El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Marrakech Diaries - Day 3

Snapshot of the day: In the Mellah (Jewish Quarter). Tiny streets a few feet wide, buildings seeming to meet overhead. Kiosks of spices and assorted flotsam and jetsam openly tempting the passerby to stop and smell, sift, or look. Oh! And kosher butcher stall! Live chickens clucking in crates seen through one of the open sides. Around the corner of the stall, what used to be clucking and blinking is now plucked clean and has been chopped up into choice pieces by the heavily falling butcher’s knife. Directly below the array of fresh white meat a white cat is curled up against the wall, blinking in that slow, feline way at everyone passing by. The juxtaposition is perfect: Above the butchers moving about their trade, in the middle the meat waiting temptingly for buyers, and below the little white cat waiting patiently for a morsel to fall. I just have to laugh.

Kels and I were wandering out way to one of the palaces in town, when at one lost moment we pulled out our map to check our location, and a tall young man asked if we needed directions. Sensing out hesitation, he assured us that he needed no money and only wanted to practice his English. He also pointed out to us on the map the location of a once-a-week Berber spice market going on nearby, and we decided to take him up on his offer of guidance. We followed him through part of the touristy spice market and part of the Mellah to a small street lined with spice stalls displaying colorful buckets of natural dyes, mint, sandalwood, deodorizing quartz, rose petals, lemongrass, cinnamon… this list could go on. He started showing us things at one stall, the English-speaking vendor came out and continued showing us more of his wares, and then our young guide took his leave of us to head home, which he said was nearby. (To be honest, I’m half inclined to think his bringing us to that exact stall wasn’t exactly an accident…but ah well.)

So many awesome and exotic spices to delight our senses

The spice vendor was extremely kind and respectful, showing us all kinds of things and explaining all sorts of natural wonders we’d never known about. A neighboring vendor even served us hot mint tea on his way around to all the vendors (a very neighborly thing to do, I’m sure). And we were completely blown away when our new friend dropped a small sliver of menthol crystal in our glasses – it was so powerful! And just like a homemade cough drop. We weren’t going to buy anything, but after walking away we just had to go back and get a little menthol – it was just that cool!

Finally, after leaving the spice stalls and being led a little astray by a smiling older man who wanted to guide us around tiny streets for money, Kels and I at last made it to the Palacio Bahia and took refuge inside from the flustering world outside. We wandered around, taking in the beautifully intricate designs painted on the main ceilings and doors. We even sat for a bit in the sunshine in the central courtyard of the small palace complex, tourist watching and relaxing.

Although not as stunning as La Alhambra in Granada,
the palace really was quite beautiful.

We tried roasted garbanzo beans today. So good. They taste pretty similar to roasted edamame, with a toothier texture definitely requiring younger teeth and jaws to enjoy. They’re also nicely filling and could be a satisfying snack with just a couple small handfuls. It’d actually be really cool to roast them at home and just have them on hand as a snack, but maybe they have to be fresh and not dried first…. intriguing…

Quote of the day:
Me – It sounds like you’re in the same boat as me.
Our host – Hopefully it’s not the Titanic!

Kels and I got to make pancakes for our hosts at tea time. The outcome wasn’t very pretty because they kept falling apart due to our substitution of a soup spoon for a spatula (when one tool isn’t available, you just have to make due), but they were still delicious! We ate them with our hands, tearing off chunks and dipping them in yogurt or adding slices of banana. It was a fun way to share a little bit of our own food culture with them.

Nap time!? Not allowed!
Right after tea time, the two of us had the opportunity to go with one of our hosts to the evening English class that he teaches. There was a wide range of ages between all the students, but most seemed to be in their teens and early 20s. We introduced ourselves, and when they started asking ME all their questions, we realized they hadn’t really understood Kels’ name – rather than try to pronounce a name that was unpronounceable on their tongues, they were staying with the safer sounds of “Laura.” It was pretty funny. They were really sweet though and super excited to get to talk with us and ask us questions about ourselves. One of the younger boys asked Kels if she was married… and then turned bright red when we all laughed.

To end off the day, our host shared the winter delight of cactus fruit with us. As he chatted us the street vendor to get a good deal, we got to explore the new world of textures and flavor in our mouth – once the green and pink skin was cut open, the fruit presented itself as an extremely dark red ball begging to be plucked out with a toothpick. The flesh was lightly sweet in flavor and sort of melted away from all the liberally abundant, hard little seeds, which you just swallowed. Nummy.

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