A day in the life of Marrakesh
By 8am, the shopkeepers are sprinkling the street with water, keeping the dust down. Only when it’s damp do they begin the business of hanging out their wares, a process which is re-enacted in reverse each night. At the same time, children hurry out to school in prim pinafores, book bags strapped tight to their backs.
Souqs selling meat and produce are bustling by 9am. Housewives are picking live chickens and selecting vegetables one by one. In Moroccan households, essentials are bought fresh daily, even now that most homes have refrigerators. Through the cool morning hours the most strenuous work is done. The dyers hang out dripping skeins of wool, blacksmiths pound away at wrought-iron grills and leather tanners beat the skins. Gradually, the tourists venture out from their cosy riads and explore, taking pictures of everything that moves.
At the far side of Djemaa el-Fna, Mustapha the shopkeeper sits at Café de France, a day-old newspaper spread between his thumbs. With business so slow, he doesn’t bother turning up until the sun is overhead. A favourite haunt of Moroccan men, Café de France is an institution, and has been for as long as anyone can remember. The waiters weave solemnly between the tables, distributing clean ashtrays and glasses of tar-like café noir. By 10am, M’barak, a magico-medicine man, is laying out his stall. Dressed in the billowing indigo robes of Morocco’s south, his stock in trade includes dried Damask roses and lumps of sulphur, ostrich eggs, stork feathers, dried chameleons and hedgehogs, antimony, musk and phials filled with murky liquid.
Of all the square’s healers, M’barak does the briskest trade. Most customers are men who wave aside the treasure chest of obscure desert ingredients – they want his ‘secret remedy’. ‘They come to me for this,’ M’barak says furtively, the glass phial catching the light. Pinching the end of his nose, he sniffs. ‘Saharan Viagra,’ he says.
Beyond the snake charmers, the Gnaoua, and the dentists touting second-hand teeth, Abdul-Rahim continues his tale. Arms splayed upwards and frothing at the mouth, he enacts the latest trials and tribulations in his hero’s life. The audience presses in closer as he breaks into a whisper. Craning forward, they all gasp at once.
A woman near the front begins to weep. ‘It can’t be true!’ she yells. ‘He can’t be dead!’ Abdul-Rahim tugs off his cap and shakes it slowly from side to side. ‘Spare me a coin,’ he says, ‘and I’ll tell you how it ends.’