There was a lot to absorb in Marrakech—too much for one trip. Marrakech is too wild, too different, too surprising, too uncomfortable—the things I saw and felt during this first trip are still swimming around, undigested. I think perhaps they’re not meant to be digested, that the exhausted inside-out feeling I had when I got back to Barcelona was the point of going to Marrakech. It’s not a place I want to live, unlike, say, Amsterdam, whose canal houses and ridiculous charm are perfect for domestic fantasies; and it’s not a place ideal for relaxation, like the hidden cove beaches of Mallorca. In Marrakech, I was uncomfortable, sometimes nervous, often uneasy, and always aware to the point of absolute sensory overload.
When I got back to Barcelona, I felt like I’d been away for weeks—Marrakech required the entirety of my attention, and I hardly thought of Spain at all while we were there. My mind was monopolized by other concerns: crossing the streets without getting hit by a motorbike; trying not to inadvertently see a skinned, dead animal hanging from a food stall; worrying whether the mint tea we’d ordered without consulting a menu would cost 500 dirhams; avoiding the snake charmers and their snake-wielding emissary who’d approach a tourist and drape a live snake around their neck, requesting a few dirhams for the ensuing photo. And it was difficult to navigate the city without knowing Arabic or French. Apart from a British tourist here and there, we heard little English aside from “Please, come to my shop” and “What is your best price?” and “You are welcome in my country.”
Furthermore, we stood out—there was no way around it, no matter how conservative my long sleeves, no matter how long my pants. One of my favorite pictures from the trip is of Andrew in a small square in the souqs: around him are several sandaled, black-robed Moroccan men, while Andrew is wearing sneakers and a bright blue J. Crew sweater. There’s something exhausting about standing out and being looked at, even when the glances are nothing but cursory and not in any way threatening or hostile.
My attention was also absorbed by things that were much less insane and much more beautiful, but no less overwhelming: the elaborate, tiered trays of Moroccan pastries in bakery windows; the mounds of spices and olives and dried fruits in the souqs; the abundance of intricately painted pottery, pointed leather slippers, and colored lanterns; the breathtaking mosaics and stone carvings and Arabic calligraphy covering every possible surface; the endless silver teapots on café tables; the small tea glasses full of mint leaves.
We took the trip to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, and we packed as much as we could into our three days. We did some of the Marrakech highlights: took a horse-and-carriage ride through the Ville Nouvelle; walked through the Jardin Majorelle, the tropical garden owned by Yves Saint Laurent; visited the Musee de Marrakech, the Ali ben Youssef Medersa (a former Quranic school), and the Saadian tombs. On Sunday, the big day, we had an orange-flower bath strewn with rose petals (in twin tubs) and a massage at a Moroccan spa—a ridiculously relaxing retreat in the midst of crazy Marrakech. We had a delicious lunch of omelettes du fromage and kefta sandwiches at Nid’Cigogne, a terrace restaurant overlooking storks’ nests in the kasbah. We walked in the souqs, then had mint tea and plates of Moroccan pastries at a café in lieu of a birthday cake.
But mostly we walked, and walked some more, and tried our best to take it all in. It was a perfect way to turn thirty, in an exotic new place, overcome with a feeling of being all eyes and instincts.