ceremonial, like the Queen of England. Others said he had total power. He was a good king, he was a bad king, he was better than his father had been, he needed to be overthrown. I met some student revolutionaries who were openly violating the King’s laws in order to provoke democracy. For example there was a law that prohibited assemblies of more than 5 people in public. These students sat and listened with 20 other people as I played in the square in Casablanca. They were my fans. ” you know technically you are violating the law by having this many people listen to you at once, but they won’t bother you because you are a foreigner.” I was delighted to be aiding the revolution. These brave young men, we’re also violating the law consciously by holding public debates and discussions on philosophical principles, such as what is democracy and what are the advantages and disadvantages. They were deliberately provocating and publicizing their arrests for doing peaceful activities. They were using social media also to fight , publicizing events on Facebook and twitter. Their group name was UX.
I knew better than to try to take a picture, of the Royal guards and soldiers surrounding the Marrakech palace ( he had palaces in all major cities) . I didn’t try even a secret picture. They had seen my camera and were watching me like a hawk, even when I was 50 meters away. Clay told me later that the Kings travelcade would be passing my restaurant and suggested we at there and perhaps we could see him pass. But first we took in another tourist site, an ancient mausoleum filled with scrumptious tiles, wall carvings, arches, and colors. After that we made our way to the restaurant. It looked different. The outdoor tables and chairs had been removed. All the upstairs windows were closed and locked. The KING, was coming. The curb on the entire street had been painted the royal colors, red an white.
“I wonder if I have time to pray before the king comes” Clay mused. He was always thinking about his next prayer time. It seemed that his entire day was taken up with either praying or thinking about praying, which maybe was the point. 15 minutes after Clay left, the king passed by. It was an entourage of about 10 small cars (no large Cadillacs or other conspicuous cars) and 2 ambulances. As they passed, a number of policeman and guards peered suspiciously into the crowd. Popular king?
After he came back, Clay and I headed for the bazaar. He was happy to follow me and be a part of MY entourage. It was about the same as other nights, except now I had some African friends I could sit in with. My favorite was a nice looking slightly pudgy man with a ready smile. He was a strong leader, directing his group of about 8 musicians, and he looked completely relaxed and in charge. When I played with them, sometimes they followed me and sometimes I ( tried to) followed their strange ryhtyms When after about 5 songs, they took a break, I asked them if I could play jazz in the break. They were only to happy to do that. I got a good crowd of curious and sometimes appreciative listeners, mostly Moroccan and some tourists, jealously looking at me, some enjoying a surprising jazz concert. When I stopped playing the band leader who had been sitting on his motorcycle listening happily, started yelling at the crowd in Moroccan, ” you have to give him money. You enjoyed his music, now you should give.” I tried to tell him to stop, that it was ok, I didn’t need the money, but it was impossible for me to communicate with this guy. As much as I liked him, his cool looks, his self assurance and comfort with himself, his music, it was impossible to communicate with him. Of course, our languages differed, but also our gestures were completely incomprehensible. Even the simplest thing like, ” is it good? ” (a thumbs up which is pretty universal) just produced a look of incomprehension. Likewise, his gestures looked comical to me. Even when we were playing together, his cues to me we’re meaningless, usually opposite of what I thought they should be. I decided the best way to play with him was to just close my eyes and listen. Some in the crowd objected to the leaders plea for money for me. At one point I thought there would be a fight it became so heated. In the end I decided he was sticking up for his profession more than for me. If people listened they should pay. I was of the more laid back school, people pay if they want. One one point, a tourist came up and took a picture of me playing surrounded by Africans and Berbers and the guy whose job it was to walk around and stick his hat in front of people demanded money for the picture of me. That just made me laugh.
After playing 2 or 3 jazz songs and collecting an audience ( and 80 dirhams thanks to the leader) Clay, another German who wanted to join our group, and I went to a rooftop terrace to watch the bazaar from above. Some traveller had told me this was a must-do experience, so I did it. We used the money the leader had made to pay for the exorbitant price of 45 dirhams for 3 teas. We all hit it off. After the tea shop closed at 11 there was nowhere else to go. We walked around a it then stood on the corner near my hotel talking a out everything for about an hour. A French Muslim, an American of Jewish descent, and a German lapsed Christian having a great discussion about life. It was about 1230 am when I finally got to the hotel. It had been a good tourist day.