Lor and I woke up in London at 5am after a pretty good night of sleep. I was relieved to be on something that resembled a normal cycle for our first night, jet lag is a bitch.
We got to the airport and found a café in the main terminal to pass the hour until we were allowed to go through security.
I couldn’t help but lament America’s shitty relationship with fast food. I noticed it for the first time years ago when I went to Florence. Their fast food joints – where you point at what you want and they pop it in the microwave – was still better than most anything I had in the states.
Lor and I weren’t remotely hungry but I enjoyed looking at everything. (pretty food)
I bought a crawfish and avocado sandwich at the Pret à Manger because where are you going to see that in a US airport? You won’t.
Heathrow is a busy airport but there was at least plenty to see.
We boarded our plane to Marrakech and settled in for the three-hour ride.
Planes are weird. It’s strange to sit so close to people yet pretend they are not there, to have no room to move your legs or even cross them. Sandwich notwithstanding, it’s an unremarkable experience made tolerable only by being able to fall asleep for some of it.
And I have a really great book, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. My step-mom gave it to me when I told her I was taking this trip. She asked me to save it for the occasion and I can see why. I haven’t enjoyed anything that beautifully written in a while. It’s one of those books that demands a slow and deliberate reading.
When I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera at age 19, the friend who lent it to me encouraged me to slow down and enjoy it like a slice of chocolate cake.
“Don’t wolf it down,” she said, “savor every bite.”
Gentleman is one of those books.
We landed in Marrakech without incident and unloaded into busses waiting for us on the tarmac. Already I felt that I was in a completely different place. Sacred geometry is everywhere, the airport felt spacious and quiet, we glided through it without the peristaltic movement I’m used to experiencing elsewhere.
There wasn’t the overrun of commercialism at every turn and our driver waited for us just outside the doors, not in a crush of people but patiently hanging out in the shade.
The drive to our riad was the perfect introduction to the city, it was both similar to and completely unlike places I’ve been. I recognized the shift between the old city center and the sprawling surround, the tension between the modern and the ancient.
Braying donkeys stood defeatedly beside cars, people on foot didn’t flinch as a motorcycle passed by them with inches to spare. There’s a truce between the old and the new, like they’ve accepted each other’s existence. But just barely.
We were dropped off at the edge of the old walled city (known as the médina) and Hesham from Riad Matham met us and led us in. He did his best to orient us as we winded towards our destination, as if any of it penetrated my completely overwhelmed brain.
I know it will only be a matter of time before I get hopelessly lost. I felt myself wishing for Sideboob, knowing that if she were here she would always lead me to safety.
Lor took the key and opened the door and we walked into the riad for the first time. The pictures Jo sent barely did it justice, and she sent great pictures.
Signing up for a trip like this was a leap of faith, especially given where I found it – Instagram – a notorious den of scammers and drop-shippers. I felt like I had a long enough standing with Jo Brittles to trust her, but I still held my breath. It’s no small feat to board a plane for a foreign country and put yourself in the hands of a stranger. There is much at stake.
Living is not for the weak of heart.
We sat down courtyard by a pool of water and were greeted by Momo, the riad’s resdient feline. A sluttier tom there has never been. I immediately made it to 3rd base with him.
Hesham brought cookies and mint tea and we waited for Jo to greet us. In the meantime I noticed the two house tortoises (named Cous Cous and Tagine) and took in the kind of architecture that I would be more than happy to live in. Forever.
I was relieved to find that most everyone in Marrakech speaks French. While I can’t fake Arabic, I can read French translations and understand the answers, it makes me feel less inept.
Jo swept in, warm and effusive. Social media friendships are strange, you feel like you know someone but all you ever see is what they want you to see. Sometimes that in and of itself can be quite telling, but I liked her immediately. I love a woman I can sink into. She was eager to know us and to show us around.
I wanted to settle into our room and unpack, it was gorgeous. Spacious with high ceilings and a loft with a bed in it for me. It is sparsely decorated but absolutely perfect. Everything was creamy white plaster, with floors in a similar material but strong like stone.
I asked Julien, the proprietor, what it is. In short, it is extremely labor intensive which is why I’ve never seen it anywhere. You start with a lime substrate, and cover it with a crushed marble cement that has to be slaked for two days before being troweled on. It is burnished by hand with a smooth stone and black soap. Then it must be re-burnished twice a week for two months or it will crack.
No wonder it is so lovey like Venetian plaster yet strong enough to be used in wet spaces, on floors, anywhere.
And while Lor and I are sharing a room, be both have our own distinct spaces. Plus the bathroom is to die for.
We put away our clothes, organized our things and started meeting people.
I don’t know everyone’s names yet, but we spent several hours visiting, going onto the roof and watching the sunset.
It felt surreal being on the roof and taking in the 360 degree view of the city. The roofs are bustling with life, each one has a story to tell. The air was still and the light was beautiful, swallows and pigeons were everywhere. It’s odd being in a city that is so devoid of city sounds.
It has to do with how the médinas are built. Everyone’s home shares walls with their neighbors, homes are built in big blocks miles long. The net of it is that cars only exist on the the fringes. The center is the purview of people on feet, donkeys and the occasional scooter.
Each of my boys called me having just gotten out of the slot canyons. I was happy to hear their voices and listen to their war stories of carrying heavy packs through the water on a sprained ankle. How strange that I can be in Africa yet still receive calls and texts, like we were all in Boulder.
We had a lovely meal of tagine on a rose petal strewn table while Jo schooled us on how to barter, how to be safe, and went over our itinerary for the next day. She has a warm, womanly energy. I get the feeling I am being watched after and protected. It is a feeling that I revel in.
I spend a lot of time with men, it is a fact of my life and not one that I mind. It’s an entirely different environment to be around only women, 13 to be exact.
I was the first to leave dinner. It was 9:00 and I wanted nothing more than to tuck into my single bed and write for a bit. I’ll see you tomorrow.