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Marrakech: some Dos and Don'ts
Published in Economist, Intelligent Life, March-April 2014



Remember that the mid-afternoon, between the noon-day prayers and the mid-afternoon prayers is the period of bad-luck when tempers get frayed and when it is impolite to make house visits. You should eat, then sleep with or beside a partner, reserving your energy (and changing into fresh clothes) for the evening passeggiata.

Pour scorn on the King. Everyone over 35 worships him, just as anyone under 35 reviles him for not giving them a job. Nor do Moroccans want to listen to your views on the Western Sahara, the King’s liberalization of female rights or the definition of an Islamist.

Always head for the centre. Marrakech emerged from the dust of history as a market-place where highland tribes, mounted nomads and the oasis cultivators could trade on reasonably neutral ground. It’s purpose is, and always has been as a market-place. And despite all the new villa developments in the old palmery and apartment blocks and in the southern quarter of town, the part of it that remains exceptional and unchanged in all its potent vivacity, life and colour are the central labyrinth of covered souks. Forget poetry and politics, think craftsmanship and salesmanship as the muses of this city. Stay as close to it as you can afford, shopping around any of the 365 exuberant Riad conversions, but if you want less 1,001 nights and more calm efficiency, have a look at Les Jardin de la Medina, La Villa des Orangiers, or Maison Arabe.

Complain about the spread of the city. Morocco hasn’t got any oil or gas, unlike the vast reserves held by the neighbouring republics of Algeria or Libya, but it has got land to build on in plenty, and the good manners to treat its guests, so that they wish to return, be they from the Gulf, old Europe or the States. And there are some truly encouraging out of town developments, like the ‘home cooked’ standard of couscous served in the restaurant of the Amal Women’s Centre.

Not always think that travellers have to equip themselves like a war-photographer in dry-dry khaki and a camera-bag, ‘destroying the present for an inadequate view of the past in the future’. If you want good photographs of Moroccans look at the works of Bruno Barbey, Hassan Hajjaj, Alan Keohane and Albert Watson and check out the brand new museum of photography and visual arts.

Come for the fine air, like cigar-smoking Churchill is meant to have. It has long since killed off by traffic fumes and Marrakech’s sunken position beside an old wadhi bed at the foot of mountains. Nor do the gardens, the Menara, Majorelle and Aguedal really function as public parks. Instead take off to the High Atlas Mountains (most Riads and hotels are twinned with a mountain hideaway) or to the sea (only two hours drive if you miss out on peak traffic) at either Essaouria, Oualidia or El Jadida. Or buy a lunch at the Beldi country club to enjoy the pool and rose garden, Beldi Country Club.

Remember to hoard your spare change to give to beggars. Or as the Prophet said if you wish for a favor from God, at least favor the poor with a kind word.

Bother trying to penetrate the precious world of expatriate high society on your first visit. They do not wish to meet you, you have nothing to say to them, they are sub-divided into rival language groups, the French are in total ascendance, they thrive on rejection, exclusivity and generations of royal gossip….but you might like to try and dress like them, in which case I have two useful addresses to drop on you, Nawal El Hriti’s kaftan design studio (Aya's Marrakech in the old Mellah (Jewish) quarter and ‘33’, a haven for some fifty separate designers opposite the Majorelle garden with its own Kaowa juice bar on the premises.

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