Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Menara Meanderings

This is the Menara - one of Marrakech's prime photo ops. Pretty isn't it? - a mini Taj Mahal, you might say. The photograph certainly suggests as much, but the photo isn't mine, although I do consider myself a competent enough photographer. Had I captured this oft-photographed pavilion on film, it would have looked decidely different. My peevishness would have been transferred through the camera by an osmosis of sorts. You see, I took zippo photos of the Menara because I didn't want to. I was pissed off at it, at myself, and at every Moroccan kid within arm's reach of me.

(The story thusfar: as you may know, I went to Marrakech this past long weekend as it was the birthday of Mohammed - i.e., the prophet, although there were probably a zillion other name-sharing celebrants as well. Happy birthday dear Mohaaaaaaaamed: you don't look a day over 379. But the celebrated Marrakech Express left Rabat 1 1/2 hours late and arrived 2 1/2 hours late. Not an ominous start.)

But in the end, after many adventures, I now possess a cocktail party assortment of spine-chilling anecdotes with which to amuse you gentle reader, but I haven't decided whether it is politic, sensitive, or prudent to share them in so open a forum. There were the two incidents with the police, the boy and the turkey, the individual who slipped into my bedroom at 2 in the morning, the illegal liquor run on a religious feast day.... no, no, I will confine my thoughts to the Menara. It was tame, only mildly annoying. I will leave the truly horrifying stuff for another day.

So … the remains of a 12th century garden, the Menara "is a peaceful place to escape the summer heat and bustle of the city" (shamelessly stolen from Lonely Planet Morocco). It is a must see, or so my travelling companion tells me. I am in Marrakech primarily to take photos of the spice souks for an upcoming publication but no, we'll go to the Menara. It is a must-see.

Quidquid id est, debete-videre timeo*

Getting there is no easy feat. We try to flag a petit taxi. Since Marrakech is currently playing host to ¾ of the country's entire population, finding an empty taxi is like winning the Irish Sweepstakes. I am travelling with a Westerner and her Moroccan - um, friend, who suggests that we should try a grand taxi instead. But it’s within city limits no? Yes. Then I’d rather go by petit taxi than share a taxi only marginally larger than a petit with 5 other adults. I finally flag a taxi but – alas! his meter does not appear to work. When I point this apparent malfunction out to him, he feigns surprise but kindly offers to take us there illegally for 30 dirhams. Swell. We get out of the taxi. A grand taxi is standing by so we all inhale deeply and squish in. The ride is mercifully short & we are let off by the entrance where a group of emaciated but gaily pompommed camels are offered for our riding pleasure. I fear that the bare hint of me on the bony back of the camel led towards me will send him straight into someone's tajine.

We walk the broad avenue towards the Menara, lined by more camels as well as Coke & lukewarm water vendors. I am told that if I turn around, I will find the site "breathtaking". I am not used to having to turn away from a tourist site to see something magnificent but I do. I see a long strip of street and, at its summit, the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque. Suffice to say that during this entire time, I experienced no interruptions in my breathing. I think, it’s not exactly the Champs Elysées. Aloud I say, “wow” (but with a decidedly minuscule and unenthusiastic “w”). By the steps leading to the pavilion, I purchase a donut because these wonderfully greasy sugary confections are the zenith of Moroccan cuisine. Couscous? Tajine? – nope, donuts. Not surprisingly, I am literally charged 5 times its regular price – DisneyWorld prices. We approach the pavilion, which it seems we cannot enter. The guidebook has lied – bad guidebook! Our only option is to saunter languidly about the reflecting pool in a suitably reflective manner. My reflections become rather foul. As it turns out – besides not being a terribly exciting activity – this walking reflectively by the reflecting pool is rather unpleasant, and not because of the 2 dozen Japanese tourists wearing jellabas who are embarking on their guided tour. The pool, it seems, is both stagnant and polluted. Groups of motley children are tossing into the oil-slicky water various bits of luncheon detritus so that the pool’s inhabitants – large silvery carp – can nosh; however, as the little blighters are mainly lobbing in the plastic caps from Pepsi bottles, I suspect that they are trying to kill the fish instead. God, I hate children sometimes. And their parents. And Pepsi. Sadly, I watch the carp swallow and alternately spit out chunks of inorganic material; I phantasize about impaling youngsters on dull pointy objects. That would liven up the Menara. I am momentarily happy.

We walk to the end of the pool where we come across a floating stage and paraphernalia for a sound and light show. I will withhold my usual diatribe on sons et lumières shows: rest assured that I hate them with an almost all-consuming passion. Hate hate hate hate them! Various "spectacles" are put on here in both spotlight and moonlight (which I'm certain display the pool's floating garbage to full advantage) and I decline to ask the nature of them. Apparantly admission is expensive. No doubt. I am advised to take advantage of my position at the far side of the pool for a photo op of the pavilion. But I have not brought my zoom lens (as I didn’t anticipate taking photos of spice stalls from 300 meters away), so I pass. The light isn’t great, and neither is the pavilion. And the water is whiffy. And I want to leave (and take the carp with me). Then I am told that the public toilets are "really quite" nice. Oh yahhh!! – a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy visit. Too bad that I don't have to go – perhaps it's worth checking them out, try squeezing out a drop or two. Nope, I don't have change for the loo attendant as I spent all of my dirhams on a freaking donut. We continue on, circling the pool but on its outside perimeter, alongside a grove of olive trees. I like olive trees – what’s not to like about them?– but I’m questioning the wisdom of losing 2 hours of my day & prime daylight to be admiring something which is as ubiquitous as a dandelion in this part of the world. We reach the back of the pavilion and skirt around it. Our Moroccan companion tells us that the pavilion is now a marabout – a shrine or tomb of a holy man – to which I comment that, in light of this, it seems sacrilegious that it should be literally plastered with multicoloured graffiti. My comment is ignored. I further confess to my companions that I am stymied by the appeal of the Menara yet apparently Marrakshis flock to the place in droves. It’s really rather dull. A lunch bag letdown. My Moroccan companion reminds me again of its sanctity for Moroccans (who include the hordes of spray-paint wielding Marrakshis) but my female friend agrees with me, saying “Yes, it is a huge disappointment but I thought you’d like to see it.” Wow, thanks for that!

Must be a vibe I emit.

*Whatever it is, I fear the must-see!


Blogger knarf said...

so, so, so many questions and/or comments:

1) As something of a photog myself, I HATE it when someone tells me that I should photograph something. My natural reaction is to resist - I'm the photographer, dammit! I don't tell you how to do your job, do I?

2) Your swayback camel, was it's name possibly "Danny"? I wonder, because you said (s)he was morose, and as we all know...

3) Was your travelling companion (the Western female) the same one you had last time? Just curious.

4) I've got tix for LaserFloyd tonight at the planetarium. Would you like to come?

-le knarf

8:03 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

1)I pretty much hate being told what to do at the best of times but like you, I especially hate being told what to take a piccie of.

2)Danny was morose.

3) A different companion.

4) Hmmmmm ... you don't have tickets for LaserGenesis by chance?

8:19 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

1) Then we are ad idem


3) So it could have been worse?

4) I really wanted tickets for LaserKennyLoggins, but they were sold out.

8:42 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...


8:44 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

Laser ELP?





The possibilities are endless. Since you like light and sound shows so much...

9:15 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

LaserTull ... bwhahahahahahahaha!!!!
"Sitting on a park bench ..." strobe lights flash across the sky, " ...snot running down his face...." pulsars flash!!!!

9:20 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed until I fell off my chair and then blogged a link (SEE HERE )with the suggestion you should write guide books. Thanks for the great blog.

11:46 p.m.  
Blogger ByronB said...

"There were the two incidents with the police, the boy and the turkey, the individual who slipped into my bedroom at 2 in the morning, the illegal liquor run on a religious feast day...."
Oh, come on - you can't leave it there. Not fair!

9:29 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Hmmmmm ... sorry Byron, you'll have to wait for the book.

10:47 p.m.  
Blogger hale said...

Cat -

The Menara is pretty, but the Taj Mahal it isn't, and would fare quite poorly beside that beautiful structure. You must have never seen the actual Taj Mahal!!

Great post, tho; I felt I could see the things you described, and am glad you wrote it!


2:46 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Hale: I agree - the Taj was a poor comparison but the photos of the Menara always make it look so grandiose & stately. I was stymied for a comparison. At least I did't choose the pyramids.

2:12 p.m.  

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