Short story from Robert Thomas

The Flesh beneath the Rind of Marrakesh

Marrakesh, photo courtesy of Robert Thomas


Oranges were the ubiquitous dessert in Morocco. The sweet
juicy fruit was always a delight, dispersing the remnant bitterness
left from strong Mideast spices infused into the evening meal.
That evening, rather than eat one at the very end of our luscious
repast, I decided to take it with me and savor it as I walked
through the maze of narrow lanes of the souk in Marrakesh.
It was evening and the sun was setting the color of the fruit I bore
in my hand. I meandered towards Jemaa el Fna, the main central
square of the city.

What awaited me was a fantastic multisensory delight; a core pulp of sights, sounds and odors encircled by the amber rind of a souk.
I finished peeling my orange and began to squeeze the last of the
fruit’s wedges in my mouth, when the colorful stalls of the souk
opened up to a large outdoor space crowded with local denizens
and tourists.


It was a circus of sorts, with canvass tented booths arranged
about the center, housing stands of food venders hawking a
range of comestibles from fruits and olives to conical spires of
spices. Other spaces were occupied by open cafes offering a
myriad of drink and food. A heavy mist of smoke hung over the
tents, rising from a multitude of camel and goat meat turning on
spits or sizzling upon steel mesh grates. Tunic clothed men
busily fanned wood coals with one hand, while tending to pieces
of flesh cooking atop halved metal barrels gerry rigged into BBQ
pits. The smell of roasted meat permeated the air, along with
wafts of spices used to marinate the various parts of animal
carcass.


The buildings encircling the area, held aloft two and three story
restaurants with bright neon and incandescent lights, visually
blaring their presence, and beckoning all to come. I slowly
strolled through it all, not wanting to miss any aspect of the show
before me.


Turban topped buskers plied their trade around the outer edges
of the large plaza. I passed snake charmers, mesmerizing
Cobras with the sway of their flute. Men with playful, teasing
monkeys on their shoulders offered to show me the tricks of their
trade. Groups of old men in soiled and worn kaftans crouched
on the pavement, intently pondering their next move in a game of
Manqala. There were musicians whining out siren like Arabic
sounds on Kinura, Chatzozerah and Chalil, backed by the
droning beat of a Bodhran. Along with the music, Kocek danced
about like harem concubines, inviting tourists to join them in
celebration.


Throngs of people milled about, sometimes requiring me to edge
my way around, or squeeze my way through as they stood
transfixed at a particular sight before them. The din of the crowd,
the lilting music, and the rising smoke contributed to an aura of
other worldliness unlike anything I had ever encountered. Jamaa
el Fna was indeed a unique phantasmagoria of activity, all set
about to entice, to lure, to mesmerize the wary traveler, and pull
them into the dreamworld that is Marrakesh at night.

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