In which Dan is assaulted by both a snake charmer and a pharmacist.
The birds were much quieter than expected in the atrium of Dar Pangal this morning. Breakfast was much simpler than what we enjoyed at Dar Masmoudi (bread, some kind of pancake, orange juice, and delicious spiced coffee). Our new guide, Jamal met us at 9:00 for a ½ day tour of Marrakech. First thing, he informed me that neighboring houses had been warned not to go onto their roofs while the king is in town (next door to us, in fact).
Jamal made us really appreciate Idriss. Ostentatiously hung over, he mumbled, walked far ahead of us, and when he finally perked up about 2 hours into the tour, he told us a convoluted, nonsensical story about why Muslim men should have multiple wives. I’m rather doubtful that the population of Morocco is really 60% female. Also that Jamal really has 4 wives. Good thing for me that it didn’t take Dan four tries to find a wife that was “his style” as it apparently did Jamal.
Jamal took us to the Saadian Tombs, the Bahia Palace, the Mellah (Jewish Quarter), the Djemaa al Fna, and some souks. Most of this was an uninformative blur.
We did learn that only Jewish houses have balconies and windows that face that street, as opposed to the interior courtyard. Also that houses often display their occupants’ ethnicity by a flower (Berber), Star of David (Jewish), or Hand of Fatima (Arabic) pressed into the stucco near the door.
It was in the Djemaa al Fna that Dan experiences his first assault of the day. We had barely crossed into the square when a man swooped down upon us and draped Dan in a giant live water snake, pulling him over to sit next to a snake charmer. Dan actually was pretty amused by this.
For my part, I had a primordial response to the sight of both Jamal and another man coming at me from two directions with snakes outstretched. There was no way they were putting a strange snake on me – and I have a pet snake! Nat and Chop seemed to be having the same reaction. We tried to take photos of Dan while watching our backs for more surprise snakings. The video that Chop took is hilarious. She films Dan for a few seconds and then the camera whips away to the right, clearly looking out for the next snake-wielding Moroccan. Too bad she didn’t capture me saying, “nobody better %*&(@#&ing put a snake on me!”
Next we moved on to the souks. Despite Dan starting the morning by telling Jamal that we spent all our carpet money in Fez, we were taken to a carpet shop for “a demonstration.” The woman knotting a carpet really was impressive. Each thread of carpet that you see sticking up out of what we would call a “Persian rug” is actually a piece of wool yarn that is wound through the rug’s weft, tied in a knot, and cut to an even length, all by hand. The woman’s hands were going so fast we couldn’t even see what she was doing. It had taken 10 days for her to make an approximately 6 foot by 2 foot section of a single color. Then the mint tea was offered and the rugs began to roll. We actually extracted ourselves pretty quickly this time.
Next it was the “Berber Pharmacy,” which was a kind of Mary Kay demonstration by men and women in white lab coats. I saw nothing particularly Berber about the white walls, spare shelves, and lab coats. We were literally locked into a demonstration room while a guy described various spices, oils, and creams available for purchase. Then came assault #2. Again before any of knew what was happening, Dan had been seized, sat upon a bench before us, and a second white-coated man appeared with Argon oil. Dan was told to take off his shirt (we think he was selected because he was wearing the button-down variety) and the second man began massaging him in front of us. The tried to pull me in too, but in the confusion of trying to find a female masseuse, I managed to escape. So basically Chop, Nat, and I were sitting on a bench watching Dan being unwillingly rubbed with oil before us. (Photos are blessedly unavailable) Chop managed to create a small diversion by asking what could take the vomit smell out of our freshly tanned leather and then buying a couple small cubes of musk. For further humiliation, at the end of the massage, the first white coat smacked Dan on the belly and offered us some cholesterol reducing tea.
We extracted ourselves from the pharmacy of shame and from Jamal and headed for lunch, where we discovered that our credit card would not work on any ATMs. We returned to the riad to call Chase (our credit card company, remember the name in case you’re every shopping for a credit card that WON’T be cancelled whenever you travel) and to allow Dan to wash off his humiliation.
What followed was a series of phone calls and ATM runs (30 minutes each) to test out the Chase operator’s assurances that THIS TIME the card would work. Finally, after all the banks were closed, I was told that I had been given “the highest clearance” (perhaps now I can take pictures of the palace), but was also told, ominously, that I should probably go into a bank and have them run the card as a transaction. I felt that Chase really failed to appreciate my situation, as “I apologize for your inconvenience” really fails to capture my feelings of “I’m leaving for the Sahara tomorrow and I have no money.” Thank God we were staying at Dar Pangal, where our wonderful host, Julio, allowed us to use his phone. Chop and Nat would not be so lucky when it was their turn to have a card frozen.
Below is a video of Chop and the Visa customer service representatives