Morocco. I repeatedly misspell the name of the country in the language that is my mother tongue. It is also known as le maroc, le royaume du maroc, marrakus, al-maghrib.
Morocco exists in at least five languages and three different alphabets. Analphabetisme is high in this country of many names. Many do not have a passport, choose their own birthdays, are scholastic outside of any school. Our guide writes both ways, left to right to left, teaching us phrases that we trade between us like cards, phrases that are the sugar in the silver pot of mint and gun powder green tea, sweetening our cross-cultural friendship forming. We are at ease for as long as there is water in the tea pot, salted nuts in our palms. We are the ones that pay, that ask others to walk with us along routes and paths that they have walked over and over, building walls in their ears with bricks of questions which they have heard before. We stop to capture, to take, to remember, the chalk drawing on this or that wall, the old Fanta, Vache-qui-rit, coiffeur coiffeur coiffeur sign, the lichen (so high up!), the mud walls. We are too shy to take home images of the trades-men in their half-lit dens, the carpenters, the potters, the tinker on the road, or records of the times when they are other things: the pool-players, tea-drinkers, tagine-eaters, bread-dippers. Not trusting our memory, when music starts, we take out our phones and press “record”. What was caught: the artist who’s craft is to beg, the songs that speak of family and clan, the search for a drum and a rhythm, the hollering of a hillside descent, the tinny tunes from a mobile phone clutched in the left hand of the man on his donkey.
We bring home snippets and will most likely remember best what we captured, letting go of the time between sound-and-sight grabs. No application yet for taste storage. For that we have to make do with our own in-house, in-body capacities.
The what-passed-my-lips list
Water from a plastic bottle x30
A dead fish, small, fried in oil and rolled in sea-salt, skin crisp and curling upward, gills turned from red to purple, bones still white.
Beans, white, stewed in tomato sauce spiced with dried ginger, paprika and cumin. A lot of cumin. Loubia. Delicious because of meat. Delicious instead of meat. Served in a plastic bowl which is returned to the vendor upon ingestion. Eaten with bread, not a spoon. Mopped. Lapped. Mushed.
Moroccan cumin, Moroccan paprika. Moroccan saffron, olive oil, oranges. Nowhere-else-in-the-world argan oil. Market-stall vendors that sell bought-in vegetables from Spain. The olives, harissa, preserved lemons and live chicken vendor, the wall of jars a shield for the clamour of chickens cooped behind. We are told only to buy argan products from “the cooperatives”. There are too many to choose from, all are similar, indeed identical. Women press oil out of roasted argan nuts using hand-grinders made of stone. It is unclear whether this is for show, for functionality, or both. The argan nut has the appearance of an extended acorn. Recently it was discovered that in addition to hydrating parched skin, argan oil can be eaten. A cosmetic comestible. We buy 500 grams of “amlou”, a mixture of argan oil, honey and almond or peanut butter. It seems that argan nut butter is not an option.
Recalling the doughnut, chebakya (similar to Indian Jalebi, both pastry-based sweets deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup) and sweet briouat (similar to samosas) man, always a man, and the four-by-one metre shops lined with blue and white tiles in which he kneads and rolls and fries. No doors, only awnings. Palaces built with Andalusian rivalry in mind. Ornamental orange trees that bear bitter fruit. Palm trees impossibly tall and impossibly laden with dates. A new grading system to learn: dates. Dates are in the sweets, almonds and walnuts are in the sweets, rose and orange water, cooking chocolate, apricot jelly, overcoats of icing sugar. Cinnamon flavours the fabricated skin of a sweet “patate” i.e. potato, the inside of which tastes like uncooked cookie dough. The range and selection of patisserie speaks of the Jewish communities founded in the main Moroccan cities after the exodus from Christian Spain in the 1400s. Miniature meringues are being shook from baking paper into a container in the Jewish Quarter in Marrakesh (150 Jews still reside in Marrakesh, states the information sheet in the Slat Al Azama synagogue. It is unclear whether they still live in the Jewish Quarter).
Back to the list:
Tagine. Cous-cous. Tagine.
We eat a tourist amount. We have the permission to gorge. We bought it. Our guides eat with forks when sharing our table, adopting our customs instead of asking us to learn their own.
For our departure, we made sandwiches of meat pulled from the ribs of a roasted lamb (Meshwi) and the remains of the 500 grams of amlou. These cross borders wrapped in napkins, along with walnuts and too-green fennel seeds. In the airport I pay seven euros for a bar of swiss chocolate which I eat while reading Hola! Maroc.